An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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When Culture Trumps Truth

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” -C.S. Lewis

What happens when we start focusing on that which is subjective instead of what is objective?

Postmodernism did away with the idea of having an objective truth. Stemming from the Enlightment, many believed that there was no such thing as truth, but that truth was just a subjective creation of the culture. From this opposition to Modernism, the Postmodern movement was born. Where truth is relative, now truth can be whatever one wants it.

I don’t have to tell you that this influence has deeply affected American culture. All it takes is listening to a conversation at the local coffee shop. But I don’t think that this idea has just infected the American culture but has also infected the church. I am not talking about objective truth. It is hard to deny truth when God is the Absolute Truth. I am talking about our means to that truth. We have become infected by how we determine what is true.

Instead of Scripture deciding what is true for Christians anymore I think that Christians have relied to believe what is true to that of church culture. This makes “Christianity” more about “issues” rather than about the truth. And though the mark might be made sometimes, by showing improper means, at best believers are unaware as to why the mark was made. As Alexi Sayle said, “Even a blind dog can find a bone every so often.”

I remember the first time I was put at opposition with what I learned growing up in church culture and what the Scripture said – it was in Pentateuch class. As we were discussing the different theories for the creation account, I remember sitting, appalled to hear that there were Christians who didn’t believe that God created the Universe and earth in six literal days. There were several weeks where I almost turned away from Christianity because there seemed to be so many things that I grew up thinking were set in stone that I realized were not.

So why do we have this problem? Well… what’s more important to us: the issues or the truth? The American Church has become a subculture where one has to speak the right way, dress the right way, listen to the right music, and vote for the right political candidate to be welcomed. That seems to be the “truth” of the church.

Hasty Generalization?
Maybe.

But when is the church going to lay down all that which isn’t truth, and truly come united together under the cause of Christ. This speaks truth to denominational barriers, certain cultural sins, and the like. Why has the church become so dogmatic about all the wrong things?

Why would this be considered a big deal? If one gets to truth, does it matter the means to which they get to it? One thing that I have come to notice since being at college is that there are a lot of adolescents and young adults who are turning away from God. And though there isn’t one thing to blame for this, I do think that this idea of truth could be one of the factors. Children in church are told not to drink or swear or smoke or fornicate. They are told to behave – almost as if they were living a “works” based religion. Once these children grow up and start using abstract thought, they start realizing that a lot of (not all of) the stuff their parents and pastors said were inherently evil weren’t evil at all.

I feel as though we have lost our focus. When we start focusing on that which is subjective, we lose focus on the objective. When we focus on a grace by works, then we don’t have a grace by faith. When we have improper means, we have improper motives. When we don’t seek the truth, we lose everything.