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The Gospel Demands a Hatred for Sin, not Culture: Three Views

September 2, 2009

The Gospel drives us to hate the sin of the people in culture not the culture of the people or the people in the culture. Hating the culture is unintelligent; hating the people is ungodly.

I had a very striking conversation with my dad and dear brother Jeremy. We started to talk about the recent tragic losses of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. That led naturally to discussions about our culture and society as a whole. We talked about everything from the evolution of technology from ipods and twitter to increased violence in schools and a loss of meaning in communication today.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we live in a world obsessed with technology; especially pc technology. By pc technology what I mean is technology that is linked or influenced by the use of a personal computer: the internet, ipods, mp3 players, iphones, webcams, twitter, myspace, facebook, google, youtube, etc. Pc technology is literally exploding off of the scene in a rate that most people cannot keep up with the tidal wave of growth. What’s really sad is I am nearly 28 and have already started to notice that I struggle to interpret the lingo and terminology of today’s youth from 12-18.

In our fascinating conversation I noticed that Christians typically have three main reactions or philosophies toward the culture they live in (I like to think in threes, it captures both extremes and a middle road but I am not so naive to think that there are not more that I don’t know of):

  1. Sectarianism – Ultra-conservative; Fundamentalism; Legalism
  2. Missional – Fundamergents; biblical
  3. Syncretism – Liberalism; Emergent; Antinomianism

Let me say from the onset that I don’t believe words are inherently evil; so words like “conservative” and “liberal” are not bad.  We only make them evil by the connotations they bring up in our mind and the most popular definition they are given by our culture at a specific time.

However, the word conservative and liberal have both come to bring good and bad connotations. More liberal-minded moralists typically consider conservatism a threat. And more conservative-minded moralists typically consider liberalism a threat. Liberalism is usually associated with a looser more relativistic view of morality and life. While conservatism is usually associated with a tighter more absolute view of morality and life.

Nonetheless, these are the definitions I will use for this post.

Christian Sectarianism

A definition:

This is the view that all of culture (including man and his ideas) is inherently evil, bad, unbiblical, ungodly, and in total and complete rebellion to God and His ways.

A response:

Sectarians thus respond by separating themselves from as many aspects of culture as possible including music, entertainment, arts, theater, clothing styles, certain languages and terminologies, certain peoples and groups of people, political stances, historical views, science, education, etc. Since the culture is evil, then separation is necessary to live a good and pleasing life to God. The more separate from culture, the more holy they become. As separation increases, sanctification therefore must be increasing. The more distance between culture and church, the closer the church gets to God.

A problem:

The problem with sectarians is that they find themselves so far removed from culture that they actually become out of touch to the point of having no part in the conversation of culture. They aren’t able to properly translate the Gospel of Christ into their culture. They are stuck on their own terminology, definitions, appearances, and views so much that the culture struggles hard to see not only what they are saying and doing but how it’s even relevant.

An encouragement:

Problem aside, sectarians are least on the right track with their professed love for God’s holiness and their hatred for what appears evil or dishonorable to God. However, again, they “love” God only at the expense of not loving people enough to actually meet them where they are so that the Gospel can powerfully and accurately infiltrate their culture.

Christian Syncretism

A defintion:

This view, on the opposite side of the spectrum from sectarianists, holds that all of culture is good, if not beneficial, God-ordained, and pleasing to God.

A response:

Syncretists thus respond by fully embracing culture and what it has to offer. Like sectarians, syncretists too measure the success of their mission by their distance to culture. However, sectarians see success in a far distance from culture while syncretists see success in a very close distance to culture. The closer one gets to embracing and becoming at one with the culture, the closer one gets to the honor of God and the fulfillment of one’s mission. An increase in becoming like the culture (somehow) becomes an increase in becoming like God. In other words, the closer one gets to his culture the closer one gets to his God.

A problem:

The problem syncretists have is the exact opposite of sectarians (who would’ve guessed that?). Syncretists end up placing too much importance on intimacy to culture. They place nearness to culture over nearness to God. They draw near to man and his ideas and expression of those ideas at the expense of knowing and honoring God more. Like the sectarians, they too become irrelevant to the culture because they lose touch with who God is and what He is like. The closer they get to conforming to culture, the farther they get from God. Thus the culture sees no difference or powerful message from the syncretist, only yet another group within the culture; same basic message different way of preaching.

