Thursday, July 13, 2006

Guest column: "Anti-Christian Culture?"


As I promised a while back, I'm running a guest column by one of my frequent readers and blogger himself, Jesse Perry, on the subject of Christianity and the "anti-Christian culture." Jesse calls the article "Cultural Interface."
I basically agree with what Jesse is saying below. My one concern, and I think he states the same concern in this article, is a caution that efforts to engage the culture must not dilute our Christian beliefs. While we do not need to give deliberate offense, the fact is that the gospel will offend. As the apostle Paul said, "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23, HCSB). I feel that leaders in the "Emerging Church" movement such as Brian McLaren have been so eager to engage the culture that they have been unwilling to speak truth to the culture. Other leaders of the Emerging Church movement, such as Mark Driscoll, have been a better example of sticking to scripture.
Below is the beginning of the article. Read the whole article by clicking on "Comments" below and going to the first comment:

Cultural Interface by Jesse Perry
Lifeway lists “Anti-Christian
culture” as the number one issue facing families in the May/June 2006 issue of
Facts and Trends
. I think I understand what that means, but what exactly is
“anti-Christian culture”? Is there some conspiracy? Is the simple answer that
Satan is behind it all? There is a predominant pattern of thought on the issue
of culture among evangelicals that basically assumes this, and I think that’s a
little too simplistic. When we say that it’s all because of Satan, we give the
wrong implication that it’s useless to try to change things. I believe that we
are unwittingly participating in that so-called “Satanic conspiracy” when we
refuse to ask questions and delve deeper into this issue. The point can be made
that mainstream American culture and evangelical subculture are purposely very
dissimilar, and that this is a good thing because mainstream culture contains
many negative elements… but then so does the evangelical subculture. Does that
mean that Satan is the architect of the evangelical subculture as well? No? Then
neither is he the architect of “secular” culture either. It is more complicated
than that...

[Continue reading this article by clicking on "Comments" below and reading the first comment.]

