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Culture and Church - Open Mike

1 June, 2004 12:09 PM

I've been asked by my Dad to consider a question about the Church and Culture. I'd like to open it up for some discussion here and would value anyone and everyone's opinion.

'I am doing a series of sermons on mission and want this week to put in some material that will help a basically 60's plus congregation to begin to understand the key things happenning in our culture and how we might come to grips with living and speaking the gospel in that context.'

Another way of asking the question is:

'Whats' happening out there in our culture that the church needs to see and hear?'

I've begun to assemble some scattered thoughts (I'll add a few of them below to start the discussion) but would very much value your insights and experience so consider the Mike Open and have your say below. Dad will be reading your thoughts also.

Suspicion of Institutions � We see it in the way people view banks, the government etc � the same is true for the church. People are suspicious of what they perceive as rigid, old and inflexible structures. I suspect that some of the child abuse scandals in the priesthood and issues of who we will and won�t ordain have perhaps effected this.

Sexuality � As a young adults this was one of the biggest reasons I would say that many (most even) of my friends left the church. For most they did not find church to be a place for them to comfortably and naturally talk through issues pertaining to Sex and Sexuality. They saw the church and these issues as mutually exclusive - something I find very sad. Here are some suggestions on how we might move forward on it.

Firstly we need to talk about it more, especially with our young people - most churches barely speak about the topic at all. Secondly perhaps we need to do some good hard theologizing on the topic, not just at a high leadership level but at the grass roots. We may end up with the same positions that we started with but at least we will have a better understanding of the issues that are being faced. Thirdly I think we need to somehow move to a more inclusive position � even if we do not agree with people�s lifestyle choices I suspect that there is room for people in our churches to move towards God as much as their is room for people in our churches who have issues with greed, impatience etc.

The way we learn and communicate is changing � people do not learn by being presented with monologues or rote learning anymore (did they ever?). They are much more interactive, creative and hands on in the way in which they learn and understand issues of life and faith. This has implications for the way in which we teach/preach and do worship.

Consumerism � I am coming to see that consumerism is perhaps the biggest threat/challenge that the church has perhaps ever faced in the West. It is something that has crept into life in more ways than I think we are aware. I�ve seen a number of friends recently do almost complete about faces in terms of their views on their faith and calling and I wonder if it is something to do with the pressures that they feel to conform to the pattern that is laid out for us as how we are �supposed� to live our lives. I know V and I struggle with this one also - the pressure to 'have' is great.

So many people seem to get their idea of self worth from what they own, where they live, what they have achieved and what experiences they have or have not had. Unfortunately the church (or some segments of it) has bought into a lot of this. Sometimes its pretty obvious (prosperity doctrine) but more often than not its very subtle � its in the messages spoken from the pulpit, its in the buildings that we meet in and the wizbang programs that we run. I�m not sure how to tackle this. I�ve even heard one or two people lately suggest that the church SHOULD buy into it on purpose because its such an important part of our culture � I worry when I hear these sorts of statements.

Rise of the �Cultural Creatives� � A number of studies lately have been undertaken that look at a new and very large emerging class of people that are emerging across the West.

They are creative people, very interested in Justice, the Environment but also the Arts, good food and wine etc. They have a conscience but can also be very consumeristic in their own way. They are into experiencing life (which I think is something we need to grapple with more in church) as much (if not more than) gaining knowledge. They like to engage the senses. Most churches do not operate on a level that these people can engage with � many �cultural creatives� would find most of our gatherings very dry as it is non participatory and non sensual.

Churchless Christians � Studies are finding that there are a lot (someone recently estimated 112 million - see last post) of people in the West who profess to be born again Christians with a living expression of their faith in Jesus but who have given up on, not found a home in or have stepped out of church. This is both exciting (reminds me a little of Acts when the church was scattered) but also a little scarey for many Christians who like order, structure and to be able categorize people.

By no means is this an exhaustive list - I've only just started. Please add your thoughts, ideas and experiences below, whether they be big and thought through or short and off the top of your head. Thanks.



one suggestion is to download the quest sampler "The Message" from here http://www.imagexmedia.com this is an american production but is actually very interesting and could open up for some good discussions..

i'll check in later with other ideas *goes to church meeting*

Darren » 1 June, 2004 5:13 PM

What happened to the blogger idol? Is it still going?

» 1 June, 2004 11:59 PM

Re: Consumerism... Read anything by Andy Crouch.

Here's some notes from a talk he gave at our church:


He can be found at ChristianityToday:


timsamoff » 2 June, 2004 2:05 AM

Pluralism The world has become a smaller place due to immigration, jet travel, the Internet, and the spread of entertainment and consumer culture. This means people are exposed to a wide variety of belief systems, and must come to terms with this variety.

The Fall of Christendom Christianity is no longer the dominant cultural voice that shapes and defines society in the Western world.

