Rules of Engagement:
The stated purpose of this blog is “Engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Yet I am becoming increasingly aware of a dangerous mindset that I was adopting. It is possible that I may be the only one frequenting this blog with this erroneous thinking, but I would still like to take this time for a bit of friendly admonishment – just in case.
In engaging the culture with the gospel, I had forgotten that I was to engage it WITH the gospel, not swim in it looking for neat little traces of the gospel. The engagement is to be confrontational not matrimonial. Now I’m not saying one is not able to see gospel truths in culture. There are traces of redemption in many places, movies, music, art, literature, etc, and it is precisely these points that we can use as a fulcrum to launch us into confronting others within our culture with the good news of the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, that He is both LORD and Savior; although there is another aspect of the gospel that must take effect during this engagement – that of sanctification. In other words, there will be points of confrontation, or areas within the culture we are engaging, that we must seek to change for the glory of God. Culture, by definition, is “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc”. So as we engage our culture we are engaging what those around us exalt as excellent or deem praiseworthy. Some of those things can be “redeemed” and other must be rejected. I’m not giving you a hard/fast rule by which to tell what aspects belong in which pile, but there are a few admonitions I would give (these are some things I have struggled with):
- Don’t confuse “high” class arts with godly and “low” class arts with carnal. Classical music is no more acceptable a style to God as folk music. (I pick this as it is a major point of contention among some Christians.) Each comes from different cultures and both contain beauty, style, require talent to play, etc. This would be like telling a man who painted a picture of the empty tomb that his picture is wicked because it’s not done in the style of Monet or Rembrandt.
- Don’t ignore the value system that is depicted by the aspect of culture. This is the other extreme pictured in an attitude of “license”. It takes the aspect (music, art, dress, etc.) and tries to redefine it. This redefinition can be done with some things, and others are so closely tied to the world’s system that they are inseparable (for at least the present time in the culture).
- Don’t cling to an outdated meaning of an aspect. For example, there was a time when beards in America were worn by those who were flaunting their rebellion. But to say that the same philosophy is touted by those who have beards today would be incorrect. If some today wear their beard for a rebellious reason then they are wrong; but the beard itself doesn’t carry that meaning per the culture.
- Don’t let your sense of right and wrong be set by the culture. To keep the beard example going, I don’t think one should refrain from having a beard necessarily, just because a majority of rebels do. If one’s reasoning for having one is that Jesus had one, I don’t see why one should permit popular culture to “high-jack” it. (Now, if the beard would stand in the way of the people in the said culture from listening to the gospel, then one should fore go the beard.)
- Don’t just follow culture. It’s okay to be “in style”, but it’s also okay to be creative. If we’re not careful we, as Christians, will simply let others create music, art, and dress and we will “hi-jack” their ideas. It is okay and expected for the church to be creative in those areas.
- Don’t associate a particular culture with Christianity. There are some who are stuck, as it were, in the 1940’s. They think Christianity looks, talks, and acts like a 1940’s American. This is grave misconception of most of the modern American Fundamentalist movement. When I say we must engage the culture we are in and thus replace some aspects, I do not mean impose an outdated culture on it. To do this would be to err on the other side so as to not accept anything of the current culture, assuming it’s all evil.
- Don’t think just because the unbeliever creates something that it’s evil. This is a product of dualistic thinking. Remember Jubal in Genesis 4:21? He was in the lineage of Cain. None of Cain’s descendants called up on The LORD. Yet we are told that Jubal is the father of all those who play lyre and harp. John Gill notes of Jubal in his commentary “he [Jubal] was the father of all such that handle the harp and organ: he was the inventor of instrumental music, both of stringed instruments, such as were touched by the fingers, or struck with a quill, as the “harp”; and of wind instruments, such as were blown, as the “organ,” which seems not to be the same we call so, being a late invention; but however a pleasant instrument, as its name signifies.” It would be wrong for one to say instrumental music is wrong, since an unbeliever invented it. There are many things we use today that benefit or enhance our lives that were devised by unbelievers.
So, in conclusion, what are the rules of engagement? I would say that they are given to us in God’s Word and it is our job, by God’s grace, to seek them out and employ them. We are to do kingdom work, we are to image God, we are to plant banners in every area of culture reclaiming it for the Kingdom. We are to be a light, and salt – to show others how to truly live. We are to engage our culture; and I don’t mean put a ring on it!!