Skip to comments.How Should Christians Engage with Culture?
Posted on 07/08/2018 8:18:45 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
The shift in American society from admiring Christians to fearing and criticizing them provides an opportunity for self-reflection. How have we been presenting the message we believe in? Might there be a more grace-filled way?
Some want to focus on personal morality and leave public morality to secular politicians. Others seek ways to guide the broader culture while still communicating grace. Rather than propose a single path, I will instead make some observations and suggestions for Christians to consider as we interact with a world that does not always share our views.
Clashes Between Christ and Culture Are Unavoidable
John Howard Yoder recounted 51 separate times in which Jesus himself confronted injustices, and throughout history Jesus followers have followed suit. Early Christians were instrumental in ending the Roman practices of gladiatorial games and infanticide, and in the years since Christians have led moral campaigns against abuses such as slavery and sexual trafficking. Even separatist groups must engage with culture the Anabaptists pacifism, for instance, stands as a powerful moral statement.
Christians must always discern which injustices merit a fight, but complete withdrawal is bad for both church and state. Nazi Germany posed the severest test to Luthers doctrine of two kingdoms, a test the church mostly failed. Practicing a personal faith, with no real tradition of opposing the state, German church leaders waited far too late to protest. Indeed, many Protestant leaders initially welcomed the Nazis as an alternative to communism and some adopted a motto that now seems obscene: The Swastika on our breasts, the Cross in our hearts.
Eventually some Christians did wake up to the threat. Martin Niemöller published a series of sermons with the in-your-face title Christus ist mein Fuhrer (Christ [not Hitler] is my Fuhrer). Niemöller spent seven years in a concentration camp; Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in another. In the end, faithful Christians were one of the few groups within Germany to oppose Hitler. Trade unions, parliament, politicians, doctors, scientists, university professors, lawyers all these capitulated. A small but determined minority of Christians who understood their loyalty to a higher power resisted, and their courageous stand attracted the worlds attention: from 1933 to 1937 The New York Times ran nearly a thousand news accounts on the German church struggle.
After World War II the eastern part of Germany found itself under a different kind of totalitarian rule, the onset of four decades of Soviet domination. A few years ago I interviewed a pastor in Saxony who recalled the difficulties that Christians faced under Communism. In those days his children had limited educational opportunities, and he had to work as a plumber to supplement his meager pastors salary. When the Berlin Wall came down everything changed. Although less than 20 percent of Saxonys citizens now belong to a church, he estimates that 70 percent of those in parliament are active, practicing Christians. Having lived under Nazism and then Communism, Christians quickly stepped into a cultural vacuum to help the newly free society lay a foundation for morality and law. They knew all too well what can happen when Christians are excluded from the public square.
As the pastor learned, working within a democracy presents a different kind of challenge. It involves tiresome work and tricky compromises. Stephen Monsma, a Christian who served in the Michigan state legislature, has written of the painstaking struggles to get drunk-driving legislation an issue that invites a clear moral consensus passed in his state. He likens his original vision of doing good to sitting by a cozy fire in his living room choosing luscious vegetables and beautiful flowers from a seed catalog; the actual work, he said, more resembles the gardeners chores of digging furrows, pulling weeds, and battling insects.
There are a variety of ways to engage with culture. Some Christians express their pro-life beliefs by picketing; others volunteer at hospices and pregnancy counseling centers; still others work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving or campaign against the death penalty. Some debate ethical issues within the academy while others take up the tedious work of writing laws.
Democracy always requires bargaining and compromise. While he was Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop attracted the ire of fellow conservatives who had an all-or-nothing approach to morality and resisted any compromise on abortion. Koop, who shared their iron-clad belief that all abortion is wrong, came to conclude, One of the problems with the pro-life movement is that they are 100-percenters. Historically it is true that if the prolife movement had sat down in, say, 1970 or 1972 with the prochoice people, we might have ended up with an agreement on abortion for the life of the mother, defective child, rape and incest, and nothing more. That would have saved ninety-seven percent of the abortions since then. Only after losing the absolute battle did the pro-life movement change tactics to restrict rather than abolish abortion; since then hundreds of such laws have passed in state legislatures.
Modern democracy, which grew out of Christian soil, compels us to recognize others rights even when we deeply disagree with their positions. We seek to persuade but not to coerce. More, the gospel commands me to love my enemy as well as my neighbor. Christians may work within institutions, but always wary of their limitations and always conscious of our primary charge to love. Institutions cannot really express love; justice is as close as they come.
Christians Should Choose Their Battles Wisely
The sociologist Peter Berger has written of the world maintaining and world shaking functions of religion. Founders of the United States recognized that a democracy, with less top-down control and more freedom, needs a religious foundation to guide and motivate its citizens. In John Adams words, Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. The nations leaders counted on the church for this world-maintaining role, to teach and equip citizens to act responsibly.
When the church moves into the world-shaking business, however, it must do so wisely and with care. Alas, Christians involved in politics have tended to go off on tangents, such as historical efforts of Protestants to demonize Catholics and the failed Prohibition movement of the early 20th Century. The more Christians focus on tangential issues, the less we will be heard on matters of true moral significance. I hear very little from evangelicals about the impact of gun proliferation on violent crime, much less an issue like nuclear disarmament. I hear almost nothing about healthcare for the poor and protecting widows and orphans, all biblical mandates. Only recently have evangelicals taken up the cause of creation care. Evangelicals trumpet family values, but when an administration proposed legislation to allow mothers to take unpaid leave after childbirth, conservative religious groups opposed it.
Too often the agenda of religious groups matches line for line that of conservative or liberal politics and not the priorities of the Bible.
The Church Must Use Caution in Its Dealings with the State
Historian Edward Gibbon said that in ancient Rome all religions were to the people equally true, to the philosophers equally false, and to the government equally useful. Society needs the restraint offered by religion, and the state welcomes it as long as it can call the shots.
The Christians who supported Hitler were startled to learn one day that the German government would now appoint church officials. Soon all pastors were required to take a loyalty oath to Hitler and his government. In Russia, Stalin compelled the church to grant the Party full control over religious instruction, seminary education, and the appointment of bishops. In China today the Communist government pays the salaries of official Three-Self pastors, a way of keeping them under its thumb, and appoints illicit Catholic bishops who do not have Vatican approval.
The church works best as a separate force, a conscience to society that keeps itself at arms length from the state. The closer it gets, the less effectively it can challenge the surrounding culture and the more perilously it risks losing its central message. Jesus left his followers the command to make disciples from all nations. We have no charge to Christianize the United States or any other country an impossible goal in any case.
When the church accepts as its main goal the reform of the broader culture, we risk obscuring the gospel of grace and becoming one more power broker. That is how many in the secular world view us now, as a right-wing conspiracy intent on passing laws against them. In the process, they miss the good news of the gospel, that Christ died to save sinners, to free us from guilt and shame so that we can thrive in the way God intended.
The state will often try to use religion for its own purposes, but when it does so, the gospel itself changes. Civil religion invites us to share in a nations military glory; the gospel calls us to take up a cross. Civil religion offers prestige and influence; the gospel calls us to serve. Civil religion rewards success; the gospel redefines success and forgives failure. Civil religion values reputation; the gospel calls us to be fools for Christ.
During the Brezhnev era at the height of the Cold War, Billy Graham visited Russia and met with government and church leaders. Conservatives in the West harshly criticized him for treating the Russians with such courtesy and respect. He should have taken on a more prophetic role, they said, by speaking out against the abuses of human rights and religious liberty. One of his critics said, Dr. Graham, you have set the church back 50 years! Graham lowered his head and replied, I am deeply ashamed. I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2000 years.
Adapted from Vanishing Grace: Bringing Good News to a Deeply Divided World by Philip Yancey. Click here to learn more about this title.
Christians have proclaimed the good news about Jesus for centuries. But the good news isnt sounding so good these days, at least to some. More and more surveys show that people view Christians as bearers of bad news, judgment, and intolerance.
In Vanishing Grace, bestselling author Philip Yancey acknowledges the problem and then explores how we can respond with both grace and truth. He offers a discerning look at what contributes to a hostility toward Christians, and identifies three groupspilgrims, artists, and activistswho can show us a different way.
With a reporters eye and a compassionate heart, Yancey suggests practical ways in which we can live as salt and light within a society that is radically changing. What can we learn from those who shun church but consider themselves spiritual? Can the good news, once spoiled, ever sound good again?
As Yancey writes, Like a sudden thaw in the middle of winter, grace happens at unexpected moments. It stops us short, catches the breath, disarms…. Yet not everyone has tasted of that amazing grace, and not everyone believes in it. In a time of division and discord, grace seems in vanishing supply. Why? And what can we do about it?
