Saturday, July 23, 2005

Engaging Our Culture

I have been thinking a lot recently (and actually for quite some time) about God, our situation here in the world, our spiritual battle, and our effectiveness (or noneffectiveness) in engaging our culture. If not for Christ, I would say that its time to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Thank God for the sacrifice Christ made for us at the cross.

It seems to me that our depravity is exposed by our inability to engage with our unbelieving culture effectively. Many evangelicals seem to simply lack the wherewithal to stand up against postmodernism. In every generation, it seems there has been some cultural evil that Christians were called to stand against. Sometimes Christians did this effectively – sometimes not. In the 19th century, Christians seemed to lead the fight for abolitionism (although nonbelievers by common grace were also involved significantly in that fight). In the 50's and 60's (and to a point up to today), Christians played a significant role in the fight against racism. And due to the courage and perseverance of men of God who lived 40 to 50 years ago, today our nation, as a whole, does not tolerate racism.

But I am not telling you all anything that most of you do not already know.

Today, we need to fight against postmodernism and a culture that is getting more and more ungodly everyday. Two reasons come to my mind right away when I consider how ineffective we seem to be in this fight. One reason is that many Christians do not have the ability to reason things out well. Many Christians struggle to point out the gross inconsistencies and fallacious claims of postmodernism. Another reason is that many Christians simply lack the courage to stand against our culture. As Doug Wilson describes it, we see ourselves as the croutons in a great big tossed salad. We supplement their views with our views - their jargon with our jargon - their perspective with our perspective. But too many Christians do not seek to teach people to obey that which God has commanded. We are deathly afraid of confrontation. We are defeated in our minds and attitudes and our hearts. And we do not want to hurt anyone's feelings.

We seem to suffer from the same mental disorder that many in the postmodern camp suffer. Merely changing our jargon does not fix the problem. We can say words like "worldview," "Christian," "trivium," and "Bible-centered" all we want. But merely changing our vocabulary does not accomplish much.

Please understand that when I say "we," I am talking about many American evangelicals, not necessarily you or me. However, if the shoe fits, wear it – or for that matter, take it off and get a new pair! I do think that we need to learn how to think logically and how to take a stand for truth courageously. I think that there should be a strong emphasis on these things in our ministries.

However, a third thing has come to my mind. We need to learn how to celebrate our God. It has seemed to me through much of my Christian walk that celebration is somehow less important than the important things like not committing adultery and not stealing and preaching the gospel. It has also seemed to me that celebration is easy. After all, it is a celebration. What is so hard about that?

But the more I think about it, the more I realize how wrong-headed that line of thinking is. Celebration is very important, and our inability to celebrate that which God would have us celebrate in the manner that God would have us celebrate also exposes the depth of our depravity. I believe that you can see what people believe in, what they value, and what/who they are worshipping by watching what they celebrate and how they celebrate and why they celebrate.

Wouldn’t you know it? God addresses all three of these issues in his Word! Once again, after thinking things through, I reach the same conclusions: God is awesome. God is true. God is just. God is wise. God is loving and merciful and excellent. We need to read the Bible and submit our hearts and minds and souls to Him. For the battle belongs to the Lord.

We need to learn to reason. In Isaiah 1:18, God says, "Come now, let us reason together…." The book of Proverbs exhorts us time and time again to gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Proverbs 1:2-6 speaks of the purpose of the proverbs: "for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young – let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise." And in Proverbs 24:3-4, it says, "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." We also see in the Book of Acts, chapter 6, verse 10 that when certain Jews opposed Stephen, "they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke." Finally, in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter, by the inspiration of God, exhorts us. "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…." Clearly, Christians ought to gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Christians need to be able to reason.

One of the reasons why we need to be able to reason well is that we might be able to recognize how unreasonable and futile and downright idolatrous it is to trust in reason itself rather than in God. O, that Christians might learn this lesson well! How many Christians have unwittingly sold themselves out by refusing to declare God’s word on God’s authority, for fear that they would be accused of not being reasonable people! Christians have actually bought into the argument that many use which uses as its fundamental axiom the notion that no reasonable person asserts that his personal beliefs ought to be advanced by people on God’s authority. Ashamed to declare the gospel on God’s authority, Christians dance. "Well, I don’t want to seem like I’m on the radical fringe, but this is what I believe. But it’s cool if you have other [contradicting] beliefs." At this point, most evangelicals would walk away from confrontation. But some might engage further, but surely not on God’s authority! No, no, no. To argue a point on God’s authority is to throw out logic. So then, I must use logic to show that the gospel is the truth.

The fallacy here is in the notion that reason saves. Reason does not save. We are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Reason complements faith. Reason does not ever substitute faith. It is not illogical or unreasonable to speak God’s Word on His authority. Indeed, that is how the Bible begins and ends – on authority. (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 22:18-21) And over 4000 times throughout Scripture, the student of the Bible is confronted with the notion that what he is reading is not merely a good, wise idea, but that it is the very Word of God. We are told that this Word is living and active and powerful. (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) We are told that by His Word, all things are held together. (Hebrews 1:1-3) We are told that God spoke and the heavens and the Earth came into being. (Genesis 1) We are told that Jesus Himself was the Incarnate Word. (John 1:1-14) And we are told that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) The Word is near us, it is in our mouths and in our hearts, that Word of faith which the apostle’s proclaimed on God’s authority, that if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, we shall be saved. (Romans 10:8-10) And now, those who believe speak, in accordance with the word: "I believe, therefore, I speak." (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

