It's been way too long since I last blogged. Here, hopefully, is a more regular return to the web.
I've just had a very stimulating discussion with some friends on how Christians should engage with culture. We talked about government, law, democracy, the arts and all kinds of things. The main study book we were using tended to equate "Christians" with "the Church". I was left slightly feeling that the author thinks that the major way we relate to culture is en masse, church-as-organisation or structure which relates to culture/government-as-organisation or structure.
At the the end of the discussion I am left wondering if it is right to make such a one-one identification between what Christians do and what churches do. Should everything a church does be actively done by every Christian within it? Should everything that every individual Christian does in service of the Lord should be something that the whole local church completely owns and has a stake in? Doesn't that make light of us being a body with different gifts, different opportunities and different contexts for service? If every Christian feels obliged to participate in the soup run, or every leader to lead the soup run, doesn't that mean that many will give less time and effort to their particular gifts or calling because they have to participate in something that isn't? Or, to flip it over, doesn't it mean that the whole body will have to participate in the particular and unique ministries of every individual believer rather than have clear focus on a few things that the body corporate achieves. I can think of instances of believers who assume that because they have a particular ministry passion the whole church must share it. For them to be faithful in their calling means persuading the whole fellowship that their focus must be everyone's. Possibly even to the extent of implying that if it isn't then others are less committed to the Lord than they are.
But if we don't approach "culture" (however we want to define that) corporately (or not exclusively corporately, anyway) but to some extent as individuals, how do we do it? Titus 3 speaks about how we used to be involved in pagan culture, but now have new passions, new delights and a new hope. I suggest that those three categories are a way - far from the only one - of approaching culture.
The Bible says there are two kingdoms - the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. The difficulty with the "how do we approach culture" question is the tension between the two. For some the answer is complete withdrawal from the first for the sake of the second. At the other extreme is some form of cultural assimilation. Most of us are somewhere in between. Occupying the extremes makes it easy to figure out how to relate to culture. For those of us in between it can be a good deal more tricky and subjective. I think it's a little but like being a third culture kid. We don't belong to this world, but we have to live in it. We have to "seek the good of the city" and "give to Caesar what is Caesar's". Its like we were born into this world, have been adopted by the next, but have to live out our adoption in the culture of this world.
Paul tells Titus that we live in this world but with different passions, delights and hopes to this world. This gives us some obvious questions to ask. When faced, for example, with a voting decision we can say "how does my new hope relate to this?" When watching TV we ask "what does my new delight say about this?" When being offered a career option we can ask "what does my new passion for God have to say to my life ambitions?" In each case the underlying question is: what does redemption look like in this situation? What does it look like to belong to Jesus in this instance?
This is much less simple than merely saying "this is the position of my church." That looks like the easy and uncomplicated option, but it's also unthinking. You can follow the party line without a great deal of personal commitment to Jesus, without figuring out what he thinks about culture, and why. Taking culture piecemeal, decision by decision, may be much more intensive and demand much more thought, but it will mean that individually we approach matters more prayerfully. We will approach out of a Christian worldview. We will develop a Christian mind. We will start from first Christian principles and ask how they relate to any given decision or situation. Thoughtful believers praying and developing a Christian mind together sounds like a recipe for a dynamic, culture-aware, culture-engaged, culture-transforming church to me.