In the wake of recent eventsLas Vegas, Charlottesville, Charleston, Ferguson, Islamic terrorismpeople both inside and outside the church are thirsty for grace. Vanishing Grace calls us to see their thirst, and ours, in a hopeful new light as we listen, love, and offer a grace that is truly good news.
Philip Yancey serves as editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. He has written thirteen Gold Medallion Award-winning books and won two ECPA Book of the Year awards for What’s So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew. Four of his books have sold over one million copies. Yancey lives with his wife in Colorado. Learn more at philipyancey.com.
[[Clashes Between Christ and Culture Are Unavoidable]]
Says who? We just need to start our own community, no electric power- no outside contact- horse and buggy- make all our own furniture and clothing (black and white material only) and wear funny hats-
Christians may engage in any aspect of life. They are pardoned for every sin, past, present and future. I get these responses from idiots that think Christ died for nothing. I ask them which sins are forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ and which are not? They freeze in ignorance.
Each of us have not been given a new commandment, but old ones. Our problem is we do not believe God will punish us. How can we not know that a male is a male and a female is a female? Insanity. A debased mind,...a reprobate mind. The answers are written down in Scripture, yet we still wrestle with right and wrong. If you still wrestle with whether or not to return a lost wallet with the money still in it, You are NOT a Christian and your salvation is in doubt. Grace covers mistakes, NOT deliberate sin. Scripture says you will be beaten with many stripes.
Our hearts must be purged of unbelief and we need a healthy fear of God. If all you get is "God loves you" and "God gives you grace", you probably are in deep trouble with Him. He has promised us eternal life. Why all the arguing?
You still have unbelief.
If your church sanctions gay marriages or abortions, your church is teaching lies from Satan. It's not about living in the 21st century or evolving culture. It's a bout what God has already said. God doesn't change. When Jesus comes, don't let Him be ashamed of you. We all want to hear," Well done, good and faithful servant". The only way to that place is believe what God has told us. The sin part has been atoned for.
I agree with some of this, however, what does the author mean about healthcare for the poor. Its there and its not a right endowed by our Creator.
I hear very little from evangelicals about the impact of gun proliferation on violent crime,
much less an issue like nuclear disarmament.
I hear almost nothing about healthcare for the poor and
protecting widows and orphans, all biblical mandates.
Only recently have evangelicals taken up the cause of creation care.
= = =
Gun proliferation does not cause violent crime.
Widows and orphans??? I personally give to help some particular persons. Should I demand all citizens help all of them (taxes do this now).
I do my personal best to protect creation. I can’t force to do the same (the Govt tries), but I can suggest.
From my experience reading 2 or 3 of Yancey’s books, his liberalism is not in-your-face, but more of a passive-aggressive type, which may be more annoying.
I was going to answer, “Prudently,” and that’s pretty much what the author said.
For the believer in Christ....ALL sins are forgiven.
Because guns are not the cause of violent crime.
If someone wants to hurt someone they will find a way.
I hear almost nothing about healthcare for the poor and protecting widows and orphans, all biblical mandates.
Widows and orphans are two specific groups who were unable to provide for themselves in the NT time period. I do believe the church should be helping people who cannot help themselves.
Only recently have evangelicals taken up the cause of creation care
Creation care?? We are called to be good stewards of what God has given to us.
The concern I have when I hear "creation care" is for many this is another variation of "global warming", "climate change". It is another attempt to infiltrate liberal doctrine into the church which elevates the creation over mankind.
The other things he cites are simply liberal talking points.
He lost me at gun violence and “creation care” another new handy euphemism for environmentalism I guess.
I do believe that in many cases, abortion for instance, the pro-life movement has gotten off on a big tangent. When you go to some of the rally’s, the catholic imagery is so overwhelming that it blocks the real message that the baby is alive.
It also serves to drive many evangelicals away from the marketplace. In some ways, we’re made to feel not welcome, like it’s their party and we weren’t invited.
As an example, I know a lady who worked for years to raise funds and open a pro-life women’s care center right across the street from an abortion facility. She is an evangelical Christian. The local catholic bishop provided some of the funding. A few months after they opened, they fired the founder because she wasn’t catholic.
Yep, really helped that cause.
Thank you for your theological theory. Mine is vastly different.
I do not accept the continuation of the :no sin test” for eternal life. Jesus , the Son of God, was sacrificed for all our sins or we are doomed. Everything changed on the Cross. God;s chosen people are now those that accept Jesus Sonship and resurrection as true. Let me show you what Jesus said as reported on the History written in Mark chapter 10. This is key .
