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Reflections on culture, evangelism, and apologetics

I’ve been thinking about the culture wars lately.  I have a real problem with Christians who seem to be driving for a change in the culture just for the sake of having a ‘holy’ culture.  I think we’d have to call that a legalistic culture.  I believe that the Christian church should be about something more than creating white-washed tombs.

On the other hand, the nature of ‘culture’ is that it perpetuates itself, feeds itself, fuels itself.   The culture is the air we breathe and the water in which we swim.  It has the ability to mold us into its image, and once so molded, we mold others in that same image.  Resistance isn’t exactly futile, but it is difficult.  Conformity to the culture is the path of least resistance.  It would behoove us, therefore, to ensure that the culture is not toxic.  If the culture is healthy, the path of least resistance will more likely result in healthy beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

You all will have experienced this.  I remember when I worked construction for awhile.  After just a month or so, I found myself talking like those guys.  When I was a truck driver, in time, I spoke their language.   It is a simple truth about humans that they become like those they spend their time with… bad company corrupts good character.  So, we are wise if we surround ourselves with people we- after thoughtful and careful deliberation- would like to be like.

As Christians interested in evangelism and trying to bring as many people as possible to Christ, these realities cannot be dismissed, but nor can they be mistaken for the end rather than the means.  We see this often enough in legislative pursuits.  If, for example, we outlawed gay marriage, homosexuality would still be around.   Hearts and minds would still have to be persuaded.  To me, this thinking on culture does not negate legislative efforts but it puts them into perspective and keeps them from becoming all consuming- for, after all, we cannot ignore the power of culture to shape and transmit attitudes and behaviors.

This is the reasoning embodied in the online apologetics conference that my ministry is hosting this May.

The goal is to light a fire in the Church to try to intentionally defend Christianity in the wider culture.   As an author myself, something about that nags at me:  shouldn’t art be promoted just for its own sake?  Or, isn’t there a difference between ‘Christian art’ and ‘an artist who happens to be Christian’?  I think the answer here to both questions is “yes.”  But I think this misses the important point, which perhaps can be highlighted by pointing to a book I recently finished, Shusaku Endo’s Silence.

In this book of historical fiction, priests try to promote Christianity in Japan and are confronted with a culture that is not only hostile to Christianity but, according to apostates and Christian persecutors, is a swamp that sucks in Christians and shapes their very notion of what is ‘Christianity,’ molding it in a Japanese shape.  Christianity truly has trouble taking root in this ‘swamp.’

I think America is becoming a swamp- if it hasn’t already.  People are getting sucked in and drowned left and right.  We could save them one at a time and with great effort… or we can drain the swamp.

A ‘Christian novel’ need not be explicitly Christian in order to reclaim swamp land.  A Christian artist will exhale better air for others to breathe and if enough Christians are breathing out this better air, a true climate change can take place.  Then, when someone comes along with a more explicit Christian message, they will be speaking to someone who is no longer gasping for breath in a toxic atmosphere.  They may reject the message, true, but at least they were alive to hear it.  They’ll be alive to hear it again when the next messenger comes.

I think the Church should incorporate the arts into what it does in a more deliberate and intentional way.  The Church churns out pastors, teachers, and youth directors.  There was a day when the Church also supported (indeed, was the chief patron for!) writers, musicians, artists, and the like.  It is time to churn out people in these vocations who are as solid theologically as our trained ministers.

We shouldn’t act as though it were enough to create good artwork while tolerating theological ignorance or even outright heresy among those we task to help transform the culture for the simple reason that these artists would of course breathe out that kind of air.

It’s time to take these things seriously and put our money where our mouths are.


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