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

CULTURAL INTERFACE BY JESSE PERRY
Lifeway lists “Anti-Christian culture” as the number one issue facing families in the May/June 2006 issue of Facts and Trends. I think I understand what that means, but what exactly is “anti-Christian culture”? Is there some conspiracy? Is the simple answer that Satan is behind it all? There is a predominant pattern of thought on the issue of culture among evangelicals that basically assumes this, and I think that’s a little too simplistic. When we say that it’s all because of Satan, we give the wrong implication that it’s useless to try to change things. I believe that we are unwittingly participating in that so-called “Satanic conspiracy” when we refuse to ask questions and delve deeper into this issue. The point can be made that mainstream American culture and evangelical subculture are purposely very dissimilar, and that this is a good thing because mainstream culture contains many negative elements… but then so does the evangelical subculture. Does that mean that Satan is the architect of the evangelical subculture as well? No? Then neither is he the architect of “secular” culture either. It is more complicated than that, and Satan is not in complete control of anything. Being “the prince and power of the air” does not mean that he controls the transmission of radio signals, and being the “god of this world” does not make him the dispenser of our enjoyment of material things. Satan has a stake in both evangelical subculture and mainstream culture (with all of its other varied subcultures). We must come to understand that there are people, just like you and me, creating and distributing the cultural content that you and I consume and bemoan, and we’ve let them down. We’ve contributed a large portion to the current condition of mainstream culture by our poor interaction with it. To me personally, it is so disheartening to see Christians becoming unsavory salt in our culture simply because we are afraid to ask too many questions about how our faith should interface with America’s broader culture. Instead we retreat into our little subculture and hurl insults at the world outside that we’re called to reach, enlighten, and enrich. It is unfortunate that so many Christians are comfortable painting people inaccurately and irresponsibly with such a broad stroke. We should be ashamed. We should repent.
Christianity Today is showcasing the “Christian Vision Project”, whose purpose is to ask Christian leaders “How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?” There are many other ministries and individuals who are investing time and energy to fight our nation’s “culture war”. But is being a counterculture or fighting a “culture war” the answer to our problem? ABC’s 20/20 recently aired a show on political polarization in our country; that is, how the left is moving further left and the right is moving further right. Let’s put together all of the information that we’ve discussed so far. Lifeway figured out that we’ve got a culture problem. Christianity Today is asking Christian leaders how they think we can create a counterculture. ABC observed that both sides of the “culture war” are seeking to marshal the troops and get their agendas pushed through. What can we learn here? Well, we do have a culture problem, but the answer is not to create or become a counterculture or a subculture. ABC is correct about the polarization in our country. Their analysis seems to accurately describe the thinking of most evangelicals, as well as most secularists. For evangelicals, finding others who agree with us and then affirming each other’s disgust with the broader culture is not the answer. Instead, we should reenter the culture and contextualize our message. Contextualization does not mean changing the message, contextualizing means changing the medium we use to communicate that message. To contextualize, we must learn our culture intimately, learn our worldview and how to explain it, and then use their language instead of creating our own.
I understand most of the concerns raised in objection to this way of engaging the culture. The most common, I believe, is that Christians in our churches are not able to interact with the culture without being subverted by the culture that we would encourage them to engage. Consider these points: #1 Do we perhaps set up extra-Biblical standards for ourselves regarding the culture? If so, then we need to learn to revise those standards as we live, while not revising the Biblical principles that underlie them… in effect finding new ways of manifesting Biblical principles. We must let go of extrabiblical standards that we have created to make us comfortable and safely disengaged from our culture. #2 When we make progress, there will always be a risk of losing people on the journey. Jesus didn’t let that stop him. Neither should we. In order to get involved with what God is doing at this point in history, we’re going to have to let go of a lot of things that we are clinging to, but are not at the core of Biblical Christian faith.
The linchpin, I believe, is apologetics. Without it, any effort to impact the world around us falls apart. Apologetics is the best means of continually contextualizing our message to reach people and be the best “salt and light” that we can be. Apologetics is the “Cultural Interface” for the Christian worldview: it is the only way we are going to connect with those outside our evangelical subculture, and enrich our culture with truth. Apologetics enables us to tackle the tough questions that we must raise in regard to the Christian worldview, and do so fairly and honestly. We need to take a deep breath, and jump in… start addressing questions instead of dismissing them or attacking the questioner. The answers are there. We’ve just got to seek them.

Brother Bob said...

Jesse,
Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, would probably disagree with part of what you said. Terry recently spoke in our church and told about how the Kansas legislature refused the request of Christians to pass a marriage amendment, so he and some other pastors took an active role in recruiting Christians all over the state to register to vote and run for office. They managed to defeat 41 members of the state legislature and elect candidates who were in favor of traditional marriage, and then pass a constitutional amendment in Kansas to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Terry describes his effort as part of the "culture wars."
Personally, I think there is a time for Christians to take a stand on issues like that. I have done a similar thing in actively opposing the legalization of hard liquor in Effingham County.
How would you say that your viewpoint applies to Christian involvement in such battles? Do you feel that apologetics is the only way to respond to the culture, or do you think that there is an appropriate place for being involved in the so-called "culture wars" in the ways I've described?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I have a question..I don't even know to whom I'm posing this question, but anyone who chooses to answer will do.

Christians have a set of values that they choose to live by. What could possibly give people, any people, the right to dictate how other people live their lives (I mean so long as it's not infringing upon the rights of another)? And if you feel it is your right to dictate I think you might be well served to consider who, apart from yourself, might also choose to dictate.

Jesse said...

