December 16, 2017

Forget “engaging the culture”

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Yesterday I read an article called, 3 Ways Christians Will Address Cultural Issues in the Coming Yearsby Ed Stetzer. Stetzer is one of those people who sits above the vault of the earth and keeps his eyes on the big picture, on trends. He’s a culture-watcher, a pundit. And few voices are stronger in our world than that of the pundit.

Ed Stetzer, in best sermonic form, identifies three ways that he thinks Christians will “engage the culture” in days to come: there will be culture engagers, culture defenders, and culture creators.

  • The first group makes an effort to understand the culture around us and “engage” it by developing better ways of interacting with the people in that culture.
  • The second group contains the people who will focus on “tak[ing] a stand in both the political and social arenas on issues that have to do with human flourishing.”
  • Group three will speak to the culture through projects that will help others imagine a different and better world, one with the truth and values Christianity contributes.

Stetzer writes:

When we assess our current situation, I believe that we find the need for all three types of respondents: culture engagers, defenders, and creators.

We need more culture defenders and churches that will stand winsomely for the truth.

Many Christians will go about this in different ways—and it won’t fit in three nice little categories. Regardless, it does matter that we think well about culture: how we engage it, defend things within it, and create it. And, we need to do so “christianly.”

The byline of Ed Stetzer’s article in CT says, “The way we engage culture as Christ followers matters. It matters a lot.”

Does it?

I am starting to think all this talk about “engaging culture” presents yet one more bypath that actually leads most of us away from what it means to be a Christ follower.

The concept of “engaging the culture” has grown out of a “culture war” approach to Christianity in the U.S. Its emphasis is on:

  • Taking public stands on the public issues of the day in American society.
  • Developing strategies and using public means (politics, media, the institution of the church, the arts) to bring about change (or block change) with regard to those public issues.

The key word is “public” and the approach may be deemed “strategic.” However, here’s my problem with this: First, what is “public” in today’s world is media-driven and frankly, irrelevant to most people in their actual lives. Second, that which comes across as “strategic” smells of manipulation in the service of a goal of “winning” a contest.

The issue of same-sex marriage, for example, today’s hot-button issue among conservatives, rarely intersects with my daily life, my daily relationships in my family and among my neighbors, my daily work, and my interactions around my community. If it does, it doesn’t do so as a “public” issue on which I must take a “stand” and utilize “strategies.” If I do have contact with people in same-sex relationships (and I do), they are my neighbors or friends or co-workers or family members. Relating to them rarely if ever requires expressing my opinion about the political issue of same-sex marriage in Indiana, the theological underpinnings of the institution of marriage, or my “view” of homosexual relationships. If I ever find myself in such conversations, it is usually among insiders who share a particular point of view and whose interaction merely serves to reinforce their opinions.

What is happening in the media is mostly not my life nor the life of my neighbors. When I relate to people face to face, on street level, it’s not about “strategy.” It’s about love. It’s about taking interest in each other’s lives and being together in such a way that we help each other along the path of life.

This is one of my main problems with Christianity and the way it’s presented today.

  • Faith has been redefined as having strong opinions about issues we hear about in the media.
  • Love has been redefined as “strategy.”

I have no doubt there are some people called to “engage the culture” by participating in public service and institution building. Not the vast majority. For most of us this stuff is propaganda and shoptalk. Makes the insiders feel good. Doesn’t do a thing for others.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to work and ask Jesus to help me love my neighbor. Today.

Comments

  1. Any time I read the word “winsome”, my fundygelical spidey sense starts tingling.

  2. A lot of us were sucked into that kind of stuff for a while in our Christian walk.

    I pray that these folks will someday be able to leave that stuff as well.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    A public faith has been redefined as one that has strong opinions about issues we hear about in the media.

    “Strong Opinions(TM)” as in
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHash5takWU
    ?

  4. Is just me, or did Chaplain Mike just “take a stand in [a] social arena on issues that have to do with human flourishing”?

    The media is not just some other thing out there. This. This blog is media. This blog exists to engage a subset of culture in a public way. This doesn’t negate CM’s arguments necessarily, but this whole post also, sort of, doesn’t negate Stetzer’s.

    • The key word in CM’s critique above is “public”, which I take to mean dealing with mass media and political concerns. Internet Monk is a miniscule jot in the midst of all that, and “changing the world” in the sense that Stetzer is talking about is not a priority for any of us here.

    • On some level, a valid point Theo. But I don’t really look at it that way. Blogs are funny things. Mr. Stetzer is a recognized spokesperson who is employed to write for various publications. IM is a purely voluntary and personal blog. I have always seen it as a place where conversation can be held. Of course, most of the time, we who write direct that conversation by choosing the topics and moderating the discussion, but I don’t do it to “engage the culture.” I do it for myself because writing is a part of my spiritual formation and vocation, and for others so that they can have a good place to read some opinions and thoughts and converse about them.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Yes. And the fact that CM has addressed Theo’s post is evidence the difference between the iMonk blog and Stetzer. And while I agree a bit with Theo, the fact that we can engage and challenge CM is the reason I keep hanging around. I love hearing differing opinions and being able to analyze, challenge, and sometimes even allow them to change me.

  5. Christiane says:

    I am wondering if those who speak of ‘engaging the culture’ have any idea how patronizing that probably sounds to those whom they call ‘the culture’ ?

    Our Lord did not separate Himself from people . . . He immersed Himself into our world in a way that was self-sacrificing . . . He didn’t ‘engage’ our humanity, He assumed it

    I think there is already a dissonance where some see themselves as superior to the ones they intend to approach . . . the contact then becomes unable to create or sustain trust on either side

    there is a profound difference between ‘engaging’ another human person and spending time with that person. The word ‘engaging’ implies a hidden agenda for a temporary contact at one remove from the unfortunate object of interest, wherein the individual they are approaching is told they are sinners, they are lost, and they are going to hell UNLESS . . . and you know the rest of the spiel . . .

    that is seen as ‘required’ in some evangelical circles,
    but how is it seen by the people who are ‘engaged’ in this way? and is that REALLY how a Christian person is supposed to ‘be with’ those around them?
    or does it remind one of the Pharisee in the temple contrasting his righteousness with the Publican who knew he was a sinner and begged for God’s mercy ?

    is it possible that we are to be ‘sent’ into the world bearing instead the peace of Christ within us ? like St. Francis of old who went unafraid into the camp of the Sultan who befriended him, having realized that Francis was ‘different’ in a way that made room for a real friendship to grow ?

    this post raises more questions that it answers, and that make it a really effective post

    maybe the modern idea of ‘evangelicalism’ could take a page from the saints of old who went out to befriend people bearing within themselves the peace of Christ ?

    . . . it is said among the Orthodox that a truly humble servant of God could draw thousands to Christ

    • turnsalso says:

      “Our Lord […] didn’t ‘engage’ our humanity; he assumed it.”

      Yes. A thousand times yes.

    • The words that are used in articles like this, and they are everywhere, tend to turn people into problems or at best puzzles (and what is a puzzle but a fun problem) that are in need of solving. I don’t think that anyone likes being reduced to a demographic and being treated like a problem. I read an article one time that chose to roll back the begining year on the millenial generation a couple years to include me… I felt a flood of condescension from church strategizers wash over me. Luckily most people don’t hold 1981 to fall into that demographic so I was able to regain my footing.

