SEAN: Dad, would you say that Christians are engaged in a culture war?
JOSH: Yes, in the sense of opposites in conflict. Culture reflects values, and since there are different values, there is conflict and stress, and some refer to it as a culture war.
SEAN: How should Christians think about culture? Are we in culture? Are we against culture? Are we above culture?
JOSH: As Christians, our first should be, “How is our relationship with the truth giver—God Himself?” Is our relationship right with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Our relationship with God should flow over and affect how we view and interact with culture. Jesus said that you would know his disciples by how they love each other.
Our main purpose is not to go out and change culture. Rather, our main purpose is to glorify Christ in all that we do. We are to walk with him, and to share and lead others to Christ. When we do this—and every time somebody comes to Christ—cultures changes. The more people come to Christ, the more cultures change.
The sad reality today, though, is that many Christians’ lives do not stand out against their culture. When there is no noticeable difference between you and your culture, then you are usually out of synch with God. I tell people today, if they do not plan on living above their culture, they will never really see their lives impact the world for Christ. Regardless of what culture you are in, as Christians we are called above it. I often ask people, “Are you letting culture ride above the Scriptures, or are you letting Scriptures ride above the culture?”
SEAN: What mistakes do you think Christian leaders, or influencers have made over the past generation, in terms of their interaction with culture?
JOSH: When there is a conflict between Christian values and strong cultural values, I have often found that Christian leaders back off, instead of causing turmoil or an upheaval. Sometimes we are to cause conflict. If we always have harmony with those around us, then we’re not living out biblical values. There’s no way you can be a true honest person, with good character, and not have stress and conflict in today’s culture.
Also, most Christian leaders don’t want to upset the apple cart. Take the issue of pornography. For the last 10-15 years, very few Christian leaders will speak out against it. This is for two reasons. First, many are doing it themselves and feel great shame. So, instead of feeling hypocritical for dealing with it, they simply ignore it. Second, when you speak out against it, you are shunned upon in culture, and looked at as out of step since eighty-something percent of all young men say there is absolutely nothing wrong with pornography. If you take a biblical stand against pornography, you will undoubtedly upset the apple cart. A good leader takes people where they want to go, which is often what aligns with culture. A great leader takes people where they need to go, which is always in line with Scriptural truth.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.