I think that legislating cultural change inevitably creates a backlash, as it has in the past - which is a large part of why our culture is in the state it's in now. How does the adage go? "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." I applaud the efforts of Terry Fox and others, but this type of legislative change must occur concurrently with genuine personal change within the hearts and minds of those who take an opposing viewpoint. (I hate to speak in terms of "them" vs "us", but please indulge me.) "They" don't necessarily have to change their position on specific issues, but we can change their perception of us, and that's the only way to create an opportunity to affect genuine change. Once people choose to change, then we can legitmately enact legislation. I believe that we are forsaking our mission when we place political change before genuine personal and cultural change.
One other important point - if we believe that government should be participated in by all (and I think that aligns with Biblical principle), then political power plays are unethical. I don't think evangelicals realize how badly they are damaging their reputation among postmoderns when they engage in political maneuvering.
I'm afraid that if we "take control" of political institutions, we're just setting the stage for another cultural revolution ('a la 1950's, 60's, & 70's). Besides, at the end of the day, what have we won? We may have passed a marriage amendment, but the homosexual couples are still there, and are now more determined than ever to see governmental institutions legitimize their lifestyle. And they'll probably have a hard time seeing past the angry red haze enough to consider the gospel if it were presented.

Brother Bob said...

With regard to Terry Fox, I can tell you that he does more to change lives than most. In the ten years he has been pastor, they have added 2,000 new members. So he is actively involved in leading people to personal change, as well as being involved in cultural change.
When he spoke at our church, he spoke of Christians having three commissions: The Great Commission (evangelism), The Godly Comission (personal holiness), and The Good Commission (to be salt and light in the culture).

Brother Bob said...

Trudy,
Your question is one that many non-Christians ask. In part, it is a reasonable question, but in part it is based upon a wrong assumption.
Obviously, we Americans value freedom for the minority viewpoint to be expressed. So we need to allow freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of personal expresssion. However, we are a nation of laws. Without laws, we would have anarchy. The debate comes when these two ideals come into conflict, which is precisely what happens with an issue like homosexual marriage.
Most Christians, including myself, do not believe in mistreating or discriminating against homosexuals, including those who live together with partners, even though we do not approve of their lifestyle. However, to recognize such abnormal lifestyle as "marriage" leads to anarchy and a breakdown in the basic fabric of society. If homosexual marriage is legally recognized, what logical reason can be given for not allowing polygamous marriage, polyamorous marriage, etc.? Thus Christians have an obligation to be involved in influencing the laws for the common good.

Nick Kennicott said...

Jesse, Great thoughts. I think, like you were saying in your response to Brother Bob, "Taking over" political institutions is putting the cart before the horse. My family has always been heavily involved in the political landscape of America, so I have had the opportunity over several years to see what really happens when forceful lobbying and, essentially, "over-throw" happens. Rather than persuading men (as the Apostle Paul discusses), we are forcing them to conform to our belief system which, in the end only accomplishes further polarization across the board... Non-Christians are more hardened toward Christians, and Christians are less tolerant and less likely to approach those who are non-Christians. This makes it very difficult to put your arm around a non-Christians and say, "let's talk... I know we forced our way into a political institution and demanded policy change for the good of our ideals and were probably pretty ugly about it in the process, but let me share the gospel with you anyway..."
I believe 100% that Christianity is the only one true faith by which a person can be saved through Jesus Christ, but there is an effective way to present that message. Yes, the gospel will offend, but let's let the gospel do the offending, not us. It is very difficult in the political arena to adhere to Colossians 4:6, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." As we further divide camps we need to remember we're not dealing with Christians and non-Christians, we're dealing with humans that all need the grace of God and the blood of Jesus for salvation. We don't have to agree, but we should not force and offend. Political ploys do not change hearts and minds - disciple making, loving relationships do. Vote, write and call representatives, and above all else, pray - we will not change this country through the political system without calling on the redeeming power of Christ who works all things for His glory.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

Jesse. If the hearts and minds of every person under the jurisdiction of such a piece of legislation were to change, why would you need that piece of legislation? And if even one person remained who felt differently, is it not their right to live their life as they choose, assuming it doesn't not interfere with the rights of another?


Brother Bob. I didn't find it particularly clear what wrong assumption I'm operating under.

You're absolutely right, if homosexual marriage is legal what logical reason can be given for not allowing any sort of marriage someone wants to engage in? But if the legal state of homosexual marriage is the logic reason for other types of marriage being illegal, and it seems you're implying that the other types of marriage remaining illegal is the logical reason for homosexual marriage being illegal.....it's just a big loop, with no logical reason anywhere. As long as all parties are entering whatever manner of marriage by their own choice and armed with all the information, how could that tread on someone's rights? And if they're not of their own choice or not being given all the information, there are already laws against duress and fraud.

