James Emery White recently raised the evangelism flag at a well known church and culture conference. He rightly noted that there are trends in Western evangelical/post-evangelical Christianity that make much of engaging culture, while making less of evangelizing people.
Is this trend due to the fact that there are two Great Mandates for the Christian–the cultural mandate (Cultural Commission, Gen 1) and the discipleship mandate (Great Commission, Matt 28)? If so, did Jesus intend for the Great Commission, the redemption of souls to trump and subsume the cultural commission? On the other hand, are current misisonal-cultural trends in danger of obscuring the discipling of the nations?
Much could be said in response (and i hope it will). Briefly, I believe we need Christians “who redemptively engage peoples and cultures through Christ,” which is an excerpt from Austin City Life’s vision statement. In fact, redemptively engaging people and cultures should be done hand in hand, not first and second. All peoples, are enculturated beings…their worldviews, values, etc are shaped by culture, positively and negatively.
Our task is to connect with culture by praising the positive, building bridges and showing the biblical foundations for positive culture and for the origins and purpose of culture, AND for redemptively critiquing, questioning, and disowning negative and questionable parts of culture and society.
The gospel is for God’s glory in people through culture, as well as through culture for people. Of course, cultural renewal and social transformation happen through people and their innovations, so we can’t have one without the other. If we want to reach people, we have to deal with culture, intelligently or ignorantly. If we want to engage culture, we will necessarily affect people redemptively or religiously. There is no either/or.