There’s a statement in the Bible that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
When I was growing up, being “in the world, but not of the world”—in the minds of many evangelicals—meant that Christian culture and secular culture were inherently in opposition to one another.
The evangelical mission, it could be said, was to be different from culture; to create our own counter-culture—a time capsule for our social vision that stood fast on biblical ideals and opposed the shifting opinions of the day. Or, even better, to reshape culture in the image of the biblical ideal—through a lifestyle, speech, and conservative activism that convinced society to align with our values.
Prayer should be returned to schools. Republicans should be elected to office. The legal definition of marriage should match the biblical definition of marriage. These were the objectives—to engender a social atmosphere that argued the Gospel for us. Ultimately, we hoped, that would lead more people to trust in Christ for the redemption of our lives, our stories, and our hearts.
If you could control culture, would it make you a more successful witness? Is that what it means to be at enmity with the world?
The idea of a culture war envisions a Christian struggle against “flesh and blood,” when the real adversaries of righteousness are the “principalities . . . , powers . . . , rulers of the darkness of this world, and . . . spiritual forces of wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). The world with which we’re at enmity is not the people that inhabit our neighborhoods and workplaces. It is a system of ideas and forces that diminish the image of God in humanity.
The narrative on evangelism is changing for many—especially in an era when beatitudinal living is often sacrificed on the Republican platform’s altar.
Rather than seeing those outside our faith traditions as opponents to be convinced of something, more evangelicals are framing other denominations—and humanity as a whole—as a community of sojourners with whom we can all learn and grow.
Although Scripture is clear and abiding in its principles for moral living, Christian thinkers increasingly speak in terms of “conversation with” culture and “collaboration” on behalf of a better culture. We are beginning to shape our language and frameworks around humility. Around listening and learning.
As we explore what evangelism means in the present day, we would do well to remember that culture care is collaborative and creative. Sharing the Gospel—embodying the Gospel—is to imagine the world anew. To imagine it redeemed. To invite people outside our circles to participate in constructive community with us.
The message of the Gospel remains the same. The way in which we live in and talk about witness is evolving—and must.
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