Commentary Gospel

Culture Wars (The Gospel’s Trans-Cultural Counter-Culture)

Is Christianity a subculture?

Christianity is not a subculture

Culture is defined as, “the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group,” as well as, “all the knowledge and values shared by a society” (see culture) and is grounded in the general understanding of and the assumed answers to ultimate questions such as, “where does life come from? what is the meaning of life? who are we? and what is the most important thing to spend our time doing in the years allotted to us?

Tim Keller says, “No one can live without some assumed answers to these questions, and every set of answers shapes culture:

  • the way we treat the material world,
  • the way we relate the individual to the group and family,
  • the way groups and classes relate to one another,
  • the way we handle sex, money, and power,
  • the way we make decisions and set priorities, and the way we regard death, time, art, government, and physical space.

What does American culture look like? What kinds of knowledge, values, attitudes, and behavior does America truly hold? Is it good? Is it bad? Coming from a Christian worldview, we know something is wrong with our culture. But coming from a secular worldview, we can surmise something is wrong, too. And even though people may not know how to articulate it, they know something is wrong with our culture. We can surmise something is wrong because, “[t]oday an astonishing array of movements, political action groups, social activist networks, foundations, think tanks, experts, writers, artists, as well as religious leaders are all intentionally working for cultural change…”

In his article (no longer posted) Beyond Gomorrah: America’s Culture, Anthony C. LoBaido describes his view of what is wrong with America’s culture citing multiple examples presented on television. In many ways, LoBaido is spot on. He correctly assesses,

Many Americans, especially evangelical Christians, are in complete denial about this filth. If you are NOT actively opposing this now that you know about it, well, I am sorry, but you are no Christian. Period. The makers of these shows and the purveyors of this filth should be tried and dealt with in summary fashion. In a better day in America they would be run out of town on a rail.

As they say in [the movie] American Beauty; “Never underestimate the power of denial.”

With these thoughts in mind, can we rightly call Christianity a subculture? My short answer is, “No. Christianity is not a subculture.” I propose when Christianity is labeled as a subculture, people within this “subculture” are moral at best and pharisaical at worst. Christianity is not a subculture of our national culture even though we have distinctive patterns of behavior and beliefs. America is a nation of self-loving, self-involved, self-idolizing, and self-destructive individuals who portray an ostensible morality. Christianity as a subculture does right merely because it is right. Christianity is not a subculture of America’s culture.

Christianity as a subculture lacks a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Christian-subculture promotes arbitrary forgiveness without repentance of sins and faith in Jesus. It never publicizes that God forgives when there is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. He does not arbitrarily display mercy. It is in Christ that we see God’s wrath fully poured out for us and in our place while at the same time we, who deserve that wrath and death, receive life and mercy if we only repent of our sins and believe in JESUS. What a Christian-subculture presents is a feel-good, theologically watered down Gospel of no good news. It promotes morality without purpose. We begin to call people “Christian” when there is no clear (Gospel-Centered) Christianity in them. Viewing Christianity as a subculture spreads a moral yet malignant lifestyle ending in death.

Christianity as a subculture sees a problem exists but can not fix it. As a subculture, symptoms are addressed with little to no mention of the underlying problem – sin. Yes, sin is mentioned but never completely dealt with. Sin may be complained about but never opposed; at least actively. LoBaido hits the nail on the head, “If you are NOT actively opposing this now that you know about it, well, I am sorry, but you are no Christian. Period.”

He later says, “My point being that people just cannot begin to handle the harsh reality. They can’t believe such things COULD happen but they happen every day. The Book of Revelation clearly says there will be no massive repentance in the so called End Times, but merely that people “will curse God” the worse things get. (Please see Galatians 5, 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, 1 Peter and 2 Peter.)

I believe we are seeing a foreshadowing of this right now. Instead of repentance we are seeing anger and denial in our culture. (The lights are out but nobody knows it’s dark.)”

The Christian subculture outcries against sins that are worse than our seared collective conscience even allows. And when the Christian subculture does oppose something, grace is a fleeting thought. Sinclair Ferguson says, “Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.”

Christianity is not a subculture.

Christianity is a Counter-Culture

Tim Keller writes,

We must not form 1) a sub-culture in which we externally dress and talk (dialect) differently avoid certain gross behaviors, but internally we have the same values as the surrounding culture. (E.g. believers may not smoke or drink too much or have sex outside of marriage, yet in their core beings they may be as materialistic and individualistic, and status- or image-conscious as the society around.) We must also not form 2) an anti-culture in which Christians feel highly polluted by the very presence of the unbelieving schools, entertainment, arts, and culture. In this model they feel they cannot really function in the society without getting the cultural power back through legislation and storming institutions directly. We must also not form 3) a para-culture expecting a miraculous, sweeping intervention by God which will convert many or most individuals and explosively transform the culture. Instead of becoming deeply engaged with the society and people around them, working with others as co-citizens to deal with the troubles and problems, believers concentrate completely on evangelism and discipleship building up the church and their own numbers. Rather we should form 4) a counter-culture. This is the reverse of a ‘sub-culture’–we are to be externally quite like the surrounding culture (positive toward and conversant with it), without ‘jargon’ and other Christians trappings–yet in worldview, values, and lifestyle, they demonstrate chastity, simplicity, humility and self-sacrifice. They are quite different in the way they understand money, relationships, human life, sex, and so on. Hananiah is an example of the ‘para-culture’ in Jer.28; Jeremiah is a proponent of the ‘counter-culture’ in Jer.29.

In all reality, Christianity is “a culture with attitudes and values opposed to those of the established culture” – a counter-culture with trans-cultural transformation. “In short, the purpose of redemption is not to help individuals escape the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew it. God’s purpose is not only to save individuals, but also to make a new world based on justice, peace, and love, rather than on power, strife, and selfishness. If God is so committed to this that he suffered and died, surely Christians should also seek a society based on God’s peace and love.”

So how should we go about it? How should we go about seeking a society based on God’s peace and love?

This is where the Gospel steps in. The Gospel is about taking on other people’s infirmities and burdens. The Gospel is about demonstrating mercy because we have received mercy. The Gospel is about demonstrating how to use the good gifts God has given to us – instead of worshipping the gifts (Romans 1:18-23), we worship God through the use of His good gifts. The Gospel is about demonstrating grace when we are reviled. The Gospel is about self-sacrifice, selfless servanthood, and the act of the proverbial foot washing of others. The Gospel frees us to live how we were designed to live. The Gospel frees us to freedom.

Jesus is the perfect example of taking on another’s infirmities and burdens. The Hypostatic Union testifies to this. Jesus is our example of ultimate self-sacrifice. Jesus is our example of demonstrating mercy. Jesus is our example of how to use God’s good gifts to worship Him. Jesus is our example of demonstrating grace when reviled. Jesus is our example of ultimate servanthood. Jesus demonstrates what it is to be fully human.

Jesus is not only our example, Jesus is our self-sacrifice, our servanthood, our mercy, our good gift, our grace when reviled, our true humanity, and our freedom. Jesus did all of these things for us and in our place. Just as Jesus turned Jerusalem and Judea upside down as one washes a plate, we, as we live functionally in His Gospel, will turn the world upside down. In his sermon The World Turned Upside Down, Spurgeon said, “They said the Apostles turned the world upside down. They meant by that, that they were disturbers of the peace. But they said a great true thing; for Christ’s gospel does turn the world upside down. It was the wrong way upwards before, and now that the gospel is preached, and when it shall prevail, it will just set the world right by turning it upside down.”

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