Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Reading: The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian World View #3

HarrisThis week I am continuing to read through The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian World View, by Brian Harris. Chapter Three is entitled, Culture as Friend, Culture as Foe and is the last chapter of the first section which outlines the basics of the author’s main point. I will be posting some quotes on my Facebook page and you are welcome to discuss the posts there. (The numbers after the quotes are Kindle locations not page numbers).

The subject of chapter 3 is the relationship of culture to our understanding of the Christian faith. Some of what we consider “biblical faith” is more shaped by our culture than by the Bible itself. This can be either good or bad. It may be that the image of God in humanity and the influence of the Spirit in culture produces a setting which helps us follow Christ or, it may be that the culture, influenced by the human sin nature and demonic sphere, hinders us in our walk with Christ. All cultures are a mixed bag in this respect. The problem is when we naively assume that our worldview is not influenced by our culture. As an example, the author points out that we tend to read the Bible through the eyes of our emphasis on the individual rather than, as is it usually addressed, to a gathered community.

Because all humans are created in the image of God, life’s more significant questions are relevant regardless of our cultural grouping, albeit that our culture might see us frame these questions in a slightly different way. 1070-1071

If asked if our culture’s emphasis on the individual is divine or demonic, it is not possible to answer in one word. There are many shades and subtle emphases that need to come to the fore. 1103-1105

Every culture reflects, in some ways, the forces of evil that are at work in the world, and these forces produce what Harris calls “cultural idols.” It is important to identify what these are so we can be aware of the powerful seductive influence they have on us and we can resist because “any which claims a greater allegiance than Christ represents a threat to genuine Christ following.” He points out two cultural idols of the past, “the quest for power, by military means if necessary” and “the quest for the quiet ordered life, rather than the just life.” I am not sure these idols are still in the past. I think they are still a reflection of the “money, sex and power” idol which is quite current.

Embracing the cultural assumption that power should be accorded unquestioning respect, the church often glossed over the risk of the demonic that so easily entraps power holders. 1147-1148

The status quo, rather than the pursuit of a new heaven and new earth, often proves seductive. 1151-1152

I think Harris is correct that the church each culture must take a close look at itself (and listen to the voices that come from outside the culture) to discern its own idols that distract from following Christ. He lists the obvious ones in Western culture “money, sex and power.” I tend to think these idols are universal but the prosperity of the Western world has brought them to the forefront.

Obedience to Jesus’ instruction to accumulate riches in heaven rather than on earth proves difficult when you live in a society that attaches so much importance to financial security. 1200-1201

Work becomes a means to earn a living, rather than part of the way we seek to answer God’s call to build a world with a better name. 1203-1204

The fact that our Lord embraced singleness and a celibate lifestyle is an inconvenient truth in an era where an exploration of our sexuality is often classified as one of life’s nobler journeys. 1219-1221

The quest for leadership is often a search for power and the ability to control and shape a group’s agenda. 1238-1239

Culture can also be our friend. As any missionary should know, part of the missionary task is finding where the culture has elements of continuity with Christian message and practice to gain an open door to help them with the areas where there is discontinuity. A good missionary is aware of both. Harris would see the cultural shift toward post-modernity as an opportunity for the church and new barriers to the gospel of which we must be aware. Of course the first scrutiny must be turned on ourselves in the regard.

We should approach every culture, including church subcultures, with both openness and suspicion. At times we will find signs of God’s presence in unexpected places. 1299-1300

To me the key insight is that we never have a pure gospel or totally biblical worldview. We must always be allowing the Spirit to work within us, through the Word and through the body of Christ to change us into his image, and this includes refining of our worldview and, sometimes, jettisoning dearly held cultural idols. We are helped in that process by developing relationships with people who are from different cultures and listening to people who see things differently than us. The chapter ends with this quote, “Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.” (1348)

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