I had a nice time with some church leaders in our area this evening. They invited me to talk to them on the topic of cultural engagement. I’ll note the resources I referred to under each heading. The talk unfolded along three lines of thought.
What is Culture and Why Care About it?
This is a mash up of Ken Meyers and my own Anthropological training. In his insightful book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (its much better than it sounds), Meyers says culture is “What we make of the world.” It’s a double entendre. Culture is ideas and products, assessments and artifacts.
Developing a brief biblical theology of culture, I cited Mark Noll’s commentary on evangelicals from The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind:
For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts — all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory — may be, in fact, sinful
Paradigms for Engaging Culture
Here I pointed the foundational work of Richard Neihbur’s Christ & Culture, but advocated a simpler and more flexible paradigm from the lesser known Lamin Sanneh, an African missiolgist who teaches a Princeton. In his Translating the Message, Sanneh suggest three-fold approach that is not sequential but overlapping and flexible:
- QUARANTINE – holy seclusion from the world through spiritual disciplines and moral decision-making. What we quarantine from may change over time and we mature as Christians in matters of conscience (e.g. Acts 15 versus 1 Cor 8 on the matter of food sacrificed to idols).
- SYNCRETISM – Syncretism refers to those theological and ethical issues that are no longer normative but are open to conscience, emphasizing holiness and responsibility in the world. It is the first step in contextualization.
- REFORM – Reform is a prophetic stance that attempts to keep one foot the kingdom of the world and another foot in the kingdom of heaven. The result is not a condemnation of culture (though that is one possibility), but instead it focuses on the continual reformation of ethics and behavior thus celebrating, condemning, and critiquing culture while anchored in the text.
These can be simplified into REJECT, RECEIVE, REDEEM but using these terms loses some of Sanneh’s nuance.
Missional Community Questions
1 PEOPLE: What people is God sending you to? Where do they live and hang out? How could we re-orient our lives to be with them. Go to community spots, where people gather in your area: parks, gyms, bars, libraries. You can’t engage people you’ve never met.
2 LANGUAGE: What “language” do they speak? Are these people young families, business professionals, hipsters, etc. Read their Literature. Watch their films. Learn their language, where values are embedded. Language is the passageway to the heart.
3 VALUE: What is most important to them? Success, money, relationships, independence. Ask 2nd Level questions about people’s history. Most of only know people from a recent period forward. Know their past and how it has formed them. Ask 3rd Level which inquires into the why of their hopes, fears, dreams, concerns. It slices vertically into their horizontal history to understand them more.
4 GOSPEL: How is the Gospel good news to them? How does it address their values? How is the Gospel better than what they value most right now. Build bridges to what they values and apply the gospel specifically to broken or inordinate values.
5 NEEDS: What are their needs? How does Jesus meet those needs? How can we be a part of meeting their needs in a way “shows” the Gospel.