How dare we substitute the Word of God for some clever argument! What the heck are we thinking! Do we actually think that our clever arguments are better than God’s eternal Word? Why then do we act like they are?! Due to our lack of faith, embarrassed and ashamed of God, afraid that we might look stupid and fall on our face, we attempt to replace God’s Holy Word with some clever argument. We justify this by pointing at the rest of evangelical America. "Everyone else is doing it!" So, instead of preaching the pure Gospel truth on God’s authority with faith that God will honor the preaching of His Holy Word, we offer a watered down "gospel" that has some religious language in it, but does not seem "over the top." This gospel is not as confrontational which suits most of us just fine, because we are not interested in dealing with confrontation. Besides, we think that this empowers our message, since by mincing our words, we seem to have "won" the political conservative right. In reality, I fear that what we have done is confessed our dependence and our need for the conservative right to affirm us. We seem to lack the wherewithal to find a way to make our voice heard. We have deceived ourselves. One, we do not see the reason why reason is not enough to save. We do not see the reason why it is not okay to offer slightly different gospel than the true gospel. Two, we really do not have the courage to believe (or is it that we don’t have the faith to be courageous). This brings me right into my second point.

We seem to have forgotten what it means to be courageous. Or, more truthfully, we avoid situations that require courage like the plague. The pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, ani-Christian movement in America is aggressively attempting to stamp out the expression of faith of the true church. Oh, most people in America are fine with people believing in Jesus, provided that Jesus is only one of their gods. But people will fight you tooth and nail if you declare that there is only one God who is to be praised. Actually, people are pretty much okay with you saying that line, as long as you do not mean it, and as long as you do not state that in the public arena. "Faith is a private matter." "Don’t mix faith and politics." "Work is not the place to bring up matters of faith." "To each his own." "Respect all beliefs." "What we need to do is tolerate all ideas." All of these statements are attempts by God’s enemies to silence God’s people. By remaining silent, we have caved in to the pressures of our idolatrous culture. We sell out.

And then, instead of being contrite about it, we justify ourselves. Often we justify ourselves with the same fallacious arguments that God’s enemies were using to silence us. This works out well for us – especially those of us who do not know how to reason well. After all, we do not see the difference between proclaiming God’s truth on God’s authority and offering our "Christian perspective" on the shaky authority of reason. So, that’s nice. We are comfortable in our ignorance of our wicked idolatry, and we think we have just reason to be comfortable.

But if we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and knowledgeable of God’s Word and able to reason arguments out well, then the truth is made bare. Put simply, we chicken out. We live in fear and unbelief. We are not courageous. We have not dared to dream and to fight for God’s ideal because we are just too afraid to do it. For this, we need to repent. We need to come clean before God, confess our cowardliness, acknowledge our need for Christ, and receive God’s grace. And then, we must turn. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we must go forth declaring His Word on His authority, trusting in God to fulfill His purposes as we do.

But this has to be done on God’s strength, and not our own. We do not have what it takes to fight this fight. We are up against an enemy that is too strong for us. If we go forth in our strength, we will fizzle out very quickly. And by doing so, we probably would end up doing more harm than good.

So, how do we overcome?

Our trust has to be in God alone. We must recognize that in Him we live and move and have our being. We must ask Him to reveal His glory to us. We must diligently seek Him, trusting that God rewards those who do. And in all of this, we must learn to celebrate the goodness of God in our lives. For if we are to be attractive to the world, while maintaining our integrity and refusing to water down the gospel, then we are going to have to live life completely God’s way. And God has mandated celebrations.

The Old Testament believers had all kinds of celebrations that they observed every year. Take the Passover for example. Every year, by God’s command, faithful Jews celebrated before God the Passover. They celebrated God’s mighty deliverance out of Egypt. They remembered the blood of lambs that was sprinkled over the doorways of their homes, so that the angel of death who administered the last of the 10 plagues, passed over them. It was altogether fitting and proper that the Old Testament believers ought to celebrate the Passover.

But the Passover was more than God delivering Israel out of Egypt! The Passover was a picture pointing to the future Messiah, the Lamb of God, who would be slain for the sins of the whole world. Now, for us who believe, when God looks at us, He pronounces us righteous because the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all of our sins!

So, then, why is it that most Christians do not even know when Passover is? Why don’t we know more about all the other Jewish Holidays? I think the answer to this is simply that we have just blended into our culture, which is one that, for the most part, does not celebrate the Old Testament Feasts. But celebration is in order. We know about the Pilgrims because we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. We celebrate "holidays" like Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day because we value American ideas. What we value is exposed by what we celebrate.

As Christians, we have a ton of things to be celebrating! God loves us. If we are in Christ, we are in a covenant relationship with Him. We are a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) We belong to Christ. So, we need to give God praise. Celebration is in order. By celebrating God’s goodness and love to us, we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.

Now is the time. Who knows that we are here in this culture at this point in history for such a time as this? It is time to gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom and to be able to reason things out well. We need to be courageous and strong and bold as we stand up for truth, justice, righteousness, and the good news of Christ. And we need to celebrate all of our blessings.

We are in a war for the battle of souls, and the enemy is active and aggressive in the fight. We must not accept the status quo. It is time to engage our culture.


Post a Comment

<< Home