What influences the way we think? What shapes the way we live? We all have certain assumptions about the way life is supposed to work. Whether based on the culture around us or our particular upbringing, we each of us enter a situation with certain expectations, assumptions and presumptions about the way the world does or should work and the way people do or should behave. We have thoughts about what is and what is not OK. We might assume that others do (or at least should) share some of these values or basic expectations that allow us all to get along in a decent and proper manner.
You know the great thing about visiting another country (or sometimes studying history) is that you get these presuppositions challenged at every turn. If you allow it, this experience allows you to step back and see how your own behaviors, attitudes and ideas are tied to your culture or particular upbringing. I can’t help but wonder what we as Christians do, say or think that is particularly indicative of our specific culture or upbringing that is influencing us. What things from our culture are influencing us that are un-Christian? What things might influence us that contradict our faith? What things could we be learning from Christians from other time periods or other countries and therefore from other cultures? You see it when you walk into a Christian book-store.
American Christian subculture is particularly interesting. Picture walking into a Christian bookstore. On one hand you might find all the “Christian” art. You know what I’m talking about. Shepherds, sheep, angels, majestic mountains or clouds, pictures of Jesus or anything that fits that “precious moments” category. It all looks like stuff you might find in your grandmother’s house. On the other hand you might find t-shirts where someone has meticulously recreated the mountain dew symbol to say “Jesus Meant-to Die” or something like that. Whether it’s ripping off U2, Angry Birds, Mountain Dew or something else, it begins to look like as Christians all we know how to do is be copy-cats. It seems as Christians we must either create clever knock-offs to worldly icons or have angels, shepherds and sheep as our approved art style.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
When Paul comes to Jesus he goes out into all the world to spread the Gospel. He’s in the world even if he’s not of the world. He doesn’t tell the Corinthians to build a Church with fenced walls. He doesn’t start a monastery. He doesn’t write Christian versions of contemporary songs to give to the Church at Ephesus. He doesn’t make cool “knock-off” Christian slogans for Timothy’s robe. He doesn’t hang out in the synagogues to simply talk about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and how the Church in Philadelphia needs to be more modern (or more “traditional”).
Paul doesn’t spend time in the Church talking about the need for more Christian shows or how the Bible needs to be put into local theaters or how to somehow make billboards with Jesus’ face and words plastered all over them. He talks about the Gospel. He talks about living like Jesus and not just talking about being a Christian. He doesn’t seem so interested in us advertising what we believe so much as incarnating what we believe. He talks about how we need to be transformed in our minds, our hearts and in our lives. What is it we read in Joel? “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” (Joel 2:13) We’re to transform who we are not what we wear or what art we hang in our houses, or what music we listen to or what movies we watch.
For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship–and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)
First let’s not just take the culture around us and purify it. Like taking an R rated Movie and editing it to remove all the “objectionable” content like we’re some kind of Christian rating board. Let’s not live in some sort of Christian-sub-culture bubble attempting to have art, clothing and music that is Jesus-approved. Let’s make original art, unique music and fantastic clothes and sell them in stores that have no religious affiliation. Then, like Paul, let’s use the culture around us to proclaim the gospel. If we use the culture around us for Jesus, let’s use it in such a way as to reach that culture. We might need to roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty. It might mean hanging out with sinners and touching what is “unclean”. Let’s hang out where the world is and introduce them to the Savior and talk about the gospel.