Most of my readers are probably familiar with the categories of Niebuhr regarding Christ and culture. There’s Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture. What many pastors claim to be advocating today is the last option: Christ transforming culture. It sounds great, doesn’t it? It sounds like the gospel is doing its work. The problem is that it is not always personal. The shift from personal evangelism to an impersonal “engaging the culture” oftentimes leaves the gospel out of the mix. It is parallel to the social gospel (and in many cases is equal to it) of the old liberal stream. Theoretically it is Christ transforming culture. Functionally, it winds up being the Christ of culture.
The other problem is this: all non-Christian culture is fundamentally idolatrous. All too often, “engaging the culture” is a euphemism for “caving in to the culture.” I am not for a moment claiming that culture always produces bilge. There are a myriad of great works of art out there, fashioned according to the gifts of common grace. They can and should be appreciated. I am referring to more problematic phenomena, like using movie clips as the text of the sermon. Surely, in that case, we have substituted man’s words for God’s words. I suggest that those who are so enamored of culture that they are yogurt need to step back for a moment and ask the tough questions: is this phenomenon I am studying really conducive to evangelism, personal holiness, progress in the Christian walk? Or am I merely using this “engaging culture” mantra as a smokescreen to disguise my own idolatrous fascination with an idolatrous culture? Am I using the mantra “engaging culture” to mask, disguise, and even justify my own sinful propensities?
Most of the time that I see this, I also see someone who is soft on sin. They will typically redefine sin so that what they are doing (conveniently enough) doesn’t fall under the Bible’s strictures. They become functional antinomians.
Now, let us not throw the Christian-in-culture baby out with the idolatry bathwater. Should Christians, in their various fields of art and science seek to produce that which is Christian in those fields? Undoubtedly. Alas that Reformed folk fall so far short of doing these things, most of the time. There are always exceptions. However, one could wish that there were more great Reformed artists, sculptors, musicians, and scientists that would produce work that is Reformed, bringing glory to God. Again, it is not common grace that I am arguing against, nor a Christian’s desire to produce works of art that I would in any way hinder. Rather, it is the sinful fascination with the idolatrous culture that I am seeking to expose.