How We Can Engage Culture without Getting Sucked into the Ooze

I watch "Lost," "House" and, much less regularly, a few other TV shows. I also vote and attend my precinct meetings. I’ve even campaigned for a political office seeker or two and attended one political convention.

I watch "Lost," "House" and, much less regularly, a few other TV shows. I also vote and attend my precinct meetings. I’ve even campaigned for a political office seeker or two and attended one political convention. I might well be criticized by some in the traditional church for my TV viewingtoo immersed in the entertainment culture of the world, and applauded for my political involvement. On the other hand, I might be applauded by some in the emerging/emergent church for my cultural involvement with popular TV shows that speak to our human dilemmas and criticized for compromising my allegiance to King Jesus by trafficking with the "Empire."

As Jim Belcher points out in Deep Church: A Third Way between Emerging and Traditional, when it comes to art, music, books and movies, the emergent church criticizes the traditional church for being far too separatistic. They believe that traditional Christians have become way too tribal and sectarian, "having no desire to reach people in a postmodern culture, and being uninterested in the biblical call to be creative in the arts." When it comes to economics and politics, they criticize the traditional church for aligning itself with the State (or at least one party of the State) with the result that "it has a terrible reputation in society. It is seen as judgmental, hypocritical, power-hungry and unconcerned for the poor…irrelevant to the cause of Christ in the world."

The traditional critique of the emerging/emergent church is just as intense. "The emergent church has succumbed to syncretism, becoming indistinguishable from the postmodern world they say they want to reach…They have sold their soul to be popular. Their biggest problem is their refusal to shun the world…’Biblical Christians have always understood that they must shun the world."

Belcher points out the irony of these two positions: Emerging/Emergent churches call for cultural engagement, for bringing gospel and culture together, especially in the arts, but shun politics. Traditional churches may shun movies, books art and music, but they are deeply engaged in the political aspect of culture.

The "third way" that Belcher proposes is shaped by an understanding of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, engaging outsiders with the language of common grace and developing the church as both institution and organism.

Belcher quotes Andy Crouch’s definition of culture: "Culture is what we make of the world." We take the raw materials of God’s creation and, in response to the mandate to "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it" we make water wells, medicines, laws, books, art, fields of grain and endless varieties of ideas, events and things. Crouch calls Christians to forsake their negative stance toward culture, endlessly critiquing it, and start creating culture. Bring the life of God into everything our minds and hands find to do. A very different picture than shunning culture. At Belcher’s church they offer a semester course on understanding a Christian worldview based on Crouch’s book, Culture Making.

Another way Belcher recommends cultural engagement is to use the language of common grace. Find common ground with outsiders around our shared desire for good relationships and good communities. We can appeal to shared values of natural conscience, pity, empathy, common sense and right reason. Granted there will be strong exceptions like abortion, but we share much in common. We can also agree that too much freedom and not enough honor and mutual responsibility is a threat to the shalom of good relationships and community. As we live in this world, creating a culture that radiates the life of God and work to bring reconciliation/shalom to our relationships and communities, we can have a powerful effect on the church and the world.

Belcher suggests that the church as institution focus on discipleship. As they preach the Word, worship, pray and disciple one another, carrying one another’s burdens, they strive to be a church of mercy. Sunday mornings they do not talk about politics or economics. But on weekdays, down in the ‘’basement", away from the public, the church as organism trains "counter-cultural secret agents" who will learn to think and act Christianly about their vocations, public life, economics and associational life. The Deep Church will teach worldview, hold salons for cultural gatekeepers and sponsor lectures, debates and dialogues on culture to educate insiders and pique the interest of outsiders.

Does the church exist for itself alone or also for the world? If the church also exists for the world then we need to be intentional about cultural engagement in ways that facilitate connections with outsiders without hindering the power of God at work in lives of holiness. Deep Church offers many specific and creative suggestions on how this can be done. Highly recommended.




Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.

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