Engaging the Culture

Several times in his letters to Timothy, the apostle Paul warns his young protégé to avoid “worldliness” (Greek word bebēlos, translated “profane” in the King James Bible).  Worldly or profane is such an apt description of our culture’s view on these lifestyle issues and nowhere does it come through more clearly than in the entertainment industry.

Most of what is being delivered to us today as entertainment is best described as profane.  It cheapens and demeans the sacred, replacing it with the profane.  Gratuitous sex, graphic violence, and blasphemous language in music and movies takes the sacred – the beauty of sex within marriage, life created in God’s image, and calling on the name of the one true God in times of trouble – and cheapens them for thrills, drama, or laughs.  It is worldly.  It is ungodly.

And the red flag it raises for me is how much Christians swallow what is being offered.  We are encouraged to overlook those objectionable elements and explore the world’s movies and music as a way to engage our culture; a way to establish common ground with our unbelieving neighbors.  I believe this approach is the exact opposite of the New Testament approach to engaging our culture.  And if this appears to just be another legalistic railing against the entertainment industry, please read the following verses prayerfully and carefully.

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered death in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered death in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (I Pet 4:1-5).  These characterizations of a pagan lifestyle clearly describe the current “flood of dissipation” coming out of Hollywood.  How do we respond?

We are called to a life of holiness that, as Peter points out, will actually lead to derision – “they malign you” – for not participating in the world’s lifestyle.  This criticism from the world is in God’s view a badge of honor.  There is no honor in legalism, self-righteousness, or pride.  There is no honor in looking down our noses at the lifestyle excesses of our unbelieving friends.  There is no honor in a lack of love toward any person.  But there is honor and great reward for a godly lifestyle that refuses participation in evil and accepts the demeaning and even abusive responses that may accompany a godly stand.

Will our holiness efforts separate us from the lost or will it surprise and raise curiosity among the lost?  It all depends on our attitude.  If the attitude that accompanies our desire to keep a godly lifestyle is in any way self-righteous or condescending, we are doing the gospel and our audience a great disservice and any ridicule we experience is of no spiritual value.  However, if we are winsome and humble and cheerful and loving in our efforts to develop a holy lifestyle, we will actually become a curiosity to outsiders.  In this way, we will engage the culture by seeking the good of our neighbor, rather than joining them in their sin.

Biblical accommodation and engagement is conversing and drinking coffee in a neighbor’s apartment when you hate the taste of coffee.  It is going to dinner with your obnoxious co-worker in order to build a bridge of friendship.  It is dying your hair yellow to become more approachable while attending a university that celebrates such nonconformity.  Nonbiblical accommodation is when our participation leads to sin.  The eye is the gate to the mind and the mind is the gate to the heart.  I can’t help but believe that the current fair coming out of our entertainment industry and entering the eyes of believers is at least dangerous if not outright sin for the follower of Christ.

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One Response to Engaging the Culture

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great words, Jay!
    We must stay focused on the Biblical truths….
    thanks so much for sharing from your heart and mind.

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