ChurchETHOS

Engaging the Culture for Christ

Posted in christian thought, church reform, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on June 28, 2008

I just read an interesting post here by Larry Temple. He has an interesting question and I commented on it and I also want to take some time on my blog to address the issue.

Who is really engaging culture for Christ?


Is it the guy who stands on the street corner and shouts the Truth from the top of his lungs? You can’t get more bold than that right? 
It certainly isn’t the person who never mentions Truth to his friend but hopes that one day his friend will ask him what he believes. As if his life is so remarkable that the name of Jesus just seeps out of his pores and into other people’s lives.
It can’t be the one who simply does good deeds but never mentions the name of Jesus when he does them. Those good deeds are lost forever. They never made an impact for the Kingdom of God.
Is it the pastor who preaches boldly from the pulpit but never sets foot in a pool hall, or on a basketball court, or in the marketplace and actually gets in the lives of those who Jesus says are lost?
Is it the church member who goes faithfully to church each Sunday but never tells his neighbor where he is going every Sunday morning, much less invite them to go with him?
So how does one follow Christ and make Him known to the culture around them?
Larry does a good job in his post of highlighting some of the Biblical characters that it would be wise to learn from. Men like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, John, Paul, and someone else… oh yeah, Jesus! It seems like the Old Testament men were like the street preacher of today. Add John to that mix and you’ve got some pretty fiery men of God. However, Paul and certainly Jesus were much more relational. I would suggest that these are the sorts of men that we should really look to as we desire to engage culture. Paul is a great figure because he was reaching out to a pagan culture, much like we are today. All the others, even Jesus, were for the most part reaching the Jew. Their message was a message of repentance. Paul’s message, and our message today needs to be a message of love. 
To put “Repent” on a sign means nothing to our culture today. They can’t understand where we are coming from. Sometimes we need to start with what they already know (see Paul in action here) and then share stories of God’s love or examples from the life of Jesus to help them see Truth. It has to be on a personal level. The Truth is much more effective when it is on a personal level. The receiver of your message needs to know more about you than just the message, especially if the message is “Turn or Burn”. That will never be enough to convince someone that the Way of Jesus is intriguing or even worth mentioning. The person with the “Repent” sign is only displaying their message and not their motive (which I hope is love). They are only displaying what they are against (abortion, homosexuality, George W. Bush, etc.) rather than what they are for (peace, love, Jesus, etc.)
Instead, we need to be as bold as the street preacher, but with some understanding of our cultural context. Paul operated differently with his Jewish audience than with his Gentile audience. We live in an age today that is even different from Paul’s. Jesus is the only one that transcends cultures and eras and gives us a Way of life that we can follow. He ate with the tax collector’s and sinners. He walked with the lepers. He cared. He loved. His motive was love and that came out in His message in a way that didn’t confuse people. He was refreshingly consistent. Sure, He was an enigma, He was spectacular, but His harshest words were for the Pharisees who should’ve known better, not for the sinners who didn’t. In a study of Mark, I once counted up all the verses that found Jesus in the marketplace, in prayer, etc. I found that overwhelmingly, Jesus was in the marketplace with sinners. Secondly, He was discipling His leaders. Thirdly, He was in other people’s homes (sometimes sinners, sometimes not). Finally, He was in the temple. I try to keep a balance on where I spend my time, and every once in a while I look back at that study from Mark and see how I’m doing comparatively and try and make adjustments if I’m too far out of whack. 
That’s how we engage culture. We pattern our lives after Jesus. We speak when He tells us to speak. We walk where He tells us to walk. We listen to Him always. We honor Him with our lives. We don’t shy away from a tough discussion for fear we might get laughed at. Engaging the culture is spiritual work that demands a lot of prayer and walking with the Spirit. It isn’t something I do by casually heading out the door with my 45 pound Bible tucked under my arm and a megaphone over my shoulder. No one will ever know that I care for them and that Jesus cares for them if I hand them a Gospel tract and walk away. Engaging the culture is exactly that: intentionality and interaction and friendship with those who don’t know the Truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. Let’s always try and keep it in that order as we engage the culture for Christ.
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10 Responses

