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Religion and Politics is like Ice-Cream and Manure: They Don't Mix (Jarrod McKenna)

Engaging Culture

When it comes to culture, including media (TV, movies, etc) and politics, there are three different approaches that Christians tend to take:

1. Reject Culture. Some Christians see the world as ‘evil’ (and at times, rightly so) and therefore all culture is to be rejected. Christians are called to be ‘holy’ which means to be ‘separate’ from the world. Christians end up living in their own sub-culture – with Christian communities, Christian bookshops, Christian TV, and even Christian jewelry! The danger with this approach is that Christians end up very ‘different’ from the world but because of their isolation they have ‘no audience’ and therefore no positive ‘influence’ on the world.

2. Embrace Culture. Other Christians go the other way – they fully embrace culture in response to Jesus command to live ‘in’ the world. The danger with this approach is that if we uncritically embrace everything in our culture, we can end up no different than the world we live in. As a result, we have no message to offer them, despite the fact that we have relationships with them. We aren’t isolated, as in the first approach, but we are so immersed in the culture that we lose our distinctiveness.

 

3. Engage Culture. A more balanced approach, modelled exceptionally well by Jesus, is for us to ‘engage’ with our culture. We are to be ‘in’ the world, but we are also called to be ‘not of’ the world. Jesus’ used metaphors for this – ‘salt’ and ‘light’. Both of these things make an impact but only when there is proximity. Salt in the salt shaker has no affect and light only helps if it is shining in the darkness.

 

The first two approaches are easy - they are 'black' and 'white'. The third approach is much more difficult - even risky. It's 'grey' ... but it's well worth the effort.

Jesus spent a lot of time with people far from God and, amazingly, he never got angry or aggressive with them (‘sinners’). The only people he did get angry with were extremely religious people, especially the Pharisees who were very legalistic.

Which way do you lean? Do you tend to reject culture too easily? Do you tend to embrace culture too much? How could you engage with culture more effectively this week?

Comments

It doesn't look like anyone else has commented yet on this great BLOG - so wanted to be the first! :-)

Well done Mark - i believe this will be an incredible tool to impact the world around us. I believe in you as a great leader and communicator for this age. the journey ahead is a great one!

Andrew Naylor

Hi Mark! I think it's great that u've started blogging....I've really enjoyed reading, and gleaning some of your wisdom.

Thanks Pastor...I was looking for this answer for a long long time.. being a Christian we are living in this world where everything seems to be sinful...living 'in' the world, not 'of' this world is just the answer and i'm sure gonna share this with my family n fellow christians..cheer:)

Thank you, Mark, for raising this issue about engaging culture. You are spot on. Indeed we need to engage culture.

In a real sense the error of the religious leaders of Jesus' days (such as the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees) was that they relied on their performance to maintain a relationship with God. But importantly we need to note that things such as Sabbath-keeping were essentially marks of first-century Jews’ social and religious identity as a people living under the rule of foreign powers (e.g. the Romans). Because such an identity was so important to them (and rightly so given the circumstance), they failed to see the extravagant grace of God – so much so that they were upset when Jesus healed on the Sabbath and when he ate with tax-collectors and sinners.

I think as Christians we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap. We can potentially have an attitude not dissimilar to that of the religious leaders in Jesus’ days. That is, we have a “them and us” mentality. Whenever someone does not think or behave according to our perceived “normal” Christian culture, we think that they are bad or “carnal”. We fail to love the “sinners” in our world. We fail to learn from the Father in the Prodigal Son, who longed for his younger son to come home although he was living in sin.

On the other hand we can accept the popular culture all too easily. Often we lack the ability to discern what is good and what is ungodly in our society. It is not hard to become very materialistic and self-centred. Popular culture often tells us to put our own interests first. The world around us tells us to seek power, status and honour. Thus we are slow to be self-giving. We try not to live sacrificially. In the worst scenario, we too seek power, status and privileges, even though Jesus teaches us that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Modernity has taught us to avoid suffering at all cost, but the message of the Cross teaches us to embrace suffering as well as celebrate the power of resurrection.

Thus Star Wars in fact teaches us something. It teaches us not to seek power for ourselves (even though it seems that we can use it for a good cause) – or else we may turn to the dark side.

Sorry that I have probably gone beyond “engaging culture” topic. Thank you again for raising such an important issue.

Blessings,
Siu-Fung

Excellent message for today Mark! Your teaching is well balanced... in a real way.....
Thank you for this opportunity to share our views. How true. We're called to love people
into God's Kingdom, showing we care, and leave their coviction to the Holy Spirit, who knows their heart better than we do. We catch them and God cleans them, as the saying goes :) The Bible says, "We all fall short of God's glory" and we all need His forgiving grace. We need to look at people through Jesus' eyes and be the greater influence, without compromising our Christian values.

Love... and NOT compromise!

God bless you and your ministry abundantly.

Love in Christ, Marija

Thanks for everyone's comments. Engaging culture is definitely not an easy choice, but one I believe we must all continue to make. After all, that's the only way we'll bring about positive change in people's lives and in our world. Mark

Hi Ps Mark, thank you for setting up this site. There is much talk these days about engaging culture and I agree that the church needs to remain in touch, be relevant in society and actively reach out to all sectors in love.

However, I am concerned that the "engaging culture" endeavour seems to be increasingly adopted as a convenient slogan & excuse by Christians to justify their indulgence of various carnal craves and any query as to the appropriateness of such indulgences (it often becomes quite impossible to see any Salt/Light) is summarily dismissed as being Pharisaic. I am concerned that the general congregation would thereby be silenced & discouraged from querying the correctness of Scriptural interpretation and application.

In particular, the Old Testament accounts of Joseph and Daniel have often been cited as examples of "engaging culture," of becoming so fully identified with the culture that Joseph's brothers could not recognise him; while Daniel & his friends were better than all the "magicians and enchanters" (this is interpreted by some to mean they excel as magicians and enchanters). However, is that indeed the message intended by the human author & God in those passages? What were the original contexts and messages intended in those accounts? We need to be faithful in the handling of God's Word at all times.

Ps Mark, I fully appreciate that "engaging culture" requires fine balance and it often looks grey because of variance in biblical interpretation (this is inevitable because we all vary in backgrounds, experiences and thus perspectives but we must all humbly allow God's Word to speak to us His Truth and not our preferred interpretations).

I am thankful for your blog because it provides a platform for us to discuss our concerns and seek better understanding and better approaches to the endeavour in the love of Christ and unity of the Body.

In the premises, I would certainly appreciate more input and guidance from you on the practical aspects of how we can more effectively remain the Salt & Light whilst engaging culture.

Thank you for tending to the Lord's sheep !

God Bless,
Jemaine

Good comments, Jemaine. Our motive for engaging culture should be to influence people for Christ, not just to be 'cool' or as an excuse for carnality or even sin. This is a fine line, as you mentioned. The challenge is to be 'in' the world (relevant) but also 'not of' the world (genuinely different)! We can so easily err on either side, can't we.

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