Cultural Engagement: Every Christian's Obligation
- Thursday, January 24, 2008
All true Christians become familiar with the Great Commission early in their spiritual lives. At the same time, there is another mandate in the Scriptures that is equally massive in terms of obligation and resulting implications: the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28. Further, we are told by our Lord to be salt and light that men might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16). Certainly these directives are interconnected and are all grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, few believers understand the profound duty placed upon us in these areas. Neither do we realize the consequences for that failure of understanding. A large number of evangelicals shrink away from thinking about culture or seeing any onus placed upon them concerning cultural influence. Just what does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?
While such influence must be accomplished in every sphere of our cultural context from the arts, to the markets, to the entertainment industry, to the sciences, to the political arena, etc., precious few see the necessity of such engagement or even care. A failure to see in this regard is the sure pathway to the marginalization and then ban of Christianity. In short, we must involve ourselves in cultural engagement. Beyond the stated obvious, the question is: “why?”
1) First, we must engage the culture because kingdom advance is why we’re here. There are two competing kingdoms in this world, God’s and Satan’s; through they are not on equal footing. Certainly God is sovereign over all things. Yet, He has chosen, through the person and work Christ, to advance His kingdom and that primarily through the influence of believers. He uses us to put His enemies under His feet through the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:25). If we fail to do so, the Kingdom of Satan continues to encroach upon the Kingdom of God in the world.
For example, the Kingdom of Darkness encroaches in regard to our biggest social issues. Simply consider a few of the massive concerns before us in this culture: abortion, euthanasia, cloning, the homosexual agenda, etc. Pharmacists are required in some places to dispense the morning after pill even if it violates their consciences. In these citations alone the moral breakdown of our culture combined with the erosion of personal liberty has served to advance evil in our culture in an unprecedented way.
Further, the Kingdom of Darkness encroaches in regard to our deepest philosophical commitments. One need only cite the dynamics of political correctness, postmodernism, hate speech legislation, and the like to sound the alarm. A day is fast approaching when the gospel itself will be banned in this country if the tide is not turned.
Perhaps the most chilling implication is that the Kingdom of Darkness encroaches in regard to our prized treasure: our children. A moral agenda vastly different from the average evangelical’s has taken hold in the public school system. Biblical values are out while evolution, socialism, and homosexuality are in.
Now, we are here to encroach on Satan’s kingdom with the power of Christ in the gospel of grace. Of course, we are not talking about forced Christianity. At issue here is gospel advance for the salvation of souls, the glory of God, and the betterment of the lives of all people in the society in which God has placed us. The better of the lives of others is implied in the preserving influence we have as the salt of the earth. Further, the Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).” The picture here is that of the church advancing even as the gates of Hell attempt to hold that Kingdom from encroaching into its (so-called) territory. Those gates cannot keep Christ from accomplishing His purpose.
Again, in part, Christ accomplishes His purpose through us as He has given us a commission to make disciples of all nations. If we cannot see the degeneration of depraved man all around us and the need for gospel advance, then indeed we are the ones who are blind. At the same time, if we cannot affirm the power of Christ and His gospel and go forth with confidence then we do not understand who we are or what we have in the gospel. A definition of evangelism I’ve embraced and taught over the years is quite simple: “Being, doing, and telling the gospel of the Kingdom of God in order that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, persons and structures may be converted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.” Note the kingdom emphasis: “the gospel of the Kingdom of God.” The only way for persons and structures to be converted to the lordship of Christ is for God’s people to engage those persons and structures. We must engage in cultural engagement.
2) Second, we must engage the culture because God deserves glory in every sphere. In the definition of evangelism cited above, not only are persons to be converted to the lordship of Christ but so too are structures. Of course, we could add the fact that ideas are to be converted as well. Paul noted, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).” If God deserves glory in every sphere, then He is to be acknowledged in every sphere. Such a truth has great implications for prayer from a Christian at the opening of a football game or council meeting. Further, if God deserves glory in every sphere, then He is to be influential in every sphere. Of course God has influence in those spheres in which His people are engaged: hence the need for cultural engagement.
3) Third, we must engage the culture because Christians are misguided in their approach. Some Christians understand the need of the hour and are engaging the culture. The problem lies in the fact that they are taking the wrong tack. Christ Himself said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here (Jn. 18:36)." Christ is not building a physical kingdom but a spiritual one.
Many evangelicals have the wrong goal when it comes to cultural engagement. Too often the goal is a mere moral nation through government coercion. Or, too often the goal is a completely Christian nation through government coercion. Dr. Tom Nettles once said to me, “We glory in a pluralistic society.” Did he say that because he is a pluralist or because he did not want souls to be saved? No. He made such a statement because we cannot force anyone to be a Christian nor do we have the right to make such an attempt. Not only is the Holy Spirit the only One who can accomplish such a transformation but the New Testament advocates freedom for all human beings. Persons have the freedom to be wrong about who God is.
Other evangelicals are wrong in their method. While Christians must be active in the political arena, they must never come to believe that politics or government can or will change the world. We want Christian influence in the public square but such influence must always be connected to the lordship of Christ and the exposition of the gospel in that context. At the same time, co-belligerence, that is, partnering with those of other faiths for social change will not do in this effort. Our efforts in regard to social issues must never be divorced from the gospel we believe. Partnering with unbelievers even for a good cause will necessarily compromise the gospel we must preach in that framework.
So, we must engage the culture. Part of that requires that we point out to our brothers and sisters in Christ the error of their approach and do it right for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4) Fourth, we must engage the culture because we need not waste our lives. A major problem, even in biblically sound churches today, is that the vast majority of individuals are focused on themselves rather than kingdom advance. The pursuit of the American Dream supersedes pursuit of the gospel. We need a fresh understanding of why God put us here and the reward we stand to gain on that great day.
Don’t waste your life! At the end of your days, you will not regret the things you did but you will most certainly regret the things you did not do. This reality will hold true with particular reference to what you do or do not do for the sake of kingdom advance if you are a true believer. Paul wrote, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:15-17).”
Martin Hinton, the British churchman who decided that the bible is just too intimidating for modern readers produced the “100 Minute Bible.” Len Budd, publisher of the slimmed-down bible, admitted that much had been lost in the reduction. “Is it a dumbing down of the Bible? Yes, but that's the world today. Although we as Christians love the Bible it is very user-unfriendly. People just don't have time to read it. If this book means more people can answer pub quiz questions on the Bible, so much the better." So, that's the point? It appears that the purpose behind this project was something closer to cultural literacy than evangelism/kingdom advance. The new edition is "not an evangelical document," Mr. Budd explained.
In reading something like the above, we might well ask, “Is there a need for cultural engagement even among Christians?” O how there most undoubtedly is. Don’t waste your life answering pub questions when as a believer you have the answers to life’s ultimate questions. Engage the culture.
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. Paul speaks at several conferences throughout the year and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. He is married and has three children.
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