Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Danger of Creating a Christian Subculture

Since I praised Driscoll's books without end below, I thought I'd post a choice quote from the first installment (pictured at the right). Having noted how crucial it is that Christians understand and grapple with culture, he applies his observation with the following words:

Why is this significant? Because issues of style and culture affect how you live your life, how you worship God, and how you will be perceived by lost people in your culture. In practical terms, your cultural preferences help determine the way you dress, where you live, what you drive, the enterntainment you enjoy, whom you trust , what friends you have, and how you perceive and communicate the gospel.

-The Radical Reformission, p. 101 (emphasis mine)

I was captured by this quote because I realized this is the danger of overdeveloping a Christian subculture. To be sure, believers and the the Church are to be a countercultural presence in the world, but unfortunately many fundamental and yes, even conservative evangelical churches have confused this with creating a subculture. Most of our time is spent with Christians: Our friends and kids' friends are christian, we read christian books, listen to christian music, watch christian movies, go to christian mechanics, buy from christian sellers (real estate, cars, etc) and speak christianeze, etc. The dress and worship style of many churches in this category is a continuation of the 1950's leave it to beaver with few variations. What's wrong with all this? Well, for starters, it may mean that we're not taking risks by rubbing shoulders with unbelievers, but that's another post. More importantly, we are so insulated from the culture we have little idea how to contextualize the gospel in our culture(s). We have learned and perpetuated the christian subculture in our attempt to avoid worldliness (which we should avoid) but largely because we have misunderstood what worldliness is. As a result we fail to be countercultural, because we are so out of touch with our culture. I would suggest this represents a fundamental misunderstanding (if not inversion) of what it means to be "in the world, but not of the world" or "light in the darkness." The solution? Repent and resurge (to put it in Driscollian terminology).


Anonymous said...

so how would you define worldliness? I agree, but just thinking...

NWMihelis said...

With an emphasis on internals rather than externals a la 1 John 2:15-17 and Mark 7:18-23. Worldliness is primarily at the level of the affections and at the attitudinal level. The opposite of being conformed to the world is not changing the way we dress, but the way we think (Romans 12:1-2). No matter what we wear, watch, or listen to, we're always in step with some part of the world, no matter how minor. Ex: Wearing a business suit to church doesn't keep us from conforming to the world, it just prevents us from conforming to the pop culture. The business world culture of ceo's and mba's is no less inherently holy. I would suggest wrestling with what is and isn't sin and what does and does not constitute worldliness is what contextualization is all about...and sadly where the Church has largely dropped the ball.

Luther's Stein said...

"I would suggest this represents a fundamental misunderstanding " . . . great pun!

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree on your definition on sin being internal/attitudinal, etc. and I think this is where Mk 7 is going. However, what I'm wondering is what exactly is it that we're loving when we love "the world." I see where John elaborates for us, but these are still the "things in the world" or "from the world." These all seem to be personal, internal things, but how is this different than, say, "conforming to flesh." It just seems to me that "the world" is viewed in more of a systemic, institutional way, but this could also be the results of years of bad preaching coming out... I'm just going off the cuff here, I don't have any study on it. For example, I will honestly admit that I watch Grey's Anatomy. Not because I take pleasure or approve of their sexual lifestyles or many other things that go on, but because it's good old-fashioned cheesy drama. So... am i being worldly by associating myself with something that is often exhibiting the desire of the flesh, eyes, etc. and even opening myself up to its influence? Or is it simply an issue of how much I internalize what's there? Is the world just the grouping of personal sin presented on a larger more organized scale or is it something essentially different in any way from personal sin? Does this make any sense?

MOsborne20 said...

This discussion is refreshing to me b/c I have been thinking on these things a lot lately. Let me throw a text in here that I think applies to this situation. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret." There is obviously more to the context, but that will suffice. Most reading this blog have heard the "no fellowshipping with darkness" stuff. But I have 2 questions. (1) What does it really mean to fellowship with darkness? (2) Why are we not exposing darkness?

