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siht meedeR

I bet that title scared you for a second, especially if you are dyslexic and the letters showed in an order that looked all too familiar,

Don’t worry.  I am not starting this post off with an expletive or even a near miss.

I wrote my title backwards for a reason.  There are times that I grow weary of meaningless buzzwords or catchphrases. Some of the current examples that are bringing about my fatigue in the Christian circles are:

  • We gotta redeem the culture
  • Let’s redeem the time
  • We need to redeem our communities

I may not have worded those in the same manner that you have heard them but they get the general thought across.  Churches everywhere are trying to redeem anything and everything.

Now, I am not saying that there aren’t good intentions behind some of the these catchy practices but sometimes I wonder if there is anything substantial in understanding what it is the people leading the charge are trying to accomplish.

Many times the actions linked to these catch phrases appear to be carbon copies of activities or experiences that can be found in the secular world.  And, sadly, there are times that they are poor copies.

I wonder, if like my title, we get our focus backward.  Maybe in the our American, fast-food mentalities, we are in such a hurry to see results that we focus on producing a byproduct instead of the product itself.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  In Galations we can read about the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace… and so on.  As a believer in the bible, I may be lead to think that it is my job to exhibit those behaviors and so I begin to work on being peaceable or more loving or having more joy.  I start to do activities that help me bring about these changes in my life.  However, in my will to exhibit these behaviors in order to look more like a good Christian, I have forgotten that these fruit are of the Spirit.  They are by-products of His activity in my life.

Sure, in my own power, I can fool you by making it appear that I have it all together but in reality I may be a jittery mess from trying to accomplish all the tasks that I have set before myself in order to have those fruit apparent in my life.  In the end it is just empty activity because they are really false fruit of me instead of fruit of the Spirit.

So, what if in our attempts to redeem our culture, communities, and people, we have had the focus in the wrong place?  Is there a chance we are expending meaningless energy?

I don’t know the answer to those questions.

Though this I can see as evidence in the book of Acts, the early church didn’t seem to be trying to redeem the culture, or communities, or people.  Instead they created a new culture and a new community as byproducts of the new life that they had in the Holy Spirit.  There was something so genuine about this experience that more people were redeemed.

I wonder if in our focus on the byproduct we may actually be more conformed to the world – maybe instead of redeeming the culture the culture is infecting us.  Do we start looking for our own purpose, significance, or legacy when we try to follow that catchphrase wave?

Christ said this – But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

You know, I don’t think His kingdom is a byproduct of our efforts to accomplish our wills.

Do we have some things backwards?

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  1. January 9, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Tony: I personally think you have hit the nail on the head. In our attempt to “relevant” we have often become irrelevant. I don’t know how it all fleshes out but I do think the church needs to try less harder to being relevant and put more effort into preaching the Word and meeting needs. I reckon I am tired of the show we often put on when all it does is entertain.

    • January 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      Amen. Preach it. Teach it. Live it. And…. delight in it.

  2. illuminatingyouthculture
    January 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I couldn’t agree less on your main point here Tony and i’m quite surprised that you feel this way. Especially since i know you, your heart for people to come to know Christ, and the battles you may have faced in knowing that culture to expose it and ultimately redeem (sorry, just had to say the word). Although i completely agree with your brief hinting at copying culture which results in either embarrassing, cheesy christian sub-culture or being more conformed to the world. I think you are confusing the terminology of “copying” and “redeeming”. Yes, culture and community may be the trendy words you are hinting to within the church but redemption is as biblical as it gets. Not something a church or a Christian can “ride the wave” with. God has used it to restore (better word for you?) the land/community (Leviticus 25) to people by knowing their culture, connecting with them and using it to share the Gospel to save them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). I have a couple sermons specifically on this word and how important it is to contextualize the Gospel if you’d like to see them. Also a great book to read on how to do this without conforming to the world or looking like a cheesy copy cat is Mark Driscoll’s “the Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out”. But please understand… redeeming the culture (community, people, families, situations) is part of the calling that comes with a missional Christian (may be too trendy of a word for you) or Christian who thinks like a missionary would. Including the one’s in the early Church as they looked completely different from their surroundings because of their new found life in Christ in fruits of the Holy Spirit but still a command to know what the world around them not only looked like and use it to bring them into their Gospel community (Acts 17) which had Bible specifics on what that would look like and some freedoms in the world around them to use non-sinful things to Worship Jesus as time passed. In the end you just have to ask how many people is being saved and discipled for the cause of staying “away” from the world because that’s the thin line you’re addressing here. One that i’ve seen you fight against many times.

