Christians are often criticised for being out of touch with the culture around us; for not being up to speed on current issues, view points and worldviews. Sometimes this is a valid criticism, sometimes not. We have many people in the Australian Christian community who are engaging with our culture all the time and in very thoughtful ways through blogs or TV or social media. They have their finger on the pulse. They know what’s going on. Unfortunately we also have those who misread the cultural climate.
But engaging with culture can be exhausting. Although I believe we need to keep in touch with our culture, I personally have found myself needing a break from the evening news, as I was becoming weighed down by the horrible things going on in the world.
I do get news through my Facebook newsfeed. But the danger here is that I can block the news I don’t want to see. I try to maintain a balance between Christian and non-Christian; politically liberal and conservative, satire and serious. I am conscious that this filtering biases the culture I consume and can skew my perception of the world if I only read Christian things, or if I only read left-leaning political critiques.
But there comes a point where I don’t want to be scrolling through Facebook to be ambushed by graphic photos of aborted babies, Islamic State beheadings, or articles that are hateful towards different groups or religions (including Christians) and I will unfollow or block things like that if they get shared too often.
I know I’m not alone in using Facebook for my daily news, or in using these features to edit the news I see. So what are we to do? How do we stay informed so that we understand the perspectives of the people outside of our Christian circles who we want to reach with the gospel, or at the very least be able to have conversations with about current events and culture?
First, I think we should broaden the news we see. Perhaps we have a friend on Facebook that we have blocked or unfollowed because they post things we disagree with politically, or socially. Why not refollow them? We can adjust how much we see from them so that if they are posting articles a couple of times a day we don’t see every single one. Introducing some variety into our media diets is a good thing! We wouldn’t just eat the same thing every day, so why consume the same media from the same sources every day?
Second, on a similar note, we should ensure that we are hearing from diverse voices. I’m not so much talking about different political or religious viewpoints here—more ethnic, socio-economic status, disability/illness, gender and age. As Christians, how often do we listen to people who aren’t middle-aged, straight, white males? Of course there are people in this group who have things to say. But most of the world is not in that demographic, and we ought to listen to other groups too.
This might mean deliberately seeking out blogs, organisations, podcasts or TV that feature input from people who are different from us. It will be worth it! It will expand our horizons and give us a window into how other people experience the world. It will enlarge our empathy and our ability to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It will remind us that things aren’t always black and white. It will help us to find where the gospel intersects with the worldview of people who are different to us, and enable us to do a better job of becoming “all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Third, we need to think critically about the culture we consume. We need wisdom in order to make the decisions I was talking about above. We need to not just read, watch or listen to things—we need to engage with them. Otherwise we can find ourselves taken captive by ideas that have little to do with God’s Word and godly living. Colossians 2:6-8 warns of this very thing:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
This applies both to secular and to Christian culture. Not everything is going to be beneficial to be thinking about for prolonged periods of time. Thinking critically about what we expose ourselves to ensures that we aren’t just soaking up the attitudes being communicated to us, but are engaging with it, testing it by the Scriptures and evaluating its strengths and weaknesses.
I often find that social justice movements are better at this than we are. For example, feminism (whatever opinion you may have about it) is very good at looking at our culture and seeing what demeans women and takes away their dignity. Intersectional feminism is good at seeing the intersections between multiple facets of society which are disadvantaged and showing why this is. Similarly, racial equality movements are very good at seeing what is implicitly or accidentally racist in our culture. Similarly, Christians ought to be good at looking at secular and Christian culture and seeing what contributes to biblical and godly living, and what does not. Not only that, but we should also be looking for what gives us gospel opportunities through themes or topics that arise in the media we engage with.
I’d love for you to join me in seeking to do these things better. Let’s not get taken captive by philosophies of human tradition, but let’s not ignore our culture either. In doing these things I hope that we might be better equipped not only to engage with our culture, but also to engage our neighbours in their perspectives and meet them with the gospel.