The Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government – Part Two

The Christian's Role in Culture, Politics and Government - Part Two

Christians cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love our neighbors or God. Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them.

This post is the second on a series on the Christian’s role in regard to politics and government. Part Two is better understood by reading my previous post. Click here to read “Politics is Downstream From Culture”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

When Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place.

Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of the church’s role in culture, politics and government. Some are helpful others are quite harmful. My intent is to bring clarity and point to a biblical vision for the individual Christian’s role in culture, politics and government. Our roles and expressions will be different but our cause is the same. We are His ambassadors, reflecting His glory and offering a reason for the hope we have. Please note, I am making a distinction between the individual Christian and the institutional church in this post. We’ll dive into that later.

Let me begin with understanding a few things and some approaches we are NOT to employ:

1. I understand the modern over-emphasis of the social implications of the Gospel at the expense of the salvific Gospel is problematic and heretical. I reject the liberal theological approach and understanding of the Gospel, also referred to as the ‘Social Gospel.’

2. I understand that our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is a spiritual and a battle of ideas (the mind).

3. I understand we are to approach culture and society as Christians not politicians or “culture warriors.”

4. I understand putting our faith, hope or trust in anything except Jesus Christ as Savior is idolatry.

Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them. As a people redeemed through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, they lived redemptive lives and cared for people. They built hospitals, orphanages, built cathedrals, wrote music, poems, and books, and involved themselves in all manner of social and cultural activities. They abolished the universal historical slave-trade and sacrificed themselves for fellow image-bearers because human beings mattered.

A redeemed and transformed life transforms society.

How Christians abandoned positions of influence in society.

Secularism did not occupy society in America by dislodging Christian ideals of freedom, virtue and faith that formed the foundations of America. In the mid-19th century, Christians vacated the public square as a fearful overreaction to the liberalization of biblical faith. In other words, instead of engaging bad (heretical) ideas in the public square, Christian leaders thought it best to retreat inside the institutional church. This left societal domains deserted and empty of Christian influence for the most part.

Nature abhors a vacuum and Satan knows a good deal when he sees one. So, secularism didn’t invade as much as it occupied the empty cultural spaces left by the church (Christians). We simply allowed secular armies to march through the institutions of the church, the family, education, arts & media, and government. They took them over with little to no resistance – they are little more than squatters on Christian properties. Dark ideologies such as Atheism, Nihilism, Marxism, and Secularism took up residence on prime cultural real estate and inside powerful institutions, not lost but vacated by Christians.

During this period we observe the bifurcation of the Gospel and a reduction of the Christian vision. The “Gospel of the Kingdom” was deprived of its societal impact/implications and was reduced to a plan of personal salvation plus a pursuit personal holiness. In other words, the Gospel was rendered to a King without a kingdom and rendered Christians to a lifetime of holy navel-gazing. This theological movement finds a perfect home in a mid-20th century American culture growing more individualistic and autonomous. It fit nicely in our distinctly American “It’s all about me” ethos. At the end of the day, all evangelicals could do was get people saved (fire insurance) and focus on personal piety (moralism – being a good person). Remember, this result began as well-intentioned response to liberalism invading the church.

From a cultural study perspective, this over-reaction and retreat into the institutional church creates the conditions for liberalism to gain a foothold in the evangelical church. It’s a form of theological loss aversion. This is the reason why the woke social justice movement is gaining ground inside the institutional church. Christians of goodwill are simply not equipped to deal with the realities of life in the 2020s and are grasping for the tools offered by worldly culture. Instead of the robust practical and spiritual resources offered through biblical faith, the message has been reduced to, “get people saved from hell, be a good person, and everything else will be okay.”

As an aside, this is a big reason why the church in America struggles with discipleship and forming biblical community. A limited individualistic personal understanding of the “Gospel” lacks the force and inspiration to compel Christians to go and make disciples. In America, we want our Christianity the way we want our McDonald’s burger… “I want it my way” and “I want to be comfortable!” The result is a ‘Privatized’ faith instead of a public theology.

Honestly, there never was a “Culture War”, there was a slow abandonment. Limiting the Gospel to a personal plan of Salvation, a focus on personal holiness, a rise in biblical illiteracy, and side-lining of prayer and social engagement in order to form a ‘holy huddle‘ resulted in a removal from prayer in schools, dismantling of the biblical sexual ethic, legitimizing no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, rise of pornography, out-of-control fatherlessness, sexual confusion and legalized euthanasia. All the while Christians are told, “this is not our problem.”

