Thursday, February 18, 2010

Should Christians be Involved in Shaping Culture?

Tim Keller takes a stab at that hot-button question in this short article. The article's main focus is to develop a Christian way of thinking about work. I found the first paragraph to be especially insightful and challenging:

I am often asked: “Should Christians be involved in shaping culture?” My answer is that we can’t NOT be involved in shaping culture. To illustrate this, I offer a very sad example. In the years leading up to the Civil War many southerners resented the interference of the abolitionists, who were calling on Christians to stamp out the sin of slavery. In response, some churches began to assert that it was not the church’s (nor Christians’) job to try to ‘change culture’ but only to preach the gospel and see souls saved. The tragic irony was that these churches were shaping culture. Their very insistence that Christians should not be changing culture meant that those churches were supporting the social status quo. They were defacto endorsing the cultural arrangements of the Old South.



  1. Larry -

    The article covers a lot of good topics. I think I'm a bit concerned about the motivation Keller uses for cultural renewal. More specifically, I disagree with the statement "The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good."

    I would say "The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to show them Jesus Christ". Out of Christ flows our motivation to serve others and provide for the good of others. Looking to a definition of "common good" as a motivation is shaky at best. That definition can't even be agreed with amongst Christians. Looking at Christ provides a model of how we should change culture. How did Christ engage sinners? How did he engage the rich? The poor? What did he say about taxes? About marriage? When we examine His ways, its natural to live a redeemed life - because the Redeemer modeled it for us.

    We recently examined this in our Bible study on Romans 12. The attributes of a true Christian are marked by examples that Christ portrayed to us. Yet in some aspect, they all show us how Christ treated others while on this Earth. Everything goes back to him. I hope that we can keep it there!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Matt. I also did a bit of a double-take when I read that sentence about serving the common good. But after thinking about it, I think maybe you and Keller are closer on this than you might think.

    Of course I don't know, it would be nice to ask Keller himself about it! But when he says, "The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good," I don't think he's talking about our motivation, but about our method.

    The way Im reading it, Keller is saying that our motive in "cultural renewal" is showing people the truth of Christianity, which most basically means showing people the person of Jesus Christ. I think you're both saying the same thing, you're just using the name Jesus Christ, and he's using the phrase "the truth of Christianity".

    According to Keller, serving the common good is not the motivation for anything, it is the METHOD of showing people Christ. Now you may disagree with him on that point. You may think that there are other ways to show Christ, or you might want to see him explain more specifically what he means by serving the common good.

    But I think if there is a disagreement it is about the method for showing people Christ, not the motivation for it. I am pretty sure Keller is so interested in serving the common good because it's, in his words, the most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity, ie. Jesus Christ. So for both of you (and me!), the motivation is the same: show people what Christ is like. How do we do that most powerfully? Keller says it's through serving the common good, which will open the door and authenticate the words that we speak about Christ.

    Am I making any sense?

  3. It should never be the goal of Christians to change culture. We should preach Christ and live our lives in a way that brings glory to God. Living our lives might mean opposing sin in society, defending the weak and helpless, and so on. When people see our good works, and our effectiveness, they will glorify God, willingly or not. Any change that occurs in the culture as a consequence will not be our doing, but God Himself working in the culture to change hearts and minds. It is only when hearts and minds are changed that cultural change will occur.

    We must remember that we cannot change anyone. Only God can change the heart, and the heart must be willing to accept the change that God is willing to give. That is why cultural change is so frustating for Christians because we mistakenly believe that we are the ones changing people, and get impatient when people do not change. Remember, not everyone will change, but we still tell the truth so that no one can say they never heard. Let he who has ears to hear, hear.

    This is one of the reasons why I am not afraid to comment on so-called 'liberal' websites and blogs. There is no way am I going to let people just hear only one worldview. People need to hear alternate worldviews that may be counter-cultural, but that is needed for full disclosure of truth. Diversity of views is such an important need in public dialogue. When only one worldview prevails, oppression and persecution are sure to follow (and that includes even just one type of Christian worldview).



  4. Let me just add that the abolition of slavery was not a cultural change brought about by man. It was a movement where God moved upon the hearts of the abolitionists to bring about change and reform, and their efforts was met with success because God had pre-determined their success. The same was true of the civil rights movement, etc.

    In our efforts to effect change in culture and society, Christians need to be aware of what God is doing in the culture, and join with Him - not try to find OUR OWN causes and then ask God to help us IN OUR efforts. We are sure to fail if we work at cross-purposes or counter-culturally to what God is doing. Learn what the will of God is, and follow that!

  5. Hi Larry -

    Thanks for the response. Tried to think about this a bit. I'm sure we'd agree on the motivation for sure. Method is tough. Being in a workplace and city 40 hours a week makes one think long and hard about how Christianity should play itself out in unredeemed culture.

    I just think that in order to keep method going, the motivation must be Christ. I know in the pit of my heart, that unless I strive to make Christ known in all things, my methods will me corrupt indeed!


  6. Hey Matt,

    Again, I think Keller would give you a hearty Amen to that last comment! His ministry, of course, is located in a city and he's very passionate about seeking the good of that city. He's done a lot of thinking about how Christianity works itself out in the city.

    Here's an audio talk he did in his church a few years ago about cultural renewal. I have not listened to it myself, and you and I may disagree with some of his thoughts. But my guess is that you'd find listening to it and thinking it through to be enjoyable: