Christianity and Culture

Well, after two weeks of classes and more reading than I know what to do with, the wondering has begun…

Both of the courses I am taking this semester (Christian Ethics & Theology of World Religions) deal specifically with topic of Christianity and Culture, constantly raising the question: how do Christians live faithfully while engaging the world around them?

Now, to be sure, this is not a new question Christians are asking. Throughout the history of God’s people, relation to culture has been central to what it means to live out the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, there is the land of Israel as the perennial stomping grounds for many different cultures as they fight over the strategic location of that gateway territory. How was Israel to relate to the ideas of these dominating empires? Or in the New Testament, there is the opening up of the church to include Gentiles (non-Jews) into the mix. While our tolerant minds may scoff at the conundrum that ensued, the fact is that there were definite challenge to opening Christianity up to the pressures of a “pagan” culture. Skip a few centuries and all of the sudden the lines are blurred as church and state meld into one under the reign of Constantine and subsequent rulers. Did the culture become Christianized? Or did Christianity become cultured? Even further along in the 2nd millennium there are countless examples, whether it be the intellectual advances of the Renaissance, the challenge of folk religion in the colonization of Europe, or even the impact of rationalism and enlightenment thought in more recent centuries, the question of Christianity and culture persists. Coming to today, the question remains as pertinent as ever, particularly in the complex diversity of a multicultural and multi-religious context that has probably never been resembled in history, at least in this extent.

Throughout history Christianity in its countless forms has understood itself to maintain the ‘right’ worldview, believing that it has something to offer to the surrounding culture. Now, this ‘something’ has varied from harsh judgment, to political dominance, to a sectarian safe haven from ‘evil’ influences. The point is Christians have historically believed that part of their mandate is to contribute to the surrounding culture. I would say that this remains the same, however diverse the opinions remain for what this ‘something’ should be.

Obviously this feeling of obligation to contribute to society can be evaluated positively or negatively, depending on the nature of the contribution. As a Christian I do not want to suggest that our diverse multicultural society is one in which Christianity no longer needs to contribute, as I believe do still have something, even something ‘right’ to be offered. However, as I study this issue and consider the contemporary application of applying a Christian ethic, or acting christianly towards folks of other religious perspectives, our cultural milieu leads me to wonder if an openly “Christian” worldview will not simply fall on deaf ears. The general sense of hostility towards Christianity in the prevailing culture is a reality (good or bad) that I can no longer ignore as I explore what it means to integrate my faith in the culture I inhabit.

All said I feel a certain tension when I consider an appropriate grid for responding to this issue. I guess I am realizing that the complexity of our world requires a level of complexity in Christian interaction, one which I am still wrestling with.

It is too this end that I continue my wondering…


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