24 September 2010

Engaging the Culture

by Phil Johnson



n one of my messages last week at the Ocean City Bible Conference, I remarked that evangelicals should spend less energy desperately seeking new ways to be hip and trendy, and invest far more of our time and resources in the work of proclaiming and defending the gospel.

After all, when we call ourselves EVANGELicals, we are purporting to hold the gospel message in high esteem. It is therefore ironic (and utterly inappropriate) that the mainstream of the contemporary evangelical movement is so blithely willing to adjust or tone down the gospel message in order to try to get in step with the values, trends, and dominant worldviews of our culture.

Whereas our spiritual ancestors studied Scripture with a deep concern for clarity, accuracy, and doctrinal soundness, today's evangelicals like to study popular culture with a similar intensity of zeal, but their obsession is mainly with the fads of the moment. They are hungry for the world's approval and esteem—yet they invariably manage to show up late to every party, usually dressed in last year's fashions.

Moreover, the quest to fit into secular culture has made the core of the evangelical movement more like the classic modernists of Harry Emerson Fosdick's ilk than truly evangelical in the sense the Reformers and their spiritual heirs have historically employed that term.

I think Thabiti Anyabwile or one of the other speakers at Ocean City must have said something in a similar vein (though undoubtedly with more class and diplomacy than I), because during the Q&A near the conference's end, someone submitted a question that was worded something like this:

"Two of your speakers objected to the idea of engaging the culture. But isn't that just what Christ did in the incarnation? He became one of us in order to reach us. He embraced the human culture."

Thabiti answered the question well and succinctly in the Q&A, and you ought to see if an mp3 of that session is available. (UPDATE: It's there. Download the Coffeehouse Q&A. The relevant portion begins at 7:47.) But I want to give an expanded answer in writing here, because people frequently misunderstand the point I'm trying to make when I criticize evangelicals for fad-chasing and worldview-tinkering. Since it's a criticism I make a lot (it has been the main theme of this blog for the past 5+ years) it's worth repeating and clarifying until every last reader gets it:
  1. No one but the strictest Amish sects opposes "engaging the culture."
  2. But "engaging the culture" means vastly different things to different people. To Chuck Colson, it seems to involve political activism. To some in the Young, Restless, and Reformed community, it evidently entails body modification and blue language. To someone who thinks of himself as "cultured," it might mean something considerably more highbrow. It's an expression that is almost as ill-defined as it is overused.
  3. And culture is a big idea, encompassing much, much more than superficial badges like tattoos, slang, high-end coffee, and contemporary music styles.
  4. For the record, no one is more in favor of earnestly "engaging the culture" in a true and biblical way than I am, assuming we let the Word of God define the kind of "engagement" that is appropriate.
And what does the Bible teach about cultural engagement? Lots of things:
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by foregoing our own freedom and becoming servants who observe whatever cultural taboos are deemed sacrosanct (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by refusing its tastes and values, as Daniel did in Daniel 1:8-21.
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by mocking it, as Elijah did in 1 Kings 18:27.
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by attacking it, in a manner analogous to the zeal with which David attacked Goliath and the Philistines in 1 Kings 17:26-54.

. . . and so on. The point is that there's not any one-size-fits-all approach to "cultural engagement" that is appropriate for every earthly culture or every situation. However, it is best to remember that all earthly cultures are fallen and at their core are hostile to God. Certainly adopting the language and fashions of a culture's most uncultured subcultures is no sound biblical strategy for church ministry and spiritual growth.

Above all, we need to remember that we're not supposed to make ourselves at home in this world. The world hates Christ and most likely will also detest those who love Him (John 15:18-20; 1 John 3:13). Winning the world's esteem has never been a valid goal for faithful Christians. In fact, when "cultural engagement" becomes a quest for street cred, academic respectability, or any other form of worldly approval, it is no longer the kind of cultural engagement Scripture calls us to.

Phil's signature

58 comments:

The Bible Christian said...

Is it the fact people really do not want to suffer persecution for Christ... so they engage the culture to some how minimize the sting. Suffering for Christ is the best when done outside the gate bearing His reproach Hebrews 13:13 We need to go out to Him. Some how keeping the best of both worlds is the answer for some people.

Andrew Perriman said...

Phil, I mostly agree with the tone of this, but surely the right reason behind the sort of cultural engagement that you criticize is not to find approval but to be understood - even just to be seen, acknowledged, heard.

