Christians and Culture: “Receive, Reject, or Redeem”

All Christians are called to be missionaries—to engage in evangelism (the communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and acts of service—regardless of whether their mission field is their home, their workplace, their community, another country or another continent.  Though traveling to other areas for missions is important, we often forget how great an impact we can have right in our own backyard, in our everyday lives.

Wise missionaries understand that they must learn the culture of those whom they seek to reach, not only because it is important to know what others believe before we expect them to learn what we believe, but also because it affords a wonderful opportunity to meet people where they are, and communicate with them in an understandable way. In the same way that Jesus taught using parables, missionaries who know the history, customs and legends of a group of people can use this knowledge to analogize the story of the Gospel, presenting it in a meaningful way (St. Patrick, for example, left parts of Ireland’s culture intact, while turning them toward Christ as the object of their worship).

But this lesson holds true not only for those who seek to evangelize in foreign lands; when we minister to people anywhere, we can provide a clearer presentation of the Gospel if we understand their culture.  In the U.S., that means understanding many aspects of pop culture:  music, movies, books, television, celebrities, fashion, etc.  As obnoxious as we may find Stephanie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight books, for example, we can use themes presented in those stories, such as sacrificial love, to communicate the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ—who willingly died that we might be saved—to a teenage girl in a way that is perhaps more approachable than any presentation of the Gospel narrative that she has previously heard.  Even the Insane Clown Posse, a revolting rap duo with arguably no redeeming social value, recognize the awe and wonder of the Creation (though in much less intelligent and more offensive language) in their song “Miracles,” the lyrics of which could be the starting point of a discussion about the inadequacy of naturalistic explanations to explain the universe in which we live.

As Christians, we needn’t fear culture, but we must exercise discernment in which parts of culture can stay, and which must go.  Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, recently wrote in his blog concerning this topic (“Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General”).  Driscoll argues that culture should not be viewed passively (“merely as entertainment”); rather, he writes, we should “engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.” He goes on to point out the dangers of going to either extreme:  Syncretists dilute the Gospel too much in favor of staying “relevant” (something all too common in the Emergent Church movement), while sectarians legalistically believe that being involved in culture at all is analogous to living in sin. To avoid going “too far” or “not far enough,” Driscoll offers this wise advice:

One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:

· Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.

· Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.

· Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.

The key, then, is to use our discernment to decide which parts of culture we should receive, what we must reject, and those which can be redeemed.  Perhaps the reason that many Christians are hesitant to follow this taxonomy is that we don’t trust others—or ourselves, for that matter—to make sound judgments regarding these things.  Surely, life as a Christian would be easier in some ways if we had more of a clear-cut set of rules to guide our behavior. Following Christ, though, is not about following rules; it’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and about freely deciding to live our lives in a Christ-centered way—one which glorifies Him in all that we do.  If we replace that relationship with an attempt to follow a code of conduct—an effort that is doomed to fail—we miss the point completely.  God granted us the free will to decide for ourselves; we honor His gift when we use discernment—consulting the Word and with prayerful consideration—to make the right choice:  the choice that brings glory to God.

All aspects of culture offer us opportunities to reach a world that is desperately in need of Jesus.  We should graciously and gladly accept—and take advantage of—these occasions.

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