Historically there have been two major errors christians have made in regards to engaging the culture. The first is a kind of unbiblical asceticism that seeks to entirely withdraw from the culture in order remain pure and unaffected by the sinfulness of the world, and as a result has no witness in the world and virtually no impact on the culture because christians are so secluded from it. The second makes cultural engagement the most important thing at the expense of everything else and as a result ends up compromising the theological and ethical truths of the Bible and so while the culture may now listen to them it doesn’t matter because they’ve compromised so much they have nothing distinctive and biblical to say.
Russell Moore has written what ought to be required introductory reading for anyone thinking about how the church ought to go about engaging the culture. He correctly and helpfully points out the increasing marginalization of the church, how we are transitioning from “moral majority to prophetic minority.” The good news about this is that for so long in America Christians have assumed a certain set of Christian values precisely because we were the moral majority, but we often didn’t do the important work of connecting those values to the gospel. Biblical values are a good thing, but people with biblical values who don’t know and love Christ is not the target we’re aiming for. Thus Russell Moore proposes that our new role as “prophetic minority” may actually be a good thing as it will force us to define things that we used to take for granted, to present a compelling witness with our lives, and to work for gospel proclamation letting it shape values rather than the other way around.
So what does this mean for us as disciple-makers? Moore captures it well in distinguishing our calling from the two errors I mentioned at the beginning:
“A Christianity that is without friction in the culture is a Christianity that dies. Such religion absorbs the ambient culture until it is indistinguishable from it, until, eventually, a culture asks what the point is of the whole thing. A Christianity that is walled off from the culture around it is a Christianity that dies. The gospel we have received is a missionary gospel, one that must connect to those on the outside in order to have life. Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens.”
We engage the culture as we maintain our Christian distinctiveness and carry it into the culture through the relationships God has entrusted to us. If we will be faithful to make disciples in our home, church, and community, carrying our distinctive gospel into those places both in our proclamation and our lifestyles, the culture will not be able to avoid being shaped.