Engaging Culture

Do You Change Culture or Does Culture Change You?

As people of faith, we like to think that we actually impact culture.  But the truth is, historically speaking, it’s usually the other way around.  You’ve no doubt read the classic quote: “Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When it went to Athens, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an organization. When it went to Europe, it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business.”  Over and over, it seems Christianity absorbs the surrounding culture, rather than Christianity transforming culture.

Libraries have been written on that issue, and we can’t adequately cover it here.  But I’m more interested in you.  How has it worked in your own life?   Everywhere I go I see people who have filtered their faith through the lens of rock & roll, Hollywood, business, family values, patriotism, media, traditions, sports, and more.  They live the life they want, and just surround themselves with a customized “lifestyle” edition of the Bible, Christian t-shirts, or the celebrity pastor of the moment.  They pick a local church based on “how much it ministers to me,” and support whatever social cause is trendy.

Culture has changed them.  Their faith is defined only in the context of a greater culture.  And the minute a little persecution happens, it’s the faith that gets tossed, not the rock & roll, social cause, or t-shirt.

I’m wondering what would happen to a generation that actually defined culture through the lens of their faith.  What if we practiced what we preach and stopped worrying if the clothes we preached in were cool?

What if instead of culture changing us, we actually changed culture?  


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  1. I’m so glad to see this discussion! No doubt each of us has been affected by our culture and had an effect too. My prayer is for Christian poets and writers from all denominations to see our work as a God-given opportunity to bring healing hope to secular society and to help the sometimes dis-membered Body of Christ re-member who and whose we are. Perhaps then we can reassemble ourselves and our thinking to receive the restoration we need to be empowered as a forgiven, forgiving, Christ-centered influence in the world, the church, and our own homes.

  2. I so agree!   Perhaps culture is really looking for goodness on a micro level.  One good marriage, a great neighbor, an honest colleague…  (as opposed to “relevant” hoopla).  Going against the mainstream you describe is tough, but rewarding.

  3. There perhaps is a fine line between syncretism and being fluid in the human culture indigenous to where you live. I love what Len Sweet said last week… “We need to be in tune with Jesus and in touch with the culture” where he warned as you seem to be warning many are “in tune with culture and in touch with Jesus.”

    If not change, our only choice seems to avoid it and not be tainted by the world around us. Did Hudson Taylor when he dyed his hair and learned Chinese succumb to culture or did he impact China with the gospel and change culture? So, the question is whether I can do that? I

  4. To “go against the mainstream” is a lost concept in American Cultural Christianity for the most part. It’s easy to rail against “the world”, while being a part of the business-of-Christianity which is prevalent in American faith circles. I suppose that is why so many people do it – all the while missing that the very people Jesus worked hardest to expose were the religious leaders of the day.

  5. I like to think that faith actually has shaped my culture. I’ve gone from the guy always in a suit, rubbing shoulders with politicians and businessmen, to realizing more important things in life as defined by Christ. Putting others first, serving, helping the poor. I’ve become less in tune with what’s happening “inside the beltway” and more with the plight of those in poverty. This has lead me to organizations such as Compassion, Living Water, and TOMS Shoes. It is a very different culture, but one that I embrace, as I was driven to it by faith first.

  6. I think that before we can even begin to think about changing the things around us, we first have to walk our own talk. Words alone end up being just sounds coming out of our mouths, while our actions end up revealing what’s truly in our hearts and minds.

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