Culture and Context (Sneak Peek of Rte 66 Class 3)

(2 slides from tomorrow’s class)
Asking for your input on the topic.

When must Culture (we) Adjust?

When culture does not mirror:

• God’s nature

• His actions of grace

Scripture provides the signposts
on our journey
within culture.


Two-fold Challenge:

  • Self-reflection /criticism
  • Notice hidden “influencers”
  • Have a Contextually aware gospel proclamation

What are your ideas for redeeming culture without ruining the flavor?

Tomorrow’s post: “Why did Jesus Ride a Baby Donkey?”

The Bible, the Church, and Culture: Guest Post, Ed Cyzewski

I asked my friend, Ed Cyzewski, to guest post this week. I knew the topic on church and culture, in his  book Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life would make an excellent companion post for the class I’m currently teaching. I urge you to get a copy, by clicking the title above; or read a chapter here. This Sunday, we’ll cover how the influences of culture effect how we enact the Gospel message and walk with God. How do we best navigate this ground?

Let’s hear from Ed.

When We’re Blindsided by the Bible
-Ed Cyzewski

Saying that the church exists in a culture is the kind of obvious statement on par with saying we breath oxygen. But actually knowing what to do about the influence of culture on the Bible and how we interpret it isn’t always as obvious as taking a deep breath.

Growing up in a wonderful Baptist church in the Philly suburbs, one of the most important sermons I ever heard explained the importance of being poor in spirit based on the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. The Holy Spirit spoke to me about pride festering in my life. I often return to that sermon for guidance.

However, years later I read some books by theologians from South America who had experienced severe poverty and injustice. One particular theologian wrote about the Sermon on the Mount from Luke’s Gospel which says that the poor are blessed. In other words, the poor are blessed just because they are poor.

This was quite jarring for me to read. How had I missed something that jumped off the pages for Christians in Latin America?

I soon realized that I was encountering a cultural perspective on the Bible that was illuminating an angle that I’d neglected. In fact, I was poorly positioned to spot it.

While enjoying the affluence of America, pride can become a significant problem. It’s no mistake that a sermon on being poor in spirit connected. However, I was not prepared to read about God’s concern for the poor.

The more I interacted with theologians from South America, the more I noticed that one of God’s most important concerns throughout the Old Testament is justice and equity for the poor.

Here’s the thing: my reading of Matthew was not wrong. However, it was limited. By interacting from another perspective, I could see more in the Bible than I could have ever found on my own. This is because we read the Bible in a cultural context that can be both friend and foe.

We learn about God and follow Jesus in a cultural context. Certain ideas and metaphors will make more sense to us than others. We approach God from a particular perspective that is shaped by our time in history, our nation’s values, our experiences, our language, and the thousand other things that go into American culture in the 21st century.

Some folks write about our cultural context as something that is dangerous. As if we need to fight it. If our society says that truth is hard to find, we need to fight that by saying that it’s easy to find. Why, it’s right in the Bible of course!

Others say that our culture is right. We should listen to it. Truth is hard to find, and we’d better not get too attached to anything we read, and nurture our doubts about God and the Bible.

Here’s the thing, a cultural setting shaped the writers of the Bible. They used the cultural tools of their times when they added clarity, such as calling Jesus “The Word” or “logos” in Greek. However, when it came time to confront the Greek pantheon, they declared that there is one God who made heaven and earth, and God proved it by raising Jesus from the dead—resurrection being culturally off the map for Greeks.

The tension of Christianity is one of being in a culture with values, conventions, and experiences that may either make us either more receptive, or combative to the ideas in the Bible. Saying that culture is all good or all bad overlooks important elements in both directions.

We need to remain culturally aware so that we know there is more to God than we could ever find on our own. Our perspective has its limits. We can learn a good deal more about God by interacting with Christians from other denominations, Christians in other nations, and within our traditions. By learning to interact with culture, we won’t be blind to its influence and submit to its every whim.

To read more from Ed, click here.

1st Day of Lent: Ash What-day?

“Oh…Sure, rub it in…”

Did Jesus get ashed on Ash Wednesday? Um. Nope. Duh…

This day in the Christian calendar has marked the beginning of the season of Lent for way over a thousand years. But, yes, it can be “observed” even if we don’t show the signs of charcoal. But, why bother? It’s pagan, right? It’s not in the Bible, right? It’s just kooky works-righteousness thing, right?

Well, here’s the thing. Let’s think about this. If something is not in the Bible does that mean it’s rendered useless and meaningless from Christian devotional practices? I doubt it. From the beginning God used known culture practices to help his people remember things in a physical/visible way that were connected with the the invisible Reality of him. Have you heard of circumcision? Of (Israelite) cleansing before temple participation? How about Baptism? Well, then you see what I mean.

Do you ever celebrate Christmas or Easter? Then, you’ve enacted what I mean.

Pagan Egypt (used for God’s purposes)
Nationally, Egyptian cultic practices were incorporated with the Israelite’s life of worship of the One True God. The Egyptian priestly practices, in particular, were employed. (Israel was a KINGDOM of priests. Quite an upgrade from slave status, right?)

God wasn’t threatened by the use of Egyptian priestly rites and rituals, the Israelites were familiar with, to help them remember and worship the Living God. On the contrary, God encouraged it. God commanded it. Similar sorts of things can help us today as well.

Still, we mustn’t ever forget–It’s not about the intricacies of the ritual itself, it’s about the condition of one’s heart. We can avoid false religion when we ask ourselves, “Does this practice draw me into relationship with the Living God?” If it does, keep it. If not, scrap it. You might want to read that again. It could be life-changing.

Challenge yourself, by asking God to reveal himself to you, to minister to you, and to awaken you in a new way in the days leading to Easter. What might God want you to look at more closely? What might God wish to make more like him in your life?

This could be very personal, and private, but I encourage you to share what findings you’d like to. It will help all of us journey together through this time of Lent, toward the great joy we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday! (a.k.a. Easter)

Thank you for coming here today! Blessing this holiday season.