I also don't think that modern evangelicalism really understands the 'gospel' that it purports to uphold. Those who seek contemporary cultural relevance are motivated as much by their embarrassment at evangelicalism's monotonous, unthinking proclamation and defence of what is frankly a sub-biblical 'gospel' as by what you characterize as a desperate desire to be hip and trendy.

Steve B said...

I've never really understood or taken to the "seeker friendly" movement. Yes, Jesus was "culturally relevant" -- to prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers. Not to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

I usually point back to the story of the rich young man in Mark Chapt. 10. Jesus laid it out plain for the guy, and the guy chose to walk away. Jesus didn't run after him, try and softcoat his message or find another way to appeal to the guy's felt needs.

Jesus remained committed to the truth, even if that meant a "seeker" walked away. And a rich one at that!

Jesus routinely lost followers every time he ratcheted the Gospel up another notch. But he didn't change his "ministry model" because of it.

lsdjr72 said...

When I go to a large church planters conference and each main session includes a "Guitar Hero" contest to see which church planter is the best at the video game, yet in only one of the sessions did we ever PRAY! I believe those pastors are doing what they do to be cool, and trendy, and have the street cred that this post talks about. I find no attempt to engage the culture in order to more intelligently discuss the glories of the cross...after all the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but Guitar Hero is COOL.

In church planting circles there is a epidemic of boyishness that results in immature churches built on faulty "cultural relevance."

John Doe said...

Phil, of course I agree with your observations and the comments added above. And as I said in the past the 'blindness' of those pursuing the trends seems to be only increasing, making your point a very relevant and necessary one. So, well said.

I would, however, like to spur you a bit deeper on a point (or two) you brought up. Namely, on the biblical means of 'cultural engagement'... You write:

"Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by mocking it, as Elijah did in 1 Kings 18:27.

Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by attacking it, in a manner analogous to the zeal with which David attacked Goliath and the Philistines in 1 Kings 17:26-54."

It seems rather obvious that in this interpretation you and your crew find your 'apologia' for some of (the spirit) of your posts on this blog...

If you would endure my saying so, respectfully, these verses may not be faithfully applied in the way you are suggesting. If they were, we would be free to dive in the old testament - and the law! - and bring out other verses of dealing with God's enemies and be free to claim them for ourselves Today.

I think you know this would be very immature of us as Christians, void of the slightest understanding of the redemptive-historical context within which to evaluate and apply God's dealings with His people (of old) through prophets and Kings.

No, mocking and "attacking" the culture isn't for those entrusted with proclaiming the wonderful news of His salvation.

Instead, the Bible seems to primarily call us to preach the Word of God faithfully and diligently.

Larry Mayo said...

When I look back at my miserable failures at "engaging the culture," I see a lack of boldness,compassion,servantheart, and Christlikeness that caused the rejection, not a lack of look-a-like fads of dress, language, and actions. I came out of
the "culture" not because someone looked like me, but because he looked like Christ. Thanks Phil.

Robert said...

John Doe,

I would say that Paul used sarcasm to mock and that he vigorously attacked those who were set against the teachings of Christianity. Just go read through some of the words he used for false teachers in the Bible...in the New Testament beside his other epistles where he writes about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and shows how the law only serves to show us our sinfulness. Are we to say that Paul was wrong and we should not imitate him as he imitated Christ? Or how about how Jesus handled the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23? That is a pretty clear attack. I just think we should look at all of Scripture before determining how we are to do anything, including engaging the culture.

John said...

I would like to see Christians actually engage the culture. Reality check - most of the "hipness" has to do with insecurity and wanting to be cool or with the budget. But what if we had Christians who were truly "engaging the culture" - bringing Christian principles to bear in the financial industry, exploring Chicago Blues and creating some new music that is more than just not-quite-good-enough pop with the word "Jesus" thrown in, or building a business in line with a Christian worldview. Hm. Sounds suspiciously like the doctrine of vocation.

Colin Maxwell said...

Yep! I agree.

thomastwitchell said...

No Highway To Hell to open worship... awww man!

Chris said...

Excellent post Phil! Hmmm, if the multitudes of "Christian" college or seminary professors and evangelical pastors actually took this to heart, they'd have to close up shop and go back to the drawing board with everything they do...which would mean they would actually have to be faithful to scripture and be themselves saved!

Phil (the Doulos) said...

