Saturday, June 18, 2005

Cultural Apologetics: Not Just for the Lost

I encourage you to read the recent fundraising letter from Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal. He compares and contrasts cultural and traditional apologetics, defining the former as "systematic efforts to advance the plausibility of Christian claims in light of the messages communicated through dominant cultural institutions, including films, popular music, literature, art, and the mass media." We're aware that ideas have consequences but Myers points out that they have antecedents as well - cultural forms and institutions that incline us to find some beliefs more plausible than others.
While acknowledging the value of understanding our culture for evangelism, Myers says it's even more crucial for discipleship because:
....our culture also conveys pervasive and subtle challenges to Christian faithfulness. So it is important for us not simply to be able to rebut the errors of bad thinking, but to identify the ways we believers have unwittingly conformed the shape of our lives to the patterns of practice and affection encouraged by the culture around us, and thus have come to embrace a mentality, a sensibility, an array of deeply held assumptions about God, about Creation, and about human well-being that are contrary to those found in Scripture.

I think Myers is painfully on target with the following assessment:
It is tempting for believers to live with a small package of Christian assertions on top of a huge foundation of anti-Christian assumptions. We want to make Christian claims about a few things without doing the hard work of reforming our conscience and our consciousness in ways that fully honor God.

3 comments:

Tom said...

Keith, your last paragraph really hit me. Funny, I just wrote a post on this very topic, on a personal level. Just before heading off to bed, I thought I'd click to view your latest entry. I was stunned to see words that said exactly what I was trying to, abeit with more academic wording. You're obviously a busy man, but check out the similarities in thought if you're so inclined: http://uncletomsblogcabin.blogspot.com/2005/06/heres-mud-in-your-eye.html
Tom

Franklin Mason said...

This last paragraph is really quite extraordinary. It's an important truth, and one that few seem to understand.

This is why the real Christian virtue (which includes not only right action but right thought as well) is not something that can be aquired in a day. It is the task of a lifetime, and it is often a battle fought agaist culture.

I often worry that culture so deeply penetrates our thoughts that it colors the way we read Scripture. Indeed it seems to me that, when one examines closely what some seem to find in Scripture, they have most certainly injected the world into the Word. This seems to me the true of those who read Scripture to say that we should expect material success is this world. It seems true to me as well of those who use Scripture to justify the slaughter of innocents in war.

Tom Gilson said...

Excellent, Keith. Here's another extended article on the same topic: J. P. Moreland's article on Philosophical Apologetics, the Church, and Contemprary Culture.

He says,

"Social historian John Gager has pointed out that even though the early church was a minority movement that faced intellectual and cultural ridicule and marginalization, the early church maintained internal cohesion and a courageous witness thanks in no small measure to the powerful role in the broader Christian community of the philosophically trained apologists in the first centuries of the Christian faith."

and,

"By way of application, Christians need to be involved in political, social, and ethical issues. However, the evangelical voice in this regard often sounds tinny and sloganistic because our proclamations do not express a well developed political, social, or ethical theory. And we do not have the latter because we don’t know the philosophical issues necessary to developing these theories."

And he goes on to develop an overall approach to philosophical apologetics. It's not quite the same as cultural apologetics, possibly, but it would be hard to separate the two.