The problem with this kind of arguement is that people in general have come to suffer from the very dangerous ailment of demanding more than they deserve. No one deserves the right to control another persons life by force.

I think the common good is the removal of force from society except as a Newton type reaction to ensure that those who prove themselves willing to use force are kept apart from the people they hurt.

Rape, murder, assault....Any way in which someone can infringe upon the rights of another is simply force exerted by someone onto another person. Because there are many Christians doesn't make it any less force. And the fact that the people effected by it are reproachful to you doesn't make it any less of a violation.

Brother Bob, I realise that you don't care for arguing, but I really want to understand your point here. You're my friend (or I hope you are) and I want to think that you really are trying to make things better with this, and just don't see what it is that's really happening. (That sounds much more condescending than it was meant to)

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

Jesse. If the hearts and minds of every person under the jurisdiction of such a piece of legislation were to change, why would you need that piece of legislation? And if even one person remained who felt differently, is it not their right to live their life as they choose, assuming it doesn't not interfere with the rights of another?


Brother Bob. I didn't find it particularly clear what wrong assumption I'm operating under.

You're absolutely right, if homosexual marriage is legal what logical reason can be given for not allowing any sort of marriage someone wants to engage in? But if the legal state of homosexual marriage is the logic reason for other types of marriage being illegal, and it seems you're implying that the other types of marriage remaining illegal is the logical reason for homosexual marriage being illegal.....it's just a big loop, with no logical reason anywhere. As long as all parties are entering whatever manner of marriage by their own choice and armed with all the information, how could that tread on someone's rights? And if they're not of their own choice or not being given all the information, there are already laws against duress and fraud.

The problem with this kind of arguement is that people in general have come to suffer from the very dangerous ailment of demanding more than they deserve. No one deserves the right to control another persons life by force.

I think the common good is the removal of force from society except as a Newton type reaction to ensure that those who prove themselves willing to use force are kept apart from the people they hurt.

Rape, murder, assault....Any way in which someone can infringe upon the rights of another is simply force exerted by someone onto another person. Because there are many Christians doesn't make it any less force. And the fact that the people effected by it are reproachful to you doesn't make it any less of a violation.

Brother Bob, I realise that you don't care for arguing, but I really want to understand your point here. You're my friend (or I hope you are) and I want to think that you really are trying to make things better with this, and just don't see what it is that's really happening. (That sounds much more condescending than it was meant to)

Brother Bob said...

Trudy,
If I understand your comments, you appear to have Libertarian political viewpoint, that would allow almost any social behavior to be tolerated, as long as it didn't physically harm another person. Few people, even liberals, share your view, because it leads to social anarchy.
When I was illustrating this by pointing out that toleration of homosexual marriage logically leads to polygamous and polyamorous marriage, I did not mean to imply that it was the only reason homosexual marriage was wrong. Homosexual marriage is wrong simply because it is wrong itself. It is a perversion of what "marriage" is. Marriage, by definition, is between one man and one woman. Homosexual "marriage" gives social and governmental endorsement to a practice that is unnatural and harmful. Let me illustrate the social dangers. A child needs a healthy sexual development that includes a mother and a father. This cannot be replicated in a homosexual parental union. The Family Research Council has exhaustive research on this subject. Check out the Ten Arguments from Social Science against Same-Sex Marriage at http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=IF04G01.
Let me explain what I meant by "wrong assumption."
You also seem to assume that this concept of "dictating to others" only goes one way, when in fact it goes both ways. If non-Christians get involved in politics, and Christians do not, then non-Christians will be dictating to Christians what Christians may do. To the charge, "don't force your morality down my throat," Christians reply, "don't force your IMMORALITY down my throat."
As I was saying in an earlier comment, most Christians do not care to dictate to homosexuals whether they practice this lifestyle in private. What we object to is the legalization of homosexual marriage, which brings it into the public sphere and effects the lives of everybody. Will Christian newspaper publishers be required to run wedding announcements for homosexual couples? Will government social services be required to recognize homosexual foster parents for the care of children who come from a Christian background? Will Christian pastors be accused of discrimination for refusing to perform weddings for homosexuals? Etc. Etc.
You might think these sort of things won't happen, but they already have happened.
For example, a Christian father in Massachusetts objected to his six-year-old son being taught that homosexual lifestyle is normal, and requested that he be notified when the school was going to discuss that topic, and not only was this Christian father refused this parental right, but he was forced to leave the school. You might say, "Well, he can go to private school," but by saying so, you would be saying that he must pay taxes to support schools that will not tolerate his parental rights to teach his values to his son. How did Massachusetts get into such a situation? BECAUSE HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE IS LEGAL IN MASSACHUSETTS.
So the assumption that only Christians force their views on others is incorrect. Somebody is going to dictate the values and laws of our society. The only question is who, and when the culture is polarized by strongly Christian and strongly anti-Christian viewpoints, the two will inevitably conflict.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I didn't mean to imply that I was expressing an opinion about the right or wrong nature of homosexual marriage. I don't think my opinion of it has anything at all to do with this discussion. I'm not suggesting that anyone should like/dislike/whatever any particular set of moral values, I'm only suggesting that people should mind their own business. Christians, non-Christians, everyone. You have no more right to make illegal their marriages than they do to make illegal your marriages.