Jon Reid » 2 June, 2004 3:31 AM

Speaking personally, I don't associate with many 50+ year olds (baby boomers, or older), and the reason is mostly because I find them locked into doctrine and dogma, trying to enforce a method that is disconnected from the Source. My prejudice is based on an opinion that people in this demographic think it is fine for someone to do the right thing, simply because they were taught it is the right thing, living a life dictated by what not to do, bouncing from one seminar to another that pumps them up for a while. There is no method apart from Jesus that has any real life. My connection to The Life is taking me through an understanding of myself, and Jesus, and myself in Jesus that is very revealing and personal. I find it common that older generations are very closed off personally. For instance, don't talk about certain subjects (sex, war, poverty, racism), especially if they have had problems in that area, or if there are different viewpoints. Homosexuality is a good flashpoint discussion topic, and a good example. The common response is to draw a line that delineates 'us and them' very clearly. If you are participating in a homosexual lifestyle, you are clearly 'them', and not a part of 'us'. How about drawing a circle instead that takes them all in, (theres some poem that says that better than i can). God is not threatened by different viewpoints, any more than he is threatened by someone going to Mass, or singing hymns. If your Dad wants an intellectual understanding of modern culture, theres some good books that break it down. Len Sweet is a pretty easy read. Intellectual understanding of the key points won't really communicate it though. The heart of modern culture to me is realism, or anti-phoniness. From a personal standpoint, i am learning to reject all forms of falseness in myself, while trying not to be judgemental about seeing falseness in others (which is much easier, and safer). Speaking or 'living' with someone who has no desire to speak honestly about the personal struggle of falseness creates a gap. To me, that is the dividing point between generations. It's an entirely different starting point, with an entirely different end point in mind. My starting point is my own inner poverty apart from Christ, and the goal to me, is The Life, that is Christ. The hardship is that it is much more pleasing to my ego to disconnect from The Life and take over, and much more flattering to do things calculated for a flattering result. Anyway thats my opinion on the dividing line, and I've met some people (my parents) who break my stereotype. I think what I most wanted to say is that the modern gen is not something to be 'studied' and 'understood' in a clinical sense. Connection is real or it is not, and is based more on internal honesty than compatible culture.

Mark Rickards » 2 June, 2004 9:54 PM

Google's Zeitgeist page always provides interesting insights...
or an Aussie version - http://www.google.com.au/press/zeitgeist.html

Diddle » 3 June, 2004 9:26 AM

Consumerism is heaps hard to deal with, I reckon. I visited my old church, which is a well-known AOG church the other day. I couldn't believe the culture shock it was for me! Every person there was immaculately and expensively dressed, the speaker drove a realy expensive car (and boasted about it in their sermon) - even the mentality of the giving was consumerist in that the people seemed to give more because the 'service' they were getting from their church was exciting, well-packaged, etc. I think the church is great, and it changed my life, so I am not intending to speak against it as a whole, but this attitude of spending on self as a lifestyle was something that really struck me as being discordant with the gospel. I used to struggle with the culture of spending-on-self when I went to that church a few years back - I wanted to fit in with everyone there, but am a simple-living person. I didn't think it was really a God-thing to be spending packet-loads on 'resource' and the latest worship CDs, let alone on myself, which was unfortunately a way of life at my old church.

Michelle » 14 June, 2004 4:41 PM

I was just thinking as I read the comments about the desperate search for "relevance" that seems to have taken hold in a lot of church circles... The idea that christianity is a "marketable product" that must be sold in a culturally relevant way/format to reach this generation.

I'm a 22 year old who is much more attracted to REAL people who genuinely care...who beam with love that can only come through Christ. I don't care what they're wearing, if they have a funky spikey hairdo or a mullet...either is fine!!

The thing is, most of my friends who don't yet know Christ seem to be attracted to the very same. The "context" that we live in has a few big similarities with 2,000 years ago: there's a heck of a lot of spiritually dead people out there and God is offering them the free gift of salvation.

If we want to be culturally 'relevant' then lets be spiritually sensitive first. IT's the only way to cut through the barriers that have been mentioned here with the power of our Living God.

Erin » 23 August, 2004 3:31 PM

Seems to me we (christians) have permitted a chasm to develop within our view of God / life.

If we do not see both as fully integrated, how could we possibly expect either (a) to take an interest in the culture around us, or (b) to actively influence the culture we are -in theory- a part of?

The church (salt and light, right?) is supposed to be of such a nature that it becomes envied by those around it. This is more influential than being envied for your wallet. (remember the Jews who spied out Galatians' liberty?)

Sadly we are often more recognizeable by what we *don't* do than by what we do. We are creating in ourselves a cultural vacuum. We ought to have the greatest thinkers, poets, athletes, scientists, musicians, politicians, Legal authorities, filmmakers (need I say more) on the planet. We have the grace of God, and His Word on our side. We can only lose by default. Too often, we default.

Paul was aware of his audience, and addressed them in language they understood. When he spoke to christians, he relied on the authority of scripture. When he spoke to the heathen, (ie: mars hill) he began with the truths they themselves knew. (unknown god) and walked them through.