      • Everything people say about Millenials today they said about us Gen-Xers 20 years ago almost verbatim.

        The only difference I can see between us back then and them now is that we didn’t have smartphones and that “alternative music” meant Nirvana and STP instead of people strumming ukeleles while they whistle or shout “Hey!”.

        But in any case, yes, it’s never pleasant to be reduced to a demographic segment.

        • … and look what happened, half of CCM sounds like Goo Goo Dolls. I don’t think anyone is happy about that.

          • “…half of CCM…”

            If you’re up for stats on CCM, you just poked the right Gen-Exer. Some years ago (2010?) I undertook a rather painful, in-depth analysis of what the local Fish station played. I looked into about 35 hours worth of music — some 330+ songs. Results: 1 out of every 3 songs was either Third Day, Christ Tomlin, Casting Crowns, or MercyMe. Four artists, one-third of the air time. Mercy You, Me, and DuPree….

            To this day, when I get in the car after work, I’ll often play a game with myself and try to see if the Fish is playing one of those three artists. My unscientific ongoing study suggests it still runs about 1 out of 3, even five years later!

            If there’s a culture that needs changing, let’s start with The Fish….

          • That’s funny, or sad, probably both.

            Isn’t there a verse somewhere, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, but I will be ashamed of the state of Christian music in 2000 years”?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Results: 1 out of every 3 songs was either Third Day, Christ Tomlin, Casting Crowns, or MercyMe. Four artists, one-third of the air time. Mercy You, Me, and DuPree….

            Just like Twisted Sister on 1984-vintage MTV.

    • My big question for the Culture Warriors was, “What happens if you win?” Just as import is, “How do you know when you have won?”

      If I’m not mistaken, the whole concept of a culture war began outside the religious arena to begin with, but the fundagelical subculture, at the prodding of Frank Schaeffer through his dad Francis persuaded Jerry Falwell and his imitators to engage the battle in this arena.

      Ironically, the emphasis on warring against the culture has guaranteed that those who are SUPPOSED to be fighting a spiritual battle unencumbered by human forces, will lose it when they use the carnal weapons of this world. And that’s pretty much what we’ve seen.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        My big question for the Culture Warriors was, “What happens if you win?”

        At Full Intensity On Steroids, look at the Ayatollahs of Iran, the Wahabi in Saudi, and the Talibani. They have won their Culture War and are building their Perfect Societies of SCRIPTURAL Righteousness.

        At lesser intensity, here’s Chaplain Mike on a previous Culture War against Demon Rum:
        http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/when-christians-won-the-culture-war

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The word ‘engaging’ implies a hidden agenda for a temporary contact at one remove from the unfortunate object of interest, wherein the individual they are approaching is told they are sinners, they are lost, and they are going to hell UNLESS . . . and you know the rest of the spiel . . .

      Thought Experiment, everybody:

      How would you “present the Gospel” if you COULDN’T use the Threat of Eternal Hell?
      (And how many would be unable to do it?)

      In the early Roman Empire, the Gospel included Triumph over Death via the Resurrection, a family/clan/tribe for the isolated and alone, and the hope of a World Set Right (in the indefinite future). It was HOPE in a bad situation. What similar POSITIVE things about the Gospel do we have today? Or is it all Avoid Punishment in Hell?

      • HUG, to add to your list, I might quote Athanasius (On the Incarnation):

        It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all than, having been created, to be neglected and perish; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.

        Regardless of how one interprets the metaphysical nature of the devil, this at least has the potential to allow for a lens to view the Christian faith in which the correct beginning paradigm isn’t torture/hell avoidance by wormish vile worthless sinners – but God’s “justice” is instead the restoration of God’s good creation. This frames “human flourishing” in a different light IMO. This ancient view is uncommon (in western evangelicalism at least) but that seems to be changing. I’ll admit, though, that I had the gospel as hell avoidance pounded into me for so long that it’s difficult to see outside of it sometimes.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Instead of the term “gospel as hell avoidance”, I tend to describe it as “gospel as Fire Insurance”.

          Sold Amway-style in a pyramid scheme.

      • In the Evangelical world that I was raised in (and I recognize that this isn’t true for everyone), thinking of the Gospel outside of “Avoid Punishment in Hell” would, quite simply, make no sense. The problem that REALLY matters (sic): God’s just and infinite wrath at human sin. The only good news that REALLY matters: us worms being rescued from God’s justice in the from of the divine lake of fire (if you’re elect or if you choose properly). The reason for Jesus: To take that wrath upon himself – PSA style. Period. Talk about culture and “worldly” problems all you want (liberals), but this is what REALLY matters – all else is smoke and shadows.

        When the gospel is presented purely in terms of a forensic/legal problem with God, it seems unavoidable that the ultimate purpose of “culture engagement” is to be a “witnessing medium” to this forensic problem. Culture is destroying souls, so naturally engage and destroy it. What else could be expected given that underlying starting point? The stakes are eternally high. WRETCHED URGENCY. Human flourishing is nice, but it doesn’t REALLY matter, right?

        I do think that there are some staggeringly beautiful things going on in the world that are driven by the gospel, but the fact that the gospel is often, in it’s most basic form, reduced to a legal transaction is problematic to “cultural engagement”.

        Again, I recognize that some here (especially any orthodox contributors)can see outside of this legal paradigm and that I probably struggle with it more than most.

        • When you reduce the whole long story of God’s interactions with man to a story of how God is ticked at the unholiness of the people he created, so you better shape up, fly right, & have the correct beliefs or you are heading straight to hell for eternity (but you’ll have lots of company!), the whole thing becomes a day in court. You find people, make sure they have the right public defender, and be on your way. Why worry about the here & now at all? Only because you need to look good so people will trust you and hire the public defender you recommend.and to make sure the Judge isn’t disappointed in you for not getting more people to hire the right public defender.
          And if someone doesn’t believe there is a hell? Then ya got nothin’ to go on and the conversation is over.

    • It is extremely amusing to hear calls for Christians to “engage the culture”. As if the culture were something “other” that is capable of being engaged. But Christians have been looking at mirrors and mistaking them for windows for a long time.

    • Al Owski says:

      CM’s positing ‘engagement’ as ‘manipulation’ was underscored by Christiane’s statement: “some see themselves as superior to the ones they intend to approach . . . the contact then becomes unable to create or sustain trust on either side”. That is why I left the church. I have lost trust. So has the rest of the world. I was tired of being manipulated. It’s how one get’s one’s way with people one does not care about.

  6. Cholmondley Patterson says:

    What on earth do these culture-engagers want?

    Nobody here hates late Imperial Anglo-American culture more than I do. It is truly circling the drain, both in its “progressive” [progressing to where, exactly?] and “conservative” [conserving what, exactly?] manifestations. There is enough pig-headedness, swine-heartedness, self-indulgence, self-congratulation, sloth, hatred of the other, self-righteousness, unrestrained passion, and utter lack of discernment on both sides to fuel another First World War, which I have always regarded as the stupidest, most avoidable, most pointless, and most psychologically destructive in history.

