Cultural engagement for Christians is not an option. Christians must daily engage in the surrounding culture. But how we engage culturally is our choice.
We can never predict or control how others will respond to us. But we can always control how we choose to respond to them.
It is not uncommon to find yourself criticized for the slightest thing. And that criticism often comes from someone with a past issue with Christianity.
One day I received a phone call from a physician administrator at our clinic. He said, “Hi Bob, I have received a complaint about you from one of your patients. He complained about you imposing your faith on him at his last visit.”
The complaint surprised me. I remembered the visit and wasn’t sure what I had done. I phoned the man myself. First, I wanted to ask forgiveness for his upset. And second to learn how to avoid offending other patients in the future.
He responded, “Look; when I go to see a doctor, I only want them dealing with my health issues. When you left the room, you said, ‘God bless you,’ and that offended me. If I want preaching, I will go to church.”
That patient’s unexpected reaction occurred twenty years ago. But it proved prophetic to today’s cultural sensitivity (and even oversensitivity!) regarding Christianity.
Cultural Engagement May Seem Intimidating
Christian persecution is a worldwide phenomenon. And while American Christians often feel “persecuted.” There is no threat of life for the American Christian.
Cultural engagement can feel intimidating for Christians. But sharing our faith openly in America is still possible. And we should use our freedom to evangelize even if it seems hard at times.
But despite our freedom, there is an undeniable anti-Christian bias. And this intolerance causes many young adult Christians not to communicate their beliefs. And nearly half (47%) consider it wrong to evangelize!
Why? There are at least two contributing factors:
- Mature Christians are not mentoring younger Christians in constructive and attractive cultural engagement.
- Many believers are bullied into silence or are fearful of criticism.
Cultural Engagement is Not an Option
But cultural engagement as Christians in the world around us is not optional. Christ commands us to be both salt and light (Matt. 5:15)--meaning we are to live out our faith within our broader culture.
We should avoid adopting beliefs and behavior against our Christian beliefs. If we want to impact this world for Christ, we should be “in” but not “of” the world around us. That means we should join in our surrounding society and not hide from it.
What is Cultural Engagement?
So, what is cultural engagement? For our purposes, we have a brief definition of cultural engagement.
It is “giving, creating, and speaking to influence the world around us for God’s glory and humankind’s good.”
Cultural Engagement Means Giving
Firstly, cultural engagement means giving. Giving money extends beyond our church tithe. We can also contribute money to local causes. And to more wide-ranging efforts such as ending human trafficking.
Moreover, giving means volunteering our time and skills. And that needs to extend beyond the four walls of the church (e.g., “time, treasure and talents;” see Matt. 6:21). We can:
- Volunteer at the local animal shelter
- Take meals to homebound people
- Foster at-risk children, or
- Be involved in local school activities
These activities let us bump up against a variety of people with common interests. And as a result, friendships develop between diverse people.
Cultural Engagement Means Creating
Secondly, cultural engagement means Christians should be “creators.” And that means both of and within the culture. We should not only be consumers. This command goes back to God’s demanding that Adam care for Eden (Gen. 2:15).
There are a variety of ways to express creativity. We can demonstrate it at our work.
For example, more talented people can create beautiful art or music. Further, any of us can serve dinners in an atmosphere of hospitality for diverse guests in our home.
Undoubtedly, the church can improve in the ways it encourages young believers. Oftentimes, artistic Christians often feel unsupported, unmentored, and at worse unwelcome.
As a result, these discouraged young adults leave the church. And their absence subsequently leaves the church without vital resources. And tragically, the church loses valuable opportunities to connect with younger Christians.
Cultural Engagement Means Speaking Truth
Thirdly, we need to be truth-speakers. Our cultural engagement means that we speak up for what is right. And we support other truth-speakers.
For example, write intelligent and polite communications. And send these messages to governmental representatives, newspaper editorials, or social media posts.
Cultural Engagement Means Speaking into Relationships
Fourthly, the main reason for our cultural engagement is to share the Gospel. But above all, we should evangelize in the right way at the right time.
It is important to realize that you start by being a good listener if you want someone to hear what you have to say. Unquestionably, friendship is the best soil for truth-speaking to flourish.
Here are a few guideposts for speaking the Gospel in relationships:
First, focus on the other person.
- Relationships thrive when you focus on the other person.
- Specifically, learn to ask questions while genuinely listening.
Second, choose safe environments.
- The best communications are in comfortable and quiet surroundings.
- For example, homes, coffee shops, restaurants, or break rooms at work.
- These can all foster exchanges of ideas.
Third, be wise in how you introduce the Gospel.
- Not every conversation needs to be about Jesus when you are creating friendships.
- Your faith commitment should be explicitly seen in your lifestyle and manner
Fourth, always begin by asking permission.
- Before evangelizing, ask your friend permission to discuss their faith commitment.
- If they agree, ask questions, and listen.
- Don’t begin by lecturing or criticizing.
Fifth, being non-judgmental is critical.
- Open communication occurs when others know you have their best interest at heart.
- Without a doubt, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Cultural Engagement Means Speaking in Public
Fifthly, Christians should not shy away from speaking in public. And when the opportunity arises, take it.
For this purpose, be sure to be well-prepared, courteous, approachable, and brief. In this situation a humble, civil, and well-versed public speaker can be a powerful witness.
Furthermore, some Christians should seek elected positions. Why should Christians seek elected office? In these roles, they promote beneficial legislation that honors God.
How can legislation honor God? Because all legislation legislates morality! So, the question arises, “Whose morality should be legislated?
Obviously, controversial moral issues within the public arena are common. In these situations, Christians in the public arena seek the broadest consensus. The best approach is to use the “moral law” (Rom. 2:14).
What is the moral law? The moral law refers to every human’s natural intuition that some things are right or wrong and good or bad.
For example, every normal person agrees that killing innocent children is wrong. But in the case of abortion, pro-abortionists don’t see unborn children as children.
As a result of couching your arguments in the moral law, you will attract more support. And this perspective may be more persuasive to non-Christians.
Cultural Engagement Means Acting for God’s Glory & Humankind’s Good
Finally, Christians don’t need to hide from or submit to an anti-Christian environment. Our message about Jesus is too important to ignore.
And no Christian can avoid “engaging culture.” Basically, we cannot separate our spiritual life from our secular life.
Our faith in Jesus affects how we see everything!
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
As Christians, we should be influencing the world around us. We should have a vibrant, non-offensive witness that doesn’t compromise our beliefs.
Otherwise, this non-religious culture is shaping us. We have ample opportunities to be like Jesus in an ever-darkening world.
And we can do it by giving, creating, and speaking into our surrounding society with love and respect.
Ashford, B. R. (2015). Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (p. 25). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Lewis, C. S. Lewis (2001). “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory (p. 140) San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001).