POSTED ON MARCH 28, 2012:
Reject, Receive, Redeem: Part 2
How religion navigates culture in the postmodern milieu
This is part two of a two-part series on how the church should interact with culture.
"We're looking for redemptionIt was hidden in the landscapeOf loss and love and fire and rainNever would have come this wayLooking for redemption"
--"Redemption" by Jars of Clay
In the first part of our series, we looked at two of the three approaches religion should have towards culture . First, there are things in society that Christians should reject (see Exodus 20). Second, there are things in culture that the church can receive (see Jeremiah 29). Today, we look at a third approach.
What do we do with things in culture that we don't have to outright reject but also can't just receive as-is? There is a third alternative we can enact. We can take things we find in society -- things misused or abused -- and redeem them.
Pastor James Harleman says, "...the Gospel of Jesus Christ restores a Christian's worldview, enabling someone who lives for Jesus to engage culture and reject, receive, or redeem it for God's glory." The latter is the theme of this column.
In Acts 17 of the sacred Scriptures, we find God sending Paul to Athens to do this very thing. As Paul enters Athens, it says, "His spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols."
Just like Paul, a first step in knowing what needs redemption begins with looking at what our culture worships. Athens offered a home to every imaginable mythical god in existence and Paul's heart was broken for their misguided worship.
For our time, this can be a bit more challenging. A fair amount of our culture's gods are overt, but many are less discernable. Pastor and author Tim Keller says, "Each [society] has its shrines -- whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios, or stadiums -- where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster." As we open our spiritual eyes in our culture like Paul, we soon unearth what Keller claims -- idolatry is everywhere.
As Paul made his way through the city, soon thereafter the Athenian philosophers brought Paul to the Aeropagus (also known as Mars Hill). This was a rocky knoll named after the Roman god of war and was a place for the philosophers of that time to oversee the teaching in the city.
In an amazing turn of events, Paul quickly finds himself in the preeminent conversational portal in the city of Athens. In our culture, that would be like our news stations, movie theaters, and talk radio stations, as well as social networking hot spots like Twitter and Facebook. And standing in the midst of Mars Hill, Paul does not relent. He begins speaking to those gathered there and said, "Men of Athens..."
This introduction was no accident. Paul uses a phrase from one of the city's greatest philosophers, Plato, and his famous work, Apology, to open his address. He then creatively quotes Amenities, one of their famous poets, from 600 BC and then cites Eratos from 300 BC.
Do you see what Paul is doing here? He goes to their place, speaks their language, and puts his argument together in their form. This is Paul's modus operandi in the first part of his discourse -- taking connection points from their culture and infusing it with the truth claim of Jesus. This is an example of redeeming culture from within.
Beginning in verse 29, Paul makes a significant shift from connecting with the culture to a main theme also found in the book of Jude: contending for the faith. In Jude, verse 3, it says, "I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Contending for the faith and delivering the message of Jesus in forms individuals can understand - this is what Paul is doing on Mars Hill.
Notice Paul says, "...he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." Who's "him?" It's Jesus. He's talking about the resurrection of Jesus. He's talking about the gospel. When we illuminate Christianity in a way that's culturally comprehensible, we have to make sure that we defend the peculiar truth found in the Bible about Jesus and the historic Christian faith.
Though this is a small sample size, what Paul illuminates for us in Acts 17 is the process of cultural redemption. He goes to their place -- he doesn't expect them to come to him. He speaks their language -- he doesn't speak colloquial "christianeze." He puts his argument together in their form of understanding -- he doesn't speak over or under them. He quotes their culture's spokespersons -- he believes that society's expressions of art have some intrinsic value. He contextualizes the Gospel -- he expresses the message of Jesus in a form they could comprehend. He contends for the faith -- he doesn't shy away from telling them the truth about their sin but also tells them about the death and resurrection of Jesus that secured for us forgiveness for our sin.
So where are the spheres we are called to be agents of redemption in? Where are our Mars Hill's? We do not have to look any further than the places we live, work, and play. We must ask ourselves "How does God want the rhythm of gospel-bearing to get through me to others?
But we must also go a level deeper. We must wrestle with the ways in which we can redeem the moving parts inside of those spheres -- things like our schedules, our entertainment, our celebrations, our ethics, and our rest.
When we bring the gospel to bear on our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our recreation spaces, our concert halls and artist galleries, and ultimately, our cities, we are taking what was once fragmented in our society and allowing Jesus to heal and redeem what has been wrecked by the fall (Genesis 3). Pastor and author Jonathan Dodson says this happens when "we...run them through redeeming grace in the service of God. We learn how to worship with them not without them." Redemption never sounded so good.
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