Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christians and Culture: Carl Trueman @ Reformation21

With his characteristic sharp English wit and penetrating insights, Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, writes on the topic of Christians and Culture. I have been intrigued by this topic for some time and am grappling with the implications of being engaged with the culture. However, learning of churches where the pastor spends more time exegeting movies instead of Scripture has raised red flags for me. Indeed, it isn't enough that the pastor watches an occasional movie and analyzes it from a Christian perspective -- his goal is to train the congregation to get into the habit of exegeting movies so as to reach out to their neighbors.

Trueman disputes the wisdom of such teaching. Here is his opening paragraph...

One of the modern shibboleths of the evangelical church, particularly the evangelical church in the West, is that of culture. One must be interested in culture, or one is simply irrelevant. Books and organizations abound on Christian approaches to various aspects of modern culture; there are magazines and e-zines dedicated to the topic; and numerous conferences are held, some local, some national, some international, which address cultural issues in terms of the categories and so-called world-and-life-view of Christianity. Now, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater: sure, we need to understand the language and idioms of our culture to the extent that we need to communicate the gospel in such a context in a meaningful, comprehensible way; but I do believe that fascination with culture is now way out of hand in Christian circles and has come to eclipse more important, more central things. Indeed, even as I say that it is important to understand context to communicate the gospel effectively, I am conscious that this seemingly obvious statement needs to be tempered by the fact that some of the greatest preaching ever known was designed precisely not to communicate to the contemporary culture. Just check Isaiah's commission in Is. 6, and the use of that text in Jesus' ministry to see how not communicating in comprehensible categories as determined by the immediate culture is a critical sign of judgment on an idolatrous people.

You can read the rest of his post


Joe said...

I read Trueman's article. Although he never says it, I think a prerequisite for regaining ability to see the culture for what it is, is to turn off (or throw out) the TV.

Getting away from TV 20 years ago caused scales to start falling from our eyes. They're still falling.

I'm open to the possibility that some Christians may be able to drink deeply from the well of TV and not be affected, but that wasn't our experience.


Dave Sarafolean said...

Good point.

What's amazing to me is the shift in evangelicalism over the last 20 years or so to accomodate the culture. It used to be that folks wouldn't be caught dead doing certain things or watching certain programs or movies. Now, just about anything goes.

As a young believer I used to think that most Bible-believing folks were wound too tight. After all I didn't come to faith until I was in college. Moreover, my dad worked in the beer industry for the 2nd largest brewer in the world. As I've grown in the Lord I've had to forsake lots of things that I once thought were okay only to see evangelicals going the other direction. And many who are leading the evangelical charge talk about cultural transformation (ie. how can we transform culture unless we live it and breath it). Folks who aren't going with the cultural transformation crowd are accused of being prudes or living in the simplistic world of "Little House on the Prairie."

Though I'm no expert I think that this is where Abraham Kuyper's theology eventually leads.

Joe said...

Tim Keller has said that he doesn't like the language of "transforming" the culture in part because it sounds too triumphant.

He thinks "witness to the culture" is a better description of what we're called to do.

http://snipurl.com/9nzq9 - Keller on the Division of Labor [theokosmos_com]