The Church and Culture: Withdrawal or Attentiveness

Greg Strand – April 29, 2015 Leave a comment

How the church relates to the culture and how the culture affects the church are major issues facing the Christian and the church today. All too often the temptation is either capitulation/accommodation to culture or separation from culture.

What the purpose and mission of the church is, is another significant issue affecting Christians and the church today. All too often the temptation is to forget that we, the church, are created by the gospel and that we, the church, proclaim and manifest the gospel.

In response, it is vital for us as the people of God, the church, to remember that when God creates a new humanity through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the church, that new humanity, also proclaims and embodies that gospel. This means a whole new culture is created. That new humanity that embodies that gospel culture then impacts and influences all other cultures.

Furthermore, it is vital that we remember the primary purpose of the church, as church, is to proclaim the gospel, not transform culture or change societal structures. This does not mean culture will not be influenced or societal structures will not be affected. They will be as an entailment or an implication of the gospel being proclaimed and lived by the people of God. But if you make those other things primary, most often what happens is the gospel is assumed and then eventually denied.

With the tsunami-like changes occurring morally and culturally, how shall we think about it? How shall we respond?

In The Accidental Benedict Option, Rod Dreher thinks out loud about the incredible cultural changes and how the church is to live in and respond to them. He wonders if the church ought to consider the Benedict Option, which he explains as the following: “a limited, strategic withdrawal of Christians from the mainstream of American popular culture, for the sake of shoring up our understanding of what the church is, and what we must do to be the church. We must do this because the strongly anti-Christian nature of contemporary popular culture occludes the meaning of the Gospel, and hides from us the kinds of habits and practices we need to engage in to be truly faithful to what we have been given.”

Alan Jacobs helpfully and insightfully interacts with Dreher’s thoughts in withdrawals and commitments After interacting with another who he believes misunderstood what Dreher was suggesting, viz. to retreat or withdraw as the separatists did, Jacobs concludes, “So I wonder if a better way to think about the Benedict Option is not as a strategic withdrawal from anything in particular but a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish. In other words, Rod’s post is the right starting place, and the language of ‘withdrawal’ something of a distraction from what that post is all about.”

A few questions for thought/reflection:

  • How do you view culture? How does the church live in it and relate to it?
  • With the incredible changes, do we as the people of God need to engage in “a limited, strategic withdrawal from the mainstream of American popular culture” in order to strengthen our understanding of the church in this postmodern, postChristian day?
  • Is it more fruitful instead to give focused and “strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within with Christians can flourish”?
  • What do you do to equip/prepare people to understand these important issues in the local church? During these days of incredible change, what is necessary to rethink of our ever-changing life in the world in light of the never-changing gospel of Jesus Christ?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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