I thought I’d start off today’s post with a few confessions.
Let me share with you some of the things I absolutely love in modern culture.
I love the fact that we live in a world where everyday people – like me – can start an online marketplace. I can buy something on Etsy or Amazon Handmade that is absolutely one of a kind.
I love chick flicks – especially The Proposal and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Cheesy? Absolutely. Mindless? You better believe it. But I love them.
I love social networks. (Instagram anyone!?) Being able to get a glimpse into other people’s lives makes me happy. The fact that I can connect with people around the world with the click of a button fascinates me.
I love mindless, Buzzfeed style quizzes. How many hymns can I recognize? Done. Am I a “90s” child? Absolutely. What fast food would I be? What color should I dye my hair? I’m obsessed with these.
And one more. I also love This is Us. Plus it premieres tonight. Stoked!
All of us have things that we love about today’s mainstream culture. Whether a style of music, a modern convenience, a television show or movie – everyone has something they appreciate and make use of in our world today.
It always strikes me funny, then, when Christians claim to be completely against the culture. Unless you literally live under a rock, all of us have things we appreciate about today’s culture and modern world.
In last week’s #theologytuesday post, I talked about creating a theology of culture. If you missed the post, you can find it here. I reviewed five dominant Christian views on culture, and explained why I advocate for one in particular – Christ transforms culture. I am a firm believer that Christians are called to live within our world, see the good in it, and work with the Holy Spirit to transform the aspects that aren’t God-honouring and beautiful.
While this idea sounds good hypothetically – the reality is, it’s actually really hard. I find that any area of my life that requires me to live in tension is tough. Taking the time to thoughtfully dissect culture – see what’s good and God-honouring, put to one side what’s not, and explore how I can be part of bringing all that under Christ’s rule – is time-consuming. It’s tiring. And it’s tough.
Just because it’s tough though, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. We must be willing to embark in this challenging, but important, work if we desire to have a faith that is enduring and interacts with our world today in a way that both brings light to the world and honour to Jesus.
So how can we actually do this?
How can we practically live out a “theology of culture?”
The first key is for us to live in a posture of humility.
First of all, we need to recognize that we are imperfect people, saved by grace.
We don’t hold all the answers to the issues within our world today.
While often I think that if I were in charge of school systems, government, or television networks, I’d do everything right and God-honouring, I know that I am still flawed.
I know that there are areas of my own personal life don’t always honour God.
So, if you and I, are going to thoughtfully engage with culture, we first need to do so with humility – recognizing we are imperfect and simply human. The only difference between you and me and the producers of movies that make us shudder is the fact that we have accepted the free gift of salvation. Keeping this in mind as we engage with culture will change everything.
The second key for us is to approach culture with thoughtfulness.
The reality is, the Bible offers us principles for living, but doesn’t address many of the situations we face today. When it comes to the media we choose to consume, the way we interact on the Internet and how we make decisions about schooling and sports and activities for our kids, there is no chapter and verse we can look to.
A principle the Bible does offer us however, is to thoughtfully engage with culture. Listen to the very famous words of Paul in Romans 12 from the Message Paraphrase:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
I love these words. We must not become so well-adjusted to the world around us that we fit in without thinking. We need to fix our eyes on God, and with the help that comes from the Holy Spirit as we pray and read the Bible and live in Christian community, and think long and hard about the world we live in.
Thoughtfulness means a lot when it comes to engaging with the world around us.
As we adopt these two attitudes, we can start asking the hard questions about how we interact with culture.
Let me use the way we consume media – in particular, music – as an example.
I heard from several people who said they struggled with how their Christian faith should interact with mainstream media.
It’s a good question.
Should we as Christians, consume every kind of media mindlessly?
Is the music that streams on Spotify’s Top Hits fine for our consumption?
Or should we return to earlier days when Christians burned tapes of secular music and turned to only praise music?
There’s no “right” answer – since the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about what music we should listen to.
However, I do believe that there are principles that can help us figure out how to engage.
I think that as Christians – our goal – should be to consume and create only that which fits the criteria of Philippians 4:8. Here’s what it says in the NIrV:
“Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things.“
When we take this verse – and the principles behind it – which are demonstrated all throughout Scripture – I think the decisions we make about the media we consume can become more clear. As we scroll through the Top Songs in Canada List on Spotify or Trending Videos on YouTube, here are some questions we can ask:
- Is the content of this song (insert – video, movie, TV show, etc.) true? Does it reflect the truth of God’s Word & the Christian worldview I ascribe to?
- Does this song (or other form of media) express “noble” or “right and pure” values? Does it appropriately honour things like sex, relationships, money, friendship, family, and God?
- Is the content in this particular piece of media worthy of respect? Would I watch or listen with the person I most respect in the room with me?
- Is this excellent? Does it reflect a high quality of creativity and skill? (Christian media can be filtered through this as well.)
You can see how asking these questions and filtering various elements of culture through the lens of this verse will change our approach. It doesn’t mark all “secular” as bad, or dare I say it, even all “Christian” as good. It requires us to thoughtfully process all aspects of culture.
If an arena of culture – in this case media – but it could truly be anything, doesn’t measure up to this standard, how then, can we as Christians, be part of filling that void?
How can we bring “salt and light” into that particular area? Has God given us an area of influence, a skill, a gift, that we can use to bring honour to Him in the world at large?
We cannot just criticize, we must also create. We must be part of transforming work, not just destruction.
So what do you think?
Do you use these keys or principles when you engage with culture, or do you have a different approach?
Is there an example of a time you’ve engaged thoughtfully with culture?
I’d love to hear about it!
Leave me a comment!
Want to read more? Check out some of these sources:
“Be Undeniable: A Christian Alternative to Engaging in the Culture Wars” [Karl Vaters]
“Why Christians Are Not in a Culture War” [Relevant Magazine]
“Christ & Culture in Canada” [Faith Today Series by John Stackhouse]
“Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade” [Q Ideas, Andy Crouch]
“How Should Christians Engage with Culture?” [Philip Yancey]