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Should we allow culture to inform our values?

Autor: Leslie Keeney
Datum: 26.08.2010
Category: Urbane Mission, Wahrheit & Pluralismus

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There is a common feeling among Christians that modern culture is, as Obi Wan Kenobi said, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” These people see society as immoral (or at best amoral) and imagine a great divide between their own values and anything that mainstream culture might have to offer. Worldly is a synonym for lacking any moral center. Because they view the culture-at-large as having an essentially contradictory basis for morality, these people also reject any opinion held by a Christian that happens to agree with the presiding culture as the first step on the road to hell. The possibility that culture might actually have something positive to offer never enters their mind.

The problem with the assumption that secular culture is a moral wasteland can be demonstrated biblically, historically, and anecdotally. In Roman 2:13-15, Paul describes a group of people who do not have the law, but who are convicted by their conscience because they know intuitively what the law requires. Paul’s point here is that there are people who do not know the Jewish/Christian God but who nevertheless instinctively know right from wrong. C.S. Lewis referred to this universal, intuitive sense of right and wrong as “moral law.” Tim Keller refers to this same instinct as "moral obligation" and describes it as “a belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within herself, regardless of what the rest of her community and culture says, and regardless of whether it is in her self-interest or not.” Even John Calvin, the father of total depravity (metaphorically speaking) believed in what he called “common grace,” the idea that all people, not just Christians, have an echo of God’s divine nature in them that provides an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong.

The belief that most people have an intuitive understanding of right and wrong is considered by many to be one way of demonstrating that the source of that morality— God—must exist. If most people have a common understanding of what is right and wrong, the logic goes, then there must be something upon which that standard is based? I don’t have time to go through the full argument here, but you get the idea.

For people who find all this philosophizing tiresome (which, I have heard, is most people), there is also both historical and anecdotal evidence that this intuitive sense of morality exists. Historically, it has been secular society, not necessarily the church, that has increased the awareness of things like sexual and spousal abuse, hate crimes, animal cruelty, bullying, and a whole host of other evils. Yes, Christians have been involved in these issues, but it is the culture as a whole, including atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and worshippers of the goddess Isis, who have together agreed that these are the values of a good society. It is society as a whole, and not just Christians, who respond to every natural disaster with money, resources, and volunteerism. And shockingly, many of us even have kind agnostic neighbors who shovel their elderly neighbor’s driveway.

Stichwörter: culture, values, morality

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PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten L_Sills (1)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika

Isn’t it interesting and telling that we can see the good, the bad, the ugly, the mundane, the boring, the funny, the ridiculous, the silly, the stupid and every other way you can describe an event, an action, a scene or a person in the course of every single day of our lives?  And, what’s even more interesting is that two people can be in the same place seeing the same thing and have totally different takes on what they just witnessed.  That is what makes our world so amazing, so frustrating, so mysterious. 

Sometimes we can choose the response we will have to a given event/situation. Sometimes we can’t. Some days I can listen to the news and it drives me nuts.  Some days I don’t even care to listen at all.  Some days I want to smush the bug crawling in my house that doesn’t need to be there.  Other days I marvel at the lightening bugs that light up my yard on a summer’s evening. 

And, some days there are people who make me want to "lose my religion" or who would "make a preacher cuss" as some of my mountain relatives and friends would say.  And, the next day I find myself having extraordinary conversations with those same people about faith and life. 

There is always good to be found in anything that God has a hand in.  Whether the person involved in the good knows anything about God or not, that person or that even can still be used by God to show God’s love to others.  And, it is our vocation as followers of Christ to reflect that love in ways that people can see God, even if they don’t know what they’re looking at.  Only after they have witnessed it can we have a chance to go deeper into the meaning of it. 


12.11.2012
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten JoanieD (0)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika

Culture is one area that can have a fine line and I do believe that there has to be strength when enough when going into any realm that reaches outside of what may be typical for one’s norm’-in their box of comfort. When going to other into the mission field, into other countries, and other ethnicities other than ours, we must, of course, present the message in their realm, in the manner that they will understand. And Lausanne has amazing resources to aid in this process if one does not already have them from their church or otherwise. But, also in the area that we live in, in our own backyards, neighborhoods, we must pay careful attention to the next generation, and be sure to keep them (or even sadly bring them back) to the church and in relationship with Christ. Now, in doing so, presenting worship service, music and praise, and even sermon presentation style, must has become more and more relaxed and energetic. I love the style of praise music from Hillsong, and others along the likes of theirs. We are not leaving behind our message; on the contrary, if you watch, you will see the sincerity of the youths eyes, and actions in these services, and realize their walk is amazingly real; in my opinion moreso than many that have been going to the same format of church service for 60 years with no increase in the closeness of their walk with Christ (with no push, no avenue for them to have influence of such even). I hope this makes sense enough for you to understand that in doing so we bring in and keep the young, And, we need to liven up the elders, to some degree (somehow?...), so that their walk is revived...Just some thoughts...  


