Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christians and culture (1)

Tom Price asked, in response to Carl Truman's article that i linked to a couple of days ago whether 'he was saying we shouldn't do cultural engagement, we should do more Bible basics?'

This appears to be the conclusion from Trueman's article, which raises the old question again: 'how much should Christian's be 'a part' of secular culture?' Should we be listening to the latest CD's watching the newest movies regardless of content, should Christian's have no problem behaving outwardly as many non Christians do, if it's in the name of engagement. How much 'in' the world can we be without becoming 'of' the world. This has become more of an issue for me since moving to North Carolina, where engagement with secular culture looks very different to back in England. In this post, and probably one more, i'll try and look at what the Bible has to say about the issue, and then how we can respond to it.

First things first, lets not let hopeless legalism suck life out of us. We're saved by Christ our passover lamb, by his blood, by His bearing our sins and being punished for our sins on the cross, by His dying and being raised three days later. Not the movies we do or do not watch. In any discussion of, i guess, Christian liberty, that fact must be our foundation stone, or we will be hopelessly off kilter to start with.

Romans 12-14, the great application of the great letter. After page after page of mind bending, heart expanding truth, Paul starts to apply. He starts to drive home what he's been talking about.

Straight away we're told to present our bodies as a living, or reasonable sacrifice. We're told to respond in a costly manner to what we've heard in the previous eleven chapters. Paul tells his Roman readers not to be conformed to the world, but rather transformed by the renewing of our minds. Why? So that we might be able to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. This is important, we'll come back to it.

Romans 12:9 says that we are to abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good. This tells us that there is indeed something called 'good' and something called 'evil'. Contra post modernity, there are not standards that differ for every person. There is Good, we must hold onto it. There is Evil. We must hate it. 

Romans 14:1-9 is the next passage that this comes up in. Romans 14 starts with Paul telling the strong in faith not to pass judgement over the weak in faith. Who are we to judge? The one who doesn't eat vegetables stands or falls before his own master. Let it be that way. We learn in verse 5 that whatever we do, whether we observe days or not, we should be fully convinced in our own minds about what we do. Verse six makes the point that we do it all for the Lord, this is where integrity lies. This is the way it should be, since, verse 7-8, we neither live or die to ourselves, but to the Lord, who lived and died for us. We are the Lords. So whatever you do or do not do, however you engage or do not engage, be convinced, and do it for Jesus.

The natural result of this occurs in 14:13-23. Do not cause others to stumble by how you exercise your freedom. If someone doesn't think that Christian's should eat meat, then don't make him stumble by eating meat. If one Christian doesn't agree with going to the movies, don't make him go. Why? Because we are the Lords. And because we are to love one another. This is how we fulfill the law (13:8-14)

What have we seen so far? That there is something called Good, and something called Evil, but that within those parameters Christians are free to honour the Lord in the way they feel they should. In what they eat or drink, observe or fail to observe, watch or don't watch. As long as we do what we do for the sake of Christ and don't fall into Colossian asceticism. 

'For the sake of Christ', can of course mean watching a good movie, reading a good book, or enjoying good music simply because they are good, and enjoyable and reflect something of God's creative, joyful image, rather than just reading, watching or listening to improve our apologetics.

I think to sum up this part we need to go back to Romans 12:1-2. Romans 12 comes after 1-11. It's only after 11 chapters of glory that Paul starts to really answer the 'how then should we live' question. Maybe there's something in that. Maybe we can only have the loving, Christ exalting freedom to engage when we've sorted out what we believe. How will we be transformed by the renewing of our minds if we don't know what to be transformed by or into. 

Solid doctrine must underpin cultural engagement. 

Musn't it? Or else how will we respond Christianly to films? If our minds are not being renewed don't we risk being entertained by the very things that sent Jesus to the cross? We have a vague idea that sex outside marriage is wrong, but we'll raise a smile when we see the situations it got Lloyd, Liz and Steve in to, we know that sex outside marriage is wrong, but it worked for Monica and Chandler right? 

So the issue seems to be about Christian freedom, some people genuinely have a problem with Christians going to the theatre, some don't. But maybe, since this is Romans 12, not 1, we could all do with some more 'Bible basics' to help us think Christianly about culture.

To be continued...


Paul said...

Cultural engagement is not exactly the easiest subject to think (correctly) through as a Christian, a bit like politics. Both need to be done, but when most (UK) Christians don't know what the Apostle's Creed is, let alone what it says, we might want to start with walking, and then move onto running.

That's what I thought Carl was saying...

Tom said...

It just isn't terribly clear is it? I don't know which Trueman is saying. He's usually quite a clear writer.

At some level, to say that 'we shouldn't do (movie) cultural engagement, we should just do more bible basics' is so ridiculous, both theologically as well as practically, that I favour Paul's interpretation. I think I've got to give Trueman the benefit of the doubt.

That doesn't entirely rescue him from the logical fallacy. We can walk and chew gum at the same time can't we?