Friday, June 08, 2007

Church and Culture

I have some thoughts ruminating in my head about the church and cultural engagement.

Last night I was talking to a group of guys, and we had been talking about testimonies and life stories and all that, and one of the guys told a testimony story he had read somewhere (he couldn't remember exactly where). The story goes that a man was walking past a church one day and heard the music of the song "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton blasting out of the church. Being a huge fan of the song, he decided to enter and see what it was all about. It turns out that the church had put Christian lyrics to the song and were singing it as a congregation. The man ended up becoming involved in the church, and he said that he would never have set foot in the church had it not been for "Cocaine." As my friend recalled, the spin the man had put on the story was that the church needs to engage culture more, and his story was a glowing testimony to the possibilities that stem from that.

Before I critique, I want to make clear that I am all about the church engaging culture. My critique comes from the how and with what purpose aspect of this idea.

Here's what I've been ruminating on. I think that to a large extent, some fairly large sections of church are engaging culture in just this way much more than ten years ago (at least in my experience). I know less and less Christians who only listen to Christian music and shop at Christian bookstores and wear tons of Christian t-shirts. There has been so much valid critique of Christian subculture that a lot of people are taking notice.

But I wonder if our unplugging from a Christian subculture and engaging the media of the broader culture is actually achieving some of its supposed purposes. One of the purposes of being attuned to broader culture is so that the church can engage in conversation and exchange stories with people outside the church. It is one of many ways to make a common human connection with people who, for various reasons, would not tend to darken the doorway of a church, or even interact with a Christian for that matter. I know that this sounds like a manipulative and utilitarian view of art and media, which I do not necessarily agree with, but acknowledge that this is a very real motive for many Christians to "get involved in the secular world", and therefore want to address whether it is actually happening.

Here's what I see happening. Christians broaden their own horizons and begin to see truth in the art of the world. They see that Christians don't have the corner market on all truth, and find God and truth at work in the art of people who are not professed Christians. These same Christians adopt the phrase "all truth is God's truth" as a mantra, and their lives are enriched, and so they talk to their friends, who happen to also be Christians, and introduce them to this liberating idea.

Yet rarely do they use this newfound love for all things beautiful (not just all things labeled Christian) to connect with the people they believe so desperately need to know the triune God to whom all truth and beauty points. I guess what I'm saying is that I see the church being enriched by this bursting from the box of Christian subculture, but when it's not coupled by a missional emphasis, it still only blesses the church.

When our overall approach to the church is to bless ourselves and not the world, then it doesn't matter how connected we are to this culture.

If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Listening to Arcade Fire, no matter how great that may be, won't do the trick. What do you think?

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