The Cross & Culture

The Cross & Culture July 15, 2013

When thegospel comes into contact with any human culture, which reaction would you sayis most prominent: confrontation or affirmation? Does the gospel primarilyconfront sins, mistaken notions, and misplaced cultural values? Or does itprimarily uphold the strengths, virtues, and commendable aspects of each uniqueculture?

Accordingto Paul’s example in Athens(Acts 17), the gospel does both. Paul both affirms what harmonizes with thegospel and challenges what contradicts it. He commends their conscientiousreligiosity (v 22), uses their own poets to support his points (vv 27-29), andfinds a key point of contact for his message from one of their own monuments (v23). This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, every culture is developed bypeople who are created in the image of God; thus, every culture is going tohave some values and cultural artifacts which reflect dimensions of the gospelstory. In other words, human culture itself is not the enemy. In fact, somedayGod will redeem all cultures and bring aspects of every human culture into Hiskingdom for His glory! (cf. Rev 21:24-26)

But Paulalso shows how the gospel confronts Athenian culture. Specifically, their viewof God is too small. He’s too dependent, too much like them. “No,” Paul says,“The God of the gospel is the Creator of all, Lord of all, above all, independentof all, the Sustainer of all” (vv 24-26, 29). As we should expect, the gospelnever fits perfectly into any culture. Yes, it affirms some things, but italways confronts others. We must have both, because each of these protects usfrom the two key dangers that render our gospel ineffective: irrelevance andsyncretism.

If we neveraffirm, we’ll be irrelevant; we’ll sound shrill and critical andself-righteous. But if we never confront, we’ll be syncretistic, compromisingthe gospel and losing it in the process. Irrelevance leaves us always preachingto the choir, answering questions no one is asking, dying because we aren’tconnected to the culture where the lost people are. Syncretism leaves us toomuch like the culture to make a difference, dying because we are no longerconnected to the source of life and truth.

Mark itdown: if we are more afraid of one danger than the other, we will tend to driftinto the other without even noticing. Our calling is to find the middle pathwhere we avoid both.