- Keith Harris
Dealing with Culture in the Church, Part 1
It seems to that many times we fail to address the regular-ness and everyday-ness of the church. We fail to discuss the fact that we are all a part of culture and that the church is affected by the reality that we bring into the assembly our own preconceived notions about life and the way things ought to be. As we in our various congregations are made up of any number of people there are an equal number of varying mindsets and worldviews about the culture in which we live. This can be, and often is, a challenge to the leadership of a congregation. As we project our views of the world as it relates to the Lord’s church, we must realize that not everyone we speak to is in full agreement with our views. Ministers and church leaders must do a better job of seeking to cross the barriers of age, race, gender, and socio-economic status which will allow for a better understanding on the part of our members in our various congregations of how culture impacts us. We need to come to a deeper understanding of how our own personal perceptions contribute to the ways in which we respond to culture and to the church. We must take a look at the various age groups throughout our congregations and attempt to provide insight into how each group may see the world and how they should respond to different situations within the church. Sadly, it seems that we have not been diligently seeking to understand the times in which we live.
Over the past four decades, there has been a seismic shift in our culture. We have moved from Modernity to Post-Modernity. Some would suggest that we have now moved beyond Post-Modernity, though I would argue that according to the broader principles of Post-Modernity there can be no such thing as beyond Post-Modernity. Certainly, this shift has had an impact on the church. This impact is largely due to the fact that congregants carry not only their Bible into the assembly, but also their worldviews and experiences. Within any given congregation there are several generations – the GI generation, the Silent generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), and Generation Z. This is obviously a wide range of generations, but this is the reality of the world today. GIs, Silents, and Boomers grew up in Modernity. During GenX, the shift in culture began to occur. Scholars debate the exact time of transition, but the majority would agree this shift began during GenX. So within our congregations we have some who have lived in both cultural times and others who only know the present culture. In order for ministers and church leaders to effectively cross the barriers that exist with our churches, we must understand the nuances of these cultural realities.
So what is Modernity? Modernism says that science is the answer. The individual is at the center. God is seemingly removed. How do you suppose this effected Christianity? Well, this is a major driving force behind all the debates that took place between Christian scholars and those teaching Darwinism and the theory of evolution. When we begin thinking about this topic, it is important to remember there are five major worldview questions:
Where are we and what is this place like?
Who are we and where are we going?
What’s the problem and what is right and wrong?
What’s the solution?
How do we know?
The modernist would say in response to these questions: We are on a spinning chunk of space rock hurling through a closed universe. We are biological organisms who have evolved over time and are living our lives trying to survive as long as possible. Some people haven’t evolved as much as others. Right and wrong are based on personal satisfaction and technological improvements. What’s the solution? More science and technology. How do we know? Science. Modernity is characterized as materialistic (This is all there is.), mechanistic (the world is a machine.), and individualistic (I am alone.). So what is a Christian response? “This is not all there is. The world is not necessarily a machine. And I am not alone. Jesus is the answer. Jesus is at the center. God is ever present.”
So what is Post-Modernity? One major element of Post-Modernity is that there is no universal worldview. Some Post-moderns reject the absoluteness of science without denying the possibility of truth. Other Post-moderns reject any notion of truth, objectivity or rationality. Post-modernism is pluralistic, relativistic, radically materialistic, and radically individualistic. So how does this affect Christianity? As you might imagine, this mindset leads to what we see in many religious movements today. Pluralism and relativism are the word of the day. It doesn’t matter so much what you believe, just as long as you believe in something. What about those five major worldview questions? How would a Post-Modernist respond? “Where are we and what is this place like? We don’t know. We can only tell different stories about our perceptions. Science is not really based in ‘facts.’ Science is merely one sort of perception. Who are we and where are we going? We don’t know. We can only tell different stories about our perceptions. We invent ourselves with our stories. History is not a matter of “facts,” but various perceptions, none of which is ‘true.’ What’s the problem and what’s right and wrong? Some stories are more useful than others, but nothing is ‘true’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Ethics is whatever a society makes it out to be. What’s the solution? What do you mean by “solution?” How do we know? I don’t know. How do you know?” Post-Moderns say whatever seems right to you is right for you but not for everyone. There is no reality, there is only perception.
As we look at GenX, Y, and Z, there are signs that seem to become evident, signs of Post-Modernity in these generations. There is a desire to be loose, even lose control. We see a great focus on the here and now. There is a big push to simplify and minimize. This is the “tiny house” movement. Post-Moderns just go with the flow and relish spontaneity.
So what is a Christian response to Post-Modernity? Christianity says there is truth. There is reality. There is right and wrong. And we can know. Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). And in John 14:6, Jesus explains that he is “the way, the truth, and the life…” These claims serve as the basis for the Christian’s response.
Many congregations are struggling to effectively reach their community. This can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding the cultural shifts. Dealing with culture in the church is a fact of communal life. We must be diligent to study and engage the world around us. My prayer is that we will take seriously our responsibility as disciples of Christ and dedicate our lives to growing in our ability to reach the lost.