Protectively Preserving or Subtly Shifting?

There can be little doubt that we live in a time of cultural shift. One need only look over the last fifty years to note the ways that culture has moved on all kinds of different issues in all kinds of different areas. In the realm of sexual ethics, many of yesterday’s mores have been jettisoned in favor of a more inclusive and pleasurable perspective. In the realm of technology, we have made leaps and bounds to the point that having a dinner without checking a screen makes you a paragon (and a rare one) of good manners. In the realm of politics, we have grown increasingly geographically and socioeconomically divided.

“Odessa” by Charles Henry

In short, culture changes. Which is to state the obvious. Any student of history can see that cultures change. Any student of history can tell you that the Roman Empire did not inhabit its Golden Age in perpetuity. Even Christendom, heralded as the cultural product of Christianity itself, has risen and fallen.

When we look at culture, then, how should the Christian respond? How should we engage or, better, how should we begin to think about the way we engage?

Because we are people of faith and pursue a life that seeks to embody that faith, we begin, always, with a theological framework. Our guiding principle is equally our greatest confession: Jesus is Lord. This does not mean we are seeking to install a global theocracy, nor does it mean that Jesus is ruling in the fullness of his capacity as he will in the eschaton. However, it does mean, that we hold two key ideas: 1) Our allegiance always ultimately belongs to Jesus regardless of the cultural moment; and 2) This present cultural moment and all cultural moments this side of Jesus’s return will be transcended, redeemed and perfected when the Kingdom fully comes.

This second point is pivotal when understood correctly. Too many Christians ascribe to this second point and then jettison all thoughts of cultural engagement (“what’s the point if it’s all passing away?”). This, to my mind, denies the key fact about the person who is coming to make things right – that he was incarnate, in our history, engaging with our world (and its culture) and sanctifying our work in it. Avoiding the culture is not a helpful option and denies this aspect of Jesus’s work.

What that second point further allows us to do is engage with confidence. We certainly, in Jesus name, want the cultures we live in to be the best they can be, but we need not be terrified when this is not the case, nor clutch desperately to the vestigial structures that once preserved those “values.” We need not be terrified because we know even in the worst of cultural moments, redemption is coming. This allows us to look forwards, not just to the eschaton, but to the near future and seek to positively impact, to subtly shift the direction things are heading.

There are always boundaries and things about which the Christian community ought to be a prophetic voice and decry the way that culture has moved. But too often, far too many of us rest on our “prophetic haunches”, if you will, or harken back to yesteryear instead of seeking to influence and engage the places that culture is going. Sometimes that can be engagement, sure, but more often, it’s probably cowardice.

So my encouragement for us, and hope for this space is this: Let’s engage the culture in 2014 together, seeking to shift, not merely preserve it.


3 thoughts on “Protectively Preserving or Subtly Shifting?

  1. I wonder how we “engage the places that culture is going” without harkening “back to yesteryear.” True prophetic voices — at least in Scripture — most often seemed to call people (and culture) to return back to a covenant or standard established by God in the past. In what sense is such a call (rooted in the past) an act of cowardice? Would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    1. I don’t think that sort of prophetic call is an act of cowardice. Indeed, it demonstrates the kind of both/and that is necessary for Christian engagement of culture.

      What I’m seeking to push back against is not that sort of prophetic call but those who seek to simply hold onto a cultural moment. There is a difference, to my mind, between holding onto a covenant and holding onto a culture. Too often we mix the two up and as a result, when the culture shifts and changes (as it inevitably will) we are left trying to preserve the “good ole days.”

      Our covenant with God, naturally, does not change and as such is something that we ought to hold onto and allow to inform everything we do. But insofar as that covenant is informing everything we do, it does not necessitate that we hold onto a particular cultural moment. Hopefully that distinction is helpful – it makes sense in my head at least!

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