As we see throughout the Bible, God works through His people. Our job is to know him, love him, worship him and be faithful in the moment. We demonstrate our love for God and the Lordship of Christ over our lives by serving him in all areas under his rule (everything – Psalm 24:1).

We cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love our neighbors. If we love God, we will love our neighbors. Christians ought to desire the best for all image-bearers as we bear witness to Christ as Savior and King. We offer hope by pressing into the darkness and chaos not by retreating from it.

Remember, when Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place. Christ is King over all domains of society, that means academics, art, music, media, politics, family, government, etc.

Below are some verses to meditate on and below that, a helpful video on Christians and politics.

Philippians 2:15 ESV
That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Matthew 13:43 ESV
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

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Part One: Politics is Downstream from Culture

Part One: Politics is Downstream from Culture

Christians should approach culture as Christians, not as politicians. We are engaged in a bigger enterprise of making disciples of the nations (societies) and calling them to obey God’s commands. That means, Christians have permission and good reason to reach and reside in the mission fields of the academy, arts and music, media, elite circles and yes, even politics.

This is the Part One in a series on The Christian’s Role Culture, Politics and Government

“Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

– Andrew Fletcher

Whoever tells the stories and writes the songs of a culture, shapes and directs that culture. Whoever creates and circulates the ideas of a culture, shapes and directs that culture.

The academy and the arts are the birthing centers and engines of culture. Ideas that emerge from the academic and artistic realms do not stay within their borders. Those ideas make their way out and spread throughout the society. Some ideas are good, some ideas are bad. As I’ve said before, ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims.

How do ideas shape reality and culture?

Below is a simple sequence…

Step 1: Academy – Ideas become theories about reality (past, present of future). Papers, books and programs are written, promoted and circulated in the academic realm.

Step 2: Arts (music, poetry, film, narrative) – Ideas are expressed in forms and mediums designed to bypass logic and reason, impacting and shaping the social imagination and emotions.

Step 3: Elites and Media – Ideas are then adopted, popularized and promoted by celebrities, cultural leaders, business leaders, and mass media outlets in various forms in an effort to ‘legitimize’ new ideas. Those ideas ‘take hold’ in the popular imagination and are adopted by a growing majority of people in a population.

Step 4: PoliticsPolitics is basically the last bastion of pure cultural power – for good or for ill. This is where popularized ideas are ensconced in legislation and become law. In other words, politicians and judges basically say, “Since this idea is what the majority of people want, let’s make it the law of the land.” (e.g. abolition of slavery, voting rights, civil rights, abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, etc)

Politicians are basically responding to cultural forces (ideas) that originally emerged in the academy or perhaps the arts. The process above usually occurs over decades or centuries.

Scroll right on the images below to get a visual idea of how how ideas shape culture works using an example of Darwinian Evolution…

Politics is downstream from culture.

Therefore, it is a mistake and waste of energy to attempt to influence or change culture at the political level. To put it another way, if you see pollution in a river, you must travel upstream to find the source of the pollution. If you are seeing bad laws being passed or politicians advocating for harmful ideas, by all means stand against them, campaign against them and vote against them. However, you must understand where those politicians got their bad ideas in the first place. You must go upstream!

I’m not saying Christians should abandon the political process or refrain from running for political office or cease advocating for just laws. I’m not saying that at all. On the contrary, Christians ought to exercise their civic duties and express their convictions and callings in the political realm.

However, we Christians must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we ought to engage in politics as we would other cultural enterprises like raising families, educating our children, caring for the needy or how we spend time and money – All for the glory of God and the good of all people created in His image. At the same time, Christians ought to go upstream in the culture to exercise their gifts, talents, and express their convictions and callings in the realms of the academy, arts and media.

Why? Because those realms are inhabited by human beings made in God’s image and we care about them. Can a Christian honestly claim to love God and love our neighbors while allowing bad ideas to harm our neighbors and distort God’s image or Word?