Whenever I hear the phrase "engaging the culture" I flinch, since as you note here, it's a poorly-defined term at best. Every time I turn on any kind of media or walk out my front door, I am by definition "engaging the culture." So the issue is not to engage or not to engage, but rather HOW to engage.

And rarely does engaging the culture = imitating the culture. Because imitating the culture makes us indistinguishable from the culture, and the message of Christ simply another sound bite in the cultural whirlwind of ideas.

Understanding the cultural context and seeking for the Gospel to be heard and understood in that context is one thing. But so much of contextualization today goes too far, and adopts and values that which our fallen culture values, at the expense of clarity.

Frank Turk said...

Andrew --

I think that if our debate was over whether or not to use the KJV or the ESV as Scripture, I'd be willing to agree with you.

The problem is that we're talking about whether or not to see genesis as a historical account of the faith; we're talking about whether or not substitionary atonement is actually important as a weekly teaching in the church; we're talking about whether or not foul language is a vehicle for the Gospel; we're talking about whether to adopt the current pop trend as the most valuable cultural language in which to frame worship and community.

That's not about merely being heard: it's about wanting to impress or flatter people.

Frank Turk said...

John Doe --

The difference between OT Israel and the NT Church is that OT Israel had an earthly, human king (sometimes kings) who was ordered to carry out the constitution of Israel in the Mosaic law, and the NT church's conquest of the whole world is through the declaration of the Gospel and its necessary consequences. (holy dispensations Batman!)

That said, the church does not have its hands tied -- it's not a passive entity. But at the same time, it is working to overcome all the kings of the earth not by political means, but by ontological and metaphysical means which present themselves in the physical world as defined by the Bible and the Gospel.

For the Gospel, you cannot kill someone in order to save them -- even though you are calling them to die to their flesh. And in contrast to that, you cannot kill the Gospel to make it culturally-tasty in the hope of saving a person.

Sir Aaron said...

IMHO, culture engagement just means we've stopped believing in the power of the Gospel. Because in today's modern microwave culture, most people don't want to hear about sin or the process of santification. They want to know that they can do all the fun things they did before and yet have assurance of salvation. So the cultural engagers decided that the best thing to do is to appeal to these folks through clever marketing schemes. Then slowly, like boiling a frog, the folks will adopt Christian theology and attitudes.

Except there's one problem. We are lying to people if we don't tell them that Jesus said, If you love me, keep my commandments. We don't need good marketing. We need to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit that when a person hears the Word, they'll believe.

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew Perriman: "surely the right reason behind the sort of cultural engagement that you criticize is not to find approval but to be understood - even just to be seen, acknowledged, heard."

It seems to me that perhaps the best barometer of the nobility of our motives is our own willingness to suffer or sacrifice.

And let's be honest. There's very little self-sacrifice (much less any risk of persecution or martyrdom) in the types of contextualization generally being promoted today by those who talk the most about "engaging the culture."

mikeb said...

I'm not sure why some people use the phrase "engage the culture" because what they really mean is "compromise" with the culture. To engage it would be to expound the Scriptures into the world. What I see in seeker-friendly churches (and I've been in some big ones) are people who want to see how close they can be like the world and still be called a Christian.

Cathy M. said...

In both of your old testament references, the "engagement" was in response to idolatry and blasphemy. Failure to react with appropriate indignation to those types of assaults our God would be treasonous. "That our gospel offends the King's enemies is no regret to us. -CHS" [Guess where I got that :-)]

Thanks for this post. It helps me to make some important distinctions between good and bad ways to engage the culture.

Daryl said...

We should try to think of engaging culture in a similar way that a football team engages the other team, or an army engages the enemy.

Go to the stronghold, and tear it down.

Kind of a Vince Lombardi school of ministry.

Trouble is, as Phil has written, too often we engage culture by trying to hand them a new jersay and calling them team-mates, or worse, changing our jersey and calling them team-mates.

GCgirl said...

Paul washer did an excellent job in his Deeper 2008 presentation with this subject. He stated that the gospel has NEVER been culturally relevant. The early church turned the world upside down without being involved in politics or compromising the gospel in any way to fit the ideas of the culture. The miracle is that ANYONE believes in the gospel message of Christ. It is a working of the Holy Spirit to be sure, not by any packaging that the church wants to put on it. The Gospel has the power to save...not us.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

Bravo! Well written!

Andrew Perriman said...

Phil Johnson: "It seems to me that perhaps the best barometer of the nobility of our motives is our own willingness to suffer or sacrifice."

