This is the fifth installment of my comments on Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll. I think chapter 4, entitled “Elvis in Eden,” provides a lot of practical thoughts to mull over as we attempt to build the Kingdom of God. Particularly, it is focused on culture and making decisions about living in it.
Understanding Culture – Theirs and Ours
Most people are as unaware of their cultural assumptions as they are of their bad breath, because it is so familiar to them.
Because of my own postmodernity, I have read a lot about the postmodern cultures. Over the years, I have explored this topic with great interest. It seemed to me like the religious world that I lived in was somehow divorced from the world it flowed through. We had our own culture, complete with a language and vocabulary that was quite distinct. While many of the leaders I knew would propose that the differences were because we believed in the Bible and God, I saw something else at work.
So when I read this chapter, I was very much aware of much that has been written about cultures. What I think makes Driscoll’s attitude unique is that rather than seeing culture as something we study for the purpose of reaching people, he sees culture as something we have too. He does not elevate the “church culture” above the “world culture.” Instead, he understands that the church has a culture as well. Cultures often conflict, so if we are to effectively reach people in another culture (called “cross-cultural ministry) we must understand our own culture and the culture we are reaching. As much as possible, we must live in “their” culture.
As I have written before, many church cultures are really frozen periods from our history. We need to see this for what it is and reject it in favor of redeeming the cultures active in our world today.
Living in Culture
We must embed ourselves in a culture and develop friendships with lost people so that we can be informed and avoid making erroneous judgments…We must then evaluate our findings in the light of Scripture to measure how faithful we are being to God.
I think the biggest distinction between Driscoll and most of the preachers of postmodernity is his commitment to God’s Word. He does not just use the Bible as a springboard to justify his particular agenda – whether it is social or theological. As Driscoll points out often in the book, this kind of thinking leads to an unbalanced thinking.
We should not be inviting the world into our culture but rather living in theirs. This is dangerous if we do not first, foremost and always evaluate the culture in light of Scripture.
A corollary to this is that we must preach and know the Bible as the relevant Word of God. It is not some relic we worship and revere but rather it is the living speech of God himself. Fleshed out in Jesus and interpreted by the Apostles, the Bible is the essence of our being.
This is true no matter what your persuasion is. If you believe the Bible is static, immoveable and frozen in a time period then you will be static, immoveable and frozen. If you view the Bible as just a pool of verses to draw on to justify certain beliefs, then you will justify your beliefs using anything. But if you it is the living, moving Word of God then you will be living and moving, actively engaged in your mission and culture.
Changing for Communication
Reformission churches have to continually examine and adjust their musical styles, websites, aesthetics, acoustics, programming, and just about everything but their Bible in an effort to effectively communicate the gospel to as many people as possible in the cultures around them.
Change for the sake of change is just…change. Many ministries have adopted paradigms and methodologies because they were cool and hip or they were successful in certain situations. Rarely do Christian leaders consider their audience (culture) properly. Instead, they view them as consumers to which they must sell religion. Many times, what they do is marketing, not ministry.
In contrast, we must view the communication of God’s Word as our first priority. Everything else is just media through which we communicate the Gospel. Language, music, aesthetics, dress, style – these are all simply modes. What matters is the message.
Now, the message teaches us that some modes are wrong. We do not use coercion or slavery to get people to follow the gospel because they are contrary to the gospel. In this light, we must ask ourselves some hard questions about cultural decision-making.
Biblical Principles for Cultural Decision-Making
In answer to all of the questions about culture, Driscoll presents us with a series of Biblical principles we can apply when confronted with activities that are not specifically mentioned in Scripture.
- Is it beneficial to me personally and to the gospel generally (1 Cor. 6:12)?
- Will I lose self-control and be mastered by what I participate in (1 Cor. 6:12)?
- Will I be doing this in the presence of someone I know will fall into sin as a result (1 Cor. 8:9-10)
- Is it a violation of the laws of my city, state, or nation (Rom. 13:1-7)?
- If I fail to do this, will I lose opportunities to share the gospel (1 Cor. 10:27-30)?
- Can I do this with a clear conscience (Acts 24:16)?
- Will this cause me to sin by feeding sinful desires (Rom. 13:13-14)?
- Am I convinced that this is what God desires for me to do (Rom. 13:5)?
- Does my participation proceed from my faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:23)?
- Am I doing this to help other people, or am I just being selfish (1 Cor. 10:24)?
- Can I do this in a way that glorifies God (1 Cor. 10:31-33)?
- Am I following the example of Jesus Christ to help save sinners (1 Cor. 10:33-11:1)?
These are worthwhile questions. In fact, they are vital questions that we must ask and ask and ask if we are to be relevant to our culture. You may notice that they are drawn primarily from Romans and 1 Corinthians. These books deal specifically with communicating the gospel to a culture and the dangers therein. (Which is why we are teaching through 1 Corinthians at the church right now.)
What Is Our Standard of Righteousness?
People must compare themselves with Jesus to see their sin.
The last part of this chapter was spent in a discussion of the human condition. What Driscoll really boils the situation down to is that when we see ourselves in the light of Jesus’ righteousness, we realize just how depraved we really are. It is only through this knowledge of Jesus that we can know ourselves and see the sin in our culture as sin.
Many religious movements compare our postmodern culture with other cultures and judge righteousness based on culture rather than Jesus. There is only one standard for righteousness – and he is acultural; he transcends cultural differences.
We are not called to righteousness or moral uprightness. We are called to Jesus. We are not called to doctrinal purity or pop culture. We are called to Jesus. We are not called to reinterpret Jesus. We are called to see him, perhaps for the first time, through the Gospels. Commit to follow the Jesus of the Bible and you will be right. Follow the Jesus of the Bible and your doctrine will be true. See Jesus, walk with Jesus, live like Jesus.
We sum it up this way:
- Love Jesus – because when you love him, you learn about yourself and others and learn to love people right
- Hate Sin – because seeing Jesus’ righteousness, you’ll want to live like him
- Trust the Bible – because it tells us what to believe and do