    But guess what? I am a son of this culture. I have met the enemy and he is me. If I had Jehovah’s omnipotence, this fair globe of ours would circle the Sun sere and lifeless, as purified from contrary opinions and wrong-thinking as a cinder. I don’t think that is what these culture-engagers want, but that is likely to be the result. If I object to anything in this culture, let me root it out of my own soul and my own heart, cueste lo que cueste. Let me start “engaging the culture” there.

    Because my own heart is the only place where, by the grace of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have any hope of victory.

    • This, absolutely. As I read the quotations, I kept thinking that Stetzer sounded as if he thought he was an alien. Does he not realize that he is as much of this culture as anyone else and that there is little he can do about it? Perhaps if he spent twenty years traveling in uncomfortably different places, learning other languages, and reading old books by foreign authors, he could at least gain insight. But he can no more be removed from his culture than a turtle can from his shell, so it seems to me both blindness and arrogance to list choices of how to deal with it.

      • Cholmondley says:

        I guess this means I am one of those with whom Ed Stetzer from his seat in the empyrean will feel the need to engage.

        I am breathlessly awaiting.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I would like to point out that in military jargon, “engage” means “contact with Enemy, START SHOOTING!”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I guess this means I am one of those with whom Ed Stetzer from his seat in the empyrean will feel the need to engage.

          Enthroned up in Heaven, looking down at all those filthy mortals as if they were some kind of ticks or mites?

          That does NOT sound like an attitude I’d want for ANYONE who is in any position of Power (or trying to climb there). Power plus Utter Righteousness is a REAL Bad Combination. Ask Citizen Robespierre, Comrade Pol Pot, or the Caliph of ISIS.

      • Try reading Stetzer’s actual article and not the quotations. He was much more balanced than Chaplain Mike or you imply. Also, Please consider what you’re saying… By saying we are one of those three things, the assumption he has is that Stetzer IS part of culture and not an alien to it. Whether you think his categories are sound is worthy of discussion but because we are all ‘sons of our culture’, we are called, under the Lordship of Jesus to ask how our cultural DNA is contrary to as well as reflective of Him, how we can speak more clearly and functionally to others about Him using the language of our culture (rather than simply the language of an evangelical or other sub-culture), or how it can be enhanced through the creative gifts and abilities He gives to each of us. It seems that about 90% of our complaints about the author or the article are based more on Chaplain Mike’s interpretive grid than on an attempt to exegete Stetzer’s actual intent.

        • Huh, I thought I was “engaging” Stetzer.

          And I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but your comment sounds in my ears like more strategic gobbledegook. I’m sorry but I’m just not interested in “speaking more clearly and functionally about Him using the language of our culture.”

          Love your neighbor, man!

          • Wow, Mike… I guess I’m trying to figure out what you think Paul meant by ‘I become all things to all people that I might save some’? Or what does it mean to ‘love my neighbor’? How does he or she receive love? How will she know it IS love? How can I love them ‘well’?

            I don’t mean to sound overly critical but your comments sound to my ears like willful obtuseness. I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that ‘strategies’ can be just another way of treating people like projects. By saying you just want to ‘love people’ without consideration for what love looks like to that person is actually terribly unloving. It doesn’t love my wife well to bake her a cake, though she would be impressed(!). It does love her though, to buy her flowers or to hold her close when she’s hurting (others’ spouses would be deeply annoyed by their respective spouse trying hold them in their distress). How do I know that? Because I know *her*. How do I know *her*? Because I ‘engage’ her. And once I have engaged her, I speak love to her in ways that are ‘clear’ to her. I suppose that smacks of strategic or another painful buzzword, ‘intentional’, but frankly I don’t think it’s love to not be a little more specific in how I go about it for the sake of the other person. Otherwise, I think we might just be promoting lazy, selfish love if we aren’t careful. And if it’s lazy and selfish… Is it really love? I suppose so, but you’ll have to convince me that it honors God.

          • David, as in many of my posts, I am concerned about our language and the way we use it uncritically, little realizing how it shapes us. This inorganic, strategic, methodological language that we use shapes our brains into thinking of everything as a project to be accomplished, a problem to be fixed, a puzzle to be solved, a conflict to be won. It leads us to create programs and systems. Some of this is inevitable and necessary, but the church has become so saturated with this way of thinking and talking that we don’t even recognize our bondage to spiritual technology as the primary means of doing practical theology. We don’t actually see the face of our neighbor, or hear the human cries of her heart. People become widgets in a culture we’re called to engage, not neighbors, friends, fellow pilgrims. I’ve been in this culture and participated in the strategy sessions this approach creates, and I find it wanting on so many levels. Language matters.

        • And, we need to do so “christianly.”

          The byline of Ed Stetzer’s article in CT says, “The way we engage culture as Christ followers matters. It matters a lot.”

          I think Chaplin Mike has more of an issue with the CT byline than the actual article .Stetzer is really saying we need to respond to everyone in a Christian manner

    • Very well said on all points.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Really? Fortunately, your god is kinder and more merciful than you are. You would, if you were God, reduce the planet He made and pronounced good to a lifeless cinder; He loved it so much that he sent His own son to teach His people to renounce their errors. Certainly, we are wrong-headed, too often hostile to one another, self-indulgent, and thoughtless–but we are capable of learning and improving. God loves us, grants us grace, and hasn’t given up on us. We–including the culture warriors–shouldn’t give up on us either.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Again, what would “presenting the Gospel” sound like WITHOUT reliance on Armageddon and Eternal Hell?

      • Cholmondley says:

        Fortunately, your god is kinder and more merciful than you are.

        Yeah. I sure hope so.

        You would, if you were God, reduce the planet He made and pronounced good to a lifeless cinder

        You’ve never once daydreamed about something like that? Not only is God better than I am, but you are too.

        Please let me know how you got that way. I’m serious.

        • That Other Jean says:

          Live a long time, make some awful mistakes, have some kinder, gentler friends help you get through them and set things as right again as you can, and have some lessons on goodness and mercy pounded into your head. Live and learn.

  7. The concept of “engaging the culture” has grown out of a “culture war” approach to Christianity in the U.S. Its emphasis is on:
    -Taking public stands on the public issues of the day in American society.
    -Developing strategies and using public means (politics, media, the institution of the church, the arts) to bring about change (or block change) with regard to those public issues.

    When you’re at “war” everything becomes a weapon, even the arts, and if you’re not “in” then you’re the enemy. No amount of softening the language changes that.

    Normally a reference to “human flourishing” would ring true to me, but it makes me cringe a little bit in this context. Place “human flourishing” within a political/legal context, while taking very seriously the underlying “culture war” tones and you may end up with a proposal for a governmental “Department of Human Flourishing”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Again, in military jargon, “to engage” means to start shooting.

      Place “human flourishing” within a political/legal context, while taking very seriously the underlying “culture war” tones and you may end up with a proposal for a governmental “Department of Human Flourishing”.

      And Human Flourising(TM) becomes Absolutely Compulsory for the New Soviet Man(TM).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When you’re at “war” everything becomes a weapon, even the arts, and if you’re not “in” then you’re the enemy. No amount of softening the language changes that.