Phil, I would have thought that modern evangelicals, not least North American evangelicals, are on dodgy ground comparing their suffering and sacrifice with that envisaged in the New Testament.

Paul expected to suffer as Christ suffered as part of a redemptive narrative with the specific hope of becoming like him in his death and sharing in his resurrection. I'm not sure we can claim to be living that same narrative, but in any case there's also a story of being God's new creation, of creatively and compassionately and justly living out the fulness of the new life that has been vouchsafed for us by Jesus' suffering and the suffering of the early church.

The two narratives are intertwined, but it seems to me that those who engage the culture do so partly in order to recover something of the new creational narrative.

Rev. Marshall Barth said...

PTL!!! This article is very dear to my heart, for it something that has been laid upon it by the LORD! To many in the church of today chase after the world and lose their identity as a follower of CHRIST. We must live in this world, but not be a part of it. Our focus must be on CHRIST alone.

David Rudd said...

I have to believe the P.S. Ruckman Jr. post is a joke, right?

please?

David Rudd said...

cuz i laughed when i saw it...

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew Perriman ...as part of a redemptive narrative ... that same narrative, but in any case there's also a story ... The two narratives are intertwined, but ... something of the new creational narrative.

I need an Altoid.

Daryl said...

I just figured that God would do his new creation the same way he did the first one.

Alone. Without my help.

But that's just me.

Mike Riccardi said...

Phil: They are hungry for the world's approval and esteem—yet they invariably manage to show up late to every party, usually dressed in last year's fashions.

John: Reality check - most of the "hipness" has to do with insecurity and wanting to be cool or with the budget.

I think both of these comments need to be taken very seriously. Are we hearing all we're hearing about "engaging the culture" and being "culturally relevant" simply because "evangelicalism" is infatuated with worldliness? By and large, I think so.

Came across this quote from Carson the other day. Fits nicely:

"It is idiotic -- that is not too strong a word -- to extol the world's perspective and secretly lust after its limited vision. That is what the Corinthians were apparently doing; that is what we are in danger of doing every time we adopt our world's shibboleths, dote on its heroes, admire its transient stars, seek its admiration, and play to its applause."

Chris said...

An Altoid wouldn't be strong enough for that one; I need antibiotics!

John Doe said...

Robert says:
"...Are we to say that Paul was wrong and we should not imitate him as he imitated Christ?  Or how about how Jesus handled the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23? That is a pretty clear attack. I just think we should look at all of Scripture before determining how we are to do anything, including engaging the culture."

Robert, I think you are not comparing apples. Paul's letters were primarily addressed to believers and the corrections were primarily directed against the false teachers (operating) within the church of God. My comment was addressing our interactions/engagements with those who are very clearly outside of His Kingdom (the culture). This is a crucial difference. 

Frank Turk says:
"...That said, the church does not have its hands tied -- it's not a passive entity. But at the same time, it is working to overcome all the kings of the earth not by political means, but by ontological and metaphysical means which present themselves in the physical world as defined by the Bible and the Gospel."

Frank, if preaching and proclaiming His Word faithfully and diligently in our minds equates to having our "hands tied" we better all brush up on the basics... Before we appeal to any ontological and metaphysical we should be very clear of the primary means the Scriptures point us to in administering the New Covenant, to the building up of believers to maturity and unto salvation of the lost (read: engaging culture).

Rachael Starke said...

I agree completely with those who are arguing that a wrongheaded approach to cultural engagement denies the centrality of the power of the gospel.

But, there is also a wrongheaded approach in another strain of evangelicals ostensibly preaching the gospel in response to that wrongheadedness, to which Andrew Perriman alludes in his first comment (although I'm with Phil on getting a little twitchy over all the "narrative" stuff in your second comment :D ).

It's the approach that preaches the power of the gospel in salvation/justification, but not in sanctification. "The Holy Spirit regenerated you, so now you are absolutely capable of being holy and righteous, and if you aren't holy and righteous, well, maybe it's because you're not saved." It's the approach that is afraid of talking too much about how He manifests that power in our everyday life e.g. Not in tongues and other wierdness, but in helping me not lose my temper and speak in very unholy tongues when I'm fighting to put sheets on the top bunkbed without breaking my hands. It's as if we talk about the Holy Spirit in this way, then we're somehow bringing too much or the wrong kind or attention to Him, and people will start worrying we've gone all Charismaticky. When maybe we're just being Bibley. :)

IOW, I agree with you Phil, completely, that most of the iterations of "engaging the culture" are fad-driven and devoid of doctrine. But, when we ask ourselves why this whole movement began, and why it's not dying fast enough, do we consider the role that some of our churches
(meaning, us personally :) ) might have played in giving it life in the first place?

