Last summer, Jana and I got to go to T.I.’s birthday party here in West Atlanta. Needless to say… it was crazy. We were the first people in the place and got down front for the show. The place filled up in the matter of a few minutes. We were talking to all kinds of people and learning about upcoming rappers here in the Atlanta area. The stage had nothing on it. The house music was bumping and then two guys came out and placed a throne on the stage. Everyone got super-stoked knowing that in a few minutes T.I. would ascend to the throne. Then that bass line from “Broadcast Live” came on and the place went off! Then Tip came and sat on the throne, crossed his legs, just sat there in all his birthday glory and everyone celebrated one of ATL’s famed rappers. A minute later he jumped up and he and his crew put on a show for about an hour.
Why am I talking about all this?
Because I was watching a few theological themes happen right before my eyes. Basically, exegete everything.
- famous figure (Psalm 111:4)
- seated on a throne (Rev. 21:5)
- in the middle of the city (Rev. 21:22-27)
- with countless followers (Rev. 5:11)
- music (Rev. 5:9)
- celebration (Rev. 22:3)
….sure seems like something we Christians are into.
This isn’t a plea for Christians to find a way to Jesus-juke every single moment of life and make everyone uncomfortable with strange theological commentary every 10 seconds.
But I am under the conviction that many Christians need to desperately recover what it means to be able to read more than the Bible and engage in reading cultural trends and ideas – the “texts” of today. This doesn’t downplay the importance of Bible study in any way.
There’s just so much more to for Christians to be doing than reading the Bible, hanging out in Christian coffee shops, and going on Christian cruises (yep, those are thing).
Listen to the World
If we’re going to have any kind of impact when it comes to engaging our world with the gospel we’ve got to first really listen to what the world is saying, believing, and how it is behaving. As disciples of Jesus, we’re not to become passive, brainless, conviction-less sponges that merely soak up everything under the sun. We also aren't to become ascetic, removing ourselves from the world, left with no clue of what’s going on in society either. We are to live intentionally, thinking through things with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). And yes, that means that there’s a ton of things that you’ll hear that are offensive because the world doesn’t worship your God or have your values. It has it’s own. We’ve got listen to where folks are coming from. Remember that listening to someone doesn’t mean you agree with or endorse everything they’re saying or doing. It simply means you're listening and really thinking through what you’re seeing and hearing and processing it all in light of the gospel.
Ask Some Questions
We’ve got to be asking: Who is communicating? Why do they have a voice? What are they saying? What are people believing? Why are they believing this message over that message? Christians are challenged with the task of being able to bring biblical witness into the ever-changing culture in which we live. And not only that, we need to do so in a way that translates into the here and now and not just talk about the way back then (i.e.,contextualization, hermeneutics, mission, evangelism, etc.). There’s got to be an approach that doesn't begin by demonizing everything in the culture, telling people who’s out, what’s wrong with them, and how screwed up they are. That probably isn’t putting our best foot forward. We’re supposed to be building bridges rather than walls (and I’m not saying compromise the faith, drop your guard, or be careless with doctrine). However, don't start with “You’re a wretched sinner.” The Bible doesn’t start there. It starts with a loving God creating all things and making people in his image for a life together with Him. Start there. Then move on to sin, our brokenness, and bring the gospel to bear there.
The most popular example from Scripture of this way of engaging culture with the gospel is taken from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 as he quotes poets and philosophers and then bringing Jesus into the conversation. Give it a read and think about the city you live in, the values it has, and the people that make up that little spot you call “home” for the time being. What are some themes, metaphors, and truths in Scripture that you see corresponding in your neighborhood today?