      I went through that when my family blew apart.
      Never Again.

  8. MikeInIowa says:

    Engage the culture=get busy! Without a doubt some are called. But I grow weary of such calls when applied to all. I really believe (a take I’ve come to over time) that all those calls to go were for the apostles and those who have a calling now. Paul tells us to lead a quiet life. Maybe the early church was getting too loud and needed toning down because they were engaging too much…Loving God and neighbor by our actions and attitudes wherever we are is just too ordinary.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Engage the culture=get busy! Without a doubt some are called. But I grow weary of such calls when applied to all.

      Two words: WRETCHED. URGENCY.

      Backed up with the threat that “Because ye are Lukewarm I Shall Spew Ye Out Of My Mouth”.

      As expressed in the names of ministries such as Teen Mania and Acquire the Fire.

  9. I don’t think this is a generous reading of Stetzer at all. And I think I know why.

    The fault does lie with Stetzer, but for something he didn’t say more than anything he did say. In all of this talk about culture, he failed to *define* culture. And culture is a very hard thing to define. It is why disciplines like sociology and anthropology and ethnography exist.

    It is such a shame that the term “mission” and “culture” its derivatives have been so overused and wrongly used as to be stripped of meaning, because that is what Stetzer’s article is trying to get at at the end of the day (and I agree that he does it poorly). But there has been monumental work done by missionary scholars whose life purposes have been to help the church humbly “engage culture” and “love their neighbor.” Both Stetzer’s article, and this critique, stand on that foundation.

    Before we dismiss all talk of culture and engagement and mission as meaningless drivel from the agenda-driven evangelical cacophony, let’s look in the direction of Leslie Newbigin and Ralph Winter and Charles Kraft and the Lausanne Movement and the Jesuits and Franciscans and St. Patrick, and everyone who has contributed to figuring out the best expression of the Gospel in particular places and times in history.

    There is no such thing as asking Jesus to help me love my neighbor in a vacuum.

    • This might be where what Chaplain Mike thought Andy Stanley was saying about the Temple model comes in. Have we become so removed from the culture around us that we have to engage our neighbors and coworkers like they live in sub-Saharan Africa.

      • It’s not that we’ve become removed from the culture. It’s that were are so used to our own culture that it is rendered invisible to us. This is why I want our Christian writers to set forth an agreed upon definition of culture to start with, because it’s not the same thing as “values,” which is what is probably most equated to culture in readers’ & writers’ minds.

        • Well put, Sean — both of these comments. You’re exactly right that there are a lot of different understandings of culture.

    • I think Sean has it essentially correct, that the lack of definition of ‘culture’ is causing folks in these comments, and Captain Mike himself to miss the mark on what Stetzer is actually saying. In fact, Stetzer is arguing AGAINST culture warring so I’m deeply confused by several of the comments which seem to imply otherwise. Did anyone actually read the article?!

      It’s based on that concern that I would suggest that it was less a failure on Stetzer’s part to define his terms and more the knee-jerk reactions of those of us with a distaste for all the ‘culture warring’ that has diminished the cause of Christ. If WE did our homework, we might be able to understand that Stetzer would argue that culture is not something outside of us, but something of which we are part (as one of the commenters put it… We’re ‘sons’ of our culture), and we’d be a little more in the listening realm rather than the attacking realm. I guess that’s what seems so ironic. For all of our loathing and vitriol against the evangelical war on culture, we sure are quick to join the war against the evangelical sub-CULTURE in these comments. :-/

    • This. I’ve read the article twice now, and I’m not sure what Stetzler means to say. He wants to move beyond a culture war paradigm. He notes, truthfully, that it is hard to reach a culture while declaring war on it.

      The problem, however, is that the language he proceeds to use seems to evoke a lot of tried and true evangelical habits of thinking about “us” and “them.” For example, he would like to see more “culture engagers.” Evangelicals have been claiming to “engage” the culture for years now. Does he mean that he wants to see more of the same? Does he want something new or different? If so, what does it look like?

      I have a hard time shaking the sense that we are still talking about “us” (churches) against “the culture” (them). At least, this is what I read when I hear such familiar declarations as “Those who are culture engagers are those who believe we must understand the people around us in order to meaningfully engage them for the cause of Christ.” “Engaging the culture” means changing it, confronting it, or inserting things into it, by means of various plans and schemes. Or, it means taking people out of Team Culture and signing them up for Team Jesus. If that is NOT what he means, he needs to make it clear before he uses a lot of familiar evangelical buzzwords.

      • Danielle, that’s a really fair critique of the lack of clarity or care in some of Stetzer’s comments (or lack of comment) in the article. I would say, however, that Stetzer is using (maybe unhelpful) shorthand to move the conversation in the right direction and away from the ‘culture warrior’ mindset that contemporary evangelicalism has mistakenly fallen into. In one sense, there is a distinction, and figuring out how to talk about that distinction or better yet, where to apply that distinction is the harder part. For example, see Colossians 1:13-14. Or 1 Cor 6:11. There’s been *some kind* of change in status and orientation and yet, I am still human and therefore part of humanity. I am still a broken person longing for unbrokenness. I’m still a part of my culture (whatever that is). How do I uphold all these truths without reservation?

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Please pardon our skepticism. Those “mistakes” that contemporary evangelicalism has committed have been serious and have caused and continue to cause not a small amount of damage to the Church. If Setzer’s article is a call to repentance rather than a call to superficial (winsome) change, then I applaud it. Time will tell.

        • Danielle says:

          “I would say, however, that Stetzer is using (maybe unhelpful) shorthand to move the conversation in the right direction…”

          Yes, I think that is fair.

          I followed Stetzer’s suggestion to look at his articles on contextualizing the gospel message. In those pieces, his concept of culture and what it means to speak in a “culturally relevant” way are a lot clearer and more careful. He does not see the church and the culture as separate entities, and he resists the tendency to use the word “culture” in a narrowly negative sense.

          Stepping back a bit from the article, my main quarrel is really with words like “engage.” It can suggest a battle, which is precisely what some evangelicals think they are having. Alternatively, it sounds like you are trying to capture the attention of audience and hold it – which is an even more popular perception. Either way, you wind up with a transaction in which someone is trying to come out on top. There is some truth to that idea. But even if true, this is only one slice – and not the most important slice – of what the church’s cultural work comprises.

          To me, the bigger topic is: What culture is the church building? Are we building places and spaces that promote ‘human flourishing?’ Is our corner of the world a good place, a safe place for other people? Are we interacting with other people and institutions as if people matter to God? Are we cultivating places where people can find friendship and healing, where the gospel is breaks into the world people experience? Is this place in some small measure part of the Kingdom of God? What are we creating that is of value and that benefits us, and those around us?

          The idea that culture is “out there” and that we go out and interact with it is true, but the more primary and most important fact about culture is that we are already in it and making it. So, what kind of culture are we building?

          • Well said, Danielle. And thanks for honoring Stetzer enough not to join the foundation-less reactionary attacks. I’m, by no means, a Stetzer apologist, but I was a bit dismayed by many of the comments made above as lacking the very charity we say we should be offering to others.

