Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 19, 2014

Misdirected Judgment

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church.” St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 5:12

There has been a major shift in American culture in the past few decades. We now live, in what many social commentators label, “Post-Christian America.” John Meecham explains that the label, “Post-Christian is not to say that the Christian God is dead, but that he is less of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory.” (The End of Christian America, Newsweek, April 2009). Most conservatives agree with this assessment. Al Mohler, the President of Southwest Baptist Seminary, notes, “a remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis.”

The challenge for Christians is to figure out how we should respond to this new cultural reality. Andy Crouch suggests that there have been a number of different responses. Many Christians have reacted by condemning culture. A culture war has been waged and there has been an attempt to overpower the opponent and regain cultural power. Other Christians have tried to copy culture. In an attempt to be relevant we have adopted cultural forms and added Christian content to it. Nowadays, Crouch says, a lot of us simply consume culture and go along with the flow.

Crouch argues that our primary posture, however, is to be one of creating and cultivating the values of the kingdom. We are supposed to play offense rather than defense. Instead of reacting to culture or trying to keep up with it, we are called to create and cultivate culture in redemptive ways. We are supposed to live according to a different set of rules so that we might impact culture for the common good.

Crouch, however, makes a distinction between postures and gestures. While our primary posture needs to be one of creativity and cultivation, the other responses to culture can be appropriate gestures. There is a time to condemn aspects of culture that are harmful. When the Nazi party moves to town, you don’t consume or copy it, you stand up against it. There are also times when it is OK to copy culture. Writing music to contemporary music, for example, can help people connect with God. However, none of these gestures should be our primary posture. (You can watch a Crouch’s full presentation by clicking here.)

I have been trying to understand why Christians continue to embrace a posture of condemnation toward culture. It certainly is not biblical. In the New Testament Paul makes a big distinction between how we relate to those inside and outside the church. To those outside the church he says, “what business is it of mine to judge.” To those inside the church, however, he admonishes the Corinthians to hold people accountable. Jesus models the same thing. He is quite harsh when religious insiders go astray. When he sees economic exploitation taking place in the temple he gets angry and turns over tables. With non-believers, however, he begins with hospitality and grace. He eats with tax collectors, and has conversations with prostitutes. Too often, we reverse what we see in the New Testament. We condemn those outside the church instead of shining the light on our own brokenness.

I wonder if the reason why this posture of condemnation is so prominent because we have failed to acknowledge the cultural shift that has taken place. I think a lot of Christians continue to live with the assumption that this is a Christian nation. If this is the case then it would make sense that we would treat everyone like religious insiders. However, if we are living in a pluralistic culture we need to adopt a different posture. In a society where Christianity is not the consensus, our judgment toward outsiders becomes misdirected.

This does not mean, of course, that we abandon our beliefs and give in to pluralism. It also does not mean that we give up on trying to impact society with the values of the gospel. What it does mean, however, is that we have to assume a different posture toward culture. Paul and Jesus recognized that the way to engage a secular culture was to begin with hospitality and grace. Peter admonishes believers to assume a posture of gentleness and respect toward non-believers (1 Peter 3:15). The reason why it is important that our judgment is not misdirected toward outsiders is because it shuts down the conversation. It ends up building barriers toward the very culture we are trying to impact.

I think Andy Crouch offers us a helpful alternative. If we really want to impact our secular culture with the gospel we need to begin by living our lives in a way that create and cultivate the values of scripture.

What do you think?

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