I’ve written before on why I think the Gospel isn’t culturally relevant–but that isn’t the entire story. As I’ve thought more about this, I’ve realized that there is some clarification in order; namely, that it’s not the Gospel’s primary mission to be culturally relevant–for it is a counter-cultural message. Else, why are we told to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, esteem others more highly?
This runs counter to the prevailing zeitgeist, which is “what’s in it for me?”
The Gospel’s primary message–it’s mission–is the Good News of Jesus. That He died, paying the price for our sins, making a place for us with God–both in this life, and the next. And we all know just how well His message was received by the prevailing culture of His day.
My point is that in our quest for cultural relevance we often lose the centrality of Jesus. I have no problem using the themes, the trends of culture, to further the kingdom of God–what I take issue with is the desire to fit in becoming so strong that we become unrecognizable. We don’t stand out: we fit in. Too well.
(What is it that makes us distinctively Christian? Jesus’s answer was that it would be our love for one another that demonstrates His presence in our lives. I’ve known some believers who were exemplary in their love, and many who were… well, who weren’t).
I understand this. I do: I want to be accepted, to fit in. But I don’t want to do so in a way that compromises what makes me a person who is “in the world, but not of it.” There’s a fine line there, fraught with tension. But it’s a tightrope we as believers must all walk.
Paul used his cultural awareness at the Areopagus to proclaim the Gospel, and as the apostle to the Gentiles, I think his method is a sound one. He, being a Hellenistic Jew, was well-versed in the culture, and used his knowledge as a stepping-stone to win souls.
The key I think is balance: being aware of, but not over-saturated by, prevailing cultural trends. Let me put it this way: on the one hand, we’ve the monastics–who’ve so separated themselves from the world as to have virtually no impact on it. On the other, there is an extreme hipsterism that’s virtually indistinguishable from the world. (I have no knowledge of this, but has anyone heard of, for instance, Amish evangelists, or missionaries?)
The balance lies in being aware enough of culture to use it as our tool, rather than being so schooled in it we become its tool. (And yes, I write this a a Mac fanboy). That is the Pauline approach.
It’s one that we would do well to emulate. And in the end, by transforming people with a life-changing message, we end up transforming culture as well. (The danger here is that, by setting out to transform culture–instead of people–our faith becomes a thing about issues, rather than about Jesus).
What do you think? How well are you doing at being “in the world, but not of it?”