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Thoughts on Engaging Culture

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.” Luke 15:1 

Jesus engaged his culture. Paul engaged his. We should engage ours. 

If Christians don’t engage culture, we lose culture. Jesus engaged culture. The Apostle Paul engaged culture. (See Acts 17)

What does it mean to “engage culture?” It doesn’t mean we compromise truth or holiness. It doesn’t mean we take a pragmatic approach to lifestyle, or that we endorse or participate in the sinful aspects of culture. It doesn’t mean we weaken the truth. It means we let truth be the sword that it is intended to be, and we use it to penetrate a culture filled with lost, hungry, searching hearts.

Engaging culture simply means you take the gospel that you believe and bring its truth and implications to bear in the heart and mind of someone with a different set of values or a different world view. Engaging culture means we infuse truth into a dialogue where hearts are desperately searching for truth. It means you are willing to commit to more than a rushed gospel presentation, one time. It involves reasoning, persuading, digging into the heart, and engaging that heart with real, substantive answers from God’s Word in the context of a loving relationship.

Jesus called it being “salt” and “light”—savoring and flavoring the culture around you with the saltiness of truth and biblical reason, holding up and shining brightly into a culture darkened with deception and blinded by broken belief systems. Salt and light change things. When salt enters soup, it tastes better. When light shatters darkness, everything looks different. Salt and light don’t merely pass by—they are immersive and penetrating. They engage their environment and change it.

One of our assistant pastors was recently having a conversation with an older man who has been attending EBC for the past ten months. He is not a Christian, yet. We have witnessed to him, talked with him, prayed for him, and never stopped loving him. He has continued to come and hear preaching, but all the while he has resisted the truth. He comes because he has friends and he is loved.

Over time, the gospel is impacting his heart. It is dismantling his bad belief system. He recently said to our assistant pastor, “I’m discovering that my world view is filled with bogus ideas; and I’m starting to see that you people really do have reasonable answers to the biggest questions of my life.”

The same man said to another godly leader in our church, “I’m starting to see, at my late age, that I need to completely re-create myself.” He was referring, again, to his logic and preconceived world-view letting him down late in his life-journey.

The leader wisely answered, “No, you don’t have to recreate yourself. You need to let Jesus recreate you, because when you are in Christ, you become a new creature!”

I believe this man will be saved soon. Why? Because his secular culture was pierced and filled with loving Christians and a patient, well-reasoned witness—over and over again. His secular mind has gradually been penetrated by love he can’t resist, truth he can’t argue, and transformation in the lives of others that he can’t help but admire. He has been “engaged” by loving, thoughtful Christians who have accepted him, reasoned with him, and befriended him.

He asked, “Why do you people care so passionately about me being ‘saved?’” I love the fact that he asked that question! Why? Because this is probably the first group of people ever in his life that have expressed genuine care for his heart and spirit.

It’s a WONDERFUL thing to engage culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s our calling, and it’s truly a New Testament practice. If it weren’t, there would not have been a church beyond the Apostles. Why Phillipi? Why Ephesus? Why Corinth? Why Rome? Because Christians engaged their culture—and the whole world was turned upside down.

How should we engage culture?

—Express the love that culture needs

—Speak the truth that culture craves

—Use words that culture understands

—Display the gospel that culture misunderstands

—Teach the gospel that culture has forgotten

—Show grace that culture doesn’t comprehend

When Christians don’t engage culture, they and their churches stagnate. When Christians do engage culture with the gospel, culture is salted and enlightened with truth and hope! Hearts are changed and transformed! Churches thrive with new life and joy!

God’s Word leaves us no choice but to engage culture with truth—not to become like culture, but to win the lost who are drowning in a culture that offers no hope.

To not engage culture with the gospel is to disobey God’s Word and to compromise the very core of our beliefs as Christians. Don’t become like culture… but don’t for a second ever stop lovingly and truthfully engaging culture. And don’t underestimate the power of a long-term, truthful, loving gospel witness.

Matthew 10:16— “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

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  • Bro. Cary, I enjoyed this post on engaging culture, especially where you comment that it takes committing to more than a single, rushed presentation of the Gospel.

    I wonder, however, if your post is more about engaging people than it is about engaging culture. Do you see a difference? I understand that culture is made up of (or made by?) people and that God saves people one at a time, and so this may seem like splitting hairs. But there seems to be a difference between the post you’ve written – which sounds like an encouragement towards a more patient and thoughtful personal evangelism – and what others in the broader evangelical context are talking about when they say “engaging culture.” (And let’s be honest, that’s where most of this conversation has been happening both historically and recently.)

    Your statement, that we are to “…win the lost, who are drowning in a culture that offers no hope” seems to admit a difference between the people we’re evangelizing and the culture in which they live.

    So, do you have any thoughts about Christians engaging culture in the sense of becoming salt and light in the midst of our world’s art, entertainment, sports, business, economics, law, politics, science, agriculture, education, and health care? Do we retreat or engage? And when we engage, is there more to it than simply looking for personal witnessing opportunities? Are there ways of applying and living out the Gospel while actively participating in these fields, not as a silent “lifestyle evangelism,” but as proof that the Gospel we preach is more than a creed to which we invite people agree, that it is indeed the power of God that transforms us into the image of Christ and enables us to live as citizens of another Kingdom while dwelling here?

    I’d love to read what you think about these things.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Personally, I have trouble separating “people” from “culture”— to me they are essentially synonymous as you can’t have one without the other, and each substantively makes up the other. People are culture. Culture is people. The difference in the terms in my context is that the term culture involves not just the generic concept of “people” but the understanding of who they are, how they think, what they believe, what they love or worship, their value system, their logic, their history, their interests, their way of communicating and relating, etc. Culture defines not just people, but particular people with particular ways of thinking and beliefs that drive them.

      The point of the post is that we could engage people, without really engaging culture—we could simply thoughtlessly or disconnectedly talk into culture, or we can engage the person from a point of understanding their culture. This is so much more powerful. It is, in truth what the Apostle Paul meant when he talked about becoming “all things to all men.” It is what he did in Acts 17 at Athens. He did not simply confront people, he engaged them—he listened to them, understood them, learned them, studied their culture, and hence he knew how to approach them and apply the gospel to their particular context.

      The alternative to this (other than disengagement) would be a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t take culture into account at all. The gospel is powerful in every culture, and it is superior to every belief or value system. God’s Spirit will guide us differently in different cultures in how to apply the truth to different hearts.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Thank you for this.

    Our missionaries spend much time learning and adapting to the culture of the country they minister in, so they can effectively present the gospel. It often changes their approach in witnessing style and church/worship services.
    Why not apply that here in America where our culture has dramatically changed over the last 50 years?


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