Cultural Relevancy

Is it a sin to be culturally irrelevant? Defend your position.

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  1. Yes! Because I said so! πŸ™‚

    With my totalitarian mindest aside…It is not necisarily wrong to be culturally relevant. But, I would add, it is just as important to be biblically relevant as well. That keeps us at the proper median when communicating the gospel.

    Dougald

  2. Great question. Since you cannot escape culture, I must answer, YES, it is a sin not to engage culture. Failing to engage culture is a failure to engage the people who live in that culture. Assuming our goal is to take the Gospel of Christ to people where they are, then we must engage them within their culture, for that is where they live. Does that mean I need to embrace their culture? Maybe, maybe not – it depends on their culture. But, failing to make the Gospel relevant to a particular culture in its cultural setting is a failure to relate Scripture in practical ways. Not a great defense, but it’s a start.

  3. Dougald,

    Did you actually answer my question? 😯

    Just kidding πŸ˜›

    I would affirm staying true to scripture, but what if you cannot communicate to the culture. You wouldn’t expect people in Central Asia to learn English to hear the gospel would you? I know your answer to that question. But simplicities aside, would it be sin to require someone to learn English to hear the gospel?

    I’m going to refrain from giving my answer for a while. But I would love to hear a little more from you on this.

    Wes

  4. Bob, Welcome to the discussion.

    You make some good points and thanks for voicing them.

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to be as tough on you as I was on Dougald above.

    Now the key word is “sin.” I just want to follow up with you.

    Would it be okay to continue being irrelevant if you were truly worshipping God?

    I only ask you this because I’m curious and some people will say its not a sin to be culturally irrelevant because culture is inherently sinful.

    (Don’t worry, I’m not against your response!!!) πŸ˜‰

  5. Here’s a link to another great question, if you have time after this one.

  6. Wes,

    You, a Ph.D. student didn’t see my answer. :surprise:

    I’m not asking people to learn English, and I’m not talking about getting rid of the communication grid in some culture. I am saying that it needs to be something that is firmly rooted in the Bible. This is not a critique of anything going on now, I’m just giving you my answer and what I would try to do.

    So, I guess we are back to Neihbur. Is that how you spell his name?

  7. By the way, if I sound short above its because my parents are trying to talk to me as I write this. You know me well enough to know my tone. But, your visitors may think I’m agitated. I’m not.

    Dougald

  8. Hey bro, its alright! πŸ™„

    Just kidding with the smiley. πŸ˜•

    Uh..oh..they have a mind of their own 😈 Stop ❗ Finally πŸ™‚

    BTW, I did see your answer, but you only indirectly answered it. You said you don’t see anything wrong with being culturally relevant as long as your biblically true. But, is it okay to be biblically true yet culturally irrelevant?

    So, I’m not accusing you of anything related to English, just that the fact the we both agree that we wouldn’t force anyone to speak English to hear the gospel shows we think being culturally relevant is important. So we have to argue to what degree. So,

    What degree is acceptable?

    But my original question is tougher to answer:

    Is it sinful to be any degree culturally irrelevant?

    I really do appreciate your insights! 😯 There it goes again :mrgreen:

    I’m not being tough on you for no reason, but because I value your opinion. 😎

  9. Oops! 😳

    I finally saw your “Yes! Because I said so!”

    Sorry! 😦

  10. I see you are finally coming around to my point of view. 8) It’s too cool. We’ll have to talk more in detail in person (though I know that you would prefer it here). Just keep in mind I’m an OT guy so I can’t articulate things related to Missiology/Anthropology as well as someone in that background. 😦 Too bad you can’t wink and frown with emoticons. ;(

  11. “Is it a sin to consider culture irrelevant?”

    or

    “Is it a sin to be irrelevannt?”

    or

    “Is it a sin to be culturally insensitive?”

    or

    “Is it a sin to be angry?”

    or

    “Can we be angry and yet not sin?”

    Is this not the same class of question?

    Opinion: It is not the culture nor the irrelevancy that is at issue. Both culture and relevancy (like anger) are tools to use in our pursuit of a sinless life. Since we are commanded to love, and to go into all the world and preach, teach, disciple, and baptize, anything that hinders us will cause us to sin. I think ignoring culture is foolish. I think being bullheaded about our own identity to the point of making our communication of the gospel irrelevant is sinful (I think it is the bullheadedness that is the sin, though).

