The First Step to Better Engage Our Culture

Every once in a while, I find myself in the happy circumstance of talking with someone who wishes to become a better “cultural critic.”  Understand that the term critic here is not meant to refer to someone who merely wants to point out flaws.  Ideally, it involves a person who can effectively understand and engage with both the positive and negative aspects our culture.  This, I’m convinced, is something that more and more Christians should aspire to, even if we’ll never fully arrive at the goal. 

And for what it’s worth, I do have one fundamental piece of advice for those pursuing this aim: learn your Bible. 

“Wait,” the first objection might go, “You don’t seem to understand.  I want to better understand the world out there.  I don’t just want to remain in the Christian bubble.  Reading my Bible is great for all sorts of reasons, but it’s not going to tell me much about things like this year’s Academy Award winners, governmental policy proposals, or irrational sports allegiances.” 

Well, if you mean that the Bible doesn’t directly mention The Artist, the Keystone Pipeline, and Kansas Jayhawk fans, then of course you’re right.  But let’s think a bit deeper.  Human beings look at the world through a particular lens.  We use that lens to understand and evaluate.  It shapes what we draw near to and pull away from, what we celebrate and what we question or challenge.   We all—without exception—have such a lens.  The only question is whether it’s a good one. 

That’s why it’s important for the lens to be significantly shaped by scriptural truth.  There, God has graciously given us his own perspective—the one way of seeing that is unfailingly reliable.  By dwelling in its pages, we increasingly see as he sees and value what he values.  We find the key with which we can rightly interpret and interact with the world.  

“Ah,” says a second objection, “but who’s to say that you’re understanding your Bible correctly.  If you don’t read it the right way, you won’t read the world correctly either.”  This is true.  The Bible itself would argue that none of us is an infallible interpreter, and history is littered with people that have made tragic missteps on the basis of erroneous readings.  But to say that reading the Bible well can be challenging is far from saying it’s impossible.  Rather, it argues that we need help from the community of Christians around us, as well as those who have gone before us.  We live in a time when, with just a few clicks, we can surround ourselves not only with any number of accomplished contemporary teachers, but also the giants of the past. 

Add this to the fact that we can seek God’s grace to give us greater understanding, something he promises to do, and we have reason to be hopeful.  Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, and mature biblical understanding won’t be either.  And that’s okay.  But let’s by all means work toward that end. 

Is all this the only point to make about effectively engaging with the world around us?  Certainly not.  (And if that answer sounds like it could pave the way for another blog post, I’d say that’s a worthwhile idea.)  But it does put us on the right track. 

By the way—and this is the “Put that credit card away, there’s more!” part of the post—whether or not all of us desire to be a biblically informed cultural critics, none of us can escape being cultural creators.  In living, working, playing, communicating, creating, eating, drinking, parenting, etc., we shape our world in countless ways.  Here again, something will determine how we do these things.  If our lives increasingly reflect biblical truth, we’ll be building and shaping a world that does the same. 

That way, not only will God be honored, but we aspiring cultural critics will have more and more to get excited about.

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