Mark begins with his testimony.
Born in North Dakota in 1970, moved to Seattle as a young man. Lost when he went to college, knew nothing of the Christian faith, was in a fraternity for a couple of weeks, then left the frat because he loved his girlfriend Grace. He came to faith in Christ after reading Romans in his dorm room.
God speaks: “Marry Grace and plant a church.”
Stays in school, earns a degree in communications, begins to think about how Christians can influence culture through media. Also studies philosophy, particularly the history of ideas and how they have shaped culture. Begins attending a good church with a godly pastor who mentors him, involved in lots of Bible studies. Continues to think about the Bible and culture. Plants Mars Hill Church at age 25.
Still thinking about the interface between gospel and culture-the theme of the 20/20 Conference is “The Gospel Comes to Life.” This plenary session is an introduction to the entire conference.
Where does culture come from? Genesis 1-2 provides us with a cultural mandate, Genesis 3 recounts the curse of sin on humanity. Since the fall, we find what we look for in culture, whether it is the imago dei or whether it is sinfulness. We are a combination of dignity and depravity.
Culture is values, beliefs, customs, arts, etc. The root of the term comes from cultivation. We live in culture, we make culture, we participate in culture.
Lesslie Newbigin-culture is the sum total ways of living, handed off to human beings from generation to generation. Language is central, which is why Christians need to know new words once they come to Christ. All of society is part of culture. That which claims final loyalty-worship-is part of our culture.
Seven lens through which to view the culture:
1. The Biblical Lens
Scripture is the record of God’s work in the world through cultures.
Study Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah as examples of how to live faithfully before God in culture. These are wonderful examples of how to bring your relationship with God to bear on culture.
A. All of them love their cities and nations, even though those cities and nations do not love God.
B. They did all they could, short of sin, to serve the common good. They loved all of God’s image-bearers, not just Christians. As we serve all people, some of them become curious as to why we do. The answer-God loves his enemies, and I used to be one.
C. All of them worshiped God through their respective vocations. Not all of us are called to the “vocational ministry,” but all of us are called to be ministers within our vocations. This is a Reformation principle. Our occupations should be gospel opportunities.
D. All of them were persecuted for their faithfulness. Jesus has much to say about this in the Gospels. In the internet age, it is easy to face opposition for trying to be faithful.
These three men were not primarily prophets, priests, and kings, but are people who have “secular” vocations working for godless leaders. But they are bringing the gospel to bear on all of life for the good of all people.
2. The contextual lens (five versions)
A. The Pharisees-very devout, very “biblical,” but went beyond Scripture. They loved the letter of the law, but not the spirit. The Pharisees avoided culture. They extricated themselves from culture to preserve their purity/piety. Most of their sins were sins of omission, because they focused on externals. Religious people tend toward sins of omission more than sins of commission. Throw grenades at culture.
B. The Sadducees-the compromise liberals. They denied things that were not politically correct, they wanted tenure at the universities. They were cultural accommodators. Modern Sadducees are classical liberals and the left-wing of the emerging movement.
C. The Zealouts-the politically motivated. You change things through political force. They miss the fact that politics does not make culture, but reflects and follows culture. Politics cannot change hearts, changed hearts change politics.
D. The Essenes-the culturally withdrawn. These are the guys who are obsessed with end-times, feeling God’s presence, charismatic experience. Similar to the Pharisees, but ascetics rather than legalists. Modern Essenes live from conference to conference, going to camp to get their “Jesus high.”
E. The Missional Way-the disciples. More on that later.
3. The ecclesiological lens (four views)
A. The church as bomb shelter: huddle up and hide because the world is bad and getting worse. Some homeschoolers (insert long pause here) . . . take the church as bomb shelter approach. The goal is innocence, but the result is naivety. Naïve people get into the culture and get into trouble. More mocking of homeschoolers (fortunately the audience is laughing!). Lots of funny family examples of the Driscoll family watching TV and discussing programs from a Christian worldview.