    I firmly believe that it is not the vessel that carries the message that effects the impact, but the Spirit who goes before, communicates through, and follows after. Neither ugliness, offensiveness, stubborness, irrelevancy, foolishness, nor any other human frailty, blindness or mistake can stop or direct the Spirit to work or not work in hearts and minds.

    Our former pastor, Ron Mehl, used to say “God is going to do a work, you can work with Him, or He will work inspite of you.” I think Culture and Relevancy are two of those “work with God or He will work inspite of you” issues.

  12. CGross (for some reason your message was marked as spam, but I saved it from the fire),

    Thanks for the response.

    You make a good point about culture and relvancy being tools in our hands. And I agree that the Spirit uses broken vessels, he is the one that works and gets the glory.

    (But I did not quite follow your reasoning from my original question to “Can we be angry and yet not sin?”; perhaps you can clarify if you desire. I am not certain that anger and cultural relvancy are the same type of tool.)

    My follow-up question would be:

    How can culture (or relvancy) be part of God’s work, or against it? For instance, some might say that all culture is sinful, so let us avoid contamination by the culture at all costs; Others will say that some of culture is good or neutral and we should manipulate (as in use as a tool) those parts of the gospel for the sake of the gospel. These viewpoints seem contradictory. So, which will God use? Can he, or will he use both? Or does one viewpoint inhibit the work of the gospel in bringing people from all cultures into His kingdom?

    I think your answer trumps my questions to a degree, because God, as Spurgeon is reported to have said, “hits straight licks with crooked sticks.” The Holy Spirit can take the most culturally backward people and change the world with them (didn’t he do that with the apostles?). So while we are seeking God’s face and imploring the breath of his Spirit in our lives, we must still be obedient to share the gospel. And communication of the gospel includes issues of culture and relvancy, too a degree.

    So, What degree of cultural relvancy is good and acceptable?

    I’m sorry for asking so many questions, but I think answering them is worthwhile. Please, please your comments are welcome.

  13. I agree with CGross. Culture is not the key or “be all, end all” for evangelism or anything else. I reject the assumption that culture itself is relevant.

    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. ~2 Cor. 4:3

    In fact, the whole chapter 2 Cor. 4 may answer all of this, though not with as much excruciating detail as we rich young rulers prefer.

    I disagree with Driscoll’s assertion that culture serves as a solution to ‘the great questions of life’, though it often reflects the conclusions a society has reached.

    I submit the culture (not in a generic sense, but what we find in our world) is darkness and the gospel is light. Having conceded that we have one, our problem is not too little darkness, but too little light.

    We Christians are paralyzed by pride and materialism. These are, I believe, the predominant influences of American culture.

    So, I must applaud Driscoll, Patterson, etc. for shining light into a dark place.

    If we are to be called Fundamentalists, then I presume to ‘correct’ Driscoll’s equation:
    Fundamentalism=Church+Gospel+Culture
    [something better labeled whatever you will]=Gospel

    If we’re going to think, speak, live wholistically, shouldn’t we understand the Gospel to include God, his church, his culture rather than seeing them as inhabiting distinct compartments?

    As for revival, I agree wholeheartedly with the poster who reminds us that revival is not an event experienced individually. I think we will not see it until we want it. That is, until we repent of our “isolational”(?) pride and materialism and seek instead God’s presence.

  14. Mark, thanks for your comments.

    I must say one thing first, when I said that culture serves to answer the fundamental issues of life, I was paraphrasing Driscoll in my own words. But what I meant by that was not that it does so perfectly or even rightly, but rather the idea is that culture is a human product that contains good (because of creation) and bad (because of the fall). I don’t want to misrepresent Driscoll, so I would recommend reading his 4th chapter.

    But I was saying that culture is very functional in its orientation. It is a tool, as CGross and you have affirmed. But it is also, as you have said, an imperfect tool tainted by sin. And I agree with you, American culture is heavily tainted by pride and materialism. But is all American culture that way? Perhaps we should develop that idea more. I’m not disagreeing with you at all, but agreeing. I need to reflect on my own accommodation of American culture to see where I have accommodated Pride and Materialism in my life.