            To ‘engage’ *can* suggest battle. But it’s also the word used for when a man commits himself to his future bride. It implies commitment, care, and intentional association and alignment. I guess I’m inclined to read the word ‘engage’ as a ‘to build bridges of communication.’ What are we communicating? Love, God’s commitment to fix our broken hearts and heal our broken world (human flourishing and more: cosmic flourishing as well), and an invitation to participate in a relationship with Him and in His kingdom shalom.

            What does that look like? Well, frankly, your questions are a great guide in evaluating whether we are and I couldn’t have said it as well!

    • If this same list of 3 points was proposed by, say, a liberal pundit, an atheist group, a Muslim group, or a gay rights group, would a conservative Christian group still see them as harmless and moving beyond the culture wars? I’m not so sure.

      I know some history, but I wish I knew more about the history of the culture wars. We didn’t get to where we are instantly – it’s the product of many world events, generations, leaders, and from theology. Perhaps the question is, has something changed theologically that, for the audience that Stetzer is speaking to, it would naturally lead them to see this his words as anything other than a call to be nicer (on the surface) in the same old culture wars?

      Honestly, my own evangelical background has proved time and time again that a reference to “human flourishing” (or similar language of love towards neighbor) is very often (not always) doublespeak for “snatch them out of the Hands of an Angry God who has a list of your sins and wrong beliefs”. That may be a generalization, but I think it’s largely true. Accordingly, with “the culture” destroying souls and the hour glass of ours and our children’s lives ticking down, war on the culture would seem to be THE natural response if one isn’t content to just let the world go to Hell (and most Christians I know don’t want that, but ultimately feel that it’s the deepest truth about human existence). There is a high correlation to how we view God and the Gospel with how we might “engage” culture. As Richard Kearney says “Tyrannical God breed tyrannical humans. And vice versa.”

      • Would I see it as harmless? No, because I believe their culture and worldview is actually harmful. But would I find it offensive or odd that they would do so? Not at all, because obviously they believe their culture is beneficial and their worldview right. The fact is there are already liberal, Muslim, and gay rights groups trying to influence culture in their direction.

        • Exactly, reading those same 3 items if proposed by any other group wouldn’t make me think anything other than “culture war agenda”. That just is what it is. I’d rather just concede that than try to force Stetzers thoughts to be other than what they clearly are IMO – whether that’s right or wrong.

          Admittedly, and particularly given the current polarized and charged environment which is now the norm, I don’t even know what a statement in which Christians were encouraged to actively engage in politics and the arts in order to change culture that did NOT contain culture war rhetoric would look like. And like you said, it’s not like this culture war rhetoric is unique to any one worldview. In any case, if there is a change in direction I’m just not seeing it in the article itself.

    • ++1

  10. Interesting article: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel

    http://www.charismamag.com/life/culture/22494-how-the-new-christian-left-is-twisting-the-gospel

    • The only thing worse than the “New Christian Left” is the “Old Christian Right”.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Hmm, nothing really new. Just complaining about young Evangelicals with their coexist and their couch potato-ing and cafeteria-ing (nice to see that one make the leap from Catholic cafeteria to Christian cafeteria).

      I did have to smile at the IRD. Their main agenda back in the day was to try to torpedo the mainline left Christian churches. They helped, but didn’t seem to realize that they were simply cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Essentially they tried their darndest to make Christianity toxic to the roughly 40% of Americans on the left. Well, job accomplished. Now they complain that America is less Christian than it used to be. Go figure.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Essentially they tried their darndest to make Christianity toxic to the roughly 40% of Americans on the left. Well, job accomplished. Now they complain that America is less Christian than it used to be. Go figure.

        Now they can retreat behind the Thomas Kincade-decorated walls of their Holy Fortress as the Persecuted True Remnant, Uncontaminated by Those Heathens, congratulating themselves on their Righteousness.

      • “I did have to smile at the IRD.”

        I didn’t smile, I had to look it up. From your context, I’m putting my money on Institute on Religion and Democracy, which was next to last on a page of 50. Most likely not Infantile Refsum Disease or Infinity Research and Development, Inc, tho that last one is a possibility. I never heard of any of them before, which probably just goes to show how far outside of the loop I am. Maybe I was living out in the woods with no electricity during their heyday.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Between Federal Government agencies and Microsoft Jargon, we seem to be exhausting all possible three-letter acronym combinations.

          • cermak_rd says:

            I worked for IBM in the 90s. Trust me, no one did better with the TLA. And of course the FLA, and the RTLA (recursive three letter acronym in which one of the letters in the acronym was itself an acronym.). IBM had a whatis batch file on the mainframe (hey it was a long time ago) that one could look up the acronyms. It wasn’t unusual to have a whole screenful of entries, many of them internal to IBM.

            I, of course, eventually got tired of this and went to work for AT&T (tongue firmly planted in cheek. IBM sold our division to AT&T. And AT&T was no slouch at the acronyms).

  11. Chaplain Mike is always doing his best to live Jesus.
    That is such an enormous help, seeing others living Jesus instead of the world.

  12. cermak_rd says:

    To give a generous reading to Stetzer, I think he is referring to getting people to be receptive to evangelizatoin. What I think he means is that modern folk have a lot of religious options and there’s even the plausibility structure for folks living their lives without any apparent religion. This makes a rough go for evangelization and the SBC has been losing members like just about everyone except the charismatics.. So how do you get folks to give Christianity another look?

    I think that’s where his bullet list came from. How do you get folks to give Christianity another look?

    Well, you have to try to see thing with their eyes (and don’t forget many folks in the SBC may not have friends who are public non-believers, to them, the non-believers may as well be Martians) and try to speak to them like the Greek Scriptures stories of Paul.

    Of course, his soul is owned by the SBC, Stetzer has to give a nod to the culture warriors (human flourishing) but reminds them not be jerks (winsome).

    And finally he suggests the arts.To be honest, I don’t think this one will work unless he means Madison Avenue type of arts.

    The SBC is facing some tough headwinds. It has a lot of rural churches at a time when folks are heading to cities. It is primarily located in religiously saturated south so has little growth head room in the region of the nation with the highest church consumption. It is primarily composed of old-line white Americans (e.g. not by and large recent immigrants or their children from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia etc.) This is a demographic that is not growing. Add in pointless internecine battles over Calvinism and private prayer languages plus, yes, a few decades of pitched culture war battles not engaged in winsome manners and has made it less plausible for SBC churches to succeed in large cities up north and west other than among expat SBC members.

    To be honest, even if they were doing everything right (whatever that would be), I don’t think the SBC would be in great shape right now.

    • I think the emphasis on evangelization is part of the problem. Christians see evangelization as their duty, but so, so often can’t put themselves on the other side. How would you, Christian parent , feel if you kid’s Hindu neighbor invited him to come and hang out at the Hindu Temple week after week? Annoyed? I would guess yes. Or the local Athiest Society trying to lure your college age kid to their weekly discussion group, complete with pizza, soda, & games? Would you assume they just want to provide some structure & group fun? Or would you think that these people are trying to lure your kid to their side?

      Americans are used to constant marketing & understand that evangelism & marketing are not all that different.

