How do we engage a culture without being part of the world?

(Tabitha Gallman) #1

I recently stumbled upon the documentary called “The American Jesus” and was appalled at the way Christians were depicted, but then I read an article from the New York Times that was not supportive of the documentary (which gave me hope that all is not bad in the world).

Evangelism is so important and the channels by which we spread the gospel seem to be shifting to the more technical side as opposed to the community outreach that happened in my grandparents day. I’m not talking about “street preaching” evangelism, but day to day living that forced relationships between people, usually out of necessity.

In a world that has become more about pulling away from community, how do we establish relationships with our neighbors without being part of the world?

(SeanO) #2

@tabby68 I would like to encourage you that outreach is still effective, but it may look different. People still thirst for loving community and we can provide that through practicing Christian hospitality. People still want to make sense out of this broken world and Christ is still the answer, but the way we communicate that truth to each individual may be very different. Our society is multicultural and fractured on many levels, so it takes more work to understand the person with whom we are speaking in order to share in a way that they can truly connect with at a heart level.

Both Christians and non-Christians play sports, like to hang out around campfires, go to work every day, discuss the news, start bands - there are lots of ways we can relate to people outside of Church walls and build that community. One thing that has really helped me is something Andy Stanley said:

“Do for the one what you wish you could do for the many.” Andy Stanley

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the needs of people that I forget I am only one person. I may not be able to build relationships with all of the lost people in my neighborhood, but I can build a relationship with one who is similar to me in some ways. I cannot reach every type of person, but I can reach some - and if we all do our best to reach out to those in whose lives we have influence or the ability to gain influence, I think that is a great place to be.

I found this article on how evangelism is changing to be well thought out. In terms of not becoming like the world, I think that requires boundaries. Know where you are willing to go and where you personally will not go because of your convictions. Try to invite unbelievers into your group of Christian friends rather than becoming a lone believer in a sea of people who are going to try to lead you astray. Always say no if it is against your conscience. Some people will decide to quit hanging out with you. That is okay. You are looking for people who are seeking God - who want truth. We cannot rescue those who are actively choosing to walk in the darkness in spite of an awareness of truth.

What specific barriers are you encountering when seeking to build relationships? Have you found any effective ways to overcome any of those barriers?

(Warner Joseph Miller) #3

The best apologetic is a life well lived.” ~ Ravi Zacharias

We need heroes. I mean genuine heroes, authentic men and women who are admired for their achievements, noble qualities, and courage. Such people aren’t afraid to be different. They risk. They stand a cut above. Yet they are real human beings with flaws and failures like anyone else. But they inspire us to do better. We feel warm inside when we think about this rare breed of humanity. The kind we can look up to without the slightest suspicion of deception or hypocrisy. The kind who model excellence when no one is looking or for that matter when half the world is looking.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

What I appreciate about each of those quotes is that they each place a high premium on the effect of a person’s life – well lived and intentional, yet authentic and ground-level – being a method and tool to engage with the world in teaching, preaching, pointing to and bringing them to Christ. In my own experiences, I’m often in contexts where I’m not only one of a few professing Christians but even less EVANGELISTIC Christians. (In my profession, it’s one thing to profess to be a Christian. That’s tolerable. But to be one of those “proselytizing, Bible believing Christians” is a whole nother bag’O’shells!:wink:) Seriously though, I do try to be intentional and vigilant with being available and prepared to verbally communicate the Gospel and my faith in Jesus Christ and to give reason for the hope in me…particularly, in those settings. However, I’ve found that while we (Christians; Jesus-followers) should be ready and willing to engage with verbal Gospel proclamation in whatever way is available at the time, what’s just as important is living that Gospel out consistently and authentically in public. Look, the truth is that – particularly in the Western hemisphere – many non-Christians are aware that Christians go to church, read the Bible and are against this and that. They’ve either grown up in it, around it or know someone who does. However, what many aren’t fully aware of – and is becoming increasingly more and more important to showcase – is what does Christianity look like outside of the four walls of your friendly, local, neighborhood church fellowship. It’s like, “I get what you’re against, Christian, but what are you actually FOR?” “Yes, I get that you’re a Christian but what does your Christianity look like in the workplace, the playground, the lecture hall, the classroom, etc?” “Are you weird, judgemental, passive, mean, ignorant, separatistic, etc?” “What does it look like when someone wrongs you; when the cashier at the supermarket gives you more than you’re owed; when a woman (or man) makes a pass at you (flirts with you); when you have an argument with your spouse; when you succeed or fail at something; in tragedy, suffering and pain; when you’re right and when you’re wrong?” “What does it look like in art, finance, child care, social issues and yes, politics?” “How do you treat your wife, husband, children, family, etc?” “How do you treat me or someone else that disagrees or antagonises you?”

