The culture is changing at a dizzying pace. How can Christians wisely engage it?
Keith Whitfield addressed this question in a breakout session at The Leading Change in the Church Conference, a conference for pastors and church leaders at Calvary West Campus in Advance, NC, on March 7, 2017.
Whitfield, Assistant Professor of Theology and Vice President for Academic Administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, led attendees to understand what cultural engagement is and how churches can lead believers to do the hard work of cultural engagement.
What is cultural engagement?
“Cultural engagement can feel like walking through a minefield,” Whitfield said. “It takes wisdom, devotion and Christian virtues to navigate dizzying cultural change.”
Cultural engagement can be difficult, and people tend to gravitate towards two major impulses. Some individuals yearn for cultural preservation, and others pursue cultural progression. “The two [groups] don’t like each other very much,” he said.
What, then, is the answer to cultural engagement? Whitfield explained that no silver bullet or clever strategy will provide all the answers. Instead, Whitfield explained that “cultural engagement requires the hard work of doing missional work.”
Equipping Christians to Understand Culture
Next, Whitfield explored how churches can equip believers for cultural engagement by giving them the tools to understand and evaluate culture.
First, Whitfield laid out key theological considerations about culture. The gospel message is not just a personal message, he explained, but a message about a kingdom. In addition, the church is central to God’s mission.
Second, he charged Christians to understand the culture. Christians often talk about the culture as an external “bad” influence to push aside and villify. “But they’re not the enemy,” Whitfield noted. “They’re people we’re supposed to reach.”
Third, he urged believers to evaluate culture’s underlying values. When Christians look at the culture with “diagnostic lenses,” they see that cultural religion prizes autonomy, individualism, progress and the shedding of superstition. For North American culture, then, human flourishing is about sexual self-expression or materialism.
Mobilizing Christians to Reach Culture
Whitfield then urged the attendees of breakout session to explore how these cultural values are manifested in their communities. In response, he encouraged them to adopt a missionary posture.
“Put your missionary boots on. You can’t just put cultural antagonism boots on,” Whitfield said. “Offer the gospel as a non-coercive and incredible alternative to that life.”
Finally, he reminded the audience that reaching culture ultimately is not an individual endeavor. Instead, the church embodies this gospel and mission by exuding gospel freedom, faithful endurance and missional hope.
The Leading Change in the Church Conference was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources, North Carolina Baptists and Southeastern Seminary.