How does it feel to say you are a Christian in today's world? For young people today the designation is increasing unpopular. It represents a worldview that used to be prominent but is no longer. It has connotations of things past that were left wanting. It sounds like a traditional perspective that lacks the flexibility, tolerance and innovation to keep up with today's global culture. And increasingly our dominant culture has moved past it. For some of us this feels scary. For others it comes as a relief. But whatever our emotional reaction is to this shift, I want to challenge us to reflect thoughtfully on how to interact with a world that is moving past the Christian faith.
This isn't the first time that God's people have found themselves in a culture indifferent or even hostile to the biblical faith. In the book of Joshua we read about a time when God's people were supposed to be victorious, taking the promised land and living out the commandments of God. However, instead, they often stopped short of eliminating the proximity and influence of other cultures. As a result, in the book of Judges, we read about the Israel nation compromising many of their ethical standards while being influenced by their polytheistic neighbors. It took extreme measures from Yahweh to keep the Jewish nation from completely assimilating to their surrounding Canaanite culture. He used Judges, like Samson, as a salvific crowbar to create conflict and to pry Israel away from the Philistine nation.
In our world today, many of us that come from Christian backgrounds or upbringings have fallen in to this 'accomodationist' model of relating to our surrounding culture. We adopt not just the dress, food and language of our surrounding culture, but we also adapt the values and beliefs of our culture. We become just as individualist, materialistic, hedonistic and eventual secular as our neighbors. I know this temptation well. As a teenager, I would probably have checked the box 'Christian' on a personal questionnaire, but what I valued was identical to all my peers. I had taken on the worldview of American pluralism, and it took God's grace and a whole new education to bring me back to biblical faith.
Another time that God's people found themselves outside the place of privilege in their culture was during the exile. Israel and Judah had drifted spiritual and morally and God allowed them to be defeated by Assyria and Babylon. When we read some of the Psalms and laments written during this period, we see a strong anger and bitterness toward the cultures that defeated them. They wanted nothing more than for God to strike down their oppressors.
For Christians that have not accommodated to their surrounding culture, there is another danger in the way that we relate to dominant culture that corresponds to this attitude of bitterness. A sense of anger and hostility toward culture can cause Christians to retreat and disengage from their surrounding world. This 'separatist' model of relating to culture says that our dominant culture is evil and we need to remove ourselves from it. We want all the TV stations to be Christian. We want schools to teach prayer. We haven't learned how to live in a pluralistic culture without holding the place of privilege.
There is a way to relate to our surrounding, pluralistic culture, in a manner than doesn't have to be accomodationist, or separatist. Jeremiah points in this direction to the exiles when he tells them to, "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile." We find points of overlap, where agnostics, Mormons, Muslims and Christians all have a vested interest. We engage these areas with passion, helping develop education, art, and industry for the common good of our shared cities. We become conversant in the customs of our pluralistic society, and we value people from different perspectives. And yet we remain passionately Christian at our core. Our deepest values and beliefs about work, sexuality, finances, faith and friendships are shaped by Scripture and the person of Christ. Our work in the world is for its good, and it is also toward the beauty, truth and power of Christ's kingdom. We are 'Redemptionists.' And to be redemptionists who love the world God loves, we must dive into the world with zeal. But our first zeal must always remain the One who has placed us in this culture to redeem. Only when we stay foundationally committed to Him will we be the redeeming agents of His kingdom in our diverse world. These types of Christians will catch the interest of the next generation. Let us roll us our sleeves and get started.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor