Discussion On Cultural Renewal

by Rick Pidcock

A few days ago, I had an online discussion with Dr. Dave Doran, the president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, regarding the relationship between discipleship and cultural renewal.  So I thought I would share our discussion here.

Dave: This is probably where I would differ from most evangelicals and fundamentalists. I simply see no biblical warrant for trying to have a voice in the mainstream. My local church beliefs drive me to the conviction that the real point of concern for believers and local churches is where they live and it is chiefly evangelistic (in reference to the lost), not cultural. In my mind, neither evangelicalism nor fundamentalism needs a voice in the wider culture. Pursuing that voice has been the root of most of the church’s problems. I thank God for the opportunities that He gives to well-known pastors or educators to speak in public forums, but that isn’t where the NT puts the focus of obedience. John Doe Christian is on the frontlines daily and that is the real issue. We don’t need a movement for the sake of a voice in the mainstream and the pursuit of it is the taproot of problems in the church. And I don’t think the early fundamentalists primarily rallied around a voice to the mainstream; they rallied to fight off liberalism in their denominations. I will grant that there was a lot of “God and country” stuff in the early fundamentalists, but would offer that this may have been an incipient weakness that bloomed full in the new evangelicals’ social concerns.

Rick: Dave,

From what has been written so far, I think that we would all agree on quite a bit. However, one thing that you said gives me some concern.

You said, “I simply see no biblical warrant for trying to have a voice in the mainstream. My local church beliefs drive me to the conviction that the real point of concern for believers and local churches is where they live and it is chiefly evangelistic (in reference to the lost), not cultural. In my mind, neither evangelicalism nor fundamentalism needs a voice in the wider culture. ”

I think this statement identifies a problem within much of fundamentalism. The issue of how we relate to our culture is not a small side issue that does not matter much. If we are to be making disciples of those within our culture, then we need to know how to interact with it.

You and I would probably agree that much of what goes on in evangelicalism today in the name of “redeeming the culture” is non-sense. The answer for American culture is not to make it more moral.

However, I also do not believe in your suggestion of having a voice that is “not cultural.”

My church’s purpose statement says that we exist “to magnify the sumpremacy of God and the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the making and maturing of disciples who will effect spiritual, social, and cultural renewal in the City of Denver and around the world.”

We believe that Christ lives and works through the people of the church. And it is Christ at work in the church that effects the renewal of society and culture.

Why should we seek the renewal of society and culture?

Jeremiah 29:4-7 say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives adn have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. BUT SEEK THE WELFARE OF THE CITY where I have sent you into exile, and PRAY TO THE LORD ON ITS BEHALF, FOR IN ITS WELFARE YOU WILL FIND YOUR WELFARE.”

We should be seeking the welfare of the city. And that welfare is found in the transforming power of the gospel as it is lived out in the lives of believers.

I love the hymn “Joy to the World.” The third stanza says, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

Sin has touched everything. It has obviously touched our souls and lives. But it also has permeated our culture. And the gospel proclaims the blessings of God as it transforms everything “as far as the curse is found.” Wherever sin abounds, grace abounds much more.

So I believe that we should have a cultural voice. But our voice should not be what many evangelicals do by thinking that all of society’s problems will be solved by having more morality, but rather by experiencing the gospel’s transformation.

That is why our ministry would tend to be much more culturally engaging than most fundamental churches.

You said that we do not need a voice in culture. But I think scripturally we should proclaim the blessings of the gospel to every part of our culture. To me, that sounds alot like having a voice in culture.

Dave: Rick,

Thanks for your reply to my comment. I think, in this case, we simply disagree with each other. Biblical warrant for local church ministry that transforms or renews the culture is not found in words spoken to “to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

It would be convincing if you could supply some NT epistolary texts that call for the church to seek the renewal of society and culture, but I don’t believe you will find this in the church’s mandate. Israel was a God-ordained nation with a divinely prescribed culture; the church is not.

I also have serious questions about what “proclaim the blessings of the gospel to every part of our culture” means, if it is supposed to mean something more than tell all people the gospel. Our mission is not to redeem or renew the culture; Christ will do that when He comes to establish His kingdom.

Hopefully I have disagreed with you charitably, but it is difficult to communicate such complete disagreement without risking offense. I don’t believe our views can be reconciled since they stand as polar opposites to one another. Either you are right or I am wrong, or vice versa. I don’t think there is any happy middle ground on this one. That makes it an important point to discuss, so thanks for raising it.

Rick: Dave,

Don’t worry about me taking offense to your comments. If I took offense to what you said, then I would never survive the ministry.

Honestly, I would agree with you that “Biblical warrant for local church ministry that transforms or renews the culture is not found” in the passage that I sited.

