Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Culture: An Ambiguous Interface

If you walk in Christian circles today, you are likely to hear much about the culture. There are culture warriors, culture changers, clashes of culture, culture wars, cultured yogurt, and the counter culture. Christians are told they need to engage the culture, impact the culture, infiltrate the culture, understand the culture, challenge the culture, and a host of other dramatic imperatives.
But the Bible doesn’t talk about the culture! So why do we?[1]
I understand that it is an easy way to reference our society as a whole, but there are several problems with using that word.
First, it is ambiguous. There can be many different meanings and I don’t know that the context always makes clear what we are talking about. America is a diverse nation and there are many different segments of the culture. I guess it is generally used to refer to the whole of American society, but there must be some part of society that is doing what we want, so we don’t need to take our message to them, do we? The term is too ambiguous to be useful.
Second, it is impossible to interface with the culture. I can’t communicate with an ambiguous entity. If the culture is made up of individuals, I can interface with them. I can’t walk into the server room where I work and start interacting with the information on the servers—I need a console to interact through. If I go back to my desk, I can access the information on those servers through my laptop that is connected to them. I think that is somewhat analogous to asking Christians to interact with the culture—there is no interface. Talking of interfacing with a nebulous concept is daunting.
Finally, the Bible never directs Christians to change the culture. There are clear commands to make disciples and share the good news of Christ, but not to make sure the school systems teach the Bible or that the government bans gambling and prostitution. In fact, the Bible never speaks of the culture. The closest we might come is the concept of the “world” found in passages like John 7:7 or 15:18–20. I don’t think it a stretch to insert “culture” for “world” in these passages where Jesus says
If the “culture” hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the “culture,” the ”culture” would love its own. Yet because you are not of the “culture,” but I chose you out of the “culture,” therefore the “culture” hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If “the culture” persecuted Me, “the culture” will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
Or when the Apostle John warns of being caught up in the world, we could insert our common understanding of culture and do no harm to the meaning of the text.
Do not love the “culture” or the things in the “culture.” If anyone loves the “culture,” the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the “culture”—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the “culture.” And the “culture” is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. 1 John  2:15–17
The culture cannot find salvation in Christ. The culture has not sinned against God. The culture cannot hear the message of the gospel. The culture will pass away at the end of the age.
Individuals can find salvation in Christ. Individuals have sinned against God. Individuals can hear the message of the gospel. Individuals will not pass away at the end of the age—each person will live forever in heaven or hell.
While I understand that it is easy to talk about how evil everyone around us is becoming and how debauched the culture/society is, it is individuals in the culture that make it that way. If we focused on sharing the gospel with individuals we could then expect those who are saved to follow the Bible’s principles as the Holy Spirit makes that possible. Apart from regeneration, there is no hope for an individual to live a life that is pleasing to God—no matter how outwardly moral they are. As more and more individuals come to faith in Christ, that will affect the overall culture and there will be less debauchery. But let us not fool ourselves—we live in a world corrupted by sin to such a profound level that even the righteous deeds of the redeemed of God are filthy rags compared to His holiness.
What if I worried about seeing Jeff Miller and Ann Franklin changed rather than trying to change the culture? I know how to interact with them. I see him in his yard and her at the grocery store. We can talk. I can share the hope I have in Christ with them as individuals, but I have no idea of how to share that truth with the culture. I can pray for God to convict them of their sin, but the culture has no conscience. I have a mandate to share that truth with them, I have no mandate to share that truth with the culture. I can show love to my neighbors, but I can’t show love to the culture.
Rather than attempting to change the culture, I would encourage you to focus on individuals. Pray for them. Love them. Preach the gospel to them. Show Christ to them. I don’t know about you, but that sounds much more accessible in the world I live in. I know how to interface with individuals.

[1] When I use “we” in posts like this, I will generally be referring to the community of Evangelical Christians in America. That is my context and the group I would most closely identify with. Though, I do not like what that word has come to mean, but I will tackle that topic another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment