Christ and Culture: Introduction
Conversation that seeks to examine the intersection of Jesus Christ and culture.
This is the first article in a series entitled “Christ and Culture," a conversation that seeks to examine the intersection of Jesus Christ and culture.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 17:14–17.
One challenge as a military chaplain was the addition of a circle to an already very narrow Venn Diagram. A struggle already existed: the tiny overlapping margin of being a citizen in a republic that supports the constitution and a citizen of Jesus' kingdom and follow His laws. Add to that a third circle of military culture and customs and it seemed like there was almost no overlap at all.
As western culture continues to de-synchronize in key areas with Christ's teachings, we as believers may begin to feel that same tension. Doesn't it seem that cultural law and Biblical law now have very little common ground? So, as a follower of Christ, how do I proceed in following Him? What does it mean to be 'in the world but not of the world'? And how do I keep my heart and attitude right with the many concerns for the nation around us?
THE CHURCH'S PAST AND CURRENT RESPONSES
Historically, the church's response has been polarizing, and at times, unhelpful. Typically, the response is one of two ways.
One, we have had people argue for separatism, a clear and concise break with a culture that is 'taking its own self to hell'. An example of this happened in 1925 in the popularly-termed Scopes Monkey Trial. What seemed like a straightforward court case had turned into a media circus and a heavyweight fight over the foundation of American culture. On both sides loomed huge personalities fit for a reality-TV age: William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Presidential candidate, argued to prosecute John Scopes, a high school teacher that decided to teach the theory of evolution even though it was against the law. Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow, a powerful litigator and rhetorician. While Bryan won the battle (and Scopes was fined $100!), he may have lost the war: papers argued at the time that he 'won Dayton and lost America'.
The church was ardent in her defense of Creationism, angry at the intrusion of anti-Biblical thought. Theologians and pastors in agreement with Bible fundamentals began to withdraw from the court of public opinion and separate. In fact, for years preceding this trial, many had been meeting to author a paper called The Fundamentals. Their argument was that culture would get far worse, and the church needed to withdraw. While their original intention was to counteract the damage that critical scholars were doing to Bible scholarship, the practical conclusion was in place: many denominations, pulpits, and public squares were abandoned. One theologian calls this motion 'The Great Reversal', a tip of his hat to how retroactive and counterproductive this decision was in light of the two Great Awakenings we had witnessed at other times historically in America. Even at the time, there were those who decried the motion: D.L. Moody, J. Gresham Machen, and others sounded off readily that the work of evangelism was not done.
A second way the church looks at this tearing between culture and church, one that often comes not through a theological conviction or Biblical position, but instead from ignorance: synchronicity. The theory often goes as follows: 'if Spanish people can't understand English, I need to speak Spanish to share the gospel!' Which of course is completely true! Ergo, the church must synchronize with culture, in part so culture can be understood and in part because culture is attractive, and the truth is we kind of like it and like entertaining it. Slowly, churches appear eager to synchronize their church culture by appropriating aspects of local and surrounding culture. Rarely is this done by virtue of Biblical conviction, however. If it was, one would hear the Bible rationale presented clearly and in advance of the cultural shift as an intentional decision. In fact, it appears the opposite is most commonly true: Bible justification is often found after the fact, and the idea had its genesis not in Bible authority on a leadership team, but came as a default motion from outside the walls of the building.
MOVING FORWARD: A THIRD WAY
And yet, we again are reminded: Jesus prayed we would not be removed from this world, but indeed scattered like salt and light among the nations. Again, He prayed that we would be sanctified in holiness, set apart from the world, because even though we are in the world, we are not of it. So where does Grace Fellowship find her medium? What is the church's role in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic to the Gospel? Is there hope for culture? And what part do I play?
In this series, we will shine Bible light on the intersection of Christ and Culture and discover a third way forward that lives between separatism and synchronicity. There is yet a singular hope for culture; hope for our neighborhoods, friends, and family members. A way forward. Indeed, it is a very thin thread on that Venn Diagram; that is just the place Jesus has called us, His followers.
As always, as we engage in this dialogue, my prayer remains that Christ's peace is with you.
Joshua Rasdall | Senior Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church