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  1. Larry T said, on June 28, 2008 at 4.59 pm

    Nathan, I have some more thoughts that I have posted on my blog as a response to the very good issues you raise…

    http://larrytemple.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/cultural-engagement/#comment-320

  2. Anonymous said, on July 1, 2008 at 11.44 am

    Yeah, tracts and preaching on the street corner can’t save anyone, the word of God is not sufficient anymore. It takes a hip relavent personality to engage the culture in a non threatening and seeker sensitive way. Thank you for this lesson, now I can throw my Bible away.

    (note sarcasm)

    -www.fleebabylon.com

  3. Creitz said, on July 1, 2008 at 12.08 pm

    Dear Anonymous. I appreciate your comments. I try to keep this as a place for Christians to speak positively about Christ, culture, creation, and the Church and for unbelievers to explore those very same issues. There is room for disagreement but not sarcasm. Certainly you can see the distinction between God’s Word and handing someone a tract but never having to count the cost of actually being a part of their lives. We are called to make disciples of all nations, that denotes a certain amount of time, responsibility, and commitment to that potential disciple.

    Let’s keep the conversation rooted in the grace and love of Christ on this site. As an aside, I never said let’s reject the use of tracts and street preaching. What I’m trying to argue is that we need a new army of Godly men and women who can engage culture contextually and missionally and personally. We’ve been doing it in foreign countries for years and I believe that we need to be thinking missionally in our own cities as well. I’m not against giving someone a piece of literature that outlines the “Four Spiritual Laws” or something of the sort, but I do that in the context of a relationship. I love giving people things to read that I think they would find engaging and that we can have follow up discussions about. Sometimes it’s a book of the Bible, at other times it’s a tract of some sort, but I don’t hand them out to people I haven’t started a relationship with. I use the same principle on this blog. Please act like this is my living room and you are talking to me face to face as brothers and sister in Christ. Your use of sarcasm betrays that you couldn’t care less about getting to know me or my context in Boston. Honestly, if someone can’t show love for a fellow believer, how can you possibly show love to unbelievers, and yet isn’t that the greatest of all the gifts?

  4. Anonymous said, on July 2, 2008 at 8.41 am

    Creitz-
    I want to apologize for my harsh tone on the first post. The prophets used sarcasm with the Baals, and most people who speak the way you do are nothing but modern Baals parading as Christ followers.

    As “love hopes all things”, I will go on the presupposition that is not the case here with you, that you truly love the Jesus of the Bible with all of your heart. So I do truly apologize.

    I would like to point out that your stereotype of the street preacher is probably just as lacking as my first impression of you was. Street preaching to strangers is Biblical, just as Biblical as letting the light of Christ shine through you in your everyday relationships. Yes it is a scandal to a fallen, sin loving, god hating world and it is sadly a scandal to a fallen, sin loving, god hating evangelical church in modern America too. Still it is the power of God unto salvation. True Biblical salvation, not the modern evangelical or emergent definition of salvation.

    There is no need to throw out half of the scriptures because we live in a wicked culture. People come to Christ through relationships and they come to Christ through deep conviction of sin upon hearing the words of a street preacher or reading a tract. Both are Biblical, one just as a greater external pretense of fluffy love to it. Even if a seed is only planted, it is still biblical.

    I would love to see nothing more then a street preacher on every corner calling out the sins of a nation where up to 80 percent of the people claim some form of Christianity, like in the days of John the Baptist.

    Turn or burn is always scoffed at when preached, and never heeded until its to late. Such as when Rome to Jerusalem in 70ad, on 9-11 in NYC, or on judgment days for those who die in their sin. Especially those who claim to be Christ followers and die in their sin.

