Christ and Culture

On Sunday we are starting a new sermon series called “Christ and Culture.” The title of this series is a nod to a book with the same title written by H. Richard Niebuhr in 1951. Christ and Culture was a seminal book that is still a vital resource for many Christians, even 60-plus years later. The book is addressing the question, “How should Christians relate to the surrounding culture?” Another way this might be asked is, “What should our posture as Christians be towards the world around us?” This is a question that I believe is extremely important for every Christian to wrestle with in our world today. In building upon, and simplifying, what Niebuhr wrote, Andy Crouch says there are five ways Christians choose to answer this question: (1) condemning culture[1], (2) critiquing culture[2], (3) copying culture[3], (4) consuming culture[4], and we’ll get to the fifth one in a moment. [5] Christians have been divided on how to answer this question throughout history, which is one reason we are taking four weeks to focus on this topic.

In recent years, the divide has become even more severe between Christians when discussing how we should approach the surrounding culture. The rift is, often times, very much a generational divide. At the risk of oversimplifying it, many from the generations before mine have typically chosen to condemn and critique culture; many from my generation tend to either copy or consume culture. One thing I hope we will see in this series is that Christians can, and should, participate in all four approaches at different times depending on which part of culture we’re engaging. For instance, it is best, at times, to condemn movies that contain grotesque sexuality, violence, language, etc. At other times, I believe it is more than appropriate to simply enjoy (or consume) pieces of culture like a new album by Coldplay or The Killers. Our approach must differ depending upon the aspect of culture we are engaging. Throughout the “Christ and Culture” series, I’m going to actively employ three of the four postures above. However, the bigger point is that all four of these approaches are insufficient compared to the fifth one.

In Christ and Culture, Niebuhr never explicitly states his own approach to culture, but it is widely believed that he supported the fifth and final posture, which he calls “Christ transforming culture.” Regardless of whether or not this was Niebuhr’s personal view, this is the approach I believe Christ takes towards culture. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.[6] And that leads us back to the fifth way we should approach culture as Christians.

In the book Culture Making, Andy Crouch says there is only one way to truly have a positive impact on the surrounding culture and see it transformed by Christ. He says, “Culture is not changed simply by thinking…The only way to change culture is to create more of it.[7] This is the fifth, and undoubtedly most important, approach we are called to take as Christians towards culture: creating culture.[8] As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.[9] This means, as Christians, we are called to make things and do stuff. This is the only way, as agents of Christ, we can transform the world. No protest, no critique, and no “knock-off” version will do the trick. Christ has recreated us so that we can join Him in the work He is doing and have Christ recreate (or transform) culture through us.

Let me close by saying that this is a subject I am passionate about. In fact, my goal is to make “Christ and Culture” an annual series at Harris Creek. One reason this subject is so important to me is due to an influence from my former pastor, Kyle Lake. This series is also a nod to his influence on my life. Kyle regularly did series called “God in the Music” and “God in the Movies.” He had a gift for seeing Christ in the secular culture and using those pieces of culture as a bridge to point others to the Good News. But Kyle also knew how imperative it was for us to actually “create culture.” In fact, a line from the last sermon Kyle wrote implores us to, “Feel the satisfaction of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed.” My hope in doing this series is that we will do just that. My hope is that we don’t simply learn about how to critique, consume, copy, or condemn culture. My hope is that we would go further by actually creating culture and, in doing so, feel the satisfaction of a job well done.

[1] Think Disney boycotts of the late 1990s
[2] Think books like this one
[3] Think shirts like this one…and pray for the poor soul wearing it
[4] This means you’ll watch a movie, listening to music, read a book, etc. no matter the content
[5] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, Pg. 68-89
[6] From The Voice
[7] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, Pg. 64, 67
[8] Creating culture will not play a major role in our discussion during the upcoming sermon series for a few reasons. The most important reason is that I believe we must first relearn how to be discerning about the culture around us before we can actually create culture in the way Christ calls us to.
[9] From The Voice

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