What the culture needs is a starkly different message, even if it is preached in a similar way.

An encouragement:

The good thing about the syncretist, apart from his major dangerous flaw of leaving God for culture, is that he pursues man where he is. The syncretist seeks out man at all cost. Like Paul says “be all things to all men…”. The problem though is the syncretist stops there. He can do great at being all things to all men. But he misses Paul’s point in being all things to all men, “so that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Or even Paul’s next statement: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:23).

The syncretist forgets that the best way to reach into culture and love men is to save them, to do it for the sake of the gospel. What is the Gospel’s sake? To reconcile men to God. The end is that God may be glorified by the salvation of His people. The syncretist places a false sense of unity and harmony through all-encompassing acceptance at the expense of God redeeming for Himself a people.

Christian Missional

A definition:

Okay so this term has been tossed around to and fro the last 5 years or so. Especially by the likes of Mark Driscoll (who may have termed it), Ed Stetzer, Albert Mohler, and more. The best definition I can give is:

the view that culture is owned and ruled by God’s sovereign mysterious hand, that it contains both good and evil, that nothing is inherently evil but rather the  hearts of men who create and express ideas of culture are evil, and that God is not only capable of but will eventually redeem all things back to Himself, including the culture; that there are many honorable things about culture that show God’s grace, creativity, and love; and that God has designed His gospel to infiltrate the culture, kill sin wherever it is found, love men wherever they may be, and lead them to Himself wherever He finds them.

A response:

So missional Christians have a strong sense of the importance and power of life to be not only founded on Jesus Christ and His Gospel but God’s Word, the Holy written, infallable, inerrant, fully divine authoritative unchangeable and sufficient Bible. And they have a duel passion for both God and His glory and man. Therefore missional-minded Christians realize they live within the culture to live among the culture so that they can go into the culture and spend their time loving people where they find them in the culture. This helps the Gospel be culturally relevant, because it has purchased a people out of that culture, and still not be like the culture. Cultural but not of the culture. This is how God has designed it.

A final comparison:

So for example, a sectarian Christian would say that rap music or hip hop style clothes are sinful because they are of the culture of the world. A syncretic Christian would say that rap music and hip hop clothing styles are perfectly fine, even when not sung in Jesus’ name because they celebrate the diversity and creativity of God. But the missional Christian would say that no music style or clothing style (unless immodest) is inherently evil but the hearts of the ones producing or wearing it is evil. And that God finds great joy and wisdom in redeeming a people out of those cultures, not to reverse their cultural tattoo, but rather to transform their heart and mind, leave them tattooed so that they can preach the Gospel and live Christ Jesus in and among their cultural tatoo.

Syncretists love and embrace the culture apart from a theological view of God primer. This love for culture at the expense of God’s demand for holiness and proper Gospel exclusion can border a hatred for culture. Sectarians border a hatred for the culture by professing a sole love for God at the expense of loving people. Being missional means loving God first and then loving people. It doesn’t mean embracing culture, it means embracing the people of culture. It doesn’t mean rejecting culture totally or rejecting the people in the culture but the sins of the people in culture.

The Gospel draws a balance line between loving the people in the culture, seeking to understand the culture so as to best meet the people who live in the culture, and then hating the sins of the people in that culture.

The Gospel must necessarily redeem a people within their culture so that they can live as light and salt inside of their culture. Yes the Gospel does redeem a people outside of their culture to be extracultural missionaries to other cultures. But here I am referring to the power of the Gospel to take a rebel, change him into a child of God and a joining priests with King Jesus, and send him to find other rebels to make them priests.

That’s awesome! And that doesn’t come at all from loving culture at the expense of living for and loving God’s glory (syncretism) or from hating culture at the expense of loving people (sectarianism). It comes from loving God, loving people, and hating everything in the people that hates God!

Embrace the Gospel. Don’t hate the culture. Don’t hate the people in the culture. Don’t love the culture. Hate their sin. Love the people. Love God. Believe and live the Gospel that hates sin, not the container that holds or displays sin.

The Missional Gospel: Love God, love people, hate sin, and do it all in your culture for the glory of God!

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