A Theology of Cultural Engagement (Part One)

Christianity has a PR problem.

There is no disputing this fact.

Talk to most any person who would not call themselves Christian and they would say Christians are most known for being hypocritical, judgmental, overly political, and insensitive. In today’s world perception is reality, and whether those negative words reflect all churches or people we know, they do paint a picture of reality for how Christians are viewed today.

Christians have long struggled with ways to engage in their world without copying, critiquing, or avoiding culture. And judging by the common negative perceptions, we’ve clearly done a bad job.

This isn’t a call for Christianity to become more popular in culture, but it is an opportunity to open the door to spiritual transformation through Christ to a culture looking for hope and life.

Maybe all this time we’ve misunderstood our call to engage the cultures around us, after all many of us have to wonder whether our engagement with culture will ever amount to any good.

I want to focus on the ways I believe God is calling us to bind ourselves to the culture around us without losing our distinct mark as followers of Christ. Andy Crouch says, “Culture finds its true potential when God blesses it with his presence and offers it in transformed form as a gift back to humanity.”

We must see the great opportunity here, as God uses us to usher in his presence and his reign in our world. God calls the church (both local churches and individuals which make up the church universal) to engage with culture through working (vocation), restoring, creating, and cross-bearing.

Any feedback?

(I’ll focus on these areas of vocation, restoration, creation, and cross-bearing in the coming days.)

(Part Two)

  • http://www.captureyesterday.com Milo Curtis

    Love this kind of conversation Tyler! Thanks for getting my brain churning.

    I’ve been wondering if there is supposed to be a different set of expectations for the church organization (macro) and the church as expressed by individuals (micro).

    Vocationally, I’ve had the chance to get to know a lot of people in PDX that have very little experience with the church. And in a vague way, they do view the church as hypocritical, judgmental, overly political, and insensitive.

    But they don’t view me that way…or other believers that they have come to know, trust, and have a solid friendship with.

    This experience has driven me to the question, “Should we worry about the ‘macro’ reputation or should we focus on the integrity of the personal relationships (micro) we have?”

    • http://www.manofdepravity.com Tyler

      I don’t think “worry” is necessarily the right approach because that con-notates fear. I do think we should be aware of how we are viewed in the world. So books like UnChristian by David Kinnaman are very helpful to see not where maybe you or I have gone wrong, but how we’re viewed because of the actions of others.

      As for the macro or micro thing, I do think we should care and focus on both, but clearly this starts with our hearts being the most micro issue of all.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

    Looking forward to all the discussion in these post.

  • http://www.becominglast.com Matt

    I’m looking forward to these posts too. I think one major problem is the genuine lack of role models in this area. We don’t do much mentoring (discipleship is mostly bible study w/o the life interaction) in the church and so people just don’t have a clue how to engage culture.

    • http://www.manofdepravity.com Tyler

      Matt, could you expand on how mentoring specifically engages the secular culture? It’s something I hit on a bit in the “restoration” section but I’d love to hear your perspective on how it relates.

  • http://chadsblog.net Chad Harvey

    This will be a sweet discussion. I may even comment a time or two.

    • http://www.manofdepravity.com Tyler

      One down, one to go 🙂

  • http://thedefaultlife.com Sam

    Hey, I’m doing a similar thing on my site over at http://www.thedefaultlife.com. I’m doing a series on Why the evangelical church must change — and cultural engagement is a huge part of that. looking forward to a little back and forth with you!

    ps. what books are informing your thoughts?

    • http://www.manofdepravity.com Tyler

      Like what you’re doing there Sam.

      Books used: UnChristian, The Next Christians, Culture Making, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

  • http://theycallmepastorbryan.com theycallmepastorbryan

    Cultural engagement is an interesting issue. For starters, there’s no such thing as a culturally unengaged person. The question is to what culture we’re engaging.

    Ironically for us, that means that even when we’re just in our Christian ghettos that we construct, we’re still culturally engaged, still culturally defined. We’re just usually not aware of how and why.

    What many times becomes a failure is leaving our level of cultural engagement at the pop or media levels. We’re familiar with media and have all sorts of creative ways of drawing Christian themes out of non-Christian media, but that’s only a tip of the iceberg. We need to be aware of our own culture so that we can have at least a bit of perspective on our blinders that we bring to the table.

    For me this has meant engaging with Christians in all kinds of different atmospheres. A canadian friend who works with the urban poor, my friends from where I grew up in a rural setting, my friends in Seattle, and especially my friends engaged in mission work in places outside of North America. These people help me to be aware of how I’ve incorporated the values of someone who’s grown up in the Pacific Northwest and now lives in Portland into my definition of being a Christian.

    Perhaps the most important thing though – and the one I’m still learning – is that cultural engagement also requires a no. For a long time I was in strong reaction to those who just engaged culture by saying no to everything and just wanted to present a positive direction as well. But I’ve found that part of engaging anywhere is being able to discern what values God says yes to, what values can be redeemed and what values just need to be rejected. A case in point, in Portland we’ve done a great job of working with the city, but at some point we need to speak the truth to power and say “hey, we’re helping with these sex trafficking issues, but are you aware of how our city builds allowances for this through the adult entertainment industry?” I suspect if we were to do that, all of the sudden some folks would be wary of us again but it’s a no that needs to be said. What will be important is not discontinuing the good work we are doing, even if that no isn’t readily accepted.

  • http://www.dadlife.net kevin

    Excited to see where this discussion goes…

  • http://visiodeicommunity.org David Zook

    Rather than engage culture, it seems to me that we shape culture. Semantics maybe, but words do mean things. As we have gotten more involved in the public square, we now have a voice at the table and are influencing decisions that are impacting the public schools, local, and state governments. And the cool thing, we have yet to run into significant opposition, even as our influence grows.

    Five years ago this would not have been the case. Aslan is on the move.

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      Right but you can’t shape culture before you engage it.