Maybe it’s just my cultural context here in the Bible-belt-buckle, or maybe it’s just my perception of the consensual attitude of believers in this area, but there is a growing trend and posture among Christians that concerns me. It’s taken me a while to grasp exactly what it was that irked me, but it’s becoming clearer to me know. It began with what I thought were simple and harmless observations about our ever-changing culture, country, and world. Small conversations or brief outbursts of concern among Christians in my personal spheres of influence became more audible in my ears. Questions were being asked, which was good, but these questions led not to reasoned responses and a turning to God but rather to anger, fear, outrageous accusations, and terrible theology. It also led to paralysis. And this should cause us all to become unsettled.
What I’ve discovered is that we are lagging terribly behind in the area of cultural formation. We’re in the cheap seats just watching it happen before our eyes. We’re so far back at this point that it’s no longer about being relevant to our culture but rather about being authentic. And by we, I mean church attending, Bible knowing, believers. And by authentic, I mean actually remembering what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we don’t care. It doesn’t mean we haven’t tried. What it means is that we haven’t initiated or taken the lead. We haven’t found means and opportunities to form public opinion. We’re not in the front helping to create cultural change, but we’re in the back responding to it and criticizing it. And we do this in different forms including programs, seminars, and of course, political activity. However, by the time we are arguing for public policy change, it’s simply to late.
In his book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Hunter essentially says that politics is not the first line of action for cultural change but rather one of the last. Public opinion comes way before public policy. Public opinion is often more swayed in “cultural centers” than it is in the public courthouse or capitals. Yet, this is often where we as believers feel we can make the most difference, where we can defend our “Christian nation” from destruction. Instead, we find ourselves fighting a battle that’s already been decided; or it’s like watching cement set.
There has been a mold formed in the public square on cultural topics that includes but is not limited to gay marriage, the rise of the “nones,” and women’s rights. This mold took a while to create but it was slowly being put into place by those most concerned with these issues. They worked hard and effectively to shape the mold and complete it before pouring in the wet cement of public opinion. And now the cement is setting; quickly. It’s at this point when we often come in and try to effect change. The mold is incorrect and misshapen, we say. It will lead to problems X, Y, and Z. Opinion must be changed, the mold recast.
And yet it may be too late. Hardened cement is much harder to remove than when it’s still wet. We’ve waited to long to get involved. Now, we find ourselves chipping away at concrete rather than erecting the wooden frame in which it was poured. It can be removed, but it comes at great cost and great pain.
Instead, what would it look like if we began looking forward to the molds that are already being formed? More importantly, what if the Church began to create her own molds to take before the public? What if we stopped being conformed to the shape of this world and started transforming it’s shape altogether (Rom. 12:1-2)? What if we went out in front with our hammer and nails and began building a cultural mold?
Understand, I’m not promoting that the church only be concerned with public opinion or singularly focused on the idea of cultural formation. But what I am saying is that as a mission of the church we are to be involved in the restoration of creation; all of creation includes cultures as well. And we should continue to abound in the work of the Lord, “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58) We can be used by God to bring shalom, to bring peace, justice, truth, and hope to our world. As believers, regardless of our political stance or our view of current culture, we can be vessels of change in our society even if things continue to deteriorate. For our hope is not found in a sitting president or senator, but in the King and Ruler of the Heavens and Earth. We can seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7) for this is what we’re called to.
Now, I don’t know exactly how this works. My carpentry and masonry skills are somewhat limited. It’s not that clear or easy to know how to proceed, but I know that we must find a way to move to the front the way the early church did. We must come together to formulate some next steps. We must act like the Church again. In Acts, we see God use a band of frightened and confused disciples to create a cultural mold that completely transformed the world. They did it through love for their neighbors, concern for the poor and ailing, and by proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. The same God that used that band of men to establish His Kingdom continues to inspire and lead today, and He’s chosen us as his craftsmen; for we are ambassadors of the King and co-workers of the great carpenter from Nazareth.