“Confusion heard his voice, and wild Uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast Infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding Darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.”— John Milton, Paradise Lost Book III
Christians, we’ve spent a lot of time on studying Scripture, but what about obeying it and doing it? I want to look at obedience and works in light of how we as Christians are to interact with the culture we find ourselves in.
For if we want to see a change, then we have to be agents of that change. The apostle James tells us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.”
We must do something in the same way the Ezra did in his ministry.
In Ezra chapters 9 and 10, we will see that Ezra was examining elements within the post-exilic culture and found that intermarriage was occurring between God’s chosen people and those who lived in the land they returned to. Using God’s Word, He inspired repentance and reformation of the Jewish community to abandon this practice. Ezra’ s intent wasn’t mere condemnation but criticism for capitulation. His purpose was to reinstitute the Jewish practices and customs into the land, that is, he intended to create culture afresh in a place that was devoid of its lost culture of the past.
Andy Crouch states,
“It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture, copy culture, or consume culture. The only way to change culture is to create culture.”— Andy Crouch, Culture Making
In that book, Andy outlines 4 ways that Christians can respond to culture.
The first is to Condemn Culture. This includes withdrawing from the culture, and living a separated life with the intent of maintaining a distinct holy and sanctified lifestyle.
This is exemplified in the American fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century and remembered most for its list of don’ts. Do not go to the movies or dances. Good Christians should not listen to pop music, nor should they roller skate. The primary attitude of the fundamentalist movement was to be suspicious of culture and to condemn it.
While there’s nothing wrong with separating our lives from the darkness of the evil desires and activities found in our cultures, we mustn’t retreat so far that we never interact with our neighbors. There will be no action possible if we condemn our neighbors instead of telling them the good news. The fundamentalist idea of separation was built on the motive of honoring the holiness of God, but it went too far by creating a generation of very pious but passive Christians, with preaching only reaching a branded choir.
The second thing we can do is to critique culture. Rather than retreat, we go on the offensive. Today, we might call this “engaging culture” and its common in the rise of popular apologetics, and within the arena of “worldview analysis” that is popular in more conservative camps of public theology. The use of the term “worldview analysis” here in this context is different than it’s classical function- which was to think about the fundamental belief systems by which one apprehends the world. In this context, it means analyzing one’s socio-political views, in light of a Biblical worldview.
This is commendable activity and part of the activities that we should be involved in. The motive is to love God and neighbor, by speaking truth-in-love and to combat the heresies of the age. However, there is a danger of inactivity with critiquing culture too. If the only step we ever take is analyzing the culture and describing its errors, then we will never change culture by creating or reforming it. To use an analogy, we do not want to be accused of creating great art critics, without ever creating great artists.
The third thing we might do is copy culture. This looks like taking things out of the culture and baptizing them with Christian content.
An example might be the rise of Christian pop and rock music in the 80s in response to the rise in popularity of the secular music industry. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this and its motives are good – to try and reach the culture by being relevant. It also stands on the principles that all truth is God’s truth, so we need not shy away from an idea just because it is accepted by the secular culture.
But the danger lies in how far you take this. The so-called seeker-sensitive movement set aside certain truths to avoid offending others in the secular culture. This is not the proper way to baptize secular ideas because baptism is an affirmation of what is true, not the discarding of it.
In such places that embrace the seeker sensitive movement you will never hear the teaching of the sanctity of marriage as being between one man and one woman alone; nor will you hear the condemnation of cultural practices like abortion, sexual immorality, or disobedience to those in authority. These hot button topics are avoided because they do not fit into the paradigm. And of course, they don’t teach on the avoidance of unholy practices like excessive drinking or reading and watching inappropriate things. Silence on these matters copies the culture’s willingness to be “tolerant” of all things without thinking about what is true and what is good.
The final response would be fully unorthodox.
It is the response of participating in the culture without thought to whether it is good or bad. Here’s the unfortunate news. The dominant posture among self-described Christians today toward culture is neither condemnation nor critique- neither is it imitation. It is simply consumption.
Let me repeat that:
The dominant posture among self-described Christians today toward culture is neither condemnation nor critique- neither is it imitation. It is simply consumption.
Take a look at the cultural artifacts you consumed this week. What did you watch, what did you read, and what did you post on social media? Here’s the clencher question: Are they any different than what the unregenerate watched, read, or posted?
And what I don’t mean is are they politically conservative things. What I do mean is, do they contain the same foul and coarse language, the same sexually explicit material, the same hedonistic views, and the same individualistic self-centered ideas that the non-Christian consumes without thought every day?
No, we must not just be consumers of the culture without thought or discernment. We must study to develop our skill of discernment, but we must also act within the culture to create something new in our culture. This is what we are called to do, to cultivate and create. To be active ambassadors, contributing to the culture in our representation of the One we serve.
To be ambassadors for Christ,
We need to use our discernment to condemn culture when appropriate and withdraw from Spiritually unhealthy activities; but not so far that we are completely separated from our neighbors. Ambassadors move into the country and represent their King.
As ambassadors, we need to critique culture and engage it as Paul did in Athens- he understood the culture there and used it to build a bridge to the gospel. But analysis must NOT lead to paralysis. We need to move beyond just engaging the culture.
We can even copy the culture to get the message across in a way that the message will be heard, borrowing from what is good and abandoning the rest. But we must not become culture consumers without discernment.
“Consumption, as a posture, is capitulations: letting the culture set the terms, assuming that the culture knows best and that even our deepest longings (for beauty, truth, love) and fears (of loneliness, loss, death) have some solution that fits comfortably within our culture’s horizons, if only we can afford to purchase it”— Andy Crouch
How do we impact the culture?
After studying the Word of God, we do what Ezra did: we obey and do what it says. Jesus summed it up in this way: Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Love in this context is self-sacrifice. We must go into the culture, and in this way love others by doing for others what no one expects you to do for them. It is in this way that we create a new culture, one built on a mind for truth and a heart for God.
To Love God and Neighbor, to Make Disciples of all Nations, we must do as Jesus did: Dwell among the people and through our creative efforts– point them what is true, good, and beautiful… point them to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.