Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Culture Connects

As I mentioned in my last post (Cultural Disconnect – April 18), in every culture there are certain common societal assumptions that strongly align with Biblical commands, and at the very same time in the very same culture there are norms that are fundamentally at odds with a Biblical worldview. Of course, our own culture is no different.

In the previous post we considered one glaring example of our current culture’s rejection of Biblical virtue by examining the sexual norms on college campuses today. (See the article Sex Education in the WSJ). However, here, I would like to consider, in Paul Harvey’s words, “the rest of the story.”

You see, I think our first reaction as Christians to articles such as ‘Sex Education’ is to throw up our hands and remind one another that the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. Just try to stay out of the way of the lightning bolts God will be hurling soon. Safety is found in separating from the culture.

Each culture, to be sure, has certain idols and sins that define it as an overall society. Sexual promiscuity (masked in the language of “freedom”) is surely one of the defining sins of our age. However, cultures as a whole also have moral strengths that define them – cultural assumptions that, for one reason or another are highly motivating to the majority of people and that are also fundamentally Biblical motivations.

For example, in 21st century America, our culture has assumed a keen interest in the social injustices that occur worldwide and cried out against them. Consider our celebrities: the greatest rock star alive today and America’s (formerly) richest man have both switched gears at the height of their success and committed their lives (and fortunes) to battling disease, hunger, and poverty in Africa. As Time magazine revealed by naming them co-persons of the year in 2005, we admire them as heroes.

In addition, consider organizations that have become household names: Peace Corps, Save Darfur, Oxfam. And some you may not have heard of yet: PEPFAR, Mocha Club, kiva, and literally thousands of others.

Even Graham Hancock, in his book Lords of Poverty (who does not speak kindly of the structure and motives of the current foreign aid sector), must admit,
In all Western countries, irrespective of their wealth, and irrespective also of their ideological stance, ‘overseas development’ has been elevated above political debate to become the ‘least questioned form of state spending’
.
Concern for global social justice is not perfect or complete or thoroughly integrated into everything our society does. Instances of injustice obviously still abound. But I would argue that it is a growing cultural influence that is truly motivating more and more individuals to live their lives with an eye toward the poor and oppressed. I would identify it as one of our society’s collective virtues.

The fact of the matter is that the commitments we see in our culture today to help those that cannot return the favor, to have a special eye toward injustices committed against the poor, and to affirm the humanity and dignity of any person regardless of race, class, or sex are fundamentally Biblical commitments.

Read Psalm 41:
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
… he is called blessed in the land… (vs 1,2)

Consider Jesus’ first words as he begins his public ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18)

And James’ letter:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… (1:27)

How, as Christians, should we respond to our culture’s keen awareness of social justice? In short, we should be its biggest fans.

We ought to affirm and celebrate all the work and attention that is devoted to causes working for global social justice, caring for the sick, fighting on behalf of the oppressed, and providing for the poor. These kinds of activities fall directly in line with God’s redemptive work in the world.

We ought to partner with organizations working toward this end, (explicitly “Christian” or not). We ought to have a keen eye for the kind of movements in our culture that are in line with God’s will for the world, and support them the instant we identify them.

I think Jonathan Dodson, writing on the boundless website, gets it right. He asks, “How should we pray for our culture?” and answers:

We should thank God for the gift of culture, confessing that all cultures contain truth, beauty and virtue, asking Him to help us recognize and rejoice in these good gifts, which come down from the Father of lights (Js. 1:17).

Alternatively, all cultures also disdain truth, beauty, and virtue. Thus we are dependent upon God to enable us to recognize and reject those things that are harmfully false, ugly and immoral. By asking God to give us the perspective of His Spirit…we can begin to discern between the things which are true, beautiful and good and the things that are false, ugly and evil.

I would highly recommend reading the rest of the post, titled “v. Culture” which serves as a brief introduction to engaging culture as Christians.

Postscript:
The thoughtful blog reader, at this juncture, will of course be asking themselves the following question: how can non-Christians live in line with God’s will? Isn’t “anything not of faith, sin?” Good question thoughtful blogger.

For a good theological framework with which to answer this question, I would point you to Nathan’s recent series of posts on common grace (March 17, 21). I think the points he makes there will go a long way toward answering some of those tough questions we all ask.

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