Engaging Culture

It seems to me that a large majority of people view the Bible to be about as interesting as Moby Dick. I think a good chunk of the people in that majority call themselves Christians – Gasp!!

The Barna Group released a new study about six large patterns in Christianity in America. The two I am focusing on here said that we Christians are “less outreach oriented” and “our influence on culture is largely invisible.” This is not good. What would Jesus say? Rather, what is he saying (and are you listening?). Why aren’t we reaching our homeland for the Kingdom?

In terms of outreach and community, I have seen Christians fall in to two extremes. Again, these are extremes. The first type of Christian gets deeply involved in church or Christian organizations. They really connect with the people in their community groups (Bible studies), they go to church often, and they spend a lot of time with the Christians in their life. Beyond that, there’s not much else. These Christians don’t make much effort to seek unbelievers to befriend, and they don’t really do much outreach or tell others about their faith.

The second type of Christian is not nearly as involved in church or ministry as the first type, but they do have a good number of friends who are unbelievers. Don’t get me wrong; these guys and gals go to church, probably even consistently. While they probably don’t go to church events, they might join a community group. They usually are willing to talk about God and share their faith with their unbelieving friends and acquaintances, but there is rarely an invitation to church or a community group.

The first type stays within the Christian bubble, and the second type stays in their personal bubble outside the Christian bubble.What’s the common pattern here? Both extremes stay in their comfort zones and don’t fulfill the Great Commission. Now the healthy thing to do as a Christian is to find the balance between the two extremes, but when we aren’t trusting in Jesus our sin pushes us to one end or the other.

When our heart is in the right place, what should we be doing? Engaging culture. Sadly, as the Barna study reveals, we don’t even know what we’re doing. At the surface this can get a little sticky. Recall Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,…” It’s important to realize that conforming to culture and engaging culture are not the same thing. Let’s look at an example from the Guy who got everything right, Jesus.

Matthew 6:2 – [Jesus said] “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Jesus is extremely smart. Look at the word, “hypocrite.” We get it from the Greek, literally “hypokrite.” However, the context we have for it today was not the same in Jesus’s day. Back then, a “hypokrite” was a term used to describe an actor on stage. That’s right. Theatre. Now Jesus’s audiences were not Greeks, who loved theatre. They were Jews, but by this point in history the Roman Empire (Israel included) had been hellenized with Greek culture, resulting in a lot of Greek traditions mixing with different ones. One of those Greek traditions was a love for theatre.

So just as an actor acts out a character that is not their genuine personality, so a “hypokrite” acts out a godliness that is not in their heart, their true self. This was the point of what Jesus was saying. He obviously got the point across, given that the Pharisees were quite angry with him after the Sermon on the Mount. It’s cool because no one really used “hypokrite” in the deceptive, negative sense before. And what’s admirable is that Jesus engaged culture enough to know what was relevant to his audience, and he used that to spread the truth. And look at the influence!

This is a perfect example of how we should be engaging the people in our culture when we tell the Gospel. Jesus did not conform to culture by becoming obsessed with art and theatre and other norms for society back then. He appreciated theatre for what it was, and strategically contextualized it for God’s purposes so that others could understand better. Awesome! What does this look like in modern society?

Do you have an iPhone? Sweet (if not, I don’t either. Just go with me). Don’t conform to your iPhone and neglect your friends family because your face is glued to it like it’s a dream-flavored Hot Pocket. Instead, use it when you need to, and download a Bible app. When you are telling some friends or co-workers about Jesus, engage them by pulling up a verse on your iPhone to show them. Culturally relevant? Yes. Cheesy? Perhaps. Effective? I guarantee it.

That’s just one of the massive number of examples. Don’t forget that if we have a true relationship with Jesus, the desire of our heart will be to follow him and tell others about him (John 14:15). Don’t fall into the lie of entitlement so prevalent in secular culture. We have an obligation of loving others.

Now my honest opinion is that most of us Christians enjoy sitting at Starbucks, enjoy Apple products, and usually know what’s popular/going on (if not, you might want to head to Digg.com and read up on some articles). In short, I think most of us are pretty cultured. We just need to get off our butts and engage others for Jesus. If we don’t tell others about the Gospel, that’s pretty selfish. Not only that, but how would others know? Here’s a random food for thought: Instincts aside, if God never spoke to Adam and Eve, what would life look like? Afterall, Jesus did say we live on God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).

Oh, and sorry if you are a Moby Dick fan.

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