    • January 11, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      First, contextualizing the gospel has nothing to do with ‘Redeeming a Culture’. I would point out that Paul, while employing the plaque to the unknown god as a starting point in connecting with the people on a language and understanding level, never partook in the idolatrous activities in order to appeal to them. He also did not take another of their known gods and try to spiritualize that god’s attributes as a way to create a connection to our God. I think there is a very important distinction in that example.

      Second, restoring the people of Israel (God’s chosen people with whom He had a covenant with) has nothing to do with ‘Redeeming a Gentile culture’ whose covenant is through Jesus Christ and not a land or religious set of activities. I think many of our modern day traditions that are unfounded based on biblical evidence can be tied to attempts to recreate a chosen people mentality based on works and objects.

      Third, God redeems people through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

      The whole point of this post was to point out that in our attempts to create synergies or energy through the ‘latest and greatest’ ‘Jesus Marketing’ programs, we actually focus on byproducts of what naturally occurs if we were a people concerned with being in the Word and Spirit.

      Redeemed people impact their world because they are kingdom minded. We are called to be Kingdom Agents – His kingdom, not ours.

      I believe that there is a very dangerous precedent being set in many of the practices that churches are enrolling in. There is a precedent that if we can hold up one changed life, we have evidence of a successful campaign and that it was God’s will. If I use that logic (“the ends justify the means”), I will be able to justify some very scary stuff. David murdered Uriah after having committed adultery with Uriah’s wife. There are so many sins involved in that story that we don’t have time to enumerate them here. However, God used that union to bring about Solomon who is in the lineage of Christ. So, maybe I should murder and commit adultery because there is evidence that God uses those circumstances to bring about His will. I hope that you would agree with me that the scenario I just explained is ludicrous for us to mimic to bring about God’s will.

      So, maybe just maybe, God also cares about how we conduct ourselves in spite of the fact that He can use our mess-ups for His glory.

      I think we forget that it is God who redeems – not us. We are called to be obedient. Our obedience creates (not redeems) a culture (as witnessed in the early church) that people will be interested in if they recognize it as being genuine. Many of the approaches we use today look like so much of what the world already has to offer.

      Let me be specific now.

      1. Show me biblical evidence that appealing to people’s material lust is a godly way to lift up Christ. (wii’s, iphones, gas cards, you name it… they aren’t needs – they are material wants that reinforce a fallen culture’s idolatrous relationship to materialism.) I have asked this question multiple times and no one has been forthcoming with a biblical answer. All I ever hear is more of ‘the ends justify the means’ mentality.

      2. Did you know that it is illegal to take performance enhancing steroids and that we live in a day and a time when many of America’s sports idols have been soiled by the shadow of steroid use? How about the negative impacts that steroid use has on the body and the personality? Or what about the message that is sent to a ‘do anything to win or get ahead’ culture when we elect to use steroids as our way to advertise our youth program?

      3. What kind of message is going to be sent to my soon-to-be seventh grader when she reads on facebook that her spiritual counselor not only watches and listens to explicit music and movies, but lifts them up as the most worthy of 2009? These are materials that she is not of an age to decide whether they are appropriate for her or not.