  13. “Culture War”

    Now the future’s staring at me
    like a vision from the past,
    and I know these crumbs they sold me,
    they’re never gonna last.
    Though we know the culture war,
    we don’t know what it’s for but
    we’ve lived the southern strategy.
    You know it’s never gonna last,
    so keep it in the past.

    These are different times that we’re living in.
    These are different times.
    Now the kids are growing up so fast.
    Paying for our crimes.

    You left while I was sleepin’.
    You said, “It’s down to me”.
    Oh I’ve read a little Bible.
    You see what you want to see.
    Oh, we know the culture war,
    we don’t know what it’s for but
    we’ve lived your southern strategy.
    You know it’s never gonna last
    so keep that shit in the past.

    These are different times that we’re living in.
    ‘Cause these are different times.
    Now the kids are growing up so fast.
    They’re paying for our crimes.

    The dominos they never fell
    but bodies they still burn.
    Throw my hand into the fire
    but still I never learn,
    will I ever learn?

    That these are different times.
    Now the kids are growing up so fast
    and paying for our crimes.
    We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy,
    in your culture war.
    We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy,
    but we don’t know what it’s for.

    We’re soldiers now in the culture war.
    We’re soldiers now, but we don’t know what it’s for.
    We’re soldiers now in the culture war.
    We’re soldiers now, but we don’t know what it’s for.
    So tell me what’s it for.

    You want it? You got it, here’s your culture war.
    You want it? Now you’ve got it, so tell me what’s it for.

    • Arcade Fire has some brilliant songs.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A reply from the Cult of the Blue Oyster:

      “Veterans of the Psychic Wars”

      You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
      I’ve been living on the edge so long
      Where the winds of limbo roar
      And I’m young enough to look at
      And far too old to see
      All the scars are on the inside
      I’m not sure if there’s anything left of me

      Don’t let these shakes go on
      It’s time we had a break from it
      It’s time we had some leave
      We’ve been living in the flames
      We’ve been eating up our brains
      Oh, please don’t let theses shakes go on

      You ask me why I’m weary, why I can’t speak to you
      You blame me for my silence
      Say it’s time I changed and grew
      But the war’s still going on dear
      And there’s no end that I know
      And I can’t say if we’re ever…
      I can’t say if we’re ever gonna be free

      Don’t let these shakes go on
      It’s time we had a break from it
      It’s time we had some leave
      We’ve been living in the flames
      We’ve been eating out our brains
      Oh, please don’t let theses shakes go on

      You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
      My energy’s spent at last
      And my armor is destroyed
      I have used up all my weapons and I’m helpless and bereaved
      Wounds are all I’m made of
      Did I hear you say that this is Victory?

      Don’t let these shakes go on
      It’s time we had a break from it
      Send me to the rear
      Where the tides of madness swell
      And been sliding into hell
      Oh, please don’t let shakes go on
      Don’t let these shakes go on
      Don’t let these shakes go on

    • That these are different times.
      Now the kids are growing up so fast
      and paying for our crimes.
      We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy,
      in your culture war.
      We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy,
      but we don’t know what it’s for.

      Such an apt song for this topic Stuart. This quote is exactly how I feel.

    • this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco….

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzORu1dqEE0

      • Soldier, your eyes,
        they shine like the sun
        I wonder why.
        Soldier, your eyes
        shine like the sun
        I wonder why.

        Jesus, I saw you
        walkin’ on the river
        I don’t believe you.
        You can’t deliver right away
        I wonder why.

        Jesus, your eyes
        shine like the sun
        I wonder why.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8rx5wQq_wY

  14. Randy Thompson says:

    “Engaging the culture” triggered an odd image for me.

    If you have ever spent time in New York, you very quickly become aware of car horns. Somebody, somewhere is always honking his or her horn. This is a picture of the culture with which we’re trying to engage. There are many, many (and yet more) people “engaging the culture,” all of whom loudly honking their cultural horns. On one level at least, when Christians do this, they become just one more horn honking, and all they’re doing is contributing to the noise (which generally seems to have a dumbing-down effect)..

    Besides, doesn’t engaging the culture boil down to dropping Easter eggs from helicopters to thoroughly engaged people below? (A local example, at the moment.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Besides, doesn’t engaging the culture boil down to dropping Easter eggs from helicopters to thoroughly engaged people below? (A local example, at the moment.)

      Gospel Blimp or WKRP Cincinatti?

      • Randy Thompson says:

        “The Gospel Blimp” needs to be rediscovered. As some Frenchman said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.:

        (That would sound a lot more elegant in French, but I’m afraid my French is limited to reading menus.)

  15. Let’s say an insidious move toward anti-Arabism (is that a word) begins to flourish in the present political climate and death camps come to the U.S. and become an accepted part of our culture’s understanding of ‘reasonable’ activity in our post-911 world. How do we, um, engage it? Do we, as Christians, address it ‘publicly’? Do we leave it to the politicians while I quietly sit in my cubicle or maybe buy a cup of coffee for my work buddy to let her know he or she matters while the Arab neighbor across the street fears for their life or freedom?

    Maybe the scenario seems a bit far fetched… Maybe it doesn’t… If you’d prefer: consider the present spotlight in racism in our ‘culture.’ The point is, to love my neighbor (literally or figuratively, may include speaking (out loud… Publicly, loudly, even) into societal brokenness, even if it turns out I’m part of the problem. THAT, it seems, is cultural engagement. Incidentally, because some people ‘war’ against what we might all agree are stupid, trivial, or unhelpful things does not mean that the concept of cultural engagement or even cultural ‘defense’ lacks merit for the Christian.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Do we, as Christians, address it ‘publicly’? Do we leave it to the politicians while I quietly sit in my cubicle or maybe buy a cup of coffee for my work buddy to let her know he or she matters while the Arab neighbor across the street fears for their life or freedom?

      Or do we volunteer to work Cleansing in the camps because It’s Doing the LOORD’s work against those Heathens and Enemies of God? (“GOD WILLS IT!”)

      Or do we mark up our End Time Prophecy Charts and sit on our butts singing hymns as we wait to be beamed up? (Any minute now… Any minute now… Any minute now…)

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Funny you should use that scenario. After listening to a sermon in a large Southern Baptist church several weeks ago, I’d conclude that the preacher would have christians manning the guard towers while blaring sermons about Christ’s love for muslims from the loudspeakers. How’s that for culture warfare? Perhaps, and I’m assuming here, your deep involvement in evangelical christianity has kept you from seeing just how institutionalized culture warfare has become.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’d conclude that the preacher would have christians manning the guard towers while blaring sermons about Christ’s love for muslims from the loudspeakers. How’s that for culture warfare?

        Sounds a lot more Soviet Union than German Fascist.

        Hitler’s minions just killed you en masse. But Stalin’s NKVD — it wasn’t just the bullet in the back of the neck at the end, but what came before — the beatings, the torture, the brainwashing. Only when your knee did bow and your tongue confess “Comrade Stalin is LORD”, only when you Truly Believed The System was RIGHT and you were WRONG and you praised Them for it were you given the release of the Tokarev round.

        • turnsalso says:

          “He loved Big Brother.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Where do you think Orwell got that meme?

