Thursday, September 28, 2006

Redeem, Reform or Remove

I have heard lately much talk about “redeeming culture”. What I often hear from this is that because we are to take culture and redeem it, or make it acceptable, we can then take what a culture deals out and make it Christian. My question is whether that is truly our mandate since simply because a culture does something are we to redeem it or make it acceptable to God? I speak of this as it relates to the church as a body of regenerate people and not to an organization. While the legislation of morality can help society it can not be changed unless the hearts of that society are changed. So, when I speak of culture I speak of the people of God who live within culture and what they do with regards to culture.

Is it not possible that we are to work at reform (which is what some probably mean by redeem) or even work at removing aspects of culture from the life of the church? I am not here advocating what those things are but to simply ask if we are to redeem all of what culture provides us. The truth is I see much of culture coming from sin rather than from God. My biblical reasoning for this is that we often see culture revolving around languages and peoples. If we go back to the Tower of Babel we see that God confused the languages and in many senses created these cultures. But, we must remember that the reason for this change, or confusion of languages and thus culture, was due to the sin of the people. We can then see at least that some aspects of culture are a result of sin.

Now I realize that culture is a loaded word since even in the Garden before sin there was what may be called culture and in heaven there will be some form of culture. I do not think there is clear biblical evidence that in heaven there will be multiple cultures as Mark Driscoll has said. His reasoning is that since there will people from every tribe tongue and nation there will be every kind of culture but this is a big leap for me. Just because there will be all kinds of people in heaven does not mean there will be all kinds of culture. Simply because there will be differing languages reconciled to God and in heaven does not necessarily mean we will speak those languages there. While we may do I am not convinced that scripture is clear that this is how heaven will be.

This whole idea of redeeming culture leads churches to change everything they do to look like the culture but to Christianize it and in the end the culture subsumes the church and not the reverse. I actually do not know exactly where I stand on this with regards to many parts of culture but I just think that we do have to ask ourselves before we just jump into trying to redeem, or clean up, an aspect of culture if we should work at ridding ourselves of those aspects.

None of this relates to communicating the Gospel in understandable language depending on the prevailing culture. But this is a far cry from also assuming the culture. People use all kinds of words when they speak of this such as contextualize and such but all too often it simply means we are to look like the world and some how Christianize what we do. Again this is all a work in my head but I am just concerned that too many, even so called conservatives, in an effort to reach a dying world begin to look like the dying world. We are so worried about looking out of place that we seek the world’s means to accomplish God’s work.

So the end result of all of this is that I advocate looking hard at scripture to see what it says not simply about a certain aspect of culture but about that aspects effect on the church and the world and then ask if that aspect of culture should be redeemed, reformed or even removed from the life of the church (the church as the body of regenerate believers and not a building). There is for sure a danger of legalism in this but that should not be a hindrance to us obeying God. If one stays cross centered I think legalism can be kept at bay. Our goal should be to glorify God and that will in many cases lead to hard decisions for the believer when it comes to culture but being a believer is never said to be easy. If it was easy we would try and do it ourselves but instead we are forced to rely on the Holy Spirit for the power to do what God desires us to do. I firmly believe that one can do this, deal with culture, and not remove themselves from the world so as to be the light we are called to be.


RevyRev said...

I tend to agree with your concern. The concept of "redeeming culture" is vague. I'm sure churches or movements can use it to go to far to try to make Jesus acceptable, the church palatable, and the gospel easy to accept.

I think it is clear that some things in culture are neutral, others have to be rejected and confronted with truth. It is only the redeemable aspects of culture that churches should consider redeeming.

Tony, I agree that in the narrative of the city of Babel that the was implicit sin. But are you suggesting that God's response to scatter people and confuse languages is a curse?

My understand is that God essentially did what people refused to do... i.e. scatter and multiply. Instead they gathered together in a godless city. God essentially forced them to scatter, subdue the earth and of course they made culture. Paul in Acts 17 seemed to imply this as a good thing --that people might search for God and find Him. That doesn't sound like a curse. And if what we mean by culture.

furthermore, i have a hard time believing that God would focus on redeeming people from every tribe, tongue, language and nation if indeed God doesn't receive more glory from it.

The part of culture that should be redeemed are the mediums of the culture. The easiest example of this is corporate worship music.

Some of the old hymns are set to tunes that when played on a piano sounds like carnival music too me. I used to think it is my problem that I'm not spiritual enough to appreciate God when godly hymns are sung. I'm not saying that is bad. But i am saying that if you are going to use music, you have to use music that expresses the heart of the culture of those with you. Some of our Reformed brothers say that such tunes or styles invoke a sense of the holiness and majesty of God. But I just feel like we stole a tune from the ice cream truck.

