Mission of God Study Bible: Cultural Engagement

B&H Publishing recently released The Mission of God Study Bible that "encourages followers of Jesus Christ to see their everyday life from God’s perspective and have His heart for people. It’s a reminder that we live around people in desperate need of redemption and reconciliation with God, which can only be found in Jesus." This new Bible includes 150 additional writings from current theologians and leading voices in the church about what it means to live in the mission God has for the church. Essay contributors include people like Matt Chandler, Tullian Tchividjian, Ed Stetzer, Linda Bergquist, Dave Ferguson, Christopher J.H. Wright, and many others. Like me. I was asked to write a piece on "Cultural Engagement" for the book of Acts. You can read it below. For more on the issue check out my post from 2007 on the same issue.

Cultural Engagement

As the church is faithful to the mission given to her by Jesus Christ she will, out of necessity, “engage culture.” Of course, engaging culture is not our mission, but “making disciples of all nations” is what our Lord has called us to do. Yet, this sacred work cannot be done in a vacuum, outside of the cultural milieu in which people live.

Paul’s experience in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) is helpful as it demonstrates how he approached people and ministry in a particular culture.

The Apostle found himself in Athens, not through the careful planning and execution of a detailed ministry strategy, but in the providence of God as he encountered opposition to his ministry. And, while he was there, Paul was not idle. He was led by God to push forward with the gospel into a unique time and place. Here we see three things that characterized Paul’s ministry as he engaged culture.

1. Paul was provoked by the lostness and idolatry of the people. He was struck by the deep and pervasive idolatry of the people in Athens. These were men and women who were created to know and reflect the glory of God, but they had rejected the Creator and instead chose to worship created and imaginary gods. Paul engaged the culture not because he loved culture, but because he loved God, people made in God’s image, and because it is a necessary aspect of carrying out the mission of the church.

2. Paul focused on the grand narrative of God that culminates in the work of Jesus. His response to people and culture in Athens was to do what he always did in every city--proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. He first went to the Synagogue where the Scripture was available to be read and expounded upon. He didn’t develop a totally new approach to engage the people God had surprisingly sent him to. Rather, he continued to fulfill his calling to preach Christ crucified. As the Athenians heard this message they became curious or incredulous.

3. Paul was able to show the Athenians how their culture and lives were both connected to and yet disconnected from the truth of God. He could do this because he understood their religion and worldview enough to point out the need for redemption from within their own belief system, as he brought the good news to them from outside of it.

Cultural engagement is not the thoughtless consumption or uncritical reception of things in culture, but a pressing into the lives of people who live in a particular cultural context with an understanding of their world and how the gospel ultimately answers their brokenness and alienation from God. Cultural engagement is not the goal of ministry, but a necessary component of faithful gospel proclamation. It means we work to know the beliefs, values and idols of the people, determining where, what, and how they worship. It means we work to clearly articulate the supremacy of Jesus over these things. It means we remain focused on the mission Christ gave the church.

You can pick up the Mission of God Study Bible on the cheap through Amazon.

Theology Pub

Last night we held our first Theology Pub at a great, local Irish Pub (McNally's). We've wanted to do this for a long time now, but things just seemed to get in the way. God's timing and all. Well, we finally launched and it was a great time. McNally's

What is Theology Pub? For us it is a public dialog about matters of faith and culture. What we are doing is creating a context for and a culture of open discussion concerning the subjects that really matter - subjects that are inherently theological. These are often the issues that we should be talking about, but rarely do. So I really don't teach here, but I introduce the subject, ask questions and facilitate the dialog. The exchange of opinions, even conflicting opinions, is good for everyone as it can help us all to evaluate our own convictions and gain a better understanding of each other. For many this is a time to begin thinking through ideas long neglected that merit our attention. For some it will amount to a kind of pre-evangelism where we discuss issues that do ultimately relate to Scripture and the gospel, but this is no bait and switch. You know, where we advertise a discussion on poverty, and then tell them that unless they are "poor in spirit" they will never see the Kingdom of God. We're up front about what we're talking about. The goal is to get people thinking and talking through the things that matter. This builds relationships between individuals, between the church and the community, and that provides more opportunities for the gospel to be seen and discussed.

The pub we meet in is one of my favorites. Great food, great people and the atmosphere is awesome. I don't have any photos that show off the inside, but I hope to have some next time. We meet on the second floor of the pub where we can seat 50 or more for sure. At our first gathering we had 20 people, though we heard from many who wanted to come but couldn't. We're expecting a bigger turn out for our second Theology Pub.

This first gathering focused on "spirituality and religion in suburbia," and it was a great mix of people who had many insightful things to share.

People have asked about the structure. We're still figuring things out, but here's how it went down.

7-7:15 people hanging out, ordered food, drinks, etc. 7:15-7:20 I introduce Theology Pub, and then the subject of the night. 7:20-8:30 Questions and answer, back and forth. 8:30-8:35 Wrap up - why this format and subject matters to me and our church.

As I continue to talk with non-Christians I find that many are ready to have these kinds of conversations - so long as they aren't sitting down for a sales pitch. People are ready to talk theology! Just ask Rainn Wilson (you know him as "Dwight" from The Office).

I have been talking to Jonathan McIntosh (Hanley Road Campus Pastor at The Journey, he's also the guy who developed "Theology at the Bottleworks") for years about this, and even went down to Saint Louis to see how the people from The Journey do it (and they do this very, very well). Big thanks to Jonathan and the people at The Journey for all your encouragement and advice. I know a few others who do similar events and would love to have everyone sharing their experiences.