The answer is, No! Scripture is clear that God will hold us to account for our thoughts, words and actions. There is no excuse for Christian navel-gazing, indifference, apathy or retreat to a holy huddle. We are not a liberty to not care about the world God created or people made in His image. Not caring is not an option.

“Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” does not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)

At the same time, Christians should approach culture as Christians, not as politicians. We are engaged in a bigger enterprise of making disciples of the nations (societies) and calling them to obey God’s commands. That means, Christians have permission and good reason to reach and reside in the mission fields of the academy, arts and music, media, elite circles and yes, even politics. Those cultural realms are inhabited by human beings who need to know that God loves them too and sent his son to redeem them from sin.

God is the ultimate solution to the problems in the world, not politics or politicians. As ambassadors of the Kingdom of Christ, we accurately diagnose the problems and point to the only solution.

Recap:

  • As I demonstrated above, politics is downstream from culture where ideas are formed, shaped and promoted.
  • Christians have a right and obligation to engage in ALL legitimate human enterprises, institutions and cultural realms for the glory of God and the good of ALL image-bearers.
  • Christians ought to exercise their civic duties and express their convictions and callings in the political realm. Knowing politics nor politicians are the ultimate solution.
  • Christians ought to travel upstream in the culture to exercise their gifts, talents, and express their convictions and callings in the realms of the academy, arts and media.

“There’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not cry, ‘Mine’!

– Abraham Kuyper

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Live in such a way that the light of Christ shines brightly in the time and place in which God put you. God made you and saved you for this time and place.

Next time we’ll go a little deeper…. The Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government

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Truth and Feelings are NOT Created Equal

Truth and Feelings are NOT Created Equal

How you or I feel about something does not indicate whether it is true or not.

“Religious man was born to be saved, psychological man is born to be pleased.”
[Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud]

Who hasn’t cried watching “Old Yeller” or reading “Where the Red Fern Grows?” C’mon man! Admit it, you cried your little eyes out. Just because tears and snot are flowing, does that make those stories true? Of course not, they are fiction! Our emotions don’t make something true. How you or I feel about something does not indicate whether it is true or not.

Understanding this cultural moment

Over the last 100 years, western culture has shifted away from commonly held understanding about how an individual sees himself in relationship to his society. The modern individual’s gaze is now directed inward. Modern man is a “Psychological Man on an inward quest for personal psychological happiness.” (Carl Trueman). This cultural shift did not happen over night. It’s been underway for a couple hundred years. We live in a post-modern culture where all human experience has been psychologized. The Christian nor the church is immune.

Today, many Christians place feelings (emotions) on equal footing as truth. Then, they construct a false equivalence to support their position. At best it’s mistake, at worst it’s an appeal to emotion.

“When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

Compassion” in the original Greek is σπλαγχνίζομαι, splanchnizomai – meaning, to have the bowels yearn, – to feel sympathy, to pity.

When emotion (e.g. compassion) is given equal footing as truth, it easily becomes a modern heresy. A psychologized hermeneutic that serves the psychological well-being of modern man results in moralistic weekly therapy sessions on Sunday mornings and we call it ‘church.’ In other words, we make the Bible all about ourselves. We unintentionally shift the story of the Bible away from God and toward ourselves to feel better about ourselves.

Truth is not an experience… Truth just is.

John 18:37 is crystal clear. Jesus was born to bear witness to the truth (not our emotions). “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” The truth is Christ is King, not me.

In John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Jesus did NOT say “I am the way, and the feeling, and the life…”

I’m convinced that Jesus “had compassion” (Mt 9:36) because he fully understood the ugly truth about sin, the fallen human condition and what he was going to do about it. His emotional reflex to reality was grounded in truth. Our emotions should be grounded in truth as well. Not the other way around. When I see a fallen situation for what it truly is, it should create in me a proportionate emotional response.

One danger we modern Christians face is unintentionally psychologizing scripture to align or validate our feelings. Then we claim “because I feel this way, this must be true!”

The good news is that we can point each other to the truth of God’s Word. His Word is the truth about reality. Nothing can or will ever change that. The truth we believe is grounded in an unchangeable God who loves us and sent His only Son to bear witness to the truth and save us from the ugly truth of sin. Jesus Christ demonstrated real and raw emotions – yet was without sin. His emotions were grounded in truth because that is who he is (he is the truth). We need to help each other remember that!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

– John 1:14

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How The Mighty Fall – A Primer for Successful Leadership

How The Mighty Fall - A Primer on Successful Leadership

“Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline.” – Jim Collins

As leaders of families, teams, companies, platoons, churches or any organization, learning what NOT to do is just as important as learning what to do.

“Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline”

– Jim Collins

In 2009, Dave Ramsey and his team gifted me with a small library of leadership books. One stood out from the rest. If you walk into my home office or my office at the church or search my backpack, there is a high probability you’ll find a Bible and this one small book.

Fast forward to 2016.

I was in a conference room in Dallas with Dave Ramsey, Patrick Lencioni, Seth Godin, George W. Bush, and Jim Collins. I put a question to Jim Collins (bestselling author and speaker). “Jim, what is the best book you have written to date?” I fully expected him to reply, “Built to Last” or “Good to Great.” Both are excellent books. However, I was surprised by his answer. He replied without hesitation, “The best book I’ve written is a little book entitled “How the Mighty Fall” (2009).” Jim went on to explain that if we don’t know why and how great organizations fall, we won’t know how to make a good organization into a great organization.

As leaders of families, teams, companies, platoons, churches or any organization, learning what NOT to do is just as important as learning what to do.

Failure as a Favorite Teacher
I have a long list of failures and mistakes I’ve made in business, ministry and leadership. I call them my “playbook of what NOT to do’s.” I joke with people and say, “If you learn from all of MY mistakes and failures, you will be successful!” Failure is a better teacher than success. Just as pain is a better teacher than pleasure.

“How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In” is a primer to understanding how to be a good leader of any group of people, whether a Fortune 100 Company or your family. Even when we read our Bibles, it is replete with stories of failure. Each with its own lesson to teach us in our own historical moment.
Click on chart images in this post to open in a new window and enlarge and/or download if you wish.

Pride (hubris) always marks the beginning of the fall
Proverbs 16:18 clearly states, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This is true of individuals and organizations. Arrogance in the face of problems is incapable of seeing them in the first place. Pride blinds us to the truth. Past success does not promise future success. Failure to cultivate and renew the soils of traditions, values and competencies that led to initial success will create conditions for failure. When leaders replace “why” with “what” questions, they miss the opportunity for deeper reflection and basic understanding of why the organization was successful in the first place.

Most important of all is what Collins calls a “decline in learning orientation.”

Leaders lose the inquisitiveness and learning orientation that mark those truly great individuals who, no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their careers.” (Jim Collins, p. 43).

I would add that leaders must “read widely”, not just sticking to their side on a topic or their area of expertise. Read to understand counter or competing positions. Read and learn outside your career domain. When we are lifelong learners, we understand that we never completely arrive. The more we learn the more we understand our own inadequacies and limitations – allowing humility to invade our lives.

Are you on your way up or on your way down? The dynamics of Leadership-Team bahavior chart below is a helpful tool for determining where you are headed.

In conclusion, understanding a situation is a precondition to responding appropriately to a situation. As a leader, if you misdiagnose a problem, the solutions you create will harm the organization you are leading. The Bible tells us to “know the state of our flocks.” (Proverbs 27:23)

“Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline… By understanding the stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.” – Jim Collins

Every once in a while, I put “How the Mighty Fall” back on my bookshelf. Somehow, it makes its way back on my desk or in my backpack. I’m thankful Jim Collins wrote this little book.

Here is a link to a summary by Jim Collins….

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Faithful in the Moment

Faithful in the Moment

You are not called to worry about what others think of you. You are not called to be anxious about anything. You are called to be faithful in the moment.

Dear Christian,

It is so easy for us to allow the dizzying moments and circumstances of life to make us lose focus. We are overcome with distractions, amusements and anxious thoughts. We are vulnerable to getting lost in the moment and losing track of the bigger story we inhabit.

Remember, you are not called to worry about what others think of you. You are not called to be anxious about anything. You are called to be faithful in the moment.

You are here in the time and place God appointed for you. Be faithful in the moment. Do not worry about what is to come. Turn over your anxious thoughts and distractions to the Lord – knowing that if you are faithful to God, the result will be faithfulness in all things.

We are faithful to that which we love and worship.