03.12.2011
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten storyer (0)  
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika

Leslie:

Nice blog. I believe this intuitive moral law is the conscience that God put into man and woman in the beginning. What could possibly have guided Enoch or Noah to live righteous lives, or even Abraham though God did somehow call him to follow?

What evangelicals have failed to do in the past is to let culture (and society) inform their decision-making regarding the approach and how to present the Gospel. I found much moral thinking among the rural and tribal peoples I worked with in Asia. My heart bled for many Muslims who had a clear and deep conscience and desire for peace who were caught up in a society that fostered hostility and hurt.

I think we have made great strides in recent years toward an awareness of the need for being better informed. Of course, we need to be careful not to let the culture bleed into the message we have to deliver and so to contaminate it. And the danger is most apparent where it appears that culture is affirming the Christian message when really it is only toying with it or using it as theme for its own agendas.


26.08.2010
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten tjcooper (0)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika
@ storyer:

I am right there with you. I think that God placed what we are calling "moral law" into our very being. The existence of evil and spiritual warfare is what jumbles everything up.


Our approach in presenting the gospel should always be relevant to our culture. This was how Jesus was. He spoke their language, understood their problems, and showed them what it means to follow him. 


 


 


 


 


29.11.2011
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten Angela (0)
Südafrika

I think this is a very interesting discussion but i would have to say no, i dont think culture should inform our values. Our culture will determine the laws and rules by which our country runs but when it comes to our own personal values and the principles which we live by i don’t think we should let our culture have much input at all. I say this because our culture’s standards of what is acceptable and normal are changing, values such as having no sex before marriage are now being widely accepted as the norm. The standards are slowly going down as we are ’disensitized’(not sure how to spell that) by media etc. and i don’t want my values do the same. Thanks so much for the thought provoking article:) 


17.10.2010
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten tjcooper (0)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika
@ Angela:

I think it is very easy to be desensitized by our culture. The gray areas are what get many of us because we don’t take the time to figure out our stance on these issues. Often times this is due to the fact that our churches, our Christian circles, don’t take the time to discuss such things. If the Church can’t figure it out, how will anyone else?


29.11.2011
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten windjammer (4)
Kanada

Thanks for this article.

Culture never informs my theology and practice of mission. Theology informs my culture. Yes culture has in many ways helped us to take note of the evil within. But there is no absolute moral in culture. The Jewish/Christian ethic has led the way in the formation of many of our Western laws. Within the Post Modern era however there will be no moral absolute. It will end up being the law of the jungle. Christianity can bring a powerful word to culture as each believer steps up and lives out their faith. This is a discussion that I find helpful. Thanks for initiating it.


11.10.2010
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten tjcooper (0)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika
@ windjammer:

I understand what you are saying in your response to her questions. I could see how culture does not inform your theology but culture should have some influence on how you practice mission. Our practice of mission should be relevant to our culture or else there will be a disconnect between believers and non-believers. 


29.11.2011
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten tjcooper (0)
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika

Your post is very thought provoking. I believe that there is in fact a moral law that many follow. Moral laws seem to also be shaped by the cultures they are a part of. 

If we believe in Scripture which says that human beings were created in the image of God, then surely even with sin being a part of our world, this part of a human was not completely destroyed. 

It’s true that so many people can do good things apart from Christ but that’s where following Christ must stand to be different. The Scriptures teach that simply being a good person does not gain you access into the kingdom of God. It is when you love even your enemies, when you pray for someone who mistreats you instead of seeking out vengeance, when you show mercy and compassion...these are the characteristics that surpass the moral law of culture (Luke 6:27-36). It is when you forgive and love even those who choose to crucify you. This is what makes the gospel of Jesus such a radical gospel.


29.11.2011
PhContributeBy
Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten LCKeeney (0)  
Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika

Thanks for the response. While I have worked in other countries, it has always been with indiginous believers. I appreciate hearing from someone who has worked with non-believers that the moral law is, indeed, evident in cultures throughout the world.


31.08.2010
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Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten Steve_Evans (0)  
Südafrika

Thanks for this excellent posting !


26.08.2010
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Antworten Kennzeichnen 0 Daumen hoch Daumen nach unten J_P_K_Neville_Jayasu (1)  
Sri Lanka

Thank you Keeney for that write-up.  It is true that we should not try to shut out culture from our Christian life and experience.  But it needs to be given only its rightful place in the light of the Scriptures.  I live in a society where culture and non Christian religion are so mixed up that at times it is difficult to know which one is which if you are not well informed about both.  On the other hand we are facing opposition to the gospel because of the Western culture which is showing up in the Christian  Church in general.  So we have a quite a difficult situation to deal with.  Christians here will have to learn to keep the balance.  That is neither to be held in local culture influenced by religion and nor to be attracted by a foreign culture which may though be more compatible with the gospel message but not essential in following Christ lest our witness be rejected.


26.08.2010

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