This article is an excerpt from the Bible study Counter Culture.
Christianity and culture. Our faith and our world. Truth and love. How do we engage with our culture in a way that both shows the compassion and love of Jesus while also pointing back to the foundational truth of the Gospel?
Often, instead of doing this well, we in our churches and Christian communities can engage with culture in ways that are not helpful to others or ourselves.
In his Bible study A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture: In a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Persecution, Abortion, Orphans, Pornography excerpted below, David Platt lays out different approaches Christians often take to culture. We can aim to identify which category our group might fall into as we seek to lead ourselves and others into healthy, constructive engagement:
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say we can have one of four possible responses in engaging our culture.
- WE CONFORM. We start compromising what we believe and the way we act in order to appeal to and appease the surrounding culture. We may even genuinely believe that doing so is both loving and strategic, hoping somehow people will be attracted to Jesus through a less offensive form of Christianity and will ultimately be saved. However, we have to realize that our goal isn’t to make following Jesus easier. We’ll look more closely … at the message of the gospel, but we’ve already seen that at its core, it’s necessarily countercultural and offensive to the human heart.
- WE CHECK OUT. The opposite extreme is to secede from culture, distancing ourselves so completely that we never have any interaction with the world around us. Again, the intent may seem honorable and sincere because we want to remove even an appearance of evil and the temptation of sin. But Jesus specifically prayed that His Father wouldn’t take His followers out of the world but protect them while they were sent into it (see John 17:15-16). The world around us desperately needs the life-changing power of the gospel. Forming an isolated, insulated subculture may feel countercultural, but it isn’t an appropriate response. Countering culture doesn’t mean withdrawing and isolating ourselves from culture.
- WE COMBAT. This approach is antagonistic and defensive. While the intent begins moving in the right direction, refusing to give in to or give up on the world around us, it misses the heart of Jesus. This response sees culture as an enemy to be defeated instead of people to be saved. Our desire mustn’t be to prove ourselves right or to force our way on the world around us. Instead, our goal is to show Christ to be true and worthy. Just as wrong as running away from our culture is driving people away from the church. Countering culture doesn’t mean attacking it.
- WE COUNTER. Countering culture means engaging culture with conviction and compassion. We stand firmly on the truth of God, empowered by the Spirit, to extend the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Our desire isn’t to conquer but to redeem. It matters what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. A wrong response to culture is more than unhealthy or unhelpful. It’s potentially damning. Engaging our culture is literally a matter of life or death—eternal life or death.
How do we move past these three harmful responses to culture and engage with “countering” like Jesus would? Platt dives deeper into the problem, the solution, and practical ways to start living in the remainder of his Bible study. Find out more at Lifeway.com/CounterCulture.