As for the dictating to others, I don't think it has to be that way. I think if people would be sensible and enter politics there wouldn't be a conflict because people would realise that there's no reason to stamp out that which is offencive to them, but does not actually hurt them in some way.

As for your parent in MA, I agree, the school was wrong, but that's not to do with the legalisation of homosexual marriage, although I'm sure it's a good thing to twist around until it looks like it does. That's to do with a school refusing a parent their absolute right to govern what their child is taught.

Setting this up as a Christian vs anti-Christian conflict only leads to a fight that no one can win. And setting up Christians as the victims in it only does two things, it makes the Christian community appear weak and ineffective, and it makes them appear whiny which is something that only appeals to the librels. :)

As for my political views, the closest thing I've found to something that would describe me is the objectivist corner, but then that doesn't really fit that well either.

All the things you've suggested would happen with homosexual marriage being made legal are situations where people would be forcing from another direction, and yes, I know it happens, and it's wrong, but that doesn't make it any less wrong to be the opposite side forcing. No one has to dictate, if people would be sensible.

Marriage is legal, and so any two people who wish to enter into it should be allowed.

Jesse said...

Trudy
You have so many good points - evangelicals need to listen to you.

"Setting this up as a Christian vs anti-Christian conflict only leads to a fight that no one can win. And setting up Christians as the victims in it only does two things, it makes the Christian community appear weak and ineffective, and it makes them appear whiny which is something that only appeals to the librels. :)"
I wish more evangelicals were concerned about how they are being heard. Most of us have no clue how we are confusing ourselves and misunderstanding others.


"All the things you've suggested would happen with homosexual marriage being made legal are situations where people would be forcing from another direction, and yes, I know it happens, and it's wrong, but that doesn't make it any less wrong to be the opposite side forcing."
Excellent point. You'd think evangelicals would be more cognizant of that truth.


"No one has to dictate, if people would be sensible."
And that's going to require someone to initiate and be the first to be sensible. Jesus taught that the way up is down. I think evangelicals should be first.


"And if even one person remained who felt differently, is it not their right to live their life as they choose, assuming it doesn't not interfere with the rights of another?"
"Marriage is legal, and so any two people who wish to enter into it should be allowed."
First,
Isn't that just as arbitrary as defining marriage as being between a man and a woman? I mean, wouldn't the "only two people" part exclude polygamists? I think any stand we take on this issue is going to interfere with the rights of someone. The question is, "who?"
Second, defining marriage in a particular way isn't exactly interfering with anyone's rights. Demonstrating preferential treatment... maybe. In our country, no one is prevented from living in any kind of relationship with anyone else - it's just an issue of what kind of "flavor" the overall culture takes... what subculture has the most input into public policies. (I think Bob already mentioned this but stated it differently.)