Mike Riccardi said...

John Doe, if "preaching and proclaiming His Word faithfully and diligently in our minds" is what's meant by everyone everywhere who uses the term "engaging culture," then the only problem we have is that certain people are entirely ignorant of the usage of a certain phrase. No one's going to disagree with you that what you said is a bad idea. Apparently, though, a lot of people -- people you'd probably agree with on some things -- don't agree that that's all it means.

I've read and heard a lot about engaging the culture and cultural relevance and missional living, but this is the first time I've ever heard those ideas equated with "the building up of believers to maturity and unto salvation of the lost." So when you put in parentheses: "(read: engaging culture)," I'm almost forced to laugh, because I don't think I could ever "read" the building up of believers to maturity and unto salvation of the lost as "engaging the culture" as I've seen it used and abused in the evangelical landscape today.

(Word verification: disses)

Mike Riccardi said...

Premature ending.

My point? Just use the terms "preaching and proclaiming His Word faithfully and diligently in our minds" and "the building up of believers to maturity and unto salvation of the lost," phrases that are specifically Gospel-centered, and don't have the baggage and the potential for woeful misinterpretation and misapplication as "engaging the culture" does.

Andrew Perriman said...

Phil Johnson: "I need an Altoid."

I've no idea what that's supposed to mean. We clearly have problems understanding each other. We speak different languages. We should try harder. Shouldn't you?

Mike Riccardi said...

Andrew,

Altoids are breath mints, used to get the bad taste out of someone's mouth.

John Doe said...

Mike (Riccardi),

My point in adding the parentheses was to simply say that preaching of his Word is the primary biblical means given to ministers to 'engage the culture'. In other words, no need to look further.

And I agree the term (ec) is so loaded with nonsense these days that we are probably better off not using it at all.

Mike Riccardi said...

John, thanks for being patient. Apparently I've misunderstood your intent. Glad we agree.

Regarding the appropriateness of mocking and sarcasm, though, I think you're right to point out that Matthew 23 was specifically against the religious leaders of the day. But I'd argue that Paul was doing some mocking and engaging in some sarcasm himself on Mars Hill. He basically calls the self-styled philosophical elite ignoramuses (17:23, 29, 30), and his comment that they are "very religious in all respects" (17:22) is, in my opinion, a very clever use of sarcasm.

Mel said...

Good post. I was reminded of just how hostile this world can be just this week when I responded to several off-color comments left on a secular pop-culture blog.
Many of the posts were bigoted against Christians, conservatives, and "family values". When I responded with Biblical Truth presented with clear logic and cogent arguments, I was shut down.
My account was terminated and my comments were deleted from the boards.
While I wouldn't consider it persecution, it was a reminder of the feelings that lie just beneath the surface of many people today.
At some point, the true church will no longer be able to mix with this culture without paying a severe price.
Maranantha!

John Doe said...

Mike,
you bring up well known and an appropriate reference. It isn't very clear to me whether or not Paul's words were laced with a hint of sarcasm (or mocking) there.

But one thing is clear. Note how the Scriptures themselves testify to what he was doing: "...[H]e was preaching Jesus and the resurrection." (v18)

I think this is very important. The context should be kept foremost in mind when contemplating his methods, use of inscriptions, worldly poetry, etc...

Preaching Christ outside our Sunday pulpits is still preaching Christ, and the primary way of "engaging". (Sorry for the use of the word again but I want to point out that this is relevant to the topic of the post.)

Peter Eddy said...

I'm curious to hear Phil's response to John Doe's first comment. Frank, I agree with everything you said in response to him, but to me it didn't seem to explain how that justifies carrying over OT theocratic practices to this side of the cross.

Practically speaking, after the contest at Carmel, the people slaughtered all the prophets and followers of Baal. How can we carry the mocking over to the New Covenant, while the slaughtering of the idolators remains there alone in the Old Covenant? It's not that I disagree, but I'm curious how to do it.

Anyway, any chance, Phil, you could devote another post to when we should follow Paul's 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23 example, and when we shouldn't?

Peter Eddy said...

