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Confronting Unloving Culture: Everywhere

Sic 'em.

What Is Culture For? (6)

Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” Acts 23.1-3

Sic ‘em!
I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite passages in the whole of Scripture.

Here is Paul, stung by an abuse of culture (a court hearing) and a transgression of civility, laying into the highest religious official in Israel, complete with name-calling and threats of retribution from God.

I love it.

C’mon. You love it too because we’ve all felt this way at one time or another. We see the way people use public office for mere self-aggrandizement or produce culture that is demeaning and disgusting. We hear the language people use, lament their self-centered relationships, and see the slip-shoddy way they do their work, and we recognize that, hey, these people don’t care about anybody but themselves; and it ticks us off big time.

So sic ‘em.

That’s what Paul did. It’s what Jesus did in the temple, when He whipped up on the moneychangers who were abusing their privileges at the expense of others. It’s what Elijah did when he humiliated the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Moses and Aaron, Daniel, Jeremiah, Peter, and John—throughout the Scriptures we find evidence of God’s people weighing in against the unloving ways, often involving culture, of self-serving individuals, and they don’t spare the rod as they bring the hammer of judgment down.

Of course, we must let our speech be seasoned with grace and practice all the nuances of speaking truth in love. Nevertheless, as Paul and all the others managed to have a good—and loving—conscience toward God and men when they challenged the unloving culture of their day, so must we.

A conflict of worldviews
We’re engaged in a conflict of worldviews with a culture of narcissism, relativism, corruption, and self-indulgence, and we’re gonna have to knock over a few idols along the way to realizing more of a culture of love.

The world and its culture will not improve unless we play an active role in trying to improve it. Beginning with ourselves, we must make sure the culture we choose honors God and spreads His grace to the people around us. From there we must become informed about the state of culture, especially that which is most potent in conveying ideas and establishing practices—law, education, entertainment, social media, and pop culture in all its forms. That’s not to say we have to participate in all these; but at the least, we need to understand the times and how they shape and are shaped by various forms of culture so that we can know what we ought to do in pursuing a culture of love (1 Chron. 12.32).

As Steve Smith shows so well in his book Pagans and Christians in the City, the conflict of worldviews in which we find ourselves today is as crucial and constant as in the days when Rome sought to suppress the Christian movement. It will not do for us to remain silent when cultural forces have arrayed to dismantle every vestige of whatever is good and true and noble and lovely and decent.

Guidelines for engaging unloving culture
We will need some guidelines for addressing forms of culture which are focused on something other than love for God and neighbors.

First, make sure you know whereof you speak. Over the years, lots of rumors have been circulated throughout the Christian community about this or that atheist and what he or she is alleged to have said, this or that corporation and its diabolically subtle undermining of traditional values, or this or that musical group, filmmaker, or author, concerning their motives in what they do. As often as not, those rumors have proved to be unfounded.

Before you turn over the tables of these cultural purveyors in your Sunday school class or on the Internet, make sure you have your facts straight. Do some research. Get your own facts and quotes from those writings or products you intend to confront. Let their own words and ways speak against them as you challenge their abuse or misuse of the culture entrusted to them.

Second, moderate your response. Yes, I know Jesus used a whip and Paul resorted to name-calling. But we are neither Jesus nor Paul, and so it’s likely that, if we resort to great passion in responding to abuses or misuses of culture, we’ll end up looking worse than the fools we’re trying to expose. Use questions in your response. Guard against hyperbole, ad hominem arguments, and facile conclusions. Speak the truth in love, but speak it plainly and clearly, so that there’s no mistaking you do not approve of that which you are denouncing, and for good reasons.

Wherever possible, confront those who are perverting the truth through their abuse or misuse of culture in an appropriate setting. Think of Jesus and Nicodemus, Peter and Cornelius, or Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4). Respond to a website. Meet with a public official. Contact a writer or politician via email.

To whatever extent you can, develop relationships with those whose cultural activities you intend to challenge. Take a co-worker out for coffee. Work through email to get to know a writer. Talk with a fellow believer in private. Give those who are misusing or abusing their cultural privileges the opportunity of reflecting on and amending their ways in private, but don’t hesitate to speak the truth in love wherever it is appropriate to do so.

Finally, talk with other believers about the abuse of culture in our society, and encourage them to join you in taking a more Christian approach to the culture we make and use. If we don’t stand up against unloving forms of culture, we’ll be overwhelmed by them. Remember Paul in front of the high priest and go get ‘em.

For reflection or discussion
1. What opportunities are available to the Christians in your community to confront any aspects of an unloving local culture?

2. What happens when those who promote a narcissistic, materialistic, and self-serving culture go unchallenged?

3. How can Christians help one another in this challenge of confronting unloving culture? 

Next steps—Transformation: Can you think of any situations in your life right now where someone is using culture in other than loving ways? Is there anything you can do about this? Pray that the Lord will direct you in beginning to stand up to the unloving culture of our day.

T. M. Moore

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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