Kevin DeYoung, “The Three R’s of Christian Engagement in the Culture War” (August 3, 2012)
During the past few years culture has become an important topic of discussion among Evangelicals. Fundamentalists were separatistic and eschewed any engagement with culture. Liberals were accommodating to culture, so the motto of the World Council of Churches was fitting for the liberal church: the world sets the agenda for the church. Evangelicals have generally wanted to be engaged-in-but-not-accommodating to culture. This issue generally generates more discussion and polarization during election years. As you would expect, this year is no exception. What has made this even more intense is the discussion/debate about same-sex marriage and religious freedom.
I don’t necessarily like the notion of a “culture war,” because that expression has a great deal of baggage, and it tends to frame how we engage in the debate. But then again, if we define that expression biblically and engage in that war faithfully, then I affirm the use of the expression. Paul writes that though we are in this world, “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4a). Later he informs those in Ephesus that they as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are in a battle (6:11-12). Peter, too, notes believers are in a battle, and the goal is the destruction of one’s soul (1 Pet. 2:11). Yet the biblical authors also inform how Christians are to engage in this battle, and it is not with earthly, fleshly weapons or weaponry (cf. 2 Cor. 10:4b-5; Eph. 6:10, 13-18; 1 Pet. 2:12).
DeYoung suggests three ways Christians ought to respond: No Retreat; No Reversal; No Reviling. And his conclusion, which is additional support to what I have written above: “In the fight against powers and principalities we must never go away, never give in, and never give up on love.”
- No Retreat. In the face of controversy and opposition, it’s always tempting to withdraw into friendlier confines. But working for the public good is part of loving our neighbors as ourselves. The pietistic impulse to simply focus on winning hearts and minds does not sufficiently appreciate the role of institutions and the importance of giving voice to truth in the public square. Conversely, the progressive impulse to stay quiet for fear that we’ll invalidate our witness is a misguided strategy to win over the world by letting them win. Either that or a disingenuous attempt to hide the fact they’ve already sold the ethical farm.
- No Reversal. No matter the pressure, we must never deviate from the word of God to please the powers of the world (Rom. 12:1-2). This principle does not automatically determine the course of action in every sphere, for politics must sometimes be the art of compromise. But as far as our doctrinal commitments, our pulpit preaching, and our public values, we mustn’t give a single inch if that inch takes us away from the truth of Scripture (John 10:35). He who marries the spirit of the age becomes a widower in the next. The church is not built on theological novelty, and souls are not won by sophisticated ambiguity. Whoever is ashamed of Christ and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).
- No Reviling. If this is a battle, then the followers of Christ must be a different kind of army. Even when our passions run high, our compassion must run deep. There is no place for triumphalism, cynicism, and settling scores. We must be happy, hopeful warriors. When reviled, we must not revile or threaten in return, but entrust ourselves to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). We must not be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12). We must not hate when we are hated (Matt. 5:43-44). And when we rest peacefully at night may it not be because all men think well of us or because the culture reflects our values, but because our conscience is clear (1 Peter 3:16). In the fight against powers and principalities we must never go away, never give in, and never give up on love.