This post probably seems disjointed, like I'm arguing two points, but they work together. For all the love we may have or wish to have, it is not enough by itself. Some 'love' their kids into prison by refusing to take a stand.

Also, Christians do not further the cause of Christ by living a spartan life. We are not stoics, we need to be able to laugh, love, eat and sing. We need to be participants in culture, not critics of it.

We could look at groups like the Amish and ask ourselves what their ideals have done to integrate outsiders into the kingdom of God. The rest of evangelical Christianity is often guilty of the same thing, only in a more subtle way. We eschew political involvement. We listen only to 'approved' artists, and accuse believers of selling out if they produce mainstream albums. We have become, in many westen nations, as insular as the church in 1930's Germany, or in 1917 Russia. How can we complain that the pagans are hijacking society if we've handed them the reigns?

Once we have decided to be involved in society, it is necessary to understand it. You NEED to know what movies / musicians / trends are popular in the culture you live in. Why? Because you become informed in what IDEAS are influencing the people you wish to reach.

I have read an excellent book on this topic, by Doug Giles, "Ruling in Babylon". It goes into more detail than a post would allow.

A last point: It is imperative that we know and understand what a Worldview is. Our opponents know very well, and they are busliy trying to integrate the secular worldview into every aspect of culture / government / religion / law / education, etcetera. The more we understand that EVERY aspect of life is affected by our theology, the more seriously we will take this responsibility.

Wes » 26 September, 2004 2:39 PM

I am an American on the West Coast and what I see happening culturally is financial bondage. We have people in so much credit card debt and no way out--consumerism of the worst kind. I do not believe in the prosperity doctrine at all, but I do believe we are to be the head and not the tail, the lender, not the borrower, and the Lord has been showing a small group of us how to help others out of financial bondage--we are a work in progress ourselves and have had our own minds transformed. For the most part we grew up in AOG churches or Charismatic ones that preached if you aren't poor and loving it you aren't Christian and I don't agree with that at all anymore. Nor do I agree with the "gotta have it all" mentaility either. In America, there are so many people in debt that they are so heavy with it and it's making them so needy and I believe this is a HUGE avenue for ministry-- if we can walk through it ourselves--Financial Freedom--

We think it would be great to see people meet Jesus as their sole provider of all their needs.

We also see loneliness a lot here. No one is connecting--everyone is an island to themselves, but they don't want to be anymore--the lie isn't working! Going to where the people are living their lives is essential ie: coffee shops, hiking, sporting, shopping, the marketplace--taking church outside the walls etc.. Jesus did it--it probably will still work!!! LOL!!

I love this site! I love listening to believers all the way across the world going through similar things--what an exciting thing to discover--God bless you!

I love Australia!! God is really moving there and you are allowing Him too!!

Nikkoly Stanley » 25 October, 2004 2:54 PM

Churchless Christians � Studies are finding that there are a lot (someone recently estimated 112 million - see last post) of people in the West who profess to be born again Christians with a living expression of their faith in Jesus but who have given up on, not found a home in or have stepped out of church. This is both exciting (reminds me a little of Acts when the church was scattered) but also a little scarey for many Christians who like order, structure and to be able categorize people.
I believe re-evangelizing those who are philosophically/culturally Christian will be one of the hardest challenges for our generation. CHeck out the barna statistics on what these people believe about Christianity and you come to realize, just maybe, they're not all worshipping the same god.

D. Goodmanson » 15 November, 2004 6:59 PM

I think there is more to the "churchless Christian" than not going to church - it is that we are living in a "post-Christian" society (which also means that Christianity is no longer the dominant voice, or even a valid voice at times). My husband pointed out that it is only recently (and mostly in Western cultures) that it became OK not to be religious, and the religion that people are allowed not to have is Christianity. So there's a kind of "been there, done that" social atmosphere which means that even people who are searching for spiritual meaning tend NOT to look into the Christian church.

It's bit funny really, there is the rise of the New Age (where everything is spiritual) and at the same time a rise of "Scientificism" (reductionism?) which is sceptical (even cynical) of everything which can't be measured and goes with a feeling that science has disproved God. I wonder if this cynicism about the church is related to the cynicism about all authority (especially governments).

The sexuality issue is a big one in three ways that I can think of:

1) the church is seen as hypocritical, teaching abstinence while allowing priests to abuse children (and protecting them from the due process of law without regard for what this means to the victims).

2) The principles the church promotes are seen as unnatural - lifelong fidelity to one person, chosen without a "trial" beforehand, virginity at marriage, etc. Most people think these ideals are not only unachievable but also undesirable.

3) The whole homosexuality problem is seen as intolerant and persecuting - again, symptomatic of the church's image of being keen to point the finger. This is a problem not only for people who question their own sexuality, but also for their friends, families and lots of other people who think that the church should think more about grace than about pinpointing other people's problems.

For myself, as something that doesn't apply to me I also see it as very much none of my business in the spirit of Jesus words to Peter: "What is that to you? You follow me..."


elizabby » 16 December, 2004 11:23 PM

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