Friday, September 12, 2014

Responding to Cultural Change

In light of cultural shifts like the derecognizing of InterVarsity Campus Ministries by Cal State, I
think it is crucial that Christians in the American and Western world give serious thought to their place in a shifting landscape. The recent events with IV are only the latest in what could be a long list of cultural changes going on around and underneath us.  But as one wise man once told me, I am a Christian, therefore I have hope.

These changes are not reasons to grow angry or defensive, but become new and potentially powerful opportunities for Christians to follow Christ with more clarity than before and for the Church to rise up and be the difference it is supposed to be.  I think it is entirely possible that the American church has relied on its cultural position of strength for too long and has thus been caught a bit off its guard as the cultural shift away from Christian values picks up steam. So, to begin with, we need to rethink our relationships with cultural power structures.

This is a massive issue and one that I think deserves a lot of attention, so here are two very quick thoughts.

Christians and Cultural Power
In the past 35 years, conservative Christians have been very active in politics, creating what might be the most influential political movement in that time.  The hope was that movements like the Moral Majority would produce the kind of change in the halls of power that would preserve Christian values and act as a kind of influence on the rest of it.  Its actual effects are debatable.  However, at the same time we have sorely neglected other places of power that turn out to be far more influential than the evangelical world once believed.

The halls of education, from Pre-K to Doctoral Programs, are the cultural canaries of our time.  Do you want to know what lawyers, journalists, and movie producers will be thinking 10-20 years from now?  Take a look at their college curriculum and professors today.

The art world has become a bit of a joke to everyone but those buried within it, in large part because of the loss of transcendent values and the belief in anything beyond this world and immediate experience.  This part of our culture is more influential than many would expect, and needs a re-injection of the beliefs and values that made Western Art beautiful centuries ago.

Whether or not the Christian knows it, within their belief system is the understanding that the Kingdom of God is the most powerful kingdom on earth right now.  That deserves a little explanation.  Most Christians, by virtue of their cultural sensitivities, are under the impression that the things this world calls power are real or actual power. There is no doubt that guns and economic policies wield a certain kind of power in the world, but every time they wield themselves against the Church, the Church wins. The Church, when appropriately dislodged from state powers, does not enforce itself through guns and money.  Yet, when the guns and money of this world are turned against the Church, the state loses every time. How can this happen?

The Church has access to God’s kind of power and when it wields it well, nothing overcomes it. Christians need to learn to have their vision of power changed in order to comprehend and live in the kind of power given to them by God.  Jesus’ disciples once asked him if it was time to restore the kingdom to Israel.  This was a question about earthly power, and full of their expectation that Jesus’ power was of that kind.  His answer is essentially, “God will decide when that kind of power will be unleashed. You will receive power, but not that kind of power.”  He actually said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  They received plenty of power, but none of them filled the halls of government.

Christians and churches will need to readjust their vision of culture and their role within in it while all the props we were accustomed to are pulled out from underneath us. This is not time for panic, but for renewed focus on discipleship and the Kingdom of God among us.

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