    Let us continue to medidate on these influences in our life!

    Also, regarding Fundamentalism, I think Driscoll is talking about the type of fundamentalism that is resistant to change primarily because it is change, not because it is biblical, or not. There are many who would affirm that they believe in the fundamentals of the faith, but who would disagree with extreme fundamentalists. Sadly the term has been associated with fundamentalists Islam and it gets misused on good-hearted Christians. I wish he had been more clear. But I agree with his assessment. The Fundamentalists he is speaking of have accommodated to a culture, albeit a 1950’s culture. They are guilty of the same vice they condemn and don’t realize it.

    I mean, its kinda like how all Calvinists are heaped into one pile and treated like they were all hyper-Calvinists who didn’t believe in evangelism, etc. Its really a fallacious use of the term.

  15. You asked, “Would it be okay to continue being irrelevant if you were truly worshipping God?” Interesting question. At the risk of being ambigueous, my response is, “yes and no.”

    Who is worship for? What is its purpose? Someone, possibly Tony Evans, makes a point that in worship, God is the audience and we are the performers. In that respect, I would say, no, we do not ever need to be culturally relevant, because God transcends culture. At the same time, worship is an expression of who I am. Regardless of the surrounding culture, as the performer I (always?) bring my individual culture to worship. As such, my worship can never be irrelevant when it is a vertical expression between myself and God. This probably applies mostly to private worship.

    On the other hand, there is a horizontal component to worship when I join in corporate worship with other believers. It is here that I believe we need to be culturally relevant, as relevant as we can be, all the time. It is in the area of corporate worship where we run the risk of falling into disrespect for each other, sin, or spiritual abuse. I do not think that we can please everyone all the time, but I do think we can strive to be culturally relevant to everyone.

    While in London last year on a class trip, my classmates and I attended an Urdu language service for local Pakistani’s. (Did I spell that right?) Since most of the people, if not all, who attend the service speak some English, in honor of their 29 guests who only spoke English, the service was entirely in English. At the risk of possibly reducing their worship experience, they were being culturally relevant to allow their visitors to share in their worship. Now, if most of them did not speak English, I would say that they would have done nothing wrong to hold the service in Urdu. But since most of them knew enough English to get through the service, it would have been wrong for them not to accomodate their visitors. I believe this was the first time they had done this, even though several of their members speek only English.

    So, yes. We can worship and be orrelevant. And, no, we cannot worship without being relevant.

  16. Bob, thank you for answering my question. And thank you for the great answer.

    I am glad that you have shared a cross-cultural example too. When folks in America think of this issue, they usually don’t think through a cross-cultural lens. Many people think, monoculturally, that to be culturally relevant is to compromise the gospel. Most fail to realize the pervasive nature of culture (I don’t want to say influence here). The fact that we sing hymns from 1890 in English reflects something of culture. And if we sing contemporary songs from the 1990’s in English, we are also reflecting something about culture. Usually, we are blind to our own cultural assumptions. Though singing those hymns in 1890 was perfectly fine and culturally appropriate, somewhere down the line, when decisions were made not to sing any new songs, another cultural decision was made. The problem is when someone equates that cultural decision with a moral decision (though morality probably plays a role in there somewhere).

    So the question really should be, how can I bring glory to Jesus in my cultural context. All other cultural decisions should revolve around that central question.

    So the folks in London decided the best way to honor Jesus that Sunday was to accommodate their guests. I don’t think they sinned at all.

    Sadly, in most churches in America, we aren’t thinking about glorifying Jesus, but rather maintaining tradition, or continuity, or the status quo, even cultural conformity over our love for Christ.

  17. “So the question really should be, how can I bring glory to Jesus in my cultural context. All other cultural decisions should revolve around that central question.” Excellent!

    “Sadly, in most churches in America, we aren’t thinking about glorifying Jesus, but rather maintaining tradition, or continuity, or the status quo, even cultural conformity over our love for Christ.” Well said.

  18. Bob, thanks for dialoguing with me. I think I will post that question in another post. If my primary concern is to bring glory to Jesus in my cultural context, how would that change, if any, the way I do things?

    Wes

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