The following are my speaking notes from a breakout at Unleash 2012 entitled Balancing Cultural Relevance & Biblical Truth.
Christians Communicating With Their Culture
From the book Escape from Reason (1977)
by Francis Schaeffer
There are two things we need to grasp firmly as we seek to communicate the gospel today, whether we are speaking to ourselves, to other Christians or to those outside. The first is that there are certain unchangeable facts, which are true. These have no relation to the shifting tides. They make the Christian system what it is, and if they are altered, Christianity becomes something else. This must be emphasized because there are evangelical Christians today who, in all sincerity, are concerned with their lack of communication, but in order to bridge the gap they are tending to change what must remain unchangeable. If we do this we are no longer communicating Christianity, and what we have left is no different from the surrounding consensus. But we cannot present a balanced picture if we stop here. We must realize that we are facing a rapidly changing historical situation, and if we are going to talk to people about the gospel we need to know what is the present ebb and flow of thought-forms. Unless we do this the unchangeable principles of Christianity will fall on deaf ears. And if we are going to reach the intellectuals and the workers, both groups right outside our middle-class churches, then we shall need to do a great deal of heart` searching as to how we may speak what is eternal into a changing historical situation. It is more comfortable, of course, to go on speaking the gospel only in familiar phrases to the middle classes. But each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.
My goal today is not to make a statement (about what you/your church should do) but offer an observation (about WHY we do what we do), which I hope helps us all maintain a healthy balance on how we live out being IN and not OF the world.
My hope is that we all see more clearly the ‘whys’ behind our ‘whats’ as we plan and execute our church services.
The message of the Bible is and will always be as relevant as you need to be.
To be clear: Truth needs no ‘balance’ it simply needs to be proclaimed, but how we proclaim it in our culture does matter… I believe.
So: we don’t ‘balance’ culture & truth… we ‘leverage’ culture for the truth (or toward the truth)
No matter the time or culture people have a longing to answer three questions:
Where’d I come from? (Origin)
Why am I here? (Purpose)
What happens when I die? (Destination)
These basic & essential questions can only be fully resolved in Jesus.
- All of history & science points to a single source Origin
- Only Jesus points to a purpose that fully connects our Purpose to Origin & Destination
- Only the God of the Bible through Jesus places our Destination in the security of His power & not our Performance (a Christianity exclusive)
- Everyone in every place, time & culture is searching in some way to resolve the questions’s of Origin, Purpose & Destination
- message of redemption through Christ alone w/ always be needed
- the promises of Scripture will know no boundaries – time/culture… or otherwise
Here’s the ‘catch’… people have to hear it to be saved
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (our goal) 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it… does it make a sound?
Scientific American magazine gives a technical answer, “Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound.”
- relevance is not (necessarily) about style; it is about ‘being heard’
– heads nodding in the same direction (Connection)
– ears opening (Context)
– walls falling (Reason)
– truth being proclaimed (Result)
– ultimately, Truth being HEARD
Failure for a church service is to create a lot of ‘vibrations’ but no sound.
So, how can we leverage – our cultural spot – where & when we are – So that we take the Gospel to people and most importantly that it is heard?
2 Great Examples:
1. Paul (Acts 17: 22-34)
Paul Addresses the Areopagus
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god. ’What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Connection – he creates a connection on their terms
Context – he understands where they are & what they believe
Reason – he offers a reasonable argument/explanation for their context
Result – he offers an answer to their real questions & needs
2. Jesus (Matthew 20: 1-16)
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Connection… Context… Reason… Result
I believe we see in this parable and in most that Jesus used, He tries to establish a connection with everyone who is near (not just the religious), He offers proper context so that they know that He knows their situation, He then offers a reasonable explanation for the questions they will ask and finally puts forth a result that answers their objections with God’s truth.
How do we ‘leverage’ being relevant to our culture and true to biblical truth?
- very simply: we make sure the gospel is HEARD so it can be BELIEVED
- we do this the same way Paul & Jesus (and many others) do
- Connection, Context, Reason & Result
How do we try to do this at NewSpring?
- We plan our service to have a specific flow and intentionality that we hope engages outsiders (people who do not normally attend church) and empowers insiders (people who are regular attenders).
Connection (the Arts)
Context (arts & teaching)
Result (only the Holy Spirit)
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. (our culture will initially reject God’s truth)15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (they’re going to be here & use what you give them here… just keep their motives pure & focused)16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (Truth always sanctifies – God won’t let you abuse it for long – & Truth always points to God’s word, namely Jesus)
We are where we are because God placed us here with something specific to do for the church – in every age and context – and it is to reach those around us with the news of Jesus.
To our benefit: “somehow” culture (all cultures) has never tired of Jesus…
– it has tried to re-define
– it has tried to re-purpose
– it has tried to re-claim
But—–> it has never been able to re-move Him
Here is what I have seen to be true, if we offer grace with excellence (not necessarily method or style, but grace and excellence in our method or style) more people will hear the Truth.
Excellence breaks down walls – it removes anything that distracts from who Jesus is and only adds somethng that may get someone to consider who Jesus is and what He, alone, offers.
I love how Phillip Yancey describes a scene that proves this at the end of his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace. You should read this book. He tells the story of an opera singer, Jessye Norman, who closes an outside rock concert with an accapella rendition of Amazing Grace. Even though she didn’t fit into that culture, the power of excellence and grace made a resounding impact. Grace and Excellence penetrates and overwhelms culture. One of the last lines in the book is this, “The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.” (my addition) so they can HEAR it!
I don’t believe we should try to shape culture but use it and if we do this well, culture will change because people are changed… people drive culture, not the reverse.
Culture is simply a reflection of worldview’s that people embrace to support what they believe and do… or even want to believe and do.
This is contrary to biblical truth which shows us that our beliefs should drive our behavior and not our behavior driving beliefs.
So, how are we following Jesus and his example to reach all people – no matter the way – so that some can know him?
Jesus is our only hope and culture is our only place.