Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Bible vs. Culture

One of my hero’s of the Bible is a rough and ready character named Paul who was just as comfortable dropping the gloves with you as he was to talk with you. He was scrappy, knew when to pick his fights, and could pick himself up after receiving vicious beatings of his own. What he did not do was curl up in the fetal position like a baby and cry himself to sleep. He was stoned to the point of death, shipwrecked, abandoned by friends, beaten, starved, and yet continued to contend for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In all of this, Paul did what so many Christians and churches do not: he told the timeless story of Jesus in the language, culture, and traditions that people understood and responded to.

Paul was a master communicator who knew both the Gospel story and the stories, symbols, and languages of his particular time and culture. He understood the need to fight and contend for the truth of the Bible while at the same time making the Gospel potent for the people and culture who heard its message. Sadly, in today’s church climate, especially in the Abbotsford Bible Belt, we have churches who will do one or the other – but rarely both.

For example; one church highly values and studies Scripture, conjugates Greek verbs, and fights for the rightness of doctrine like a pack of angry stray dogs fighting over who gets to eat that annoying cat from next door. These churches often pride themselves on being ‘separated from the world’ and will go to great length to ensure that their moral value is placed on you. Additionally, these people drink excessive amounts of peach drink and horrible church coffee which only goes to show how disillusioned and depraved they really are.

On the other extreme, we find the church that is very much ‘in the world’ who hold cultural values and notions in highest value over and above Scripture. What tends to happen with these churches is that they will jump on the cool, hip, and trendy bandwagon in an attempt to attract you to their version of church, sadly, often at the expense of Scripture. These churches, if they’ll fight for anything, fight for tolerance and culturally accepted practices that offend no one but a few strays from the other church. Thankfully, what these guys do have going for them are apple computers, indie rock, yerba mate, and well mixed hops.

The problem that often polarizes these churches is the question of “What do we do with Bible and Culture?” One group responds with heavy handed Biblical arguments while being about as culturally savvy as a redneck in a suit. The other group reacts by being so indwelt by culture that there is little room left for the indwelling of Scripture in their lives. It is to this question that I think the church can learn much from Paul.

Paul, repeatedly throughout the New Testament Scriptures, speaks to particular language, cultural, and people groups in ways that make the story of Jesus both accessible and understandable. What Paul does not do, however, is make the message ‘seeker-sensitive;’ instead, he maintains the weighty content of the gospel while making it ‘seeker-intelligent’ so that non-Christians can wrestle with the full significance of the gospel in the metaphors, language, stories, and experiences that are most familiar to them. This is the task of the missionary whether it be to Punjabi Indians, suburban Abbotsford families, or the hip kids who hangout at EA. As Christians, we must take on the mindset of ‘missionary,’ learning both the language, culture, custom, and traditions of the Bible as well as those of our particular culture. We do this so that we can most effectively communicate the timeless and unchanging story of Jesus in ways that are culturally appropriate and Biblically accurate.

Fight well my friends.