Christians Should 'Engage the Culture,' But What Does That Mean?
We talk a lot on BreakPoint about engaging the culture. But why — and how, exactly — do we do that?
Back in the old days — so I'm told — Christians used to compete with one another to see who could reject culture the most. Sometimes this was good and necessary.
For example, whatever you think of the Temperance Movement of the early 1900s, there is no doubt that it addressed a massive social problem — widespread public drunkenness and addiction to alcohol.
Sometimes to embrace a good thing, such as a faithful walk with Christ, we must first reject a bad thing. But sometimes we reject things that maybe we shouldn't, because rejecting them means cutting ourselves off from contact with people who need to hear about Jesus.
Now I've made a big deal about not having enough Christians in the arts telling our stories, based of course on the Greatest Story Ever Told, to a culture that's unknowingly starving for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
And as I mentioned recently on BreakPoint, our culture makers seem to be running out of fresh ideas, so they keep recycling the old stuff. Take the commercially successful but artistically vacuous Star Wars remake, for example.
What an opportunity we have to begin remaking our culture for Christ's glory and for the good of our neighbor!
Trevin Wax is an up-and-coming Christian writer and blogger who sometimes writes cultural commentary — and often gets criticized for it, either for being too worldly for supposedly "endorsing" something, or too narrow when he critiques it. Trevin, however, says the point of cultural critique is not simply to tell the faithful whether it's "safe" to see a certain movie — though that of course has its place. But it's to engage in cultural literacy, which theologian Kevin Vanhoozer describes as "discerning the meaning of cultural texts and trends in light of the gospel."
It starts with discernment.
Trevin says that we need to get better at "reading the culture."
Why? Four reasons:
(1) We need to know what songs and messages are forming our own minds and hearts, and the minds and hearts of others.
(2) We need to be "trained to see the underlying philosophy, to recognize both what is good in that worldview and what needs to be challenged."
(3) We need to "know where we are in the great story of redemption. If the culture is the setting for the next scene," Trevin says, "we need to understand that scene well in order to be effective witnesses."
And (4), we need to better love our neighbors — yes, love.
As representatives of Christ, we can speak to the good and the bad of culture.
"Almost every cultural phenomenon," Trevin says, "has aspects that can be affirmed by Scripture, as well as aspects that are idolatrous distortions …. To only focus on what can be affirmed is to dull the prophetic edge of the gospel's hard truth. To only focus on what should be challenged is to fail to show how the culture's longings are answered in Jesus."
Think about it — your doctrine and theology can be excellent, but if you don't grasp the interests and longings of those around you — worse, if you don't care — you will not be able to scratch where they itch.
As the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, "To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach is quite another."
Look at the gospels, and notice how often Jesus used illustrations from everyday life to connect with His audience. When it comes to speaking truth — especially gospel truth — into the lives of people searching for it who are all around us, can we afford to do any less?
Now, if you really want to get good at engaging culture, I'd like you to consider applying for one of the best Christian worldview programs there is: The Colson Fellows Program. Leading Christian teachers, great books, stimulating interactions with other Fellows, folks, it is just fantastic. Please check it out at ColsonFellows.org.
Article posted here.