Reaching Culture or Reaching People?

Save the West! You have to be culturally relevant! We need Christians to influence culture!

These are all things (or variations of things) that I have heard  in the last few years at a Christian university. They sound great, but I encounter a serious problem – I am about as culturally aware as, well, there’s not really a good comparison. Let’s just say I’m pretty not “with it”. Here’s why:

1. I’m white; culturally that already gives me a disadvantage because there’s no “exoticness” I can fall back on (sure I can pull the Australian card but without the accent, it doesn’t feel the same to most people).

2. I know hardly any pop culture. Okay, maybe I know their names on a good day but don’t give me a police lineup of celebrities and ask me to pick one (let alone identify or even know a popular song).

3. I attend a Christian college (cue every Biola student’s rant about the “Biola bubble”). I personally do not mind it too much, but it does keep me happily insulated.

Clearly, I have a problem. I’m not that “with it” and have trouble speaking the language of pop culture but my mandate is to save the culture I am in. Or is it?

As I look at the life of Jesus, I don’t see him often go to the artists, or the politicians and tell them how to change the culture. I don’t see him having round table discussions with the Pharisees about how to instill a strong moral code throughout the Roman Empire. Rather, I see him hanging out with people. Just people. In fact, sometimes those are people that shock me. Prostitutes, dishonest tax collectors, the people who culture shuns, not listens to. Jesus’s priority didn’t seem to be changing culture; it seemed to be changing people.

We run a danger as Christians when our emphasis shifts to reaching or changing culture. I wonder if this isn’t where the Christian sub-culture (which so many like to bash on) developed from. As Christians began to make Christian products to influence their culture, a sub-culture almost inevitably developed and will continue to develop. This isn’t to say that all Christian products are bad but the mindset of changing culture by producing them seems slightly off.

What if we reoriented ourselves to reach people? Part of the beauty of Jesus’s method is not that his way ignores culture but it revolutionizes it without it ever knowing. Jesus’ approach is not a gun-blazing “save the West” method; it’s a quiet conversation with a prostitute that changes her life. It’s a moment with a centurion’s family, affirming that their son is not dead, but just sleeping. It’s moments with people.

And the crazy thing about that, is that when people are reached, we reach culture. It’s a subtle shift but it’s a vital one. It doesn’t mean Christians should stop making great films, or music, or books. But it does mean that our targets of those films, music and books should be the people who will be watching, listening to, and reading them rather than the ephemeral idea of “culture.”

God’s certainly in the business of redeeming culture. But he has always loved to do it through people. Perhaps we need to shift our gaze off the culture to our next door neighbor.

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4 thoughts on “Reaching Culture or Reaching People?

  1. The glorious subversiveness of Christ (and Christianity) is precisely His personal rather than political approach. You’ve said it very nicely.

  2. “All communication is cross-cultural.” – Tuvya, Jews for Jesus
    “God’s certainly in the business of redeeming culture. But he has always loved to do it through people.” Amen, brother.

    The more you know a person, the better you are able to love him or her. I encourage you to discover and articulate your own ethnic identity as “white.” Another culture may be “exotic” to you, but to that culture “white” may actually be “exotic.” What would this mean?

  3. Aside from the fact that “Christian culture” does not like to include Metallica, the formation of Christian products can be a defensive measure rather than an outgoing form of interaction. “Christian” art also has a gosh darn fudging tendency to bowdlerize everything and so sterilize it of meaning (not that Christian artists need to use shock value as their primary medium . . . )

    If I ever have a celebrity police lineup for you, I will just tell you that we already have their confessions and you won’t be hearing from them for twenty-five years. ]:D

    Good post, good sir.

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