So says a thought-provoking article in Christianity Today. According to the author, engaging “the culture” simply “causes us to stab blindly in the dark” and “miss our actual cultural responsibility and opportunity”:
A nation of 300 million people, especially one as gloriously diverse as the United States, does not have one monolithic “culture.” It has neighborhoods and cities, ethnic groups and affinity groups, political parties and religious denominations. There is a shared national ethos, to be sure. But that ethos is constantly being contested, challenged, and reimagined by different groups within the nation, and ignored or actively resisted by others.
Even the idea of “the culture,” in the way we now use the phrase, is fairly new. The New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, prefers the term “the world” (cosmos in Greek) for what we might call “the culture,” especially systems of ideology and influence that operate independent of God. But it also speaks of “nations” or “peoples” (ethne in Greek—today we might call them “ethnolinguistic groups”). We are called to resist being “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2, ESV), and to make disciples of all ethne, in the hope that they all will join in the multinational, multilingual, multicultural chorus around the throne of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9).
Instead of preoccupying ourselves with the cosmos, we are called to the ethne. Rather than engaging in largely imaginary relationships with the world system…we are called to real people in a real place. With those real people, we reflect on the concrete possibilities and limitations of the time and place we share (including, to be sure, the ways the world system presses in on us). We learn to care for what is lasting and valuable in our particular time and place, and begin to create alternatives to things that are inadequate and broken.
The more we do this—the more fully human we become, entwined in relationships of empowering mutual dependence—the less bound and tempted we will be by “the culture.” And the less bound we are by “the culture,” the more we are able to actually influence culture around us, even sometimes up to very large scales—because we are creating and sustaining real alternatives to it.
We are to be like Paul, who didn’t seek to “engage “Rome,”” but instead “wrote a letter to actual Romans.” Similarly, “our mission is not primarily to “engage the culture” but to “love our neighbor.” Our neighbor is not an abstract collective noun, but a real person in a real place.”
Something to remember.