How can Christians Engage Culture?
Christians engage culture by thoughtfully and carefully inserting themselves into contexts that aren’t usually Christian. They must be careful because not every part of any culture is healthy for Christian living. They must be thoughtful because there are a thousand nuances that can make you engaging with a certain group or make you a sore thumb with them.
This begs the questions, how can a Christian Engage with Culture Thoughtfully? and, How can a Christian Engage with Culture Carefully?
I will separate these two questions for a bit more clarity. But I think it is important to think of them together. We want to be thoughtful in how we engage culture (and various subcultures; geographically and ideologically), otherwise, we will never truly connect with these people or benefit them with the Gospel. They will be annoyed that we are trying to sell our religion to them without knowing anything specific about them.
We must engage culture carefully because there is a real threat that Christians can absorb too much of the culture. Christians can be well-intentioned yet dumb when they approach others. They often change the way they think in order to draw lines closer to their target audience which just creates a pseudo-Christianity and an aggressive mix of a new Cultural Christianity (emergent church anyone?).
Being unthoughtful leaves you babbling at people who are walking away from you and being uncareful leaves you with a compromised Christianity.
How can Christians Carefully Engage Culture?
What I would recommend first is this. Think about what you stand to lose if you aren’t careful. What could happen to you or to another person if you tried to live among a lost culture, live a life that is compelling to them, and engage in thoughtful dialogue that moved them closer to faith?
Well, living in this culture would put you in a place where you have to be very careful. I am not saying that we should escape to separatist communities and do Christian things with other Christians only. You should live around unbelievers. You should. But you also need to be careful. Living around people hostile and indifferent to Christianity poses threats to you. Just like sponges absorb nearby water, humans absorb nearby emotions, attitudes, patterns of thought, rhetoric, and belief. Not being careful will result in you being more absorbed with cultural values and patterns of thought than with Christian ones.
A Filter for Cultural Contagion
I am thankful that I ran into this idea taught by Mark Driscoll a few years back. Like him or not, he has successfully engaged different cultures to instill a Christian flavor to cultural happenings. He probably hasn’t done it perfectly, and I would argue that direction, but he has been successful. Not only has he been successful, he has been able to boil down the basic thought process so others can use it as well.
Reject, Receive, Redeem
Our filter for operating in the world as a Christian is this. When we encounter something from the culture we can Reject it as being incompatible with our Faith. We can receive it, unchanged, and assimilate ourselves a little bit into the culture through that area. And we can Redeem certain thoughts and activities. This would happen if the thing in questions doesn’t quite fit in with our Christian thought processes, but if it is tweaked a little, it can be received.
The above is our primer for thinking about this. In part 2, we will continue to discuss what being careful looks like. We will see what common pitfalls people and groups have fallen in before, maybe a few examples as well. In part 3, we will delve into how to be thoughtful. Mostly focusing on the Redeem filter. In these 3 parts, I want to drive home the fact that we all can live a full Christian life, both uncompromised and engaging to others. It makes me excited because this way of thinking is really a way to up your thoughtfulness.
There is something particularly eerie about a Christian who hasn’t thought about deep issues concerning life and how those issues creep up in their day to day lives. So many people live in complete ignorance, and I say that as respectfully as possible. Some people have never been taught to engage thought very well. Others may not have the capacity to do it well. But, it is a shame that some people don’t know the implications of their faith or of the various things they do in life. We shouldn’t run on autopilot but rather be thoughtfully engage to what is happening inside us and around us.
Reject and Receive – Part 2
Redeem – Part 3
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