            It was a epiphany when I realized that all he did in 1984 was transfer 1948 Russia into a near-future England. Everything The Party was doing in Airstrip One, Oceania — the Ideology, the Abuse — WAS actually being done in Stalin’s Russia.

      • The ad hominem attacks presented here are disappointing, and not a little ironic. The implication (or assumption as Clay calls it above) is that if I ask us to slow down on the attack on Stetzer long enough to see if there is *any* merit in what he shares about culture, then I must be ‘deeply involved’ in the ‘institutionalized culture warfare.’ Rest assured, I am not approving the cultural warfare model in the slightest. Let’s consider an example: Ferguson, Mo. The justice department has determined systemic racism is being practiced there. Is it ‘manning the guard towers’ to speak up in a sermon about the ugliness of racism as contrary to ‘human flourishing’? Or to challenge our congregations to stand against such racism personally and publicly? Or, do we remain silent? To jump to the conclusion that because the evangelical church has practiced ‘culture warfare’ therefore means that any conversation by a Christian that speaks to societal evils like racism (in whatever form… Black, white, Arab, Jewish), classism, or even religious discrimination is inherently bad or implies Nazism, fascism, or communistic tyranny is unfair and unfounded. The irony is that those same people who charge the evangelical church with cultural elitism are shouting them down (I.e., practicing your own form of elitism) when they try to enter the conversation and trip over words that *can* but don’t have to mean what you demand that they *must* mean (e.g., ‘engagement’ means attack!!!! Really?!)

  16. Dana Ames says:

    Lots of ideas above with which I agree.

    When this subject comes up, I always think back to how it was for Christians before Christianity was legal. I can’t find any evidence that they were trying to “winsomely” engage, defend or create the culture in which they lived. Life for them was every bit as messy as it is for us, and we know they weren’t all “perfect.” what they did do, though was worship corporately, perform acts of love toward the sick, dying and abandoned, and willingly give up their lives when persecuted, as a testimony/witness to, and union with, the death and resurrection of Christ and the real hope of sharing in that Resurrection. It was by these means **only** that they contributed to the massive change in conditions – NOT “the culture” – than enabled Christianity to become legal and the persecutions to cease.

    Those who avoid looking at history (even with all the caveats necessary to be able to look at it reasonably well) can’t understand that the questions of Paul’s day were not the questions of Luther and the other Reformers, and that the early church communities did not look like the Evangelical Bible Church (and the other Protestant churches, for that matter) down the block. It was Robert Webber and Rodney Stark – Protestants, and the latter an agnostic one! – who first made me aware of the magnitude of this difference.

    Forgive me.

    Dana

    • Dana,

      You are right. Stark points out (in ‘The Rise of Christianity’) that it was living quietly, sacrificially, and as servants to those in need, that resulted in Christianity becoming the religion of the Empire in less than 300 years. No culture-warring going on there (it would usually result in a swift execution). When I think about the ‘culture wars’ I’m always reminded of a quote from an unlikely source (‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’ by Jim Cymbala). He notes that when Caligula wanted to appoint his horse to the Senate, Christians didn’t take to the streets or organize petitions. They prayed – and the Church outlasted Caligula (and the Empire) because they did what the Church is supposed to do (the things Rodney Stark describes).

      • Robert F says:

        You’re right, they Christians didn’t take to the streets to protest or sign petitions against the Emperor. But shortly after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, they took to the streets in violent protest over contesting theological precepts. Blood flowed in the streets to put the flesh on Christian beliefs. By all appearances, Stetzer and his minions are far more civilized and tolerant than these early Christians.

        • One thing that strikes me as odd in this line of reasoning is that it fails or seems to fail to take into account that we DO in fact have a voice in ways that the early Chrisitians did not. The problem isn’t that we are using our voice and we shouldn’t, but that we use it poorly when we do use it. The ‘moral majority’ and Christian Right and all its manifestations have proven to be a terrible reflection of Jesus’ kingdom ethic and an abuse of our ‘right’ to speak. Stetzer is offering a way to rethink the voice we do have so that we no longer abuse people, make power plays, etc.

  17. Cholmondley says:

    Maybe what Mr. Stetzer is talking about is simply “how do we do evangelism here and now?”

    I grew up in an ethnic ghetto. Everybody in the ghetto went to the ethnic church, except for the hillbillies who came up from Appalachia to work in the factories. They were Baptists, and we weren’t Christians to them, so they evngelized us vigorously. Then the Pentecostals took root, and the Baptists weren’t Christians to them, so the Baptists got a taste of their own medicine.

    Our culture, for the lack of a better word, is the product of Christianity. The whole idea of diversity-in-unity, which seems to be the tribal juju to which everybody is burning their pinch of incense these days, wouldn’t get much traction apart from a Trinitarian vision. It’s fun, sometimes, to troll people on gendersquat boards by accusing them of being crypto-Christians because “after all, you gotta treat everybody with r-r-r-r-respect and kindness”. Huh? You gotta?

    News to me.

    Nevertheless, I can understand why Mr. Stetzer wants to do something. I can remember when things ran on a consensus provided by the Seven Sisters of American Protestantism, in league with the J.C. Murray wing of American Catholicism. It was a good world for people like me, and I miss it dearly, but I can think of a lot of folks for whom it wasn’t so great.

  18. Thank you Chaplain Mike for this consistent reminder in your writings. They have really changed the way I view our “mission” in this world as Jesus followers.

  19. I read this post, the comments so far, and then read the original article, which I likely wouldn’t have done otherwise. In my view, Mr. Stetzer has been treated most unfairly here today. He is not speaking to the world at large, he is not speaking to us, or to anyone else but Evangelicals. The task he has set himself is to somehow nudge this sleeping and declining giant awake and inform it that it is broken, it has failed, and much of what it holds dear isn’t working and is indeed counterproductive. That’s a bitter pill for anyone to swallow, but most especially for “neo” Evangelicals after waging a campaign for something like seventy years.

    It is unfortunate that this needs speaking of in militaristic terms, but that is the mindset being dealt with. It is unfortunate that the word Mr. Stetzer uses to sum up his approach is “engagement”, which as pointed out above has come to mean inflicting as much death and destruction as possible in military euphemistic speech. The word is ruined, perhaps beyond redemption. Beyond that, from a certain perspective the purpose to this very blog is a war waged against Evangelical culture, and comments here are often intended to inflict as much pain and death and destruction as possible. Fortunately it is not the general mindset.

    I find Mr Stetzer to be rational, reasonable, and in fact winsome. Yes, that word bothered me too, but it essentially means winning, and he demonstrates what he means by it in speaking to Evangelicals in a way that doesn’t alienate and is most likely to produce change. Remember, he is not speaking to us, tho I find instances here in these pages of all three of his categories, and they are a good starting place for someone just beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. I would consider Mr. Stetzer an ally in what this blog attempts to do. If his language and approach is not what we might use, the bulk of his audience is far more likely to be won over by him than by us. If some of the methods have a tinge of the advertising industry, ask Paul about speaking the language of his varied audiences in order to win some. I’m giving Ed Stetzer a pass, and if he’s not perfect, he’s in good company. How do you talk with people?

