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."
When the bible says that "no corrupt word" is to proceed out of our mouths, there are no exceptions. When the bible says that we are to speak "what is good for necessary edification," that means that our words are to build others up and not tear them down. Note too that Paul says our words often are not what people deserve. Our words are to "impart grace to the hearers." We speak words they do not deserve. Moreover, when we speak in a harsh manner, no matter what the context or rationale may be, we "grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Not to be simplistic, but it seems necessary in light of what goes out over the airwaves, when the bible says that "all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking [must] be put away from [us], with all malice," there are no exceptions. Because Christ forgave us, we are to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. In the Christian talk arena, little kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness is expressed. What is expressed most of the time is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice. Brethren, this ought not be!
At the same time, the Christian worldview is sorely lacking not only in the tone of conversation but also in the content of the conversation. The immigration issue may serve as an example. Regardless of the solution to this problem, one Christian compared immigrants from Mexico to rodents and roaches. This comparison is nothing but arrogance and prejudice and flies in the face of a gospel that breaks down all barriers between people (Gal. 3:28).
Another Christian stated that if immigrants are allowed to work for wages at the starvation level "our" lifestyle could suffer some what. Aside from the economic error of that statement, note the logic here: it is better for someone to actually starve than for our lifestyle to suffer at all. Where is the biblical worldview in that sentiment? Where is the love and compassion? Where is the focus on the other world? This world is not our home and the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (Phil 3:20; 1 Tim. 6:10).
Talk of "our country" and "those people" is antithetical to the Christian worldview. We are what we are by grace. We are here by grace. We too were once aliens and immigrants in more ways than one (Eph. 2:11f).
For Christians to say we should deny health care to immigrants can only grieve the heart of God. How can we be so selfish when we've been given so much? Have we missed the point of the Good Samaritan: that our neighbor is anyone in need? Certainly we need to help illegal immigrants become legal. But deny them health care to force them back across the border? The bible is clear: "Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 23:9)."
Further, what scriptural justification do Christian leaders have for calling people idiots, whackos, or other names? This type of thing may be Rush Limbaugh-like but it is certainly not Christ-like.
Frankly, the issue here is a lack of love. Our Lord and Master commanded, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48)."
Don't miss this vital connection: we must love our enemies, bless them, and do good to them, in order that we may be sons of our Father in heaven. Only when we live in this way do we prove ourselves to be sons of God. When we act differently, we say to the world that we are sons of Satan. This issue is not one of personality but one of identity. Are we or are we not the sons of God?
Dr. Paul J. Dean is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, SC, and hosts a daily, live, call-in radio talk show: "Calling for Truth." He serves as the Director of Applied Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors. Read Paul Dean's weblog on Crosswalk.com.
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