Note: The Convergent Conference is only 9 days away! They’ve extended the cut-off date for registration until the 14th. You need to register soon in order to hear Mark Driscoll et al in person. Click here to register. Where else can you attend such a conference for only $30.
Chapter 5 of the RADICAL reformission continues Driscoll’s emphasis on understanding the surrounding culture in order be a genuine Christian witness, or a reformissionary.
He compares the experience of a missionary entering a foreign land of foreign languages to the scene in American culture today.
[O]ur nation is filled with a seemingly endless number of cultures that do not understand what the church is saying, even if they do speak the same language. In this way, our day is quite similar to the days when the gospel first spread throughout the Roman Empire, which was filled with a variety of cultures (pg 118).
From Acts 17, Driscoll argues that our experience today is similar to Paul’s on Mars Hill. (Believe it or not, I heard a powerful exposition of this sermon and a similar application by D. A. Carson in Feb, 2000, at SEBTS Chapel. You can order a copy on CD here.) Whereas in a Jewish context, Paul emphasize the fulfillment of Scripture, in the pagan Gentile context he began with truth relating to the surrounding religious/philosophical background.
Paul used the opportunity provided by the culture as a starting point for the proclamation of the gospel. He began by explaining God as the creator who is separate from creation (in refutation of the Athenian’s pantheism) and as king who rules over all of heaven and earth (in refutation of their belief that gods ruled over only certain geographic regions). He continued by explaining that God does not live in temples built by men (in refutation of their belief that gods need homes like people do), and that he is utterly self-existent, not dependant on people for anything (unlike their concept of the gods as capricious humans with supernatural powers), but is in fact the sole source of all life and breath (in refutation of their pantheism). Paul then explained that God created one man and that from one man he made all men and nations of the earth and determined exactly when and where they would live (in refutation of their Epicurean belief that life is little more than random chance) so that people would seek him and find him (in refutation of their Stoic fatalism) because he has drawn near to people (in refutation of their belief that gods are either not distinct from people and creation or so transcendant that they cannot be known), (pg 121).
Driscoll goes on to note how Paul “embraced the aspects of their culture that were helpful to his mission” (pg 121), such as quoting poets. Finally, Paul called them to repentance and to belief in the resurrection of Jesus. This gave him an audience with the culture and led to the conversion of some Greeks there–Dionysius and Damaris.
SO, HERE’S THE POINT:
YOU AND I LIVE IN OUR OWN MARS HILL (pg 122).
How do you view the culture you live in? Do you think your neighbors would understand your churchy jargon?
Driscoll calls us, his readers, to repent from our bad theology of culture that says: CULTURE=WORLDLINESS; THERE IS SUCH THING AS A PURE, UNTAINTED CHRISTIAN CULTURE; and CULTURE CAN BE STEREOTYPED BY AGE CATEGORIES.
First, he notes that there is worldliness in culture, but not all culture is worldly. Then, he rebukes us for creating legalistic categories aiming at keeping culture out, when the problem is not culture, but sin in culture. Finally, he as us not to lump people into cookie cutter categories and minister to everyone in that category stereotypically. The danger is the white, middle-class suburban culture is upheld as the standard of conformity. Unfortunately, people are inhibited from the gospel by cultural categories (usually unbeknownst to the church) rather than by the truth of the gospel. Driscoll references his visit to MTV where he was told “the young people they had studied believed in God and spoke to him but had no idea who he is (pg 122).” See a recent 7 year survey by MTV here confirming this.
In concluded the chapter, Driscoll upholds the story of Daniel who
“appear[ed] to have completely separated himself from Babylonian paganism like a dogmatic Bible-thumping fundamentalist…[but] was very helpful to the king and the Babylonians…[by] manag[ing] to glorify God while proclaiming and living the truth in a way that was both faithful to God and accessible to Babylon (pg 131).
…Likewise, where you live is a place of Babylonian exile where God has placed you to be about reformission. And it incumbent upon you to be wise, faithful, and fruitful, like Daniel was, so that the gospel can take root in your Babylonian soil (131).
In other words, reformissionaries have to be a light to their culture, confronting its sin in a way that maintains open lines to the gospel. As such, we are missionaries where God has placed us. Our obligation to the gospel is to glorify Jesus among our own cultural context. And God may call you to do so in a foreign context like Seattle, New York City, Dar es Salaam, or Kabul. But no matter the context, we are reformissionaries!
Do you view yourself as God’s appointed missionary to your neighborhood, workplace and city?
Finally, Driscoll gives some exercises for becoming open to your cultural surroundings. Some are a little risque, but the overall goal is to get to know people in order to understand their culture. Missionaries do this very thing when the enter a new culture. It’s called an ethnographic survey. I’ll post an example of one later, so be on the lookout.
Have you tried to meet people for the sake of meeting people or understanding them more? For instance, have you ever invited your black neighbors or co-workers to a picnic? Note: if you live in the South, black people are a very large minority, between 30 and 45% of the population, have you tried to get to know your neighbors?