Your faithfulness and dependency on God will result in all other things being properly ordered and an outflow of blessings. You will experience troubled seasons and moments, but all God expects is faithfulness in the moment. String those faithful moments together, and you will realize your part in God’s bigger story.

Pastor Alister Begg said, “We need that dimension of understanding like the men of Issachar – that we would understand the times in which we live and we would understand the God who rules over those times.”

Moments mark cultures and histories. Moments mark stories and our lives. Don’t allow dizzying moments and circumstances of life to make you lose focus. Tomorrow has worries of its own … Be faithful in THIS moment God appointed for you.

Prayer:
Lord, may I be found faithful to you in THIS moment. Ultimately, that is all you ask or want. But, I need your help do be faithful to you. Thank you for giving me an abundance of moments to be faithful. Even when I fail in one moment, there is the hope of another moment to be faithful. May I be found faithful.

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Christians and Culture – What is culture?

Christians and Culture - What is culture?

 

By design mankind is a cultural creature.

It is not who we are as much as it is what we do.

We talk about culture a lot… But, what is it?

“We must stand against the culture!”

“We must not involve ourselves in the culture!”

“Christians must engage cultural issues!”

“Christians must not get entangled in cultural issues!”

Most don’t have a clear understanding of what culture is. Most people view culture as a thing – an ‘it’. We assume we know what we’re talking about. Furthermore, when we have discussions or debates, we may not even agree on the definition of the word ‘culture’. Different people have different notions about what culture is. I spent my college years studying culture (anthropology) and I know how difficult it can be to attempt to fully understand it. Let me take a shot.

Culture is distinctly human. Animals do not create culture. It can be complex and confusing. So, let’s try to understand it.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as the following: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization; the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.(link)

While that definition is helpful, it does not answer the question, “Where does culture come from?” The Bible states God made humans in his image (Genesis 1:27). Bearing our Creator’s image, we humans create and inhabit culture. That is important to know as a first principle. Every human is creating and shaping culture just by living life in this world. The biblical narrative is set within cultures over history (Jewish, Egyptian, Roman, Pagan, etc). By God’s design mankind is a cultural creature. It is not who we are as much as it is what we do. It is impossible for a human not to be a cultural creature. So, let’s explore a little further.

If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” John Stonestreet once told a group of students (“A Practical Guide to Culture”, Stonestreet & Kunkle). Fish don’t know they are wet – it is the environment in which they live. Given, most analogies eventually break down. However, the fish – water analogy is a useful illustration.

Culture is “the environment we live in and think is normal” says Stonestreet. We understand it points to the fact that we’re assuming something about reality – a baseline, if you will. “This is the world and reality as we understand it” is the assumption that all people operate from and shape their lives around without even being aware.

So, what the heck is Culture?

I’m going to distill a few ideas found in Stonestreet and Kunkle’s book, “A Practical Guide to Culture” to help us. I definitely recommend reading it.

Let’s begin with what culture is NOT:

Culture is not creation (nature, plants, animals, humans, water, rocks, the sky, etc).

“Culture doesn’t just refer to all the bad stuff humans do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

People are NOT culture.

“People make culture and are, in turn shaped by culture, but equating them with culture is wrong and can even be dangerous. If we see people as culture and culture as the enemy, we’ll likely see people as the enemy and confuse their bad ideas with evil intentions… Culture is NOT people, culture is what people do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

So, what then is culture?

Culture comes from the Latin word cultura, meaning “agriculture” (plowing, tilling, etc).

“Culture is what humans do (activity) in the world: build, invent, create, tear down, compose, replace, embellish, engineer, assume, dismiss, emphasize, etc.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

“Culture is what humans make of the world,” says Andy Crouch

Ken Myers (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes)
“It’s not a person. It’s not even an institution, like the church or the state or the family. It is instead a dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

Culture is a kind of fabric produced by human activity.

Cultural forces shape our thoughts and behaviors without us even being aware.

Culture is created and cultivated for good or evil.

Everything we do or say, and the ideas we think impact culture.

Culture is a gift from God to be stewarded for goodness and his glory.

Attempting to “avoid culture” invites negative culture to fill the void.

Culture is powerful.

Culture isn’t a thing, Culture just is…..

Since humans naturally create culture, this begs the question: What kind of culture are we creating? 

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