Once upon a time, I was privileged to be with a keen group of people for a few days. We were a mixed group including farmers, engineers, homemakers, college students, teachers, and carpenters – even a coffee house barista.
I was supposed to be the “teacher.” I hope that they learned as much from me as I learned from them.
The topic was “Christ and Culture: living faithfully and relevantly.”
From my perspective, “Christ and Culture” is essentially about God and his relationship with his Creation. This is a 'story' of cosmic proportions and universal consequences. It is full of conflict with a wide-range of characters (both good and evil), including you. As such, it is of profound importance to every human wherever they live, whenever they live, and however they live.
Please understand that when I use 'story' in this context, I do not mean fiction. If, for example, I asked you for your ‘story’ you would select and arrange various events from your life. That would be history, not fiction.
This is a new series intended to give you a better sense of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in that place of wholesome tension between faithfulness to God and relevance to Culture.
Let me begin by introducing you to crucial characters in this ‘story’ and some of the dynamics among them.
Crucial characters include the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Culture, and Christians. This raises a number of questions, including:
Followers of Jesus are called to be both faithful to God and relevant to their cultures! This is a place of tension – hopefully, healthy tension.
How do we find this place of wholesome tension and live in it? There is no simple answer – but we have all the resources we need and plenty of examples of how it is lived.
Of the main themes or motifs running through the Bible, we will focus on the Creation/New Creation motif. The Creation and New Creation ‘stories’ are woven into the texts of the Bible in amazing ways.
The approach I propose will first introduce the main participants: God, the Christian(s), and Culture. After we have a better understanding of who these participants are, we will then explore dynamic tensions among these participants:
God <=> Christians;
God <=> Culture; and
Christians <=> Culture.
The diagram that accompanies this blog is a limited illustration of these dynamic relationships.
Let me walk you through it.
In the upper left circle is the one true and living God revealed as Jesus Christ.
The lower left circle is the corporate entity of the people of God or an individual follower of Jesus.
The circle to the right is Culture, any culture.
Imagine each pair of circles wrapped by an elastic band representing the dynamic or tension between those two circles. For the moment we will presume that God’s position is fixed and unmovable, but the positions of the other two circles are in motion. So, for example, the culture of 1st Century Athens may be in a different ‘place’ relative to God and his people than 21st Century Vancouver – in other words, cultures move, change, and evolve, they are not static. We will survey each of these circles and their respective relationships.
There are limitations to this diagram. For instance, God’s people do not live away from or outside Culture; we do not inhabit some neutral vantage point from which we observe our cultures. Followers of Jesus live in a culture, just like fish live in a body of water. We have to keep this in mind, even though the diagram portrays culture as separate and somewhat distant.
You may also ask, “Why should I care about being both faithful to God and relevant to culture?” How you answer is revealing. How you live out that answer is even more revealing. Here are some ways that people live their answers.
Many think they are being faithful to God by disconnecting and withdrawing from culture. That disconnection usually (if not always) involves withdrawing from certain people. In that disconnection, these (often well-meaning) people cease to be faithful to God’s mission. We see this, for example, in church communities that become like fortresses, or 'holy huddles', to serve themselves.
Since we all live in Culture, to some extent we absorb its values. The danger is conforming to culture in ways that compromise our faithfulness to God. How do we discern the difference between conforming with and without compromise to faithfulness? When we compromise faithfulness in order to conform to Culture, we are reduced to being mere echoes of the culture around us.
Some think they can fit in wherever they are. Like chameleons, they take on the “color” of their surroundings whether in a church community on Sundays, or a workplace on Mondays, or a party on Friday nights. Such people are like those James refers to as double-minded, or double-souled, (James 1:7-8) – they have ceased being faithful to the one they call “lord.”
Pause for a moment and ask yourself:
1. Why should I care about being both faithful to God and relevant to Culture?
2. Do any of the above scenarios fit your usual lifestyle (i.e., disconnecting, conforming, or shifting like a chameleon)? If so, which one predominates and why?
3. Have you ever met a follower of Jesus who has been both faithful to God and relevant to Culture? If so, what was it about that person’s life or attitude that was different from your predominate life-style?
In the next post, I will propose a number of absolutes – “things” that are common to every human wherever they live, whenever they live, and however they live.
Until then, feel free to contact me by clicking here.
Photo credit: John B. MacDonald © 2014.
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