Engaging Culture

I love the idea of the Christians engaging culture. Without this engagement, the church starts to look like M. Night Shyamalan’s Village, an awkward commune whose leaders spend their days warning the people of the monsters that lurk just beyond the forest.

This is hardly the light of the world picture that Jesus referred to. You can’t light a city from a hole in the ground.

I realize the push back from fellow believers. “Brother, we are not of this world.” Agreed. However, we are still in this world. Jesus didn’t stand on a rock, just before ascension, and say, “Go into all the world and start communes, hiding yourselves from all those scary sinners.”

In fact, in his last recorded prayer, Jesus requested this for Christians:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
(John 17:15 ESV)

It is my belief that Christians are called to be cultural missionaries in their respective contexts. When the Apostle Paul addressed the people of Athens, he used Greek poetry—written by pagans, mind you—to frame his statements about God.

Many churches take a similar approach to this, using the hot-button topics of culture to communicate the timeless truths of scripture. I love it. Unfortunately, I think many churches are going about it the wrong way.

For one, there’s the cheese factor. Changing Twilight to Hislight and doing a series on being a light for Jesus isn’t connecting to culture; it’s being corny. “When we come in contact with the S-O-N (as in Jesus) we start to glow like Edward!”

Somewhere, right now, there is a Student Pastor saying, “Girls, you need to tell the devil, ‘We are never, ever, ever getting back together.'” This must be stopped.

Worse than that, I think many churches are approaching culture from the wrong direction. 

Many pastors study societal trends more than they study their Bibles; they encounter a song, movie, or article and think, “How can I turn this into a sermon?”

This is backwards.

Christians should be students of Scripture so much so that when we encounter pop culture, we are struck by all the biblical parallels and applications.

On the surface this may seem like semantics, but the order makes all the difference. Starting with cultural application inevitably twists scripture to fit an idea apart from the author’s original intent.

On the other hand, looking through a biblical lens allows one to see the fingerprints of God on every facet of life. Movies mirror biblical narratives. Lyrics echo the beauty of the Psalms or the heartbreak of Lamentations. Life becomes one big sermon illustration.

This is why Paul had no problem quoting pagan poetry. The words didn’t inform his view of God; they simply illustrated it beautifully.

In him we live and move and have our being.

I’d love to get your feedback. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Photo Credit: Ars Electronica (Creative Commons)

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