One of the most controversial topics in Christianity today is “Culture and Christianity.” How are Christians supposed to appropriately engage the culture with the gospel? The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” but unfortunately, many churches do not fulfill this calling. While some fail to reach out to the unsaved around them, others leave the gospel behind in their attempt to attract the culture. Christians must not be apathetic to the current state of the lost, yet we must also be wise in our approach to making disciples.
Our world is fallen. Our nation (and every nation) is fallen.The current state of culture in America is bad and only getting worse. We do not need to look very far outside our homes to see people who are driven by self-motivation, pleasure, relativism, and power. What an incredible opportunity for the gospel of Jesus Christ!
THIS IS MY PASSION! I love the idea of meeting people where they are with the truth. Let us go out to the world and declare the excellence of the gospel. It is by the power of the gospel that God can change a generation’s, and even a nation’s, corrupt heart. It is in the midst of this wretched culture that people will realize their great need for a Savior.
But how do we go about engaging the depraved culture around us?
There are so many extremes within “Christianity” that it can be hard to see the biblical approach. On one side, we have the “do nothings.” These are the people that know all the theology and doctrine, but they don’t love people enough to go out and proclaim it. Not realizing their own selfishness, they become comfortable with their own “church culture” and fail to meet the gospel need of the unsaved. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the “ear ticklers.” Trying to be welcoming, they become just like the culture and tend to compromise the truth in the process. Their goal is to offend no one, and they use the gospel as a means to gain status or power.
Neither of these people is living by a biblical model of the church. One refuses to evangelize to the lost, thereby not obeying the great commission. The other compromises God’s priceless word in order to please men, may it never be! I believe the Bible gives us clear examples of how to “engage the culture.” We can look at the life of one of the most well known evangelists, the apostle Paul.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
Paul’s attitude toward the lost was that of service. He engaged people in the culture in which they were living and served them in a specific way. He became like a Jew to serve the Jews. In the same way, he became like a Gentile to serve the Gentiles. Why does Paul do this? Why would he serve non-believers in this way?
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessing. (1 Corinthians 9:23)
He desires that they might be saved! He does all of it for the sake of the gospel. This should be our heart and motivation. We should want to serve non-believers in whatever way possible in order that they may come to know Christ.
Now this may sound to you a lot like the “ear tickling” that we were talking about earlier. But, are we commanded by Paul to compromise the truth in order to please the hearer? By no means! Look at what Paul says in 2 Timothy:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. (2 Timothy 4:1-3)
Obviously, Paul had strong convictions on the preaching of sound doctrine. He didn’t compromise the truth in his evangelism, and he commands us not to compromise either. But what does that actually look like?
How does Paul engage the culture without compromising truth?
In Acts 17, we see that Paul went into the Jewish synagogues in Thessalonica. Paul went to the Jewish unbeliever in his territory; he used the Scriptures to engage their culture with biblical truth. Later, in that same chapter, we see Paul conversing and reasoning with Athenian philosophers. Paul familiarized himself with their thoughts and culture in order to reason with them better. He even quoted some of their own “poetry” to help explain biblical truth.
We learn several things from Paul’s example. First, we need to familiarize ourselves with the current state of culture. In order to preach and teach the gospel effectively, we should be familiar with what the sinner is thinking. We can use aspects of culture in order to apply the truth to the life of the non-believer. Jesus sometimes used this method in his teaching. He used illustrations and parables to relate his teaching with current cultural norms.
Second, we need to go out and be willing to meet the sinner where he is. Paul didn’t wait for the sinner to come running to him. He went to the synagogues and he went to the town square. He went anywhere and everywhere that he could in order to share the gospel with the lost. We are commanded to do the same: ”Go into all the nations” (Mk 16:15, Matt 28:19, Acts 1:8).
Lastly, we need to be patient. Even the apostle Paul had to remind himself and others to be patient when teaching the truth. The sinner does not always respond to the gospel the first time he hears it. I know that I didn’t. Our job is to plant the gospel seed and depend on God to cause the growth. Only He can change the hearts of a depraved culture – we are merely his messengers.