Engaging Culture

When It Comes to Engaging the Culture, Will We Ever Need to Draw a Line?

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case has brought Christian cultural engagement back into the limelight. There have been some wild blog posts and other responses in light of the announcement – a shocking number completely hysterical. But we need to remember that while the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, the wider culture is moving in a different direction. As Ed Stetzer reported after the ruling, “A LifeWay Research study conducted in November of 2012, shows most Americans support mandatory contraception coverage through ObamaCare. In other words, the Supreme Court has seen a religious freedom issue where Americans do not. [This] tells us that the majority of Americans were on the other side of today’s ruling.”


So as public policy and the general public grows more dismissive of religious freedom, and some politicians show outright hostility, here’s some thoughts to consider:

First – It’s time to stop apologizing for the past and move forward.  There’s no question that some prominent (and some not so prominent) Christian leaders said and did unfortunate things in the past when it came to engaging the culture. Nearly every magazine article, blog post, or news story by a Christian ends up acknowledging past mistakes and some even wallow in it. OK, we get it. Most of those past leaders were well intentioned, a few were totally off-base, and some were outright boneheads. But name an organization without their share of screw-ups. Republicans, Democrats, atheists, reporters, PTA members, MSNBC, Fox, whatever. Everybody has a “crazy uncle Bob” in their family, but that doesn’t undermine the credibility or authority of our principles. So let’s move past apologizing for poorly executed strategies of yesterday, and focus more on what matters now.

Second – A comprehensive Christian response to the culture includes every issue.  We hear a lot about the next generation being concerned about more than just abortion and sexual orientation. That’s great, but so what? Do abortion and sexual orientation still matter? They won’t go away just by diverting your energy into other subjects. I’m thrilled that we’re also fighting sex trafficking, pornography, poverty, and other important issues. But shifting our priorities doesn’t distract us from the fact that it all matters, and we still need to engage on those issues as well.

Third – What’s really at stake here?  We need to stop being hysterical ourselves and have an accurate understanding of where we are at any given moment. So many articles and posts by Christians spend most of the time talking about how gracious and humble we should be in our approach (with which I completely agree). But they rarely get around to the big question: “What actually matters, what are the stakes, and how firmly should we respond?” Etiquette is important, but if my house is on fire, I don’t care if the firemen are nice – just get me out.

Finally – Is there a place in the future where we draw the line?  Sure, let’s be humble and gracious. Absolutely, let’s engage in a spirit of love and respect. But is there a point were we say enough is enough? At some point, the early church decided further cultural accommodation wasn’t possible. They didn’t fight back, but they felt so strongly about it, they were willing to be thrown in with lions, or crucified. German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer drew the line in Germany during World War II and paid for it with his life. Christians around the world today suffer because of their principles.

Obviously, the Church in America hasn’t faced that challenge, and in spite of flare-ups our level of religious freedom is still remarkable. But if history is any teacher, we one day may be forced to decide that Biblical principles can no longer be compromised.

Martin Luther fearfully, but courageously told the leaders of his day:
“Here I stand. I can do no other.”
I certainly haven’t given up on changing this culture, and it will continue to be the focus of my life. But as I continue to engage on these issues, there’s a question that keeps nagging inside me:

Should society continue to grow less accommodating to religious freedom, at what point should we stop all the “conversation” and – with love, respect, and humility – simply say “No”?


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  1. I don’t know. The last line I drew was demolished years ago. I think when it becomes against the law to witness the love of Christ, is where a new line should be drawn. Put it this way, a lot of Christians do not believe in the Rapture. If they are right, then we will need to either survive the Tribulation and be faithful to the end or die not receiving the mark of the beast. This will be the last line any Christian draws.

  2. We need to keep the main thing the main thing! But if Christian history tells us anything, it tells us that we will one day have to decide if this world is our home or not. Being a true Christian has always cost something. Jesus was up front about that right from the start. We shouldn’t be surprised – just wise.

  3. Our culture does seem to be heading south of Christian tolerance in a hurry. Good post, Phil. At some point we need to speak the truth in love, stand up and take whatever comes. Whoda thought?

  4. This gets a little confusing as I saw a tweet from Liberty University that posted a recent Rasmussen Poll as stating that 51% of American voters sided with Hobby Lobby and 39% did not and 11% did not know. Who’s poll to believe??

    1. I’m sure different polls result from different wording, however, my point is the DIRECTION the culture is going, and I’m not seeing ANY poll reflect that the culture is getting more Christian… 🙂
      Thanks for responding!

  5. This issue is actually a particularly American rather than Christian one. What I mean by that is the the whole concept of health care being in any way linked to employment. Many of the stands different Christian groups in the USA make end up with other followers of Jesus around the world shaking their head in dismay. When we lived in the USA for a couple of years and tried to explain American Christian attitude to health care to our British Christian friends often their response would be something along the lines of ‘so they want to protect babies before they are born and allow them to die after they are born…’

    The early followers of the Way were integrated and separate from the culture they found themselves in, but quite differently from the structural church separation we see today. Jesus didn’t have an us and them attitude. He had fixed boundaries on what was right and what was wrong, but like the way he dealt with the woman caught in the act of adultery He accepted without condemnation but encouraged a change in direction in her life. May we be followers of that Messiah.

    1. I would argue that Jesus was a bit more forceful than that. He didn’t just “encourage” her to change direction. He said “Go and sin no more.” He forgave, but clearly drew a line for her future behavior.

      1. Yes, the Greek original could be seen as stronger still, something along the lines of ‘Go, now, and no more sin!’ But, I would argue that following Jesus is not merely about behaviour management but a change in direction. He was therefore saying, by not condemning her, to change direction and no longer sin. That is encouragement. A ‘line in the sand’ is a very cultural American thing, where everything is black or white. Not condemning would have been seen by the Pharisees as being grey on sin. But Jesus wasn’t black, white or grey on issues, he was redemptive in turning people around.

  6. At least crazy uncle ‘Bob’ took a stand for Christ! And as for strategies…. God can turn it around cause we win.. It’s in the Book.

  7. Well said. There is no freedom without freedom of conscience. No one should ever be forced to pay for or participate in any way in what she/he believes to be prenatal murder. This Supreme Court’s decision is only one vote away from be overturned and with the direction this culture is moving that may not be very far away. We must, as Paul of Tarsus said, start “speaking the truth (of the Bible) in love!”

  8. Your post inspired me to write this:
    How 2 Celebrate the 4th!
    –Celebrate the 4th of July by using your freedom of speech (while you still have it). Speak up, in a kind and loving way, about your love for God and your commitment to biblical principles and values. You have both a constitutional right and a God-given, moral right to express your faith.
    –So, in honor of Independence Day I say:
    I am committed to follow and obey the living, resurrected Jesus Christ and not popular culture. I will live by and speak out for biblical principles. I will not be intimidated and/or forced into surrendering my freedom of speech by those who disagree with me. (How about you?)

  9. It seems that in many cases I encounter around town and on the local university campus the debate about Christianity immediately flares to your first point, past unbalanced Christian principals. When I encounter this line of reasoning I gently bring up the bell curve principle. Most reasonable people understand the bell curve and how the far left and far right do not represent the center. Once that is established most settle down and approach issues more reasonably.

  10. Is it possible that we are in a day that no matter how you slice it, the world is not gonna like it?

  11. Last 2 cents:

    Good highlights from Ephesians 6

    “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

    Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

    Ephesians 6:19 And for (us) that utterance may be given unto (us), that (we) may open (our) mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,

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