    • I appreciated reading your comments Charles. You appear to have given much thought and reading to this before speaking your heart. I mostly agree with you and very much agree with your tone. The arguing and sniping over the hermeneutics of the word “winsome” is completely ridiculous. This is what we are about as Christ’s followers? Really? This whole thread is pathetically introverted. Thanks again for lending some maturity to this thing.

      • THIS:
        This whole thread is pathetically introverted. Thanks again for lending some maturity to this thing.

        Painfully introverted: yes. And I like how we, the self-anointed pundits of IM , carve into Mr. Stetzer the “pundit”. Geeeeez: pot meet kettle, although Stetzer did not , in the article in question, hold himself up above the rest, IMO. Not the most incisive or clear piece of writing I’ve seen this week, but wow has IM gotten snarkey.

    • Robert F says:

      I agree with you, Charles.

      On a different note, given your analysis of the militaristic ruination of the word “engage,” perhaps someone should send the American Buddhist community a tweet warning them that they are treading on counterproductive ground by trying to foster an “engaged Buddhism.”

      • Robert F says:

        And perhaps American Buddhists should be given advance warning to avoid the word “winsome” like the plague, if the repudiation of it here is any indicator of response in the general public.

      • Ah, so after 2500 years the truth about those Buddhists comes out! Also should shed light on what’s really going on when a couple becomes “engaged”.

    • Danielle says:

      “He is not speaking to the world at large, he is not speaking to us, or to anyone else but Evangelicals…”

      Hmm. A lot of the back-and-forth today probably does go back to the fact that Stetzer is speaking to evangelicals in familiar language, while some in the IM readership have rejected the terms and categories that undergird that conversation.

      Enter stage left: A large and unresolved problem in communication.

      • “A large and unresolved problem in communication.”

        Danielle, pretty much the center of Stetzer’s article. Maybe pretty much the center of the human condition.

    • Charles, by speaking using “evangelical” language, the article doesn’t go far enough in addressing the faults of an evangelical worldview and it’s “us vs. them” mentality. The word “engage” makes no sense at all when it comes sharing our common humanity with our neighbors. The following is one of my favorite quotes:

      “On the surface the people I meet and I have nothing in common — not at least based on our life styles and much in our past life experiences. However, on a deeply human level we have everything in common. We need food, clothing and shelter, love and care, including health care and safe places to be. We need respect and dignity. We seek to find meaning in our lives and we want to make connections with other people. Although I am in the role of caregiver as a chaplain, I find mutuality in the relationships which form. I serve and I am served. I give and I receive many gifts.. ” – Rev. Joan Murray

      This is a much more organic way of seeing our neighbors, one that transcends culture.

    • Here, Here Mr. Fines!

  20. OldProphet says:

    Thanks Charles. Apparently it took the 85th comment, yours, to get to the heart of the matter. The author is addressing Evangelicals and their issues. His post is pretty accurate and sobering and needs to be meditated on and digested. Old guys rule! I’ll nominate you for my new Imonk Gang of Five!

    • Clay Crouch says:

      I’d like to hear just what mistakes you think our evangelical brethren have made “engaging the culture”.

      • OldProphet says:

        Clay, you realize that I’m a Evangelical, non denominational, charismatic believer. So the breahrenn you are referring to is ME. And really, do I need to list them. They’re discussed on this blog daily. Most of them are valid and have nothing to do with God or his Word. Mistakes abound. Most of, if not all of the wacky guys on TV or lead mega churches are evangelicals YECers are they. Patriarchal guys are they. And so on and si on.

        • Robert F says:

          Thanks, OP, for proving by your testimony that you are OK (with the understanding that you may be called upon to give the same testimony at any time). Can I get a witness?

  21. OldProphet says:

    By the way, I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone use the word winsome. Might have been in a Presbyterian church?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      According to Wartburg Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, and similar watchblogs it’s often associated with submissive female doormat behavior, spoken by various male-supremacist and/or abusive church environments.

      Other than that, as far as I know the word’s heyday was somewhere in the 19th Century.

      • OldProphet says:

        Well, tarnation! I didn know what dat word even means. But, I reckon us Evangelicers ain’t much gud on book lernin

    • Clay Crouch says:

      The word, winsome, is prevalent on blogs written by the young, restless and reformed crowd. OP, you need to get up to speed.

    • “By the way, I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone use the word winsome. Might have been in a Presbyterian church?”

      Cudda been. An Old English and Middle English word meaning joysome, disappeared from use except in northern dialects, and reappeared in 18th & 19th century Scots poetry, Bobbie Burns et al. It has taken on the meaning of sweetly or innocently charming, which accounts for the reaction against its use in the article, but Stetzer intended it more to mean agreeable or effective or, in fact, winning, which is another one of the meanings the word has taken on. A good choice of words may not always be Ed’s strong point, but he’s better at picking out the forest behind the trees.

  22. Robert F says:

    Of course, the idea that Christianity should be politically and socially engaged with the culture did not start with evangelicals. As I remember it, mainline churches in the 1960s and 70s, motivated by radical theology, strongly promoted the idea that the Church should engage, and change, the culture and society. That was the era of radical theology, and social gospel gone wild.

    While it’s true that the program of radical social change supported by many in the upper echelons of the mainline churches never got much traction, or much support from the middle-class folks in the pews, it did seem to have the unintended consequence of inspiring conservative evangelicals to do precisely the same thing, albeit with a different agenda. It’s one of those ironies of theological history that the conservatives have had much more success, for good or ill, in their efforts than did the liberals.

    • It’s one of those ironies of theological history that the conservatives have had much more success, for good or ill, in their efforts than did the liberals.

      The conservatives have had the military-industrial complex, and Wall Street, on their side.

      They denounce a social gospel yet insist upon a culture war.

  23. Regarding culture creators/art/movies, Stetzers article referenced “the unimaginable success of God’s Not Dead” (and also discusses a less preachy/less overt form of Christian art).

    I suppose “success” can be defined any number of ways, but anyone who’s seen the movie God’s Not Dead have any comment on it?

    It might not be considered a “Christian movie” but The Tree of Life is the best I’ve seen.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Here’s what appeared on God of Evolution (in the blog list) about God’s Not Dead:
      http://www.godofevolution.com/review-gods-not-dead-because-we-made-a-movie-about-him/

      I suspect Stetzer’s praise of its “unimaginable success” is either a “Hooray for Our Side!” or limited to Born-Agains who had to view it as an act of tribal identity (as are a LOT of Christianese films — the subject’s been broached before here at IMonk).

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I thought God is Not Dead was a movie similar to preaching to the choir. I’m sure all the Christians who saw it nodded their heads during it, maybe even shouted a few “Right On-s” and “Amen-s”. Anyone who saw it who wasn’t a Christian probably thought “meh” or worse.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And this differs in what way from other Christianese attempts at media?

        I remember a back-and-forth about that in this blog some years ago.

  24. Usually those who speak of ‘engaging the culture’ are not living and working within it. They are living and working in their own evangelical ghetto so they view the culture as ‘those other people’. I agree with Chaplain Mike. This is real simple: love your neighbor.

  25. OldProphet says:

    Not just Evangelical ghetto. Lutheran ghetto. RCC ghetto. Orthodox ghetto. Baptist ghetto. Don’t stereotype?