So, to your question “how do we establish relationships with our neighbors without being part of the world?”, I would think that we remain in the world (as Jesus left his disciples - see John 17:11) actively and intentionally living out our lives authentically and courageously…always being ready to give reason for the hope within. And we do all this guided by His Holy Spirit; motivated by God’s love; grounded by His Truth and empowered by His grace. What are your thoughts on it? What’s your experience been like?

(Tabitha Gallman) #4

Sean there is so much I have to learn. Thank you for this article. I’ve never heard of cultural hermeneutics.
When I left my non denominational (Pentecostal) church and joined my husband’s Southern Baptist Church way back in 86 it was almost like culture shock for me. We didn’t pray in unison, we sat and stood up often before the preaching, a choir sung and you didn’t want to ever draw attention to yourself by praising the Lord. Our hymns were new to me. I didn’t feel comfortable, yet I learned about American and International missions the church was part of and how important theology is.

I have witness how the church has changed though and has been progressively changing over the years. In the beginning we had progressive dinners, an all sorts of social functions. The church had grown with a need to build a Christian center and a huge new sanctuary.

Our pastor retired recently and we were blessed with a new and young pastor. It is sad to say that the attendance has dropped. People left because they say they don’t like the new format. Well I have to say that thank goodness we aren’t speaking in tongues, running the pews and falling out in the spirit through laying on of the hands (although if that’s your thing, I guess it’s alright, but I digress), but we worship more openly and the front pews are always full of youth and I feel that’s very important.

Anyway, my point is, I see what you are saying about the culture changing. In fact, last night my husband and I had the privilege of having dinner with our young pastor and his wife. We had a wonderful evening. You would think with the gap in our ages that the conversation would be awkward, but it wasn’t at all. It’s funny that the article mentioned relating to a modern world with topics including Harry Potter because that was some common ground we had.

Our new pastor reads a lot and I wish I had read the article before he and his wife came. We could have talked about the Evangelical lifestyle as Chan put it. I am going to ask him if he has read the book.

Thanks Sean!

(Tabitha Gallman) #5

I totally agree with you Warner. The world is watching to see how we react to events both good and bad, and how we handle our own family matters. Mother Teresa had so many good quotes about evangelizing starting with our own family.

Yeah I really think loving unconditionally, and especially our enemies is how we become separate from the world.

Thanks for the reply Warner

(SeanO) #6

@tabby68 Sure thing. I’m glad you guys are making your new Pastor feel welcome and that he is reaching out to the youth in your area. I remember a computer science professor who taught algorithms that used Harry Potter to engage his students - common cultural topics turn out to be useful in communicating lots of different types of information :slight_smile: May the Lord continue to bless your guys’ Church as you reach out to the community.

(Tabitha Gallman) #7

That made me remember a text i got from my daughter a while back. :grinning: She said in her Bible class one of her test questions was:
What happened as a result of the fall in Genesis 4-11?
A) Dinosaurs went extinct
B) Voldemort drank unicorn blood
C) Cain killed Abel
D) Infantricide