I understand that we can’t take every verse addressed to the nation of Israel and make specific dogmatic applications to the church. But I think that in Jeremiah 29:4-7, God is showing a general principle of how his chosen people are to interact with the surrounding culture that He has placed them in.

Many evangelicals, specifically thinking about the emmergent church movement here, immerse themselves in their culture to the point of dividing their loyalties and changing the gospel. One church has as its core value, “Beer drinking.” Whether or not you believe social drinking is permissible, it shouldn’t be a core value of your church.

On the other hand, many of my fundamentalist friends have so isolated themselves from their culture that it hinders their mission (to make disciples) and ignores the essence of the gospel’s character. I have friends who grew up in their local church, Christian school, with Christian friends, and Christian jobs, while ignoring the community around them. Rather than reaching the community, they talk about how we should not hang around those kinds of people.

I think that the principle set forth in this Jeremiah passage is that God places His people in specific communities so that the city will be blessed by the presence of people who are living their lives in surrender to God. And as the city is blessed, we are blessed for living in a blessed city.

As progressive revelation continues into Matthew 5:13-16, we read, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

According to this passage, what we do can cause those in our communities to glorify God. But think about the nature of “good works.” It doesn’t say, “Tell everybody the Romans Road and they will bring glory to God.” It says to live as a preservative and as a light so that when they see how you are living, they will glorify God.

Finally, we see the issue of evangelism come into effect in 1 Peter 2:11-12. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

In other words, Christians should live with such a gospel-distinctiveness that it points others to glorify God when God calls them to salvation.

As this happens, disciples are made. And as more people are being renewed by the gospel, their entire lives are being renewed as well.

Because sin has permeated everything, then every area of life, apart from Christ, is engaged in through a self-centered pursuit. However, as the gospel renews people’s lives, then more and more areas of their lives are engaged in through a Christ-centered pursuit.

Thus, as people engage in their entertainment life in a way that is renewed by the gospel, then the world is pointed to Christ. They see that even in our entertainment, Christ is our hope. And as they view the hope of Christ, which is the gospel, God will bring some to Himself.

You can apply the same thinking to our workplace, politics, social issues, and even medical issues.

So I do not believe that God commands the church to try to redeem culture as if we are saving it from its sin or as if we are convincing Hollywood to make nothing but Christian movies. He has called us to make disciples. And as more disciples are renewed by the gospel, they will naturally effect renewal as they live out their spiritual, social, and cultural lives.

If sin has permeated everything, then I believe that we should live our lives renewed by the gospel in a way that spreads the hope of the gospel to the areas that sin has permeated.

This is why at my church, we have a movie night once a month. We want our people to live their entertainment lives with a Christian distinctiveness that is renewed by the gospel. And rather than saying that movies are bad or definitely not for church functions, we want to build up our people in this area of their lives. I choose the movies. And then afterward, we have a discussion of them in light of the gospel. It’s amazing the amount of growth our people have experienced during these times. We also do this with sporting events, art exhibitions, or other cultural activities in Denver.

But anyway, you may still disagree with me. And we don’t need to argue for the next twenty years over it. But I hope that at least helps you see a little better what I’m trying to say. I can see how just saying, “proclaim the blessings of the gospel to our culture” may sound a little vague and raise some red flags. Thanks for the cautions!

Rick

Hayden: Gentlmen,

Thank you for the excellent conversation and the great Christian charity in your disagreements. This has been very helpful for me as I think through these issues.

Rick,

I agree with your thoughts and see some of the wisdom in your practices. Thanks for putting into words some of the thoughts I have been kicking around in my head.

I believe you are on the right track because it kinda reminds me of how you would train up a child. You do not neccesaily expose them to rampent sin, but you also cannot completely isolate them from it. You have to teach them how to have a biblical worldview and apply that worldview to reaching the world. That is what we as pastors are trying to do.

Dave,
Thanks for the Christian charity. I really appreciate your point of view. Here is my concern though. (This is only a personal experience which does not cause me to broadbrush every fundamentalist)
Being a youth pastor I often get invited to fellowships with other youth pastors. I was recently invited to a small group where, unbeknownst (sp?) to me, I was the only ‘non-fundamentalist’ there. I was really excited because I wanted to talk theology, but that ended quickly when they found out that I had graduated from the Master’s Seminary. You would have thought I graduated from some liberal seminary that taught apostasy.

All this to say, I believe that their view of seperation set up a wall between them accepting anything I had to say. Interesting thing was, and I really do not want this to come across as prideful, I was the only one at the table who had studied Greek and Hebrew yet I was disregarded.

Dr. Dave my concern with some of the issues I see with secondary seperation is in the young fundamentlists that often do not have your wisdom and years of experience, using it as a bludgeon to beat conservative brothers. (I know this happens with ‘non-fundamentalists’ too.)

Keep up all of the good work and coversation.

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