Down through history, Christians have had to figure out how their faith intersects not only with their own lives, but also with the culture around them. As far as I can tell, there are four common approaches we try to take. One is intensely unbiblical, two try to be biblical (but fail), and one is very faithful to Scripture (but is very very hard). Let’s look at each one of them.
See the root word? “Sync.” Syncretism means to be synced up with something. This approach to culture blurs the line between Christianity and the rest of the world to the point that the two are virtually indistinguishable. Many times we don’t do this intentionally. It’s just that we have been living like this for so long that we don’t know any differently.
Several years ago my brother had a mild heart attack and the doctors had to put a stent into his artery to open up the blood flow. The crazy part is they kept him awake during the whole procedure (I guess they wanted to know if they were killing him). When they slid the stent into his artery and it pierced through the built up gunk in his veins, he gasped. It wasn’t because it hurt, but all of a sudden he felt alive. He had forgotten what it felt like to have a fully oxygenated body.
The stent of the Word of God is often the tool God uses to show us that we are not living in a way that is fully alive. Take these verses for instance:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
-1 Corinthians 6:18-20
-1 Corinthians 6:18-20
That is definitely not how our culture thinks about sex! That is one area where a Christian cannot sync up with the world around us.
So what is a faithful follower of Jesus to do? Many people react to the disjunction between our faith and our culture in two unhelpful ways.
This approach to culture attempts to “protect the Gospel” by pulling away from culture. We create distinctly Christian versions of things (from art to clubs) to maintain our purity.
Many of my friends who have a leaning toward isolation do so for what would appear to be good and godly reasons. But the drive for many of them is fear and not many ever plan to reintegrate with culture.
But Jesus prayed this for his followers:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
– John 17:15–19
– John 17:15–19
We have been sent by Jesus into the world not to sync up with it, or to hide from it, but to be His sanctified representatives in it.
Unfortunately, some take this and swing all the way the other direction.
A zealot is someone who takes the truth of the Gospel of Jesus and they push it into people’s faces. In the first century, Jewish zealots were the original religious terrorists, killing people who stood in their way of trying to topple Rome and replace it with a Jewish Country.
Not many people I know are trying to take down our government in Jesus’ name, but I do know a fair number of Christians who believe the answer to all the world’s woes is to make America a Christian Nation.
The problem is, there just flat out isn’t any Scriptural support for this position. Paul didn’t try to create a Christian Roman Empire (although some people did later), Peter didn’t try to create a Christian Jerusalem, rather they knew that they lived as “strangers,” “aliens,” and “exiles.” In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul calls us “ambassadors for Christ” (v20).
And that’s where we find the most biblical way to relate to our culture.
We understand that our worldview is different, but we seek to represent Jesus well to everyone we encounter. Read Acts 17 when you get a chance. Paul masterfully engages people from a wide variety of cultures, quoting their poets and philosophers, and he brings all of them together to make a case for Jesus.
Some responded in faith, others rejected his words, but Paul knew his job wasn’t to protect the Gospel. Rather, he knew his job was to proclaim it. And you can’t proclaim the Gospel to a culture you are isolated from.