(chandra kishore sardar) #8

Thank you @tabby68 for the coming up with that question and to everyone who yielded such extremely meaningful answers like @SeanO @WarnerMiller and others. Its really about meeting people where they are. Even as I write this, i know my pastor has gone out now to minister to the transgenders which would sound pretty horrendous to any Nepalese pastor because thats something that our culture detests. But i believe when you would see anyone with the eyes of Jesus you cant help being kind and compassionate. We cant judge anyone just because they sin differently than we do and infact christ died for us while we were still sinners.
As Dr. Ravi says," how do you reach a generation that listens with their eyes and thinks with their emotion?" Gospel not only needs to be heard but seen. I remember couple of weeks back , after the BBQ was over few of my friends(nonchristians) wanted to drink and as they indulged drinking and smoking ,me with some few other christian friends we sat besides them and gave them company. The next day one of them came to me and said ," how can you do that ;sitting late night with us giving us company without indulging drinking and smoking?"
I believe when we truly understand the heart of Jesus we cant never stop loving people and detesting whats wrong .

(SeanO) #9

Haha - B, B! Then Harry broke the curse by snapping the elder wand rather than seeking to wield its power… Amazing how so many fiction stories have some form of salvation narrative.

As a completely random aside, I liked this guy’s Harry Potter lectures - he is Eastern Orthodox. Pretty fun if you like the books.

(Tabitha Gallman) #10

This is interesting. My husband began watching with me on his lunch break, and since it’s so long we are going to make it our next movie for movie night. (I didn’t know J.K. Rowling is Christian)

(SeanO) #11

@tabby68 I really enjoyed his videos. I really like both J. K. Rowling and Madeleine L’Engle and both have been heavily influenced by Christian culture / theology. Their fiction is wonderful to read because it is drenched with Christian truths. However, I think both fall outside of orthodox Christianity. I remember being so disappointed to discover L’Engle’s views toward both the Scriptures and sexuality. For example, L’Engle shows a culturally typical misunderstanding of how evangelicals interpret Scripture:

“I don’t think it’s very different in the rigid, fundamentalist-evangelical world. If you’re
going to take it literally, then you’re going to take it literally, and that means you have to shut down your mind.” L’Engle on Scripture, taken from attached interview

Interview with L’Engle.pdf (141.0 KB)

And J. K. Rowling completely misunderstands C. S. Lewis’ point that he is trying to make with Susan in Narnia. Here is Lewis’ quote from Narnia about Susan:

"Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up! She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Here is Rowling’s response:

"There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.”

And here is a good critique of Rowling’s response:

“What the book is trying to say is that sex and the emergence of femininity aren’t sufficient ends in and of themselves . Su isn’t kept out of Narnia because she discovered sex, she is kept out because she idolized it to the point that all other things–including Aslan and Narnia itself–were placed in subjection to it. Growing up became not simply a natural process of maturation, but rather a stylized, exclusive state of being that precluded everything else. Worse, the idealized state of anything has no existence in reality. [5] Susan was chasing moonshine, when the real world around her could offer her much more… Susan has not, in fact, grown up at all. What she has done is take on an empty obsession, a false idealization of what being “grown-up” means, and that keeps her from experiencing life as a whole. That obsession has led her away from Narnia, and not “lipstick” at all. Lewis’s critics are mistaking a symptom for the disease.”

All of that to say, I really like the writing of both Rowling and L’Engle, but I think that when it comes to topics like Scripture and sexuality they have been more influenced by modern culture than by God’s Word. That said - I think they have made a very positive contribution to a society that is, in some sectors, on the brink of nihilism.

Not trying to be a downer :wink: I really enjoy their books and really liked Ted Sherman’s videos! Just sharing my own experience of attempting to understand their actual beliefs.

(Tabitha Gallman) #12

Hey, I’m appreciative of everyone’s responses to my comments and questions. Im here to learn and compare notes. Honestly I haven’t read the Harry Potter books, but I have watched all the movies.

L’engle’s interview seemed to reveal her as someone trying to be ok with both sides. On page five she didnt refute what the interviewer said about how we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about our opinions, when on page eight she says in so many words we should feel bad about dropping the atom bombs in Japan.

I haven’t read her books, I regret to say, but have heard of them. It is good like you say to find narratives of salvation within stories written that interest a lot of different people and can make for very good discussion.

