north dakota gets a pass, but canada is going down :: culture, church, and contending for the faith

March 22, 2011

There are three ways the church can respond to culture. And by “culture,” I mean normal walking-around life, surrounded by the contemporary marketplace of ideas, ideologies, philosophies, marketing, goods and services, media and entertainment. It’s “the world” in big huge air quotes (picture me talking more slowly and wiggling two fingers on either side of my face when I say that…) that we’re supposed to be “IN” but not “OF.” Culture.

Is it evil? Is it just our present reality – kind of a blank slate we’ve been handed to paint our redemption story on? Is it a war zone? Is it a playground? The church has to decide, because millions of souls are walking around in it. Many are curious and hungry – wanting there to be some peace of mind and freedom and meaning in our churches. Some are hostile. Enemy combatants. Many, many more are disinterested. I believe those souls all need Jesus, and if you believe that, too, you have to think through the options when it comes to culture. We’re surrounded. How are we going to engage or stave off or reach out to the souls we encounter in this space we call CULTURE?

Again, I believe the Church has three options:

(1) RECEIVE ::  Blue jeans, iPhones, microwave ovens, Facebook, John Mayer (A true artist), “Finding Nemo,” LifeTime Fitness, Cold Stone ice cream, email… there are many blessings of modernity that can be enjoyed without compromising Biblical values or threatening to undermine our moral standards. These are things the church can RECEIVE, grateful to God for the enjoyment and blessing they bring to our lives.

(2) REJECT ::  Illicit drugs, pornography, vulgar language, John Mayer (not ALL of his songs are innocuous), alcohol abuse, racism, rampant consumerism, Burger King breakfast food… there are many parts of modern culture that have no place in the life of a believer. Either they ascribe and proclaim anti-Biblical messages, or promote sin as acceptable or normative, or they taste like bacos and Velveeta rolled in salt with a side of salt and extra salt. All of these parts of culture must be rejected.

(3) REDEEM ::  And now, the rubber meets the road. We reflect God’s nature when we take what has been stolen or broken by sin and the devil and redeem it to glorify the Lord. Much of the technology, communication tools, trends, artistic efforts, etc., of modernity can be creatively and effectively REDEEMED by the church if we are willing to pray, use our imaginations, and have the courage to be IN but not OF. Social media, contemporary music, marketing tools, John Mayer (in the right setting… absolutely), film and multi-media, theater and dance, Braveheart… The church can harness much of the culture around us and “re-brand it” for Kingdom purposes as a reflection of the Redeemer God who is pursing us – to remake us again in His image.

The church must decide.

To throw out all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole, but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “OUT OF and NOT OF.” Easy. Safe, maybe. But not impacting the culture. Or saving souls.

To embrace all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole… but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “IN AND OF.” Also easy. Not safe though. And in like manner as its opposite extreme… not impacting culture. Or, many times, truly saving souls.

To parse all of culture on an ongoing basis is NOT easy. Nor is it always safe. But prayerful, carefully discerned cultural REDEMPTION actually DOES have the potential to change culture. And souls who would otherwise write off church as irrelevant might be willing to come in and take a look. And if they come in the door, they have the potential of hearing the life-changing Word of God which convicts of sin and rescues to hopeless and broken-hearted.

Where local churches fall on these issues becomes a matter of conviction, often dividing believers from one another along cultural boundaries instead of theological ones. To borrow a metaphor from my brother Mark Driscoll, we need to be clear on the theological difference between our “State” and “National” boundaries.

Mark says that “state” boundaries are those stylistic and secondary theological issues that often divide evangelical denominations one from another.  Baptists might not like social dancing, but that’s not such a big deal to Lutherans… as long as Toby Mac and Casting Crowns are in the DJ’s play list.  Some sprinkle their new babies, and some only dunk the professing believers.  Some think we’ll be snatched up “Jerry Jenkins style” at the Rapture when Jesus comes back, and others think we all have to endure the fury of the end times first.  Some like Southern Gospel.  I know.  Hard to believe.  But it’s true.

These are the “State” boundaries, theologically speaking. We’re not pulling out the heavy artillery to launch a full scale assault on North Dakota.  Don’t get me wrong… we’re glad to be Minnesotans.  But we embrace our wind-swept  brothers as perhaps lesser fortunate, yet fully embraced Midwesterners.  Like us.

But if you press us on the core stuff – Christ’s divinity, the Bible’s inerrancy and authority on all matters of faith, the universality of sin, the exclusivity of the cross as the only path to God – these are “National” boundary lines, and they are worth contending for.  If Canada ever sends a sortie of heavily armed mounties across the line at Biwabik or International Falls, those hosers are going down, eh?

Contending for the faith, after all, is a Biblical idea (Jude 1:3).  But it stands in balance with passages like John 17, where Jesus prays to His Father, asking God that we (all believers) would be ONE, just as He and the Father are ONE.  And contending for the faith also stands in tension with Romans 12:8, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  We can’t abide assaults on the primary biblical tenets that make the Gospel unique among all the religions of the world.  But we can agree to disagree on those state-to-state issues that don’t threaten the clear teaching of the one way to reunion with God – faith in the grace of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins.

So here we are.  In Minnesota.  We keep an open border with our North Dakotan brothers.  They do produce some tasty spuds in the Red River Valley, after all.  And we keep a wary eye on those Canadian insurgents who would press across our border, threatening our very American-ness with their alternative rock bands, rugged natural beauty, and generally friendly disposition.  Oh yeah… and with their summertime combination of plaid shorts and long black socks.  We can’t stand for it!

The point is, local church, you must decide. When it comes to culture, what must we reject, what can we receive, and what can we REDEEM for God’s glory?  I hope to be crystal clear on those first two, and to relish the third whenever possible.  And in the process, forgive me if I ever fire on a North Dakotan brother.

It’s the Canucks we need to contend with.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

4 responses to north dakota gets a pass, but canada is going down :: culture, church, and contending for the faith

  1. Oh sure. Blame Canada!

    • “It’s not even a real country anyway.” 🙂

      Truth be told, I have enjoyed your fair land since I was about 3 years old, heading north almost every summer growing up to camp and fish up there.

      However, any enjoyment or fondness for all things Canadian must be repressed at this point in order to maintain the integrity of my metaphor for this blog.

      Until I write again, we must remain adversaries. Sorry.

  2. Josh – As usual I enjoyed your writing. You always have a unique way of making valid points. I think one of the greatest challenges of the church is to be sufficiently separated from the world without becoming like the Pharisees who were so self righteous they could see no need of a savior. If we are not careful, Christians can become more like those who cried, “Crucify Him” than those who wept for our Lord. My pastor once made the remark, probably not original but I don’t know who to credit, that we need to be more like life boats rescuing people than like tug boats pulling at one another. I agree that there are certain fundamentals of the faith as you outlined under national boundaries worth defending and occasionally even offending contrary to political correctness of our culture. I think we should use the tools and blessings that God has given us with the age in which we live and if someone’s approach is a little unconventional and doesn’t quite fit our perfect mold for a work of the church, we should consider the message being offered and if it is within your national boundaries, more power to them. My only criticism of your article is the fact that I have it on good authority that Jesus loves southern gospel music, and so do I. I reckon if Jesus can forgive you though I will have to as well. Best wishes, keep up the good work!

    • Ha! I’ve also known some good people who admit to enjoying Southern Gospel music (your son’s radio evdeavors are going to be so inclined, correct?). 🙂 You are among good company. God bless Paul. Thanks for checking in here. I appreciate it much, as always.