Bridging Faith and Culture

Kathy and Mimi enjoyed their day strolling along the Seattle waterfront, but because Mimi spoke French and Kathy English, their conversation was limited and they couldn’t wait for dinner when the bi-lingual Patrice would fill in the immense gaps in their broken conversation.Communicating the gospel in America today is not unlike the situation faced by Mimi and Kathy.

Many Christians have concentrated on speaking the language of faith. They’ve attended Bible studies, small groups, listened attentively to the sermons at church. They’re spiritually literate but culturally illiterate, perhaps comforting themselves with the fact that they are called to a life of holiness and purity and must avoid the pollutants of this world. These Christian’s attempts to share their faith are usually met with blank stares from people who don’t know what in the heck their Christian acquaintance is talking about when they use words like ¢â‚¬Ëœborn-again, saved, rapture or salvation.’

Other Christians are immersed in culture but have not been attentive to their faith. They can name all the latest movies, hottest albums and best-selling books, but they just have not had the time or inclination to spend all that time with people who are ¢â‚¬Ëœtoo heavenly minded to be any earthly good.’ They don’t try to share their faith because they don’t feel compelled or capable of doing so.

These two types of Christians have a very different relationship with popular culture. The first group sees it as a threat to their spirituality and something that is just off limits to a good Christian. They wait for the occasional G rated movie, limit their music consumption to the latest CCM albums and pretty much buy all their books at the local Christian bookstore.

The second group as has been noted is totally comfortable with popular culture and is usually unaware or unconcerned about the effect it is having on their spiritual life. In this group are both cultural elites who criticize CCM or Christian books as imitative and sub standard, and cultural sponges who couldn’t discern the difference.

American Christianity allows Christians to decide whether they will take the path of cultural or biblical illiteracy, and both sides can articulate the justification for their point of view. “The Bible says to avoid the very appearance of evil’ says the cultural illiterate, “Jesus ate with publicans and sinners’ replies the culturally immersed.

Biblical Christianity is more demanding. It urges disciples to leave the world, become as aliens, to devote themselves to the word and prayer. And then having called them out of the world, biblical Christianity sends them back into the world requiring them to be ambassadors, ¢â‚¬Ëœbecoming all things to all people’ that they may save some.

And what of ¢â‚¬Ëœpopular culture?” At Mars Hill in Athens, Paul shows that it is imperative to be both spiritually literate and culturally literate. He is culturally aware, quoting pagan poets, observing the icons of their popular culture, and his cultural awareness is for the gospel’s sake. Paul uses ¢â‚¬Ëœpopular culture’ to bridge faith and culture. He uses it as a common language that, metaphorically speaking, ¢â‚¬Ëœallows Kathy and Mimi to connect.’

In a day when popular culture is rising in influence and religious influence is waning it is imperative to equip true disciples in biblical and cultural literacy. We must avoid the trap of cultural assimilation by rediscovering our calling to holiness and a life as aliens, strangers and pilgrims in this world. Yet we must avoid the trap of spiritual isolation by taking seriously our call to be spiritually literate ambassadors.

Ours is a dual citizenship in which we are at once and the same time spies (like Joshua and Caleb), wise (showing discernment), abstainers (like Daniel) and cross cultural communicators (like the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill.)

Sometimes after hearing my plea for cultural bridging someone will say, ‘this sounds like so much work!’ I could respond by quoting the late Chaim Potok who spent a life bridging his Hasidic upbringing and secular life, ‘while this tension is exhausting, it is fuel for me. Without it, I would have nothing to say.’

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in August 27, 2002 by | No Comments »

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