I have so much more to say, but can't get it our concisely at the moment (I have erased 3 different paragraphs!) Anyway, at the very least I believe this text that exhorts us to be light has been helpful in my processing of Driscoll's thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the passage, I see the connection, especially with “sons of disobedience” from 1.21. The light/darkness metaphor states that the exposing is done by the light, us, so our own lives, the fruits of goodness, righteousness and truth act inherently to expose darkness. IOW, as I live next to unbelievers, who I am should display their nature as unbelievers by sheer contrast. And the contrast will simply not be there if we are participating along with them. The end goal being the transformation of darkness to light in their salvation (v 13). And I have no idea what verse 12 is about. But this exposing can’t be simple disassociation – we have Jesus sharing at the table of sinners. So there’s got to be a way to live that close but not actually participate in the sin itself (actually the contrast should be even more obvious because of living closely…)

Because of the question about fellowshipping, my thoughts went to 1 Cor 10, which is interesting because it does move to a collective and institutional level. A couple thoughts – the issue which Paul makes is that these things have a power or effect on us as we participate. The blood of Christ, obviously, and his final caveat, that these things aren’t profitable and don’t edify (negative effects). My difficulty is that when I think of doing things that are profitable and edify (v23), I think of things like going to church, reading my Bible, etc. And then I end up only listening to specifically Christian music, only hanging out with Christians, etc., and we’re right back in our subculture. So how can we be doing the same things as unbelievers on the outside, without allowing them negative effects or power over us but actually edifying and even exposing the darkness which is done by the same outward means?
Perhaps the “exposure” of the darkness is exactly what happens in v 28, where the unbeliever is aware of the situation and at that point a response of “exposure” is necessary. On a practical level, I find it hard to understand how we can effectively expose the darkness of the more institutional, structural type. I see these things as forces that really do not change unless precipitated by personal, individual change. That, on the other hand, seems much more doable. For example, I can expose darkness in a conversation with my coworker that shows how I think differently than her and attempt to show her how her thinking is untruthful.

Anonymous said...

This is a great discussion, everyone. For those who did not attend the lastest Desiring God conference (myself included), Driscoll's message is ready for download on Piper's site. In summation, his message is dipolar, i.e. contend for the faith (he delineates 9 'fundamentals' - my term not his) and contextualize in the world ("Reject, redeem, or receive [I'm in baptist history, so I cannot verify the exact rubrics used for these last three, but you get the drift]").

Thanks for the comments Mike and Annalisa. Back to playing on-line poker (one of my little ways of contextualizing)!!

NWMihelis said...

The conversation has been good indeed so far, sorry I've been offline for a little while. This probably warrants a whole additional post on the topic, but for now, I'll add to the present comments. Mike, great call on another relevent passage. And Annalisa, I think your correct on all the years of preaching we've grown up with. When I come to passages such as we've mentioned, particularly the light/darkness passages, my application goes on autopilot. Don't drink, smoke or chew or go with girls that do. My current desire to grapple with contextualization grows out of a genuine desire to be faithful to these passages. My concern, is that their application needs to be rethought. While Driscolls answers are not always right, he does make two point that are helpful. 1) We need to avoid the two extremes of syncretism and sectarianism. Syncretism, he maintains is the failure of liberalism where we absorb the culture and are overcome by it. Sectarianism is the error of fundamentalism which seeks to isolate from the culture out of a genuine desire for purity. Contextualization is finding the balance between these two. But beware, failure will most likely result in sin. However, staying in either of the extremes will probably result in sin also. This is where we need to trust grace and walk by the Spirit.

The second point he raises is that we need to educate ourselves with the culture (rather than primarily entertain ourselves). There are some movies we do well to watch so we can be informed in our discussions with unbelievers. This is not a slippery slope that results in affirming pornos, because that is not an area that the scriptures are unclear on. I have in mind something like Crash. It's filled with fowl language, but it's probably a good movie for believers to watch, because all of the unbelievers I work with are discussing it's implications for racism. Am I suggesting it's good for believers to watch a movie filled with cuss words? Yes...and maybe no. The point is, I'm not sure the scriptures are black and white on this. It does come down to the attitudinal/affections level on this one. I don't sin by listening to someone drop the "f" bomb (i.e "that which goes into the man does not defile him," in this case the ear gate) On the other hand, I'm certainly not advocating sinning against your conscience. But if you can do it in faith, you've got great fodder for engagning unbelievers on their own ground. This is not to say we won't or should not enjoy movies like this. The movie was well done. Here's were we need to wrestle. We ought not delight in things the Lord does not; this is clear. Yet not every issue is black and white and many are complex. There are probably elements about the movie the Lord does delight in while others appall Him.

