Don Draper, C.S. Lewis, and the Missio Dei

Who Is Don Draper?

For fans of the hit period drama, Mad Men, Don Draper needs no introduction.

But for everyone else…

Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, is the Creative Director, and a junior partner, for the Madison Avenue Advertising company Sterling Cooper set in 1960s New York City. madmen posterThe show focuses primarily on Draper’s life, the lives of his work colleagues and his family, and the agency he works for. Throughout the series we receive a surprisingly, and often horrifically, honest look into what life was like for people living within the spheres of power and influence during a period of rampant bigotry, racism, and sexism. Where other shows would seek to soften the attitudes and behaviours presented or provide characters who, often untrue to their own time and culture, openly rejected and battle such injustices Mad Men does neither. The show makes a good case for the doctrine of Total Depravity, not because it is overly gratuitous (it is, for the most part, very modest), but because the characters are often unapologetically selfish and self-centred using one another in order to stoke their considerable egos. The scant goodness exhibited by the characters is for all the wrong reasons. Mad Men has no heroes or heroines; it just shows people infatuated with money, power, and sex who lived during a period when the rich and powerful were better able to get away whatever they wished because there was little danger of being crucified on social media. And it is for this reason I like Mad Men: because it’s honest about the sinful selfishness and self-centredness that resides in all of us, even within our virtues.

Draper’s Chronological Snobbery And Ours

At this point it would be very easy to write off Draper and his associates on account of their degradation of women, African Americans, one another, and the like because, of course, we know better. And yet to do so would be to commit, what C.S. Lewis termed, chronological snobbery:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” (Surprised by Joy, p207-208)

That the attitudes and behaviours of our age are superior to those of every other age by merit of their newness. That somehow ours is the age that has gotten beyond all the nonsense of previous generations. Yes, it needs to be admitted that previous generations got many things wrong, particularly in regards to women and race, and repentance and forgiveness need to take place there but the bigger, more important, point we should take away from Mad Men is that, by and large, most people were completely unaware of their erroneous, not to mention sinful, attitudes and behaviours. They were men and women of their age, blind to the injustices they themselves were perpetrating. To borrow a phrase from Paul, “[they] acted in ignorance” (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV); they were, as Lewis would put it, chronological snobs. This by no means excuses the injustices carried out by previous generations but it should give us warning that we are not immune to similar chronological snobbery because they themselves looked back with distain upon the previous generations considering them prudish and puritanical.

In light of this we should be humbled and so behave accordingly because in generations to come our descendants will look upon many of our attitudes and behaviours with scorn and wonder how we could have gotten so many things wrong and thought ourselves so enlightened. We haven’t made it and we need to be aware that we are, just like previous generations, blind to our own blindness: we often don’t see where we are going wrong. And if we take this to heart it will humble us which is exactly the attitude we need if we are to play our part in the Missio Dei (the Mission of God) because a humble follower of Jesus learns to repent and forgive quickly; they are patient, not expecting the world, or people, to change overnight; they pursue justice graciously and courageously, showing respect even to those with whom they disagree; and they treat others with love and mercy because that’s how God has treated them in Christ (cf. Micah 6:8).

Learners, Not Just Teachers

As followers of Jesus we need to cultivate these Christ-like attitudes and behaviours as we share the good news with others because the days are gone when it was simply enough to tell someone what they already knew. We live at a time when people have access an almost endless number of religions, philosophies, and worldviews that each proclaim themselves to be the good news and so if we ever hope to gain a hearing with people of other faiths (or no faith) we need to adopt a posture of listening and learning. To even begin to do this require the courageous humility we talked about earlier that respects the beliefs of others, that treats everyone patiently and graciously – not becoming enraged that others don’t see truth of the gospel, we know they can’t apart from a work of God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10) – out of merciful love for people we genuinely care about (not just souls we want to see saved from hell) because mission (and evangelism) today require a long term commitment from the people of God to the holistic well-being of individuals and communities, not 5 minutes of monologue and a dated gospel tract.

In order for us to gain this hearing with others we need to be learners, not just teachers. We have to be able to interact generously and graciously with people who disagree with us, showing them and their beliefs the respect we would want them to show us and our beliefs. The strategies of previous generations, of simply telling people the good news because they need to hear it, are ineffective today because they are perceived as coming from a place of arrogance. They often begin with the assumption that the other person (the unbeliever) is wrong and we (the Christian) is right. At the theological level this is true but at the relational level this is the entirely wrong way to go about things, is it any wonder most people don’t want to listen to us when we talk about the gospel? We can no longer approach mission and evangelism in this way because our method is getting in the way of the message and is putting people off even listening to us. We need to listen humbly and then speak graciously but courageously.

Gospel Humility

So how do we become the kind of person unbelievers will talk to? How do we become both respectfully gracious and unflinchingly courageous? Most of us gravitate towards one end of that spectrum or the other, we are either quietly respectful or outspokenly bold, because that’s the kind of person we are by nature. What makes us courageously humble?

The gospel doesn’t change our personality, if you’re an introvert you won’t suddenly wake up an extravert or vice versa. However, the gospel makes the timid courageous and the bold humble.

At first this seems paradoxical, how can these two qualities exist together in one person? And yet, we see both of them living harmoniously in Jesus who alone epitomises what it means to be truly human. In Jesus we find our perfect example of what it means to be courageously humble and through him we too experience this gospel humility.

The same Jesus who turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple courts and drove them all out with a whip (John 2:13-17) is the same Jesus whom Matthew describes in these words,

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

(Matthew 12:18-21 NIV, cf. Isaiah 42:1-4)

Our faith in this Jesus, who paradoxically combines courage and humility, is what will transform us into courageously humble people who trust and obey him as we take his gospel into the world and will empower us to face all the challenges of sharing the good news in a pluralistic world.


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