The other day I was sick at home and was flipping through the channels looking for a good movie on TV. I happened to stop on a channel I normally avoid at all costs. On this day a particular TV show was on that is very popular with young adults and teens right now. It is a show about a group of friends living together for a summer at a beach for a summer. The TV show was one I'd heard a lot about, and because the stars of this show are famous within pop culture, my curiosity got the best of me and I watched an episode.
The content of this show disturbed me so much that I almost didn't know what to do with myself. In the course of one episode, one of the guys brought home a stranger he'd just met and slept with her, two of the other housemates slept with each other, and one of the girls brought another stranger home to sleep with him. This show was a glorification of partying, sleeping around and I almost felt like I needed to take a shower after watching just a little bit of it, it was that disgusting. THIS is what our youth are idolizing and looking up to. THIS is what is considered normal and fun to them. I about barfed.
I had a former friend, in her "breakup" email to me this fall tell me that I was too hard on myself (probably true) and that I "took life too seriously." She said that I could have a "normal and fun life." She went on to mention several other things that I was doing wrong with my life and criticized several of the choices I had made, what I was doing with my life and some of the things I believed as reasons for not wanting to be my friend any more.
What I do question is this idea that anyone who is a follower of Jesus can both follow Him to the fullest AND follow the world to the fullest as well. We should not view culture passively, as entertainment, but rather actively engage with it, as it provides insight into world view. We should be innocent, but not naive, because when we are naive become unprepared for how to deal with culture when we do encounter it. There also should be parts of culture that we should have nothing to do with as well as parts of culture we deliberately and thoughtfully engage with.
Do I think life should be devoid of fun? Of course not. But, the truth of the matter is that there are many aspects of life, many seasons of life, many things we are asked to do that are the complete opposite of fun. We do them because they are the right thing to do and because of the maturity and character that they develop.
Do I think life should be nothing but fun? Of course not. But I do take issue with secular humanism infecting our churches. I do take issue with the idea that the sole purpose in life is for this one thing: having fun.
My decision to live without many aspects of culture in my life, and her decision to live with them is one example of why most people are so incredibly confused when it comes to post-modern Christianity.....in most ways we do not look different from culture at all. What need is there, then for people to find Jesus if those who follow Him are not being redeemed themselves and redeeming the culture around them?
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, recently wrote a blog about this subject and he articulates this much better than I. It's a long read, but well worth it. Here is what he said:
"Historically, and biblically, there are two erroneous extremes that Christians swing between: syncretism or sectarianism.
Syncretists go too far into culture, abandoning or diluting the gospel in the name of relevance. Liberals in the early twentieth century did this by pandering to the high culture of academic modernity and abandoning belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, the supernatural, and the divine nature of Christ. The shells of mainline churches are their legacy. Most recently, the Emergent Church did much of the same as they chased after the postmodern mood of our culture by questioning the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and God’s design for heterosexual marriage.
Sectarians are better known as fundamentalists who impose man-made rules on people in the name of achieving holiness by avoiding sinners and hiding out in a “Christian” culture. They are prone to seeing others sin more easily than their own sins of hypocrisy and religious pride, while arguing about morality when they should be explaining how to be redeemed. Whereas syncretists go too far, sectarians don’t go far enough. Neither follows the entire example of Jesus, though both would disagree passionately.
The general concern of sectarians is that to be in culture is to be in sin. All Christians are commanded by God to avoid universal sins—offenses the Bible condemns for all people in all cultures—as well as particular sins, or offenses that are sinful for some people under some circumstances but not for all people under all circumstances. Christians are to do so without unfairly condemning or restricting the freedoms of fellow Christians who involve themselves differently in controversial cultural matters.....This is, in part, what Paul means throughout the New Testament when he speaks of weak and strong Christians. In truth, every Christian is both weak and strong. We all have some areas in which we need to restrict our freedoms because of our weaknesses, while we are able to use our Christian liberty in areas in which we are strong.
I recognize that Christians will have different personal convictions in matters of culture and I welcome those differences that are not sinful, because what pleases God is unity, not uniformity. Uniformity undermines mission and often is promoted by erroneous restrictive and permissive theologies. Restrictive Christians go too far and name everything a universal sin, forbidding some cultural activities that the Bible does not, such as listening to certain musical styles, getting tattoos, watching movies, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol moderately, enjoying some sexual pleasures within marriage, and body piercing. Conversely, permissive Christians tend to name everything a particular sin and bless activities that the Bible forbids, such as drug use, fornication, homosexuality, and cohabitation before marriage.
I’m not advocating either a permissive or a restrictive approach to debatable cultural issues. Rather, I am encouraging Christians to involve themselves in culture not merely for the purpose of entertainment but primarily for the purpose of education. As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.
Sadly, a theology of “garbage in, garbage out” remains quite popular but has numerous flaws. First, there is no such thing as a pure culture untainted by sin and sinners, including Christian entertainment, which has had its share of scandalous behavior. One such example is the fact that as I’m writing this blog, the leader of a major Christian television network has publicly confessed to adultery. Second, it is uncertain what distinguishes clean “Christian” and unclean “secular” entertainment forms and why Bibleman is so much better than Spiderman.
Engaging culture requires discernment by God’s people to filter all of the cultures they encounter, Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid in order to cling to that which is good and reject that which is evil. As we engage culture (watching films and television, listening to music, reading books, shopping at stores, and so on), we must do so as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life in our culture. We do this so we can begin the transforming work of the gospel in our culture by contextualizing the good news of Jesus. Not compromising. Not changing. Contextualizing. Practically, this means doing what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” The truth is that every ministry is contextualized, the only difference is to which culture and which year of that culture. Everything from pews to chairs, sound systems, projectors, suits, and a printed Bible in the English language are very recent missiogical contextualizations in light of the two thousand years of Christianity....
One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:
· Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.
· Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.
· Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.
As you can see, each issue requires discernment. Liberal syncretists tend to receive too much. Fundamental separatists tend to reject too much. So, while I would reject yoga because it is a Hindu worship act, it is possible for the Christian to redeem some of the exercise principles, as my friend, Rose, extols. Likewise, it’s not a sin to watch a film such as Avatar, enjoy the technological mastery, and learn about how to tell a great story. But, it is imperative for a Christian to not embrace the blatant pagan worldview that does not distinguish between Creator and creation, upon which the entire storyline of the film is constructed.
That said, is it possible to appreciate the musical and entrepreneurial talent of Jay-Z without praising his character or beliefs? Yes. Is it possible to watch and listen to Jay-Z to learn about culture, what people are valuing, and why some men have much larger audiences than any preacher because of how they present their message? Yes. Should Christians agree with the every message he and other artists present? No. Should Christians who like rap check out guys I have enjoyed getting to know a bit, such as Lecrae? Yes. Should all Christians listen to Jay-Z? No. Should Jay-Z sit down and talk to me about Jesus? Yes. Jay-Z, whenever works for you is good for me, and if need be I’d even watch a Nets game."
I read a friend's facebook post today of a translation of Galatians 5:13-26. This translation was from "The Message." This translation is not the most accurate of translations on a good day, but sometimes when you just want a nice, big-picture idea, "The Message" can't be beat. Here's the translation:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God's kingdom.
But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.\