Engaging the Culture

randomlychad  —  August 18, 2011 — 7 Comments
'Paul' photo (c) 2009, Missional Volunteer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Folks, I know of late I’ve spilled much digital ink regarding J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I promise you that this is not becoming a “Harry Potter” blog. Aside from my love of the books, I used that series as a touchstone to discuss some “disputable matters.” I did this because Harry has become such a large part of our cultural lexicon.

Today, I’d like to peel back the curtain a bit, and delve into what I think is the larger issue: cultural engagement. (Peanut gallery: I see your objection–“In the world, but not of it.” Yes, I know. And, no, that’s not what I’m talking about–worldliness–but rather being engaged, informed, being able to address the issues facing people today, and relate those issues to spiritual truth).

So, yes, today I’m going to talk about cultural engagement, and indeed how reading Harry Potter fits into that paradigm.

In her excellent book, The Gospel According to Harry Potter, Connie Neal relates an account of a conversation she had with an atheist neighbor about the Christian meanings in the Harry Potter stories. He had never wanted to listen before, but said “You’ve got me. I need to hear this.” And Mrs. Neal did just that–proceeded to use Harry Potter as a witnessing tool.

A month later, this man accepted Christ as his Savior.

This is what Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason, would call being a wise and winsome ambassador of Christ (something all Christians are called to be). Because of her familiarity with the story of Harry Potter, Mrs. Neal was able to share the Gospel with someone who had previously been unwilling to hear it.

This approach is not unique to her; in Titus 1:8 (ESV), the Apostle Paul–in writing to Titus–quotes a Cretan “prophet”:

“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.”

As students of history, we know that Paul was a Hellenistic Jew, a “Pharisee of the Pharisees,” trained under Gamaliel in Tarsus (present-day Turkey). Which I share to point out the fact that Paul clearly read widely–including the writings of a Cretan “prophet.”

He used the culture around him as a tool to engage with people, and help those people engage with God. (And in this case, he used secular literature to encourage Titus).

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Acts 17:28 (ESV), where he addresses the men of Athens at the Areopagus:

“for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.'”

That first part–“in him we live”–was likely written by Epimemides of Crete, and the second–“for we are indeed”–is from Aratus’s poem, Phainomena.

And both, along with the ramblings of our Cretan prophet, are now canonized in Scripture for all eternity.

All because the Apostle Paul read “secular” literature. Which he used as a stepping to stone share the Gospel.

And if the Apostle Paul:

Why not Connie Neal?

Why not Harry Potter?

Why not me?

Why not you?

Why not use the tools the culture provides, and turn the world upside down?

Because that is what cultural engagement is all about: connecting people to God through Jesus, His Son.

What do you think? How have you used the culture around you to share Jesus?




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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers.Subscribe to RandomlyChad by Email

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  • sethcaddell

    A while back I was preaching on engaging culture and I said that I believe Paul would be more likely to quote from Katy Perry or Lil Wayne than the Old Testament when speaking to random people in a coffee shop. I believe we should read, listen, and view all kinds of music, books, and movies in an effort to find as many ways possible to point back to Jesus. Great post, Chad.

    • Absolutely agree, Seth! Thanks for a very thoughtful comment! It really is all about point folks to Jesus.

  • jmonsewicz

    Definitely one of my favorite posts of yours I've read. This is a concept I wrestle with constantly within my mind. How much is too much, is this OK to watch, should I listen to this, etc. I've come to realize that some things I shouldn't watch (such as Family Guy and South Park). Family Guy is hysterical, trust me, but sometimes I watch it and I'm dumbfounded by what they do or say. I must admit I highly enjoy The Office though, and sometimes I wonder if I should be watching it. I actually have an essay I wrote my sophomore year here at college sort of on this topic if you'd like to check it out Chad. Just let me know man! Keep up the great posts!

  • Cindy Holman

    I see something relevant to relate to my faith in just about everything I see and do -- most times I blog about it or comment about it in a blog. There are so many great analogies in movies and tv programs -- musical artists and biographies 🙂

    • Amen, Cindy! Those who have the eyes to see…

  • Yes! I am guilty of posting too much on Harry Potter as well, but only because I feel the same way as you. It is an incredible way to find common ground with people. Their hearts are deeply connected to HP, and when they realize that the things they love about Harry are also true about Jesus, it is a much easier move to belief.

    • Amen, Evan! I totally agree with you! Pleased to make youracquaintance as well! I see you're on the good ship BlogRocket! Cool!