Given the current cultural climate, the hot topics that are always being talked are issues such as the same sex marriage and abortion debate. But what I have noticed over the years is that Christians are still struggling to figure out how to exactly engage the culture around them. In other words, should a Christian care about governmental laws? Should they be involved with politics? Should they be trying to impact legislation? Should Christians just pray and let God fight the battles around them? As for myself, I have invested plenty of time trying to engage the university. Allow me to go ahead and expand on this topic with three models for cultural engagement:
1. The Withdrawal Model: In this model, many Christians are just so disgusted with the evil in the culture that they have decided to separate from it completely. When I say ‘separate’ I mean that these Christians only socialize with other Christians and generally won’t engage the dangerous places like universities. Thus, they tend to always expect non Christians to behave like Christians and are convinced America will eventually return to its Christian foundations.
Let me tell a quick story: I once participated in an Interfaith panel on a university campus (e.g, we had a Muslim, a Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist, along with myself). Sadly, one of my Christian friends rebuked me for participating in such as event. Hence, he said I should never sit on a panel with people who were from different faiths. When I challenged him on being salt and light (Matt. 5: 13-14) and that we need to engage the dark areas of our culture, he only got more defensive. In many cases people who adhere to the withdrawal model forget that judgment comes to the household of God first (1 Pet. 4: 16-17). We can’t keep expecting non Christians to adhere to our values and beliefs. This ends up making the Gospel into the moral Gospel rather than a supernatural message. , I often think of a statement made by well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. Ravi says, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.”
2. The Culture Changes Us: In this model, Christians desperately want to be popular and relevant. So in response, they end up becoming so much like the culture that there is very little difference between them and the people they surround themselves with. This model won’t work because it it can’t be justified by the Bible. Jesus calls his disciples to be “salt and light” (Matt 5:13-14). Also, as Paul says,
“ Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I see the biggest drawback of this model is that Christians tend to forget they don’t answer to the culture. Instead, they answer to the Lord for what they say and teach in the public square (1 Cor 3: 10-15).
3. The Counter-Cultural Model: This is the model that matches up with the Bible. In this model, Christians don’t withdrawal nor are they absorbed by the culture. Instead, they work diligently on trying to transform culture. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and are willing to go into the dark places. For myself, even though I do think the state of the world will get darker and perhaps wickedness may abound, I will work hard to be an agent of truth, light, justice, and love.
“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “- Luke 9: 23
The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, it is clear that to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor but instead a sign of rejection and embarrassment. When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the cross and self denial here, they knew to make Jesus the Lord of their lives was going to be a life of commitment and abandonment of autonomy.
To live counter culturally means to be willing to be open to shame, embarrassment, and misunderstanding. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ While it is true that Christians can’t demand that secular culture reflect biblical principles, we as followers of our Lord are called to speak up against evil.
I hope these models provoke some further thought.