Faithlife Sermons

Christ and Culture

Graham Grove, Stephen Dunn, Malcolm Lithgow
Interludes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:50
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How do Christians engage the culture around them? Are we called to stand against it? To fit completely into it? Or to transform it? These three models of interaction have been advocated by various groups over the centuries, but which one is best, or is there some other approach which governs how we interact with the world? Join Graham, Stephen, and Malcolm, along with the people of Renew, to explore this important, but complex topic.

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Christ transforming Culture

Years ago I came back to Australia from the USA and Japan to help set up an office for the company I co-founded, here on the Gold Coast. I wasn’t the boss here, but I was the only founder (there were four of us), so I had significant “moral” authority, which allowed me to influence the culture of the Aussie office. I like a transparent, collegial environment, and that’s what we had at the GC office. The contrast when I visited the USA office was stark—the founders there, especially the CTO, were very political, and so that office writhed with politics.
Now, my approach was very much influenced by my understanding of Christianity—of the way Christ modeled leadership.
Mark 10:43–45 ESV
43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So this is a miniature example of how Christ can transform culture, the third of our models for how our Christianity relates to the culture around us.
A much bigger example is that of William Wilberforce, the English parliamentarian who fought, successfully, for much of his life to completely abolish slavery from English law. Wilberforce, and many like him, molded our society into one which upholds many Christian morals.
One might say that Matthew 5:13-16 is a call to cultural transformation, particularly the saltiness of verse 13, which presumable, preserves us.
And yet, if you look carefully at the subsequent verses, you’ll see that there remains a dichotomy, a distinction, between Christians and the people around them. And, more importantly, the purpose of our lives of witness is not to preserve our culture, but rather to capture the hearts of people. After all,
2 Peter 3:9 ESV
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The “promise” here is the promise of the destruction of this world, and all the wickedness that it contains. No matter how powerful our witness, we cannot cleanse a human culture of its wickedness, that remains to God and his fire of judgement.
And this is where the model of Christ transforming Culture fails. It fails to recognise that our goal is to transform hearts, not culture. The transformation of culture, as good as it is, is merely a tool or a side-effect of our great mission to save every heart possible.
For example, if Chinese Christians valued the transformation of culture too highly, they would refuse to gather in underground gatherings, because how does a secret gathering transform the culture? Rather they would focus on more significant targets with cultural influence. But praise God that they have not lived this way. They have faithfully witnessed to each heart around them, recognising that
Acts 4:12 ESV
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Discussion time

So now, having heard the pros and cons of each of these models, what do you think? How does your Christian faith relate to the culture of the Gold Coast, of your work place, of your community? Let’s work through some questions and see if we can wrestle this through.
How does your Christian faith relate to your workplace culture?
a) Conflict
b) Harmony
c) Bit of both
How do you deal with this (conflict/harmony)?
How do you relate to the broader Australian culture (e.g. TV, sports, movies, consumerism, etc.)?
a) I totally fit in
b) I have nothing to do with it
c) I fit well into a sub-cuture
d) I enjoy some bits, struggle with others
How does your relationship to Aussie culture help you share the gospel?

Conclusions

So, how then shall we live? Should we live in constant conflict with culture? Or should we accept culture as our guide to what is good and Christian? Or should we try to transform our culture? It seems that each of these is sometimes useful, sometimes a hindrance. Taken as a guide, they are each too inflexible. What, then, is our guide? How do we decide when to use each approach?
At the end of his book, Christ and Culture Revisited, Christian scholar D. A. Carson concludes,

To pursue with a passion the robust and nourishing wholeness of biblical theology as the controlling matrix for our reflection on the relations between Christ and culture will, ironically, help us to be far more flexible than the inflexible grids that are often made to stand in the Bible’s place.

But what is this biblical theology, which will guide us, rather than the inflexible models we looked at?
Carson explains:

In addition to close exegesis of a wide range of biblical texts, we need to think through how they fit into the great turning points of redemptive history, into the massive movement from creation to the new heaven and the new earth, with critical stops along the way for the fall, the call of Abraham, the rise and fall and rise again of Israel, the coming of the promised Messiah, his teaching, ministry, death, and resurrection, the gift of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Nor can we ignore great theological structures, including the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, all that the cross achieves, and the unavoidable implications of New Testament eschatology with its unyielding combination of inaugurated and future eschatology.

That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? But, fortunately for you, what it translates to is what we have been doing for the last several months, what we call The Journey, our exploration of the Bible. That’s why we’re working our way through the Bible, so that we can join God in his work to save people, to transform people’s hearts. Remember, if you’ve forgotten bits and pieces, you can go to our website and listen again, or come and talk to us.
So let’s go and join God in his work, transforming hearts.
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