Christian Speech in Cultural Engagement: An Identity Crisis
- Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Cultural engagement is becoming increasingly popular in Christian circles. That trend is welcome, for the most part, in that the Great Commission of Matt. 28:18f certainly has a cultural component to it as one understands the comprehensive nature of the gospel and the reality that it ought to affect every area of life. It has to do with God's kingdom advancing in the earth. The gospel has a leavening influence as it penetrates a culture. This cultural component is clearly seen in our Lord's command to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16) and is grounded in the cultural or dominion mandate of Gen. 1:28. Again, this trend is welcome, for the most part.
Some developments in Christian cultural engagement are alarming to those who strive to think biblically in all areas. For example, some equate Christian cultural engagement primarily with political action or public policy influence. While impacting the political sphere with the gospel is part of the cultural mandate, political action alone is not only an unbiblical focus, but it will never succeed. Not only has history proven that fact, but the scriptures teach us that the only way to change a culture is to change the individuals in that culture. What is needed is a change of hearts and minds in terms of worldview. That radical change that is necessary in those areas can only be accomplished by the Spirit applying the gospel to hearts and minds. Political ideology and the gospel are separate things. It is the gospel that must and will affect political ideology.
Even more alarming are those who equate the Christian worldview with neo-conservatism, social conservatism, or the Republican Party. While most bible-believing Christians fall into the broader conservative camp, myself included, we must remember that just because an idea is conservative does not necessarily make it biblical. As one listens to a variety of Christian talk radio programs and reads a number of Christian blogs, one discovers quickly that the Christian worldview and the Republican worldview are one and the same in the minds of many. In these cases, not only is Christ not exalted, reproach is actually brought upon His Name. What a tragedy.
Further, while many Christians are unable to make a distinction between being conservative and being biblical, many others are unwilling. Joel Belz of World Magazine spoke candidly and rightly in connection with these observations. "Many conservatives are distressed at such fractures in their ranks. They worry that the coalition loosely joined under the 'conservative' banner will fall apart if we work too hard at sorting out differences between being 'conservative' and being 'biblical.' Not to worry. For Christians, the goal should never be to prop up some dying movement--and that includes every worldly ideology. Conservative humanism is ultimately just as poisonous and deadly as liberal humanism; the fuse just takes a little longer to burn (www.worldmag.com/articles/11677)."
Other issues are relevant to this line of thinking. Yet, perhaps the most critical of those is the issue of rhetoric or punditry and the harshness with which many Christians engage in it. Loving critical analysis of another position is both necessary and biblical when it comes to gospel advance and/or cultural engagement. The apostles engaged in such on a regular basis. However, while we are to speak the truth, and a failure to speak the truth is at issue when we equate conservatism and Christianity, we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). That too is at issue here.
The apostle Paul gives us some serious and sobering words in Eph. 4:29-32. "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you."
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