Brother Bob said...

Trudy, you said, "Marriage is legal, and so any two people who wish to enter into it should be allowed." Why are you dictating to polygamists that they cannot have three people or four people in a marriage? And what about the guy who wants to get married to himself? Why are you dictating to him that he can't marry himself? Isn't that his business, not yours?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

Brother Bob, I'll answer these out of chronological order (My brain really doesn't like that) because the answer to yours requires less thought.

I mistated myself. I will restate since we seem to be playing the semantic game here.

"Marriage is legal and so anyone who chooses should be allowed to engage in it with whomever else, and however many other persons they choose, so long as all persons involved are so by choice and with fully disclosed information by all parties."

I must say I'm disappointed That with the amount of typing I've done, the best arguement found was a pedantic use of what was obviously not my intention to say.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

Jesse, You're right, I mistated myself with the 'two people' thing. I should have, and have since, state what I mean better.

Your last comments bring me to another question (a sort of new one for me) why do we feel the need for law to define marriage? It's a personal, and sometimes religious institution basically. Why can it not be defined by personal and religious orders (for lack of a better word)? Then the Christians would be perfectly within their rights to define it how they chose and exclude whomever they wanted.

But then I approach this from a stance of not believing in government control. I don't like that any government has the right to say what is morally proper.

Brother Bob said...

Trudy,
So I gather that you have no objections to full legal rights for a man to marry two wives, or for a woman or man to marry herself/himself, or for some arrangement such as three women and two men to all be married to the whole group.
Since you believe such arrangements should be legally recognized, do you believe that they have the right to adopt children or be foster parents, or do you think that social services should not put a child in such a home? If not, what legal basis would social services have to deny them if their marriage is legally recognized?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

You seem to think that legal precedent means far more than it has to. Granted it does turn out that way often, but then there's that whole sensible thing again. You've mentioned sources that discuss the psychological and sexual development of children. Foster and adoptive parents have all sorts of guidelines to meet, is it so much to include that it be a healthy atmosphere for a child? Well, actually, isn't that already there? Of course there would be arguements, but because you're discussing a child, who has no option in the matter, there would be every right to enforce guidelines.

And I think I've taken a new stance on this. Why should there be legal right to marriage? Isn't that sort of involving government in something that's not their business?

Brother Bob said...

For a person who wants government to stay out of people's lives, you seem to have a lot more faith than I do in government knowing a child needs a healthy atmosphere, and thus denying adoption or foster care to polygamous and polyamorous "parents." I can promise you that if such relationships are legally recognized, that if they are denied parental status, they will sue, and it will be hard for a court to deny them. All of this shows why the only legal marriage should be between a man and a woman. More than anything else, it is needed for the protection of children.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

You must understand that I have a workable governing system in my head. It's not at all like any one around, but it would work, and people could stay off each other. In this governing system, psychological experts would decide healthy child rearing situations much the congress does and the government would dictate with that information.

I know they would sue, but have you seen the courts concerning prospective adoptions? They're not nearly so lenient as you think.

And in the end, if the issue is child safety, I think the psychological studies even now are very clear that a homosexual relationship is not the best place for a child.

Jesse said...

Theocracies are dangerous and immoral. Yet theocracy (of some form) is a tempting prospect for many well-meaning evangelical Christians involved in the "culture war". Our country is (as it should be) a democratic republic - that means that everyone has input into government through elected officials. So without changing that form of government into a theocratic one in which some sort of religious institution sets the laws, Christians have only one other option: interacting with those who hold views that diverge from conventional evangelical Christianity WITHOUT disdaining them or their views.
Some sort of resolution will be reached on the cultural issues currently facing us. Honest and open dialogue is the only way any of these cultural issues will be resolved with truth. Christians had best get used to it, or else we'll find ourselves guilty of instigating some degree of the conditions that characterized the Dark Ages.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

Just occurred to me. There's a conservative political mouthpiece that I really like. Her name is Ann Coulter, you should go have a look sometime.