Tag: Gospel and Culture

3 Layers of Gospel & Culture

The relationship between Gospel & Culture is often fuzzy. I’ve recently been explaining the relationship between the two with three layering claims that build on one another.

First, we must understand the Gospel in light of culture. Second, we must understand Culture in light of the Gospel. Third, only then can we wisely Church the Gospel in our cultures. These three layers of understanding build on each other the way you plant a tree. We need seed (Gospel), soil (Culture), and growth strategy for your trees (Church). The seed layer is seminal and the second two allow gospel seed to grow into flourishing trees.

The challenge of mission is to so understand the dna of the Gospel that we are compelled to exegete our culture and grow indigenous churches that offer shade and strength to their cultures.

The Gospel Seed

The seed layer is: understanding the Gospel in light of culture. It’s impossible to conceive of the gospel apart from culture. So many people miss this, get in a tiff about contextualization, say it is compromising the gospel, and create unnecessary division. It’s so important that we get off on the right foot by understanding the Gospel in light of culture. This is our first, seminal layer. It’s more theological.

The Cultural Soil

The soil layer is: understanding Culture in light of the Gospel. Before we can sufficiently start, lead, and grow churches that spread the gospel, we need to understand and work over the soil of our cultures. Trees grow different in various soils. We must understand the soil of people’s values, rhythms, and beliefs before we can properly plant the gospel in their culture. This second layer is more practical.

Planting Churches

Finally, the third layer is our growth strategy for nurturing the tree(s), where we will consider how to Church the gospel in our cultures. How does the seed of the gospel grow in the soil of our cultures in a way that actually grows a healthy, reproducing church? How do we church the gospel in our culture? The final layer is our strategy.

So, what I’m trying to practice and teach is putting Gospel seed in Cultural soil, with a strategy to Church the gospel in your culture. This is all vague and introductory, but if helpful, I will fill in this framework with future posts.

Culture & the American Evangelical (Pt 1)

I’ll never forget the day when one of my esteemed pastors walked up to me and disapprovingly commented: “Is that a rock star haircut? Interesting.” Although I jokingly blew off his attack on my hairstyle choice, I knew from his response this was no laughing matter. I had clearly gone the way of the world. His comment made a somewhat spiritually mature twenty-seven year old feel like a spiritual infant. Should a simple hairstyle call into question my personal piety? Was I too hip to be holy?

Too Holy to be Hip

Peddle back with me to my first church in the 80s, known by its insiders as “The Mission.” I was the oldest kid in church, a single teen among adults and kids. I always wondered why there weren’t any other teenagers. As I matured, the reason became apparent. Not only were there no teenagers, there were rarely any newcomers. The Mission firmly believed its role in the kingdom of God was to pray for revival; that’s it. No evangelism, no cultural engagement, no social justice, and for many, no secular music, no television. On top of that, or should I say inside of it, there were the prophetic power brokers, whose super-spiritual connections led them to condemn certain people they deemed too “worldly”. The Mission was hardly missional, too hollowed with churchly holiness to engage the “unholy culture”. Their problem was the reverse—too holy to be hip.

The Church & Culture Pendulum

Noted historian Mark Noll has documented the 20th century pendulum of American evangelical postures regarding church and culture. In an article entitled “Where We Are and How We Got Here?”, he demonstrates the absence of significant evangelical thought and action in the first half of the 20th century.[1] White American evangelicals abandoned serious engagement with academia, popular culture, and politics. The in-house fundamentalist-modernist controversy left fundamentalist Christians disconnected and quarantined from the ideas of the universities, the burgeoning impact of television, and civil rights legislature.

However, the second half of the 20th century presented a new evangelical—concerned, engaged, and actively influencing culture. Noll notes two key developments that contributed to a shift in evangelical posture towards culture. First, immigration reform led to an influx of de-Europeanized Christians, bolstering evangelical numbers. Second, the civil rights movement was launched from the southern African American evangelical church. As a result, American evangelicalism grew in number and influence. Subsequently, three culturally reforming movements followed—volunteer organizations (Young Life, Campus Crusade, Fuller Seminary), charismatic movements, and the Jesus People (Calvary Chapel).

Is Culture our Friend or our Foe?

The Jesus People rode the church and culture pendulum from quarantine to contextualization. Without quarantining themselves from hip-py fads and music all together, the Jesus People found a way to live out a contextualized 70’s gospel. They didn’t view culture as the enemy, but as a friend. Noll comments: “From the 1920s to the 1950s, American evangelicals had tended to view popular culture as an enemy—to keep the gospel it was necessary to flee the world. In the late 1960s, the Jesus People treated popular culture as a potential friend—to spread the gospel it was necessary to use what the world offered.” Friend or foe, hip or holy, quarantined or contextualized—do we have to choose?

[1] Mark Noll, “Where We Are and How We Got Here?” Sept 29, 2006, Christianity Today. See also George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

Churching the Gospel in Your Culture

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Brazos Valley Church Planters Network in Brenham, Texas. Justin Hyde of Christ Church Brenham was kind enough to invite me. I’ll be speaking on Churching the Gospel in Your Culture. Over the course of two talks, my aim will be to help missional leaders:

  1. To understand the Gospel in light of culture.
  2. To understand Culture in light of the Gospel.
  3. To Church the Gospel in the light and darkness of your culture.

Register Here

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