      There has never been a time that Grace and Truth were out of vogue. In our day, it appears Truth is found in books outside of the bible because the bible is too outdated or hard to understand for the people of God or the lost world to be transformed by.

      Finally, I never mentioned once to ‘stay’ away from the world. We are to be IN the world, not of it. (That’s the bible). We are to take care of widows and orphans and to stay unstained by the world. (Again, that’s the bible.) We are to FLEE from many of the gross sins that we jokingly pass around in our tweets based on popular tv shows. (That’s the bible).

  3. illuminatingyouthculture
    January 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Paul encouraged Timothy to get circumcised at the est. age of 30 to appeal to the circumcised for the Gospel. Circumcision was considered idolatrous & heavily debated as people were being deceived that it was a requirement of salvation instead of through grace & faith alone. He didn’t partake in any worship of false God’s but knew what they were worshipping well enough to connect with them and actually did appeal to them through one of their heathen poets (Aratus’s poem “Phainomena”) in Acts 17:28 where he said the poet was right in saying “‘For we are indeed his offspring.” From memorization and which is actually talking about Zeus but how He says we are God’s offspring for Zeus is a false image of God. This would be considered studying and knowing and ultimately using because it is complete

    Tim Keller says it best when talking about how a missional church redeems culture in a 4 point article (point #2)….

    2. Enter and re-tell the culture’s stories with the gospel
    • In “Christendom” it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to “do what they know
    they should.” There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. It is more a
    matter of exhortation (and often, heavy reliance on guilt.) In a missional church preaching
    and communication should always assume the presence of skeptical people, and should
    engage their stories, not simply talk about “old times.”
    • To “enter” means to show sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the literature, music,
    theater, etc. of the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, ‘heroic’ narratives, fears.
    • The older culture’s story was–to be a good person, a good father/mother, son/daughter, to
    live a decent, merciful, good life.
    • Now the culture’s story is– a) to be free and self-created and authentic (theme of freedom
    from oppression), and b) to make the world safe for everyone else to be the same (theme
    of inclusion of the ‘other’; justice).
    • To “re-tell” means to show how only in Christ can we have freedom without slavery and
    embracing of the ‘other’ without injustice.

    Honestly, I do think we are talking about 2 different things here where you are still expressing you discomfort with using gimmicks to share the Gospel which is not redeeming culture. At heart redeeming culture (or at least the people part) is knowing their world to let the Holy Spirit use you to point out to them that they are a sinner in need of our great Savior, JESUS. I agree with more then you probably thing in what you said but don’t think what you’re arguing against is what redeeming culture is. This will be my last post and I appreciate your heart for Scripture and Holiness. Love ya Brotha.

    • January 11, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      As far as whether or not we are on the same page, I think I addressed that in my original post when I wrote:

      Now, I am not saying that there aren’t good intentions behind some of the these catchy practices but sometimes I wonder if there is anything substantial in understanding what it is the people leading the charge are trying to accomplish.

      Be at peace. I will always point people to the bible. It’s not old or out of fashion.. it is still fresh and vibrant and more powerful than any man written book or man designed process.

      It was the bible, after all, that provided Luther with his longing to see change.

  4. illuminatingyouthculture
    January 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Ha, sorry, 1 sentence got cut off.

  5. January 11, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I don’t really care to agree/disagree. I just think it’s fun that you wrote your title backwards.

    siht meedeR

    I mean, just look at that…it’s freakin’ fun!!

    (I have no idea what the point of this comment is)

    • January 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm

      Thanks, Aaron. It really isn’t about whether people agree or disagree with me. I have thoughts and I post them.. call it cathartic. And, yes, it was fun doing the title backwards.. I may have to do it more often. 🙂

  6. illuminatingyouthculture
    January 12, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Ha Ha, i do agree… creative use for a title although i had recently read one of those facebook posts that proved that you can read whole sentences as long as the 1st and last letter is in place. Needless to say i was wondering what was going on here upon 1st seeing it. lol

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