June 4, 2021
As Christians, how do we engage the culture, while being cautious not to have our worldview shaped by it? And how do we not just engage but effectively witness, in a time where everyone is looking for peace and hope outside of the Gospel?
Daniel Strange who lectures on Culture, Religion and Public Theology at Oakhill Theological College in London sets out to answer these questions.
When we consider culture, we often think in terms of particular people groups and their social behaviours. While there are elements of truth in those ideas, Strange doesn’t want us to merely think of culture in terms of how and what we eat, drink and wear, but to have our understanding of culture shaped by Scripture.
“Culture is the dynamic way human beings shape the world around us as we make and speak in the image of God. But culture is also the “fruit” of our “root” heart relationship with God—and for most of humanity, that relationship is in a state of war.”
In chapter 2, Strange shows that at the root of our anti-God culture is sin. God created mankind perfectly with the purpose to reveal who He is, relate to Him and represent Him. But, as fallen image-bearers, we distort, suppress and exchange the truth of God for a lie, resulting in a culture preaching “false gospels” that cannot save.
“The gospel is the subversive fulfilment of culture. This sounds a bit fancy and complicated but really, it’s not. It’s describing how compared to the idolatrous stories that the world tells, the gospel both subverts and fulfils, confronts and connects.”
Using Paul’s interaction with the people of Athens in Acts as an example, Strange illustrates that in order to engage with the culture you must, like Paul, know the culture:
“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” – Acts 17:22-23
Once you understand the stories the culture is telling us, you are then able to demonstrate how the Gospel displaces the false narratives by providing true hope and peace, and this is subversive fulfilment.
When it comes to what we read, play, buy, listen to and scroll through we’ve all thought “As a Christian, what am I permitted to do?”; Strange’s response is “Well… it depends”.
There is no one-size-fits-all “as we all have different characters and our consciences are all calibrated differently”. But Strange warns us not to delude ourselves with thinking that just because we are Christians we are somehow not susceptible to the culture influencing us. We must guard our hearts because “we’re equally tempted to change what Jesus requires of His followers so that our lives look like those of the non-Christians around us”.
“You’re no apostle Paul. You don’t have his background, his training, his calling. You don’t have his passion for God’s glory. You’re in no way as godly!”
Ouch! More humble pie anyone?
While this might hurt our egos, it is also encouraging. Strange points out that Paul’s context compared with ours are “worlds apart”. Most of us are not missionaries, going from city to city confronting governors and religious leaders. But in Gods providence, He has placed us in such a time, place and culture to be ambassadors for Christ in every day (sometimes mundane) circumstances of life.
Overall, this was a fun, easy reading, challenging little book. My prayer is that it would help equip the saints to contend for Christ in a culture that wants to replace the Gospel with cheap imitation stories and idols. This would be a good book to use in a small group setting for bible studies.
I’ll leave the final thought to Strange:
“This week take an hour by yourself, or with those closest to you, and prayerfully do a health check of your cultural consumption and cultural creation.”