(SeanO) #13

@tabby68 I hope I didn’t put you off watching the Ted Sherman videos - I watched the whole series and really enjoyed them. I’ve learned a lot from L’Engle - I’ve even read some of her devotional books like ‘A Circle of Quiet’. I think one of the ways we can engage culture without being part of the world is to find the good and true things in the life / works of people with whom we disagree. I do not agree with all L’Engle believed, but I really appreciate her life and her work. And the same with Rowling.

I think if we can think, laugh, cry and learn together with those who disagree strongly with us on certain issues and yet hold firm to the truth Christ teaches that is when we really shine. We show that we are not intimidated by another person’s value / talents and that we do not gain our sense of worth by denigrating those with whom we disagree. Our worth is in Christ and we see the beauty in those made in God’s image.

(Tabitha Gallman) #14

No, not at all Sean. In fact, this is all good for me because I grew up around and still associate with people that don’t try to think intellectually and go into a conversation already convinced and only an intervention from God himself could get them to consider how someone else may feel. Unfortunately, I picked up some of their bad habits. That is why I love Ravi’s slogan, “Let My People Think”.

I admit I’m lazy and don’t try to convey or articulate my thoughts the way that I should, but I hope with enough practice on here (and having a device other than my phone to type on,.lol) I will have more confidence to discuss topics that are relevant and interesting to the lost.

I’m looking forward to watching that professor by the way :slight_smile:. I’m going out on the front porch with my husband to see if anyone comes by for candy.

Thanks again Sean!

(SeanO) #15

Great - God be with you guys. Enjoy the festivities.

(Susan Jarvis) #16

I remember reading an article years ago about the differences in how CS Lewis and JK Rowling approach the magic in their books. This is the URL,( and I must say that, although Rowling is a good writier, I have not felt encouraged or inspired as a Christian by her work. On the other hand, the Chronicles of Narbia have provided me with some of the clearest allegorical examples I have ever had in the area of our sinful nature ( Eustace), the cost of our sin (Aslan and Peter, of course) and the blindness our rebellion brings ( the Last Battle). I was just thinking yesterday that if I could only read one novel for he rest of my life, I might very well choose a one-volume set of the Chronicles of Narnia. What about you all? Which novel would you choose as your own and only?

(Tabitha Gallman) #17

Hey Susan,

I wish I was well read in C.S. Lewis, but I honestly have only read a few things from a collection of his classics, and unfortunately I haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia. I have seen the movies, but I know that isn’t the same. And the same for Harry Potter. Now my children and husband have read and watched both.

As far as novels I have read some Frank Peretti and Bill Meyers novels. Sadly, I haven’t read a lot of novels in my adult life, but as a child I read more secular books. I read most of Susan Cooper’s novels and they actually had lots of spiritual depth to them (although I never knew much about Susan King). I knew I was intrigued in the mystery and power the young Will had hidden within him and he was destined to fight the dark powers in his old Welsh Homeland.

In high school we had to read “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles and I would highly recommend that one. Another one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, but I would read it again and encouraged my daughter to read is “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, by Ray Bradbury. It speaks a lot about man’s selfish desires.

(Anna Jacob) #18

Jesus defined “neighbor” as anyone we “happen” upon as we go about our everyday life. Therefore I’m wondering…perhaps we are trying too hard to formalize evangelism; the simplicity of evangelism is to interact with another human being in a manner that addresses a need in any given moment - a smile, opening a door, lending a helping hand, listening, being generous in whatever capacity we are able - like the Good Samaritan. When we do this something takes place in the spiritual realm that sets the receiver up for the next evangelical happenstance that gradually draws them into what I call “the space of grace”, ushering in contrition, forgiveness & ultimately repentance leading to a new life in Christ. Evangelism simply needs us to open our eyes & ears to the myriad of opportunities everyday life presents to us. Sadly, the word evangelism is made out to be lofty & difficult to do. Jesus taught us the way, using the truth so that we live the life we are supposedly trying to get others to live. Living His Teacings is the best way to evangelize - His impact was astounding! And, He said we would do even more! Face to face sharing & caring will always out do any other method in its quality if not quantity.