Working with youth and studying Bible and Theology I often ask myself the question “As Christians how should we engage culture?” This brings up the dilemma that we have a choice as Christians to engage cultural issues or to ignore them. Something that has been pointed out to me several times is that, “we are all cultural beings” so we can’t be completely objective in how we observe culture, but if we know our biases that is helpful in our understanding, engagement, and listening to others.
I think that we strive for conformity to how Christ engages culture to be our standard. In stating that desire it should be realized that there are different opinions about how Christ engages culture. Theologian Richard H. Niebuhr made some categorizations about how people do this:
1. Christ against Culture
2. Christ of Culture
3. Christ above Culture
4. Christ and Culture in Paradox
5. Christ the Transformer of Culture
Just seeing the kingdom values that he expressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is evidence enough for seeing these different ways that Christ engaged culture. I think it is important to realize that there are instances where Christ is against culture with issues dealing with the immorality and selfishness that is part of our human nature. Christ was of his culture mainly by his incarnation (John 1). He is God who became man and engaged as part of the human race and culture. Christ shows his transendance as the God-Man in that he is above culture. Christ and culture are in paradox in the way that God has ordained authority but is the authority of the whole universe at the same time. Christ is the transformer of culture in that his teachings about the Law, anger, lust, divorce, vows, revenge, loving enemies, charity, prayer, fasting, money, worry, judgment and other things are transforming his Jewish audience’s minds about their conception of how their culture worked. In the same way Jesus wants us to be transformed by his Spirit, in conformity with him, and a light to the world so we can share the good news of the Gospel with non-believers.
The application of this to youth ministry is to teach that compassion to the lost over their sinful condition is crucial, that sharing God’s convicting word to the broken in this world is required if we are faithfully ministering the Gospel, and to allow for creativity in our ministry to use cultural mediums (blogs, youtube, facebook, etc.) to share the Lord and disciple students.