Piper and Driscoll have some good dialogue on this topic. Piper admits he's too weak to engage culture at the level that Driscoll does and he does so in humility and sincerity (as if Piper did anything any other way). This is a genuine issue we have to be honest with ourselves about. I certainly don't claim to have the answers; I've just begun to engage the questions. However, I think Russell is right in pointing to the DGM conference Audio. All the answers aren't there either, but there is some great food for thought.

I hope these words don't sound final, because I'm not trying to end the discussion but rather continue it.

robertlhall said...

In continuance...
I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned at the end of one of your paragraphs that to avoid resulting in sin we need to trust God for His grace and walk in the Spirit. Since there is a passage that says how we can avoid sin (Gal 5:16) maybe our best focus no matter which culture we are engaging (whether it be the Christian sub-culture which can be just as ungodly as what they view as "the world", or the actual world)is to walk in the Spirit.

Not that this is an easy, formulaic (I think I just made that word up) thing to do.

I hope I am not totally missing the boat here, but I often wonder if Christians focus on not sinning too much (which might be what is producing this subculture you are warning against). Don't get me wrong, I think Christians shouldn't sin. But they sin in other ways when when all they care about is not committing what they (and I should say we because I have been guilty) consider to be overt acts of sin--for example: self righteousness, pride, legalism, judgmental spirit, lack of passion for God, etc. This produces a worldliness that is much more subtle.

An active approach toward holiness in my mind is one that seeks that walk in the Spirit which is driven by an adoration of God, a love for God, a cherishing of Him. It seems to me that the "not sinning" part of it should be the natural outflow of the main thing--walking with Him. I think that the "not taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness" will wind up being an evidence of this walk. Kind of like how we love our wives, which causes us to not do things that are against their nature, like leaving the toilet seat up; but my focus all day long is not on the toilet seat--it is on loving my wife.

hope this doesn't end the dialogue...I am enjoying it very much. Thanks Nate

Ryan Martin said...

Where does a given culture come from? What is culture? What do you think of T. S. Eliot's understanding of culture? How would you compare his understanding to that of Driscoll? How does Driscoll understand the genesis of certain cultural practices?

Luther's Stein said...

I think Eliot's understanding of culture is partially right -- certainly there is a sense in which we can say that in as much as culture derives its origins to man's interpretation of the world, it will also reflect man's "worship" or "religion." Yet I think it is also important to recognize that man is not simply the maker of his culture, but also the product. And so there are other factors involved in culture which do not have religious value -- at least in terms of the their religion.

But regarding those aspects which do descend from pagan assumptions, I think that those aspects of culture which do come to us from pagan religious notions are not "unredeemable." After all, "in him we live and move and have our being."

Just a thought.

NWMihelis said...

I've not read Eliot, though I've picked up on the fact that some quote him as gospel on this topic. I probably should pick him up at some point.

That being said, it would be difficult for me to contrast him with Driscoll. However, it may be helpful, as a point of reference, to note that Driscoll (and many others in various strands of the ec movement) have leaned fairly heavily on Newbigin (sp?).

Either way, you raise a good point. Since the scriptures don't seem to give an explicit definition of culture, one's definition is crucial due to the fact that it will largely govern the extent to which one can engage his culture. Perhaps that's one reason why their's so much confusion on the issue of worldliness. I admit, I'm probably using it in more of a popular sense than to the degree of specificity of someone like Eliot.


I think you raise a good point, though it always sounds awkard to say "don't worry about sinning so much." Yet, in the Galatians 5 context that you've framed it in, it's definately legit.

Ryan Martin said...

Heh. 1995 was such a long time ago.

Well, T. S. Eliot was incidental to my more basic question concerning the genesis of culture.