Other "contemporary" worship sounds like slow ballad love songs. I have a hard time singing to Jesus to songs that remind me of highschool prom.

I'm not saying we should change anything. I'm only giving a very simple example of redeeming culture. How do you feel if we brought rich gospel centered theology to hip-hop, Rap, screamo, Emo, Punk, etc.

I don't think you are degrading worship or the church if you have a punk sound to worship... i really don't. Some people may associate Punk with rebellion, just like I associate hymn tunes with carnival music. We might not agree on what sound best exalts Christ in corporate worship, but then again we might be different.

so what do you think?

Tony said...

Hi Dave:

My whole thought in this post was to bring up that we need to think more critically about how we deal with culture. I am sure I do not have the answer but I do desire to ask the right questions. I hope that came across but as with anything, when we write it can sometimes be viewed differently than the one writing intended.

Here are my thoughts on your excellent questions:

1) I am not saying the confusing of languages was a curse but the result, due to man’s already inherent sinful nature, was to sin within the new languages. The scattering was not a curse but was done to spread God’s name and make God the centre of worship not man. However as man always sees to do we still attempted keep man the center of worship. So my intention was to say that the confusion of languages, due to the sin already in man, led to the sin of cultures that still focused on man and not God. Therefore we need to be very careful when dealing with aspects of culture. Does that make sense?

2) I do believe God gets glory from redeeming people from every tribe tongue and nation and does probably get more glory, if God can get more glory, from this than simply from a single group.

3) The issue of music is always a hard one because we have our own likes and dislikes. We also have our own associations so that when we hear certain music we hear, as you do carnival music. Where we have to be careful is that we use a medium of music simply because a culture desires it without question if that is a correct stance or not. I do think that music, not the words, is not necessarily amoral. The reason for this is that certain types of music can produce response in the body with out any words present. This may be a cultural thing or a biological thing I am not sure. For example I have heard what has been called Christian heavy metal or other music that has an angry sound (that is what I hear). To me this is problematic but again that could be just me. Bottom line on music is that we need to be careful that we do not simply make music in the sound of the day because it is “culturally relevant” as that may not be as God honoring as it should be. Simply because a group enjoys a certain sound, whether it be rap, punk, ska, or even very mellow music does not necessarily mean it should be used. I have heard of, and wish I could remember where I read it, that some people who became Christians in a country like Africa were concerned that the music that was used did not bring about memories of their old ways and practices. So in their case the music they were used to could be a problem. Since scripture is not really clear about the sound of music we need to make sure that the emotions and thoughts that are created by the music are God honoring.

By the way I like lots of kinds of music but I am not sure that all kinds of music are appropriate for corporate worship. It is interesting that the issue of music is many times more contentious than even theology. I think this is in part because of the strong emotions that music, with or without words, brings out in people.

I hope this all makes sense. One of the good things about things like blogs is that one can write down ideas and work through them. So bottom line is that we need to critically evaluate what we do in light of scripture with the goal of glorifying God and to not simply in the name of reaching a culture assume its distinctive. We may in the end do so but not before we make sure that the results are not harmful to the believer and above all making sure they are God honoring.

RevyRev said...

The worship music thing is a whole other can of worms. We don't have to go into that. But i would say i agree with your concerns about what the music means to people.

I would offer the stance that If some punk rocker God converted, started reading his Bible, got a solid theology, and began expressing worship through that kind of genre of music i would rather trust my brother that it is acceptable to God rather than make my own judgments about if it irreverent or not.

My sense is that the whole impulse of redeeming culture is simply bringing some missiological considerations to churches and church planting in the US. That is the trend today... it could be good... it could be bad. The idea is that when a missionary enters a culture there are bridges, barriers, and channels. You use appropriate channels to communicate the gospel, bridges connect the gospel, barriers are confronted with the gospel. I think that only bridges to a biblical worldview can be redeemed.

The place where it gets controversial is how far do we apply own missiology to the sub-groups in THIS country. We have no problem converting some Africans to Christ, gathering them together in an indigenous church, teaching them the Bible and having them sort out corporate worship style, how to best do church discipline in their own cultural setting... etc.

But when it comes to reaching diverse segments in the U.S. that is where people start having problems... and understandably so.

I think this is because the culture and language isn't THAT different here. We speak the same language, we live in the same country, we share many of the same experiences. It is difficult to think that missiology can apply "culture" differences that don't include language and heritage.

My question is, do we reject being culturally relevant in whole or in part? And if in part, what part? That is the missiological question.