“26They were even more astonished and said to one another, Who then can be saved? 27Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.
Jesus had just told them that no one is saved. If you commit even one sin ,you are doomed to dust. We dont event know what is a sin !! What act of commission or omission of conduct is a sin? Jesus tells us that our thoughts are sin.
I could go on for pages but you get my theology. Sin is no factor, none. There is no judgment. Why have a trial if the defendant is pardoned? All people are sinners , everyday . Christ died for all those sins one time on the cross. We have IMPUTED righteousness not actual righteousness. It is a gift and nothing we do can earn it except accept as true Him as the Son of God. Jesus did not come here to condemn us but to free us. All this legalism is satanic nonsense to instill disbelief in the power of the resurrection.
We are all hopped up on judging people's sins, but their relationship with God is what saves them. God judges our hearts. The parable of the workers harvesting grapes speaks of people hired in the morning and some hired at noon and others right before quitting time. They all get the same pay. You can earn treasure in heaven by doing works for God, but salvation is for the sinner that comes on his deathbed or the one that came when he was a child and died at 90.
Mat 25 talks about 5 wise virgins and 5 foolish. The foolish ones took no oil with them. The wise ones took vessels of oil with them. The foolish were left behind to deal with the Antichrist. Reading Revelation 2-3, we see the churches are ALL going to be left behind except the church at Philadelphia. All had something they needed to change to please God except for the church of brotherly love. Sin is not really talked about except maybe the church at Thyatira. They have the spirit of Jezebel to deal with. Theologians believe this to be the RCC. If you notice, she has time to repent, but in verse 2:23, God judges the hearts and judges individually. Revelation 18:4 says His people should come out of her.
If a person is just saved, it's easy to find sins they still do, but daily they are transforming their mind into something new. A person saved for years should be further along in their sanctification. 1Jon 2:7 says there is no new commandment, but we have had it from the beginning. Then he go on to speak of hating and loving out brother. He doesn't mention, fornication, stealing, lying, or any one of dozens of sins we all know about. Just loving our brothers and sisters.
I absolutely believe God saved us. There was nothing we could do but have faith. How did people get saved before Christ on the cross? They believed He was coming. We know there were some in heaven( Abraham's bosom)waiting to go with Him when he went to them and set the captives free. After the cross, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Peter saw Elijah and Moses at the Mt. of Transfiguration so I assume they were in heaven. Lack of belief is what sends people to hell, not sin. Everybody sins.
Great post !! We agree on many principals. Always remember this . David broke all Ten Commandments. God still loved him but he never went to Heaven because he didnt have Christ.
Before the Blood of Christ paid the sin price, people went to a holding place waiting for Christ to come. The Bible called it the Bosom of Abraham. After Christ came, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Our spirit is with Him right NOW if we are saved.
Eph 2:6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
We are sitting together, right now, at the right hand of the Father. Our spirit is with Jesus. Our bodies will die and we will get a resurrected body. A resurrected body is NOT just us being made alive like Lazarus was. The new body will be like Jesus'. It will be eternal and incorruptible. It won't even look like us. When Jesus exited the tomb, Mary thought He was the gardener. 2 disciples walked with Him for 7 miles and didn't know they were talking to Him until they saw his scars. He kept His scars to glorify Himself. BTW, the "mansions" mentioned by Jesus do NOT refer to a house. We don't need a house. There will be no more sleep. Peter called his body a tent. Many have called their bodies a "house" tabernacle, or a temple. The bodies we have are just containers for who we really are, ergo the parables about the potter and the clay. Adam was made from clay. God breathed into the clay to make it a living soul. Calling our new resurrected bodies a "mansion" tells us how far it will be from a "tent" in Heaven.
So our spirit is saved, our bodies will be renewed, the only thing left will be our souls. That's why we call it "saving souls". Our spirit's were dead until we received the Holy Spirit and they were resurrected to go to the Body of Christ. Our Bodies will be resurrected at the sound of the Last Trump. Our souls will be judged after that to see how close we have transformed our minds as a living sacrifice. When our spirits died at the Fall, we began to live by our souls. Our soul tells us to eat if we are hungry, to steal if we want something, to kill if we hate someone, fornicate, ect. The object here for sanctification is to suppress our souls to our new Spirit. People need to see less of me and more of Jesus.
People in the OT went to heaven just as we did, but they had to wait for the price for sin to be paid.
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