When I talk with sincere Christians who actually believe that it takes relevance to reach people (let me be more specific, I have one friend who is genuinely concerned with Truth, but thinks that we need to adapt our clothing and interests to what non-Christians do, to reach them), I think that what is meant is, "If you don't have similarities to non-Christians, they won't be your friends so you won't witness to them." I think if the cultural engagement people (such as Driscoll), started saying that Christians need to have non-Christian friends, the dialog might be able to progress.

Hayden said...

How come the culture everyone seems to want to engage is cool, has great coffee, drinks micro brews and watches great movies.

Where is the church reaching out to the non cool single mothers, or the computer geek squad?

The cultural engagement squad always seem to pick the cool cities and not the place where no one has ever gone. I am waiting to see the church planter that wants to engage the farming culture of Topeka Kansas.

Mike Riccardi said...

"If you don't have similarities to non-Christians, they won't be your friends so you won't witness to them."

What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

Christians need to stop trying to make the world think that we're so like each other, and start trying to highlight how different we are from each other. Ya know, light shining in a dark place?

In any case, Rick Holland has an awesome follow-up post to this post over at his place, called "Cultural Engagement by Being Cool." Definitely worth the read.

Peter Eddy said...

I think you're taking it too far to the other extreme, Mike. It's not wrong to have non-Christian friends, and it's not wrong to cultivate non-Christian friendships to share the Gospel with them. It's wrong to behave like an unbeliever, and it's wrong to compromise. But I suspect that even Phil, Dan and Frank have non-Christian friends.

Rachael Starke said...

Hayden,

Ooooh, I do! I'm in the Bay Area, technogeek-central. Give me a hardworking farmer's wife to evangelize any day over a self-absorbed, mind-worshipping technology nerd any day.

Guess that's why my Phil and I are here and not there. :)

But Mike R., just to play the other side a little bit, I and my techno-nerd neighbors (and my overdressed, high-heels at 8.a.m. mom neighbors) do have something in common - we are made in God's image, to reflect His nature and bring glory to Him.. Our eyes have been opened by God Himself to that truth; their's haven't - yet. There is something to be said for thinking about the different ways that blindness demonstrates itself - intellectually, physically, sinful patterns like drugs/alcohol - and seeking ways to let those external expressions of their lostness direct the way we call out their lostness and call them to Christ.

Maybe that's another way to define the culture engagement problem - it starts with the outside and tries to work in; a better model of cultural engagement starts on the inside and considers the different ways the problem leads out.

Mike Riccardi said...

Peter, please show me where I said it's wrong to have non-Christian friends.

Rachael, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Paul is plainly saying that there is no commonality between the believer and the unbeliever. He doesn't seem to think that their humanity (which he's obviously conscious of) nullifies his statement.

-

The Christian's "point of contact" with the unbeliever is not in any perceived commonality. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The point of contact lies, as Van Til says, in the actual state of affairs between men as the Bible tells us of it. Not in our musical preferences, wardrobe styles, socio-economic statuses, or ethnic backgrounds; but in the reality that -- to be blunt -- they're dead in their trespasses and sins, hostile to the God who created them, and that we have a message of Life that offers forgiveness and reconciliation.

That doesn't mean we can't be friends with non-Christians. That's just absurd. It just means that the basis of our friendship with non-Christians lies in the actual state of affairs, in reality.

Just for good measure, MLJ captures my thoughts well when he says:

"The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian."

donsands said...

Excellent words and lesson.

Those pics are great. Love the first one. Made me think of Ocean City Maryland.

"No Highway To Hell to open worship... awww man!" Thomas

There's a church in my area that begins it's service with this tune (no joking): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPx1lPoYtSU&feature=related

Strong Tower said...

donsands- There is one in mine too, called Element. It patterns itself after Perry Ignoble. Cheers to you too.

Mike Reccardi- Nice. I blended it into a post at A Rose. Keep it up, you save my fingers.

Strong Tower said...

Drats. Forgot the follow-up again.

Strong Tower said...

Hey don. The SBC I used to attend was using Sweet Home Alabama with modified words when I left there. So it doesn't have to be an outter limits church to do this kind of thing.

donsands said...

"Cheers to you too." ST

I really like the show. Funny for the most part, but sometimes it's typically too worldly.

It amazes me how Christians can do these things. I guess they may not be born anew, but are in the flesh.

Chris said...

