Eyes Wide Open: Thinking Biblically About Culture

The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.

As Kevin noted on Monday, we are commanded to live life on mission.  (This Monday, I will be following up on that thought even further.)

Mission requires that we live in the world.  That passage from John 17 referenced by Kevin is so essential to our understanding of missional living.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (v.15-18)

Jesus’ prayer for you and I is that we live in the world in a way that is different from the world’s way of doing things.  We saw this same idea in 1 Peter when Peter says:  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable…Peter assumes that his audience will live life among outsiders in such a way that they will be able to make some judgment on God from their interactions with His people.

The question then quickly becomes: how can we navigate life among outsiders in a way that is biblically faithful and missionally engaged?

In Acts 17, Paul, in Athens, finds himself immersed in a pluralistic society (much like where we are) that is “full of idols”, a scenario made possible only by living life outside of a Christian bubble.  I don’t have time to relay the full story, but please read it for yourself.  Paul enters the fray by “preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (17:18), in such a way that many mock him and others are curious.  Through this initial ministry, Paul gets the opportunity to address the prestigious body of moral and religious thinkers.

Paul’s message to them has an interesting flavor to it, in that he quotes secular philosophy and poetry and his springboard to the Gospel is the Athenians’ altar “to the unknown God”.  John Polhill notes that Paul “interact[ed] with their thought, even quoting their own writers in a well-informed and respectful way”.

Paul’s example beckons us away from the siren pull of separatistic Christian subculture with its cavalier dismissal that everything “out there” is bad, and to “preach Jesus and the resurrection” to the modern culture that we are immersed in, in a “well-informed and respectful way”.

I would like to pass along a cultural grid that I picked up along the way (I can’t recall where).  I think filtering our thinking in this manner is helpful in evaluating cultures, movies, political movements, books, TV shows, advertising, etc.

3 questions:

1.  What about this can be received?

Christians are too often hesitant to concede that there are some points of agreement between the at-large culture and the Kingdom. What things about a given idea, philosophy, movie, etc are as-is completely true and compatible with the Kingdom?

2.  What about this can be redeemed?

Christians are often too quick to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” (which is quite inhumane really).  What things about the cultural product in question is “almost right” and needs only to be tweaked a little?

3.  What about this must be rejected altogether?

Most Christians are usually pretty good at this.  However, some are very bad at it.  What things about a cultural idea stand in complete opposition to Gospel-informed, Kingdom-living and must be rejected altogether “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:16).

Throughout the future of this category, readers will see this grid applied, explicitly or implicitly, in various ways to various cultural topics.  Sometimes you will agree, sometimes you will disagree.  That’s okay.  We’ll discuss these things with the same “gentleness and respect” that we ought to show outsiders in our conversations with them.

In closing…

Brothers and sisters, I plead with you:  Put down easy “culture war” rhetoric and do the hard work of understanding the culture for the purpose of interjecting the Gospel with the hopes that “some might join you and believe”  (Acts 17:34).

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8 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Open: Thinking Biblically About Culture

  1. So here’s a timely question…….what about Halloween?

    Anyone care to take a stab at applying this grid to Halloween?
    1. What about Halloween can be received?
    2. What about Halloween can be redeemed?
    3. What about Halloween must be rejected altogether?

    …or is Halloween immune to these evaluative questions, and its just a “take it all, or leave it all”?

    This category will probably by the most “fun”, and generate the most lively discussions in the future (my prediction atleast).

  2. 1. recieved – a chance to meet neighbors and make friends with children. and eat a lot of candy.

    2. redeemed – research the origins of the ‘eve before All Saints Day’ to see religious custom or significance. opportunities to share the good news.

    3. rejected – honoring evil and satan.

  3. Good question Ken and good answer Josie.

    Halloween has been one I have struggled with for years. In fact, we have never observed it as a family. This year we have allowed our boys to make their own decision regarding it. I still don’t have a definitive answer on this one.

  4. I think Halloween is a classic example of a “food sacrificed to idols” issue.

    Some people who come out of wicca, etc. or who are surrounded by that may feel like they are participating in demonic activity by doing halloween-ish things. On the other hand, many can dress up like someone else and walk door to door without even thinking about worshipping satan.

    Personally, I just think Halloween is lame.

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