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Christ and Culture

January 27, 2011

Jesus not only understood God, he also understood the culture in which he lived.  He understood that His culture had a religious ethos that was bound and gagged by a legalistic and shame motivated force.  He understood that men often divorced their wives at a drop of a hat leaving these ladies vulnerable and in poverty.  He understood the political forces at play, including what it meant to grow up in a country occupied by its enemy.  That’s why Jesus talks about loving enemies and turning cheeks.  He understood his culture. 

Here are a few observations about our current cultural ethos (at least where I live) and the way that the gospel speaks to these trends. 

(1)  We Are Activists.  We are a different country since 9/11 and Katrina.  Perhaps this is one way our culture has actually improved.  Volunteering has been on the rise the past decade as well as charitable giving.  Even our celebrities are getting in on the act.  We are concerned about earthquakes in Haiti, genocide in Darfur, and fatherlessness in our own country.  This trend creates a canvas for the gospel.  Christ was certainly an activist that met the needs of people, both spiritual and physical.  We also have a powerful platform on this matter since we are to share the love of God in word and in deed (1 John3:18).  When we highlight the kingdom of Christ and its mission to redeem a broken and lost world, it will speak richly to the culture around us. 

(2)  We Are Consumers.  Don’t ask me to explain the relationship between this trend and the first one.  How a society can justify its activism with its incredible tendency to absorb all things for one’s own pleasure is beyond me.  Without a doubt our economy has shaped who we are as people.  The idea that “stuff” exists for our own glory and pleasure has saturated our consciousness.  We feel entitled to it.  Its influence has warped our religion.  Christians are often more like consumers than revolutionaries.  In a distorted way we show up to church to consume a product and leave that church when we no longer like it.   The gospel will be powerful to a consuming culture, but only  in its ability to create dissonance with that culture.  It is the gospel’s message of selflessness, sacrifice, and generosity that will be a breath of fresh air to a culture that is sickened with its own addictions.  This message begins with Jesus who was equal with God but instead emptied himself through incarnation and crucifixion (Phil. 2:5-11).  While counter to our culture, this message will speak to a group of people who long for something different. 

(3)  We Are Rich.  I know all about the economic downturn and the stress families are under to simply make enough money to be middle class.  It’s expensive to survive in America.  However, I have been to several places around our globe and can conclude nothing else than the fact that we are abundantly rich.  More than ever, I believe we are a culture that is frightened about our future economic state.  It is this fear that might be an opening to the gospel.  Perhaps people are beginning to put less trust in the things of this Earth and are spiritually hungry for something lasting.  This aspect of the gospel will not be appealing to all, but there are many who have seen that you can have the whole world and still not save yourself (Luke 9:25).  Some have gained what my friend Dax Hughes calls “immortality symbols” that help us deal with our finite state, and they have discovered that they do not ultimately bring joy.  The gospel calls for a different logic.  It takes us from being gatherers to generous givers of all that we have.  This message will resonate in the hearts of many in our culture who are rich but empty. 

(4)  We Are Bland.  The postmodern culture we live in has relativised truth to the degree in which it is widely believed that truth can’t be accurately known.  Some fight this battle at the peripheral level trying to show the world that absolute truth does exist.  The gospel gives us an oportunity to cut to the heart of the matter.  It claims that truth has a name and it is Jesus.  The bland nature of society gives a great opportunity for a robust, Christ-centered, gospel to engage the lives of people.  Doctrines might be bland and abstract.  Morality might be hard to get a handle on and can easily be justified through situational ethics.  However, when someone is introduced to Jesus, they are introduced to a tangible reality that must be accepted or rejected.  Either Jesus died for you or He didn’t.  Either He was resurrected or He wasn’t.  Either He can save you or He can’t.  You can absolutely believe in Him or absolutely reject Him, but you cannot remain neutral.  You can’t be just “ok” with Jesus.  In a cultural milieu lost in a bland ambiguity, the truth of Jesus will offer a tangible reality that our culture is hungry for.  Perhaps postmodern will leave some “blowing i the wind” and ready to anchor to something solid – something like the gospel fo Jesus.  Focussing on Jesus and his example, teachings, and especially his ministry through the cross gives Christians content that confronts the lives of people as well as invites those tired of believing in nothing to meet truth.

Too many Christians spend their time and energy bemoaning what our culture is becoming, but miss the opportunities it presents us for a powerful encounter with Christ.


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