Peter:

As Mike has indicated, he nowhere says we shouldn't have non-Christian friends. What he stressed in his comment was the impact on a dying world on its way to hell believers MUST have. In other words, the unsaved people God brings into our lives (to love as God would love them) are on their way to HELL; most evangelicals today, and especially emergents and/or liberals, are hardly aware of the HELL their professed salvation saved them from, much less the unsaved in their circles of influence. Many of them are likely not saved themselves, so of course they are not concerned about others' salvation, but that's another comment thread. The point I want to make, and I think Mike is making, is that Christians with unsaved friends--and they SHOULD have unsaved friends--have a DUTY to be a light for those people and present the truth of God's Word to them. When most evangelicals today talk about their need for friendship with unsaved friends, they are really talking about their desire to befriend the worldly system they are commanded to hate and from which to rescue their unsaved friends! They use no discernment, are oblivious to spiritual warfare that surrounds the friendship with such people for their souls, and generally love the ticket to carnal living they get to write for themselves in the name of "missional" living.

Mike Riccardi said...

Rachael: There is something to be said for thinking about the different ways that blindness demonstrates itself - intellectually, physically, sinful patterns like drugs/alcohol - and seeking ways to let those external expressions of their lostness direct the way we call out their lostness and call them to Christ.

I re-read this a couple more times after being away for a few hours, and it makes more sense to me. It's a good point, and, I think, a Biblical one. Paul saw the Athenians' sin of idolatry as the "external expression of their lostness," and he went after their "very religious-ness" (17:22) as a means to demonstrate their total ignorance (17:23, 29, 30) of the God who is. Similarly, we can see someone's lust for fame and money, for example, and get at their pride, self-worship, and greed.

So I see what you're saying. And I think it's an astute observation that the "engagers of culture" start from the outside and (sometimes) try to work inside, whereas the Biblical model starts inside and works out.

And, just a general comment for what it's worth: I don't think everyone who wears the missional badge is intentionally seeking the world's approval. I think they're sincerely trying to win people to Christ, and the allure of potentially doing that while remaining culturally credible is strong, even if subtle. But the rebuke that I would offer them is that the Gospel needs a proclaimer, not an editor. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We do not need to help it, or spin it, or re-package it for it to do its work. We need only to proclaim it.

May God grant us the humility to preach the message we've received.

Rachael Starke said...

Mike,

Well I'm relieved because I too just came back to reread Phil's post in the hopes of getting some more clarity at this really late hour. Right. :)

This is the phrase that was most helpful for me:

"...we let the Word of God define the kind of "engagement" that is appropriate.

That's what I was getting at in describing the right kind of engagement as starting at the right place. But that place from where we begin is a lot broader, with far rockier terrain, than we sometimes see.

Mark Dever's recent sermon on Jesus Paying Taxes is, IMHO, a tremendous example of how to take this into account. He's preaching at what could reasonably be called the American Mars Hill. There are all manner of influential, learned people in the congregation. But he doesn't presume that they're learned about the mechanics of the Bible. He takes the time to explain how things we take for granted, like chapters and verses, work. His opening story confronts multiple aspects of a very current topic - he has a good friend who is a Muslim, and they're talking about competing world views. Later on, he specifically, sincerely thanks those in his midst who work in government for the good of the country. Not only is he preaching in a way that's engaging his local culture, he's modelling how he himself does it.

And I think that's part of the real challenge, to which Phil alludes several times. We have lots of examples of what bad or well-intentioned but misguided cultural engagement looks like, but few examples of what excellent cultural engagement looks like. And the few we have we tend to bend to fit our own biases and comfort levels, rather than trusting that the whole counsel of God is robust enough to withstand some prayerful consideration about where we're free and where we're bound.

stef said...

Follow God must be with all your heart.

http://doessomething.blogspot.com

Peter Eddy said...

Mike, I'm sorry for misrepresenting you. I didn't understand what you meant.

Jason Alligood said...

Probably the best question I've heard asked about cultural engagement was from the Ekklesia conference Q&A by Jerry Wragg that was held two weeks ago in Jupiter, Fla. I paraphrase, "Why is cultural engagement always about tatoos and body modification? Why don't these guys ever put on pocket protectors and go reach the nerds of Silicon Valley?" Great question!

d4v34x said...

Frank Turk: ". . .we're talking about whether to adopt the current pop trend as the most valuable cultural language in which to frame worship and community."

So what's with the music at Resolved?

Not quite Amishly,

David