    Just so you don’t fall into the same trap I did ehre and make a false assumption about where I am coming from let me say I spend the majority of my free time caring for the homeless, prostitutes, addicts, and least of these in the inner city with a small group of friends. We feed, clothe, and care for the practical needs of many of societies outcasts. I also street preach and pass out tracts at conccerts and festivals.

    Jesus always dealt harshly with the proud (especially the religous types) and was gentle but direct with the humble. We generally live in a proud society that needs to not only here “turn or burn” but needs this truth expounded on in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can have another great awakening before judgement comes.

    If you are not familiar with the great awakenings (Whitfield, Wesley, Edwards, etc) I highly recommed you to a little studying there and see what true revival and reformation looked like and compare it to the false love (emergent) reformation of today.

    -Jim

  5. Creitz said, on July 2, 2008 at 8.56 am

    Jim, thanks so much for the kind reply. I appreciate the work you do and I think these comments are helping us see where we are both coming from. I agree that my characterization was unfair as I have been unable to hear street preachers in all places at all times in contemporary culture. My purview is limited to my own experiences and surroundings. That happens to be Boston where the street preachers rarely even speak truth much less love (I gave some examples in other posts). It’s also the place where people are always trying to hand you some piece of literature. You could probably cover the surface of the entire moon with all the trash that is handed out on a daily basis. As a result, our environmentally friendly city hates people peddling paper. I had a good laugh one time when someone handing out some coupon for something said, “Do you mind recycling this for me?” as he handed me the paper. I actually took it, then realized it had nothing of interest to me so I recycled it. At least he was polite about it 🙂 Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t disregard how people have done things for centuries, I just know that sometimes different things work at different times. All I can do is be as close to Jesus as possible and let Him guide me in MY walk with Him. One of those ways I try to do so is to make sure when I stumble across someone’s blog that I happen to disagree with, I try not to think of them as a potential Baal before I’ve read through and got a sense of where they are coming from. I appreciate that you have corrected that situation. Thanks again for your comments and your insight. I also apologize for giving street preaching an unfair characterization simply based on my limited view. I’m just trying to bloom where I’m planted, that’s all.

  6. Anonymous said, on July 2, 2008 at 1.04 pm

    Thanks for the kind reply and forgiving my fault in the first post. God bless you in Christ Jesus.

    -Jim

  7. Elijah Lofgren said, on July 3, 2008 at 9.43 pm

    (Sorry if this is a repost, I’m not sure if my first try went through)

    Wow, thanks for your blog post Nathan!
    Thank you to Jim and Nathan for sharing your comments with us!

    Often we can learn from those who disagree with us, I really appreciate the example you’ve set with how to interact in a positive constructive manner while not agreeing on all points.

    God bless,

    Elijah

  8. Creitz said, on July 3, 2008 at 9.55 pm

    Thanks Elijah,

    I’m grateful you dropped by. I’ve learned a lot from Jim, Larry, and others who disagreed with this post. I’m learning how much bigger God’s kingdom is than even I can imagine. There’s room for people to stand on a street corner proclaiming the gospel and there’s room for people to have a couple over for coffee to intentionally share the gospel. We shouldn’t debate what are the best methods, let’s just be busy about the kingdom of God.

    I also want to say, we can no sooner bring someone to spiritual life with our methods than we can someone who is physically dead and lying in the grave. Only the Spirit can breath fresh life into a dead soul and He is the same Spirit who says to one, “I want you to preach on the corner.” and to another, “I want you to use your tattoos to tell your story about how I found you.” We each must tap into the Spirit and allow Him to use us in the way He desires to use us.

  9. Creitz said, on July 3, 2008 at 9.56 pm

    Jim,

    Thanks so much for your graciousness and humility. You have made this discussion much richer with your insights. Thanks again.

    Nathan

  10. Grace said, on July 21, 2008 at 4.32 am

    Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Your perception about Jesus trutly amazed. The only great warrior.


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