B. The church as mirror: the liberal view. We were created to reflect God, but too many of us reflect the culture. This is grotesque and is not cultural transformation. This is why liberal churches die-you don’t commit your life to what you already believe from the culture. Bottom line: liberals think God is wrong.
C. The church as parasite: the church lives in the culture, enjoys the benefits of culture (tax-free status), but does not serve the wellbeing of the city. If you church left your city, would the city mourn? Would they even know you left? Contemporary Christian music parasites off the culture so people in the bomb-shelter churches can have something to listen to. Parasites are culture followers and culture imitators, and the culture knows this.
D. The church as a city on a hill. Mars Hill Church is a “city within the city that lives for Jesus.” Our churches should provide a counter-cultural kingdom view as an alternative to the city of man. See Jeremiah 29-the Jews seeking the peace of Babylon while in captivity. Tim Keller “rings this bell all the time.” We are exile-missionaries, the elect-exiles, ambassadors and missionaries in our culture. To effect cultural change, you have to plant down roots because there is too much work to do to move on after one evangelistic rally or door-knocking campaign. We love events, but not lifestyles-we need to work long-term for the sake of the gospel.
Men need to be men, move out of the house, get a job, man-up, get married, and have families where lots of babies are made and everybody loves Jesus-this is counter-cultural.
Lots of funny stories about living in Seattle, where there are more dogs than kids.
The city needs to know that your church loves the city-can they see this? How much do you pray for your city?
4. The historical lens
Jesus gives the Great Commission. Saul of Tarsus is led by the Spirit to embrace of life of missional living in different cultures. He plants lots of churches in major cities in the Roman Empire. The early work of the gospel was urban.
Scholars like Meek and Stark show that most early Christians were urban, while the pagans lived on the farm. Today is the opposite. Christians go to bomb-shelter churches out of the city and live like Pharisees. It is not a sin to not live in the city, but Christians who do not live in the city live downstream, because our culture flows from the city.
We try to fish junk out of the river rather than moving upstream, where the culture is made. The stream of culture flows from the city, to the suburbs, to the farm. What happens on the farm has no influence on the city, ever.
The idea that mere mass evangelism changes culture is a myth. It’s not about the number of people who get saved and change culture, it’s about the number of culture-makers upstream who change culture. We need more Christians with “cultural capital” who can shape our culture.
Raleigh-Durham is the cultural center of the New South, just like Seattle is the cultural center of the Pacific Northwest.
Case Study: homosexuality became legit because most of the culture-makers are pro-homosexual, even though most folks do not approve of homosexuality.
Application: if you want to be a culture-maker, move upstream.
Mark skipped point 5 (technological lens) for the sake of time.
6. The missiological lens
Jesus was a missionary: he left the culture of heaven for the culture of earth-the incarnation. He hung out with lost people of every type, from Pharisees to tax-collectors. He was a friend of sinners.
We need to go into the culture not so we can be converted to worldliness, but so worldlings (NAF’s phrase) can be converted to God.
John 17-Jesus prays against fundamentalism and liberalism in his high priestly prayer, and he prays that his followers would live up-stream. This world is a mission field. Culture forces us to be sanctified: if you want to impact the culture, know your Bible. If you want to live upstream, you better be committed to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of God’s Word.
The Spirit descends on Jesus so he could be a missionary, the Spirit descends on the church at Pentecost so we can be missionaries. This is the new charismatic view: Spirit-filling is about our missionary obligation, not speaking in tongues.
Mark skipped point 7 too.
Conclusion: there are things we must receive, things we must reject, and things we must redeem. Most Christian traditions specialize in only one of these three things, which is unhealthy. We need to reject what needs to be rejected (e.g. porn and abortion), receive what needs to be received (e.g. medicine and law), and redeem what needs to be redeemed (e.g. marriage and sexuality).
Closing application questions: Where do I need to be sanctified by the truth? What do I personally need to receive, reject, and redeem? Should I move upstream?