184. Christianity and culture
About a week ago, I asked the question, “what is Christianity good for?” (see blog 179). And I asked the question because I believe that the church in America has lots its way. It’s in danger of joining the list of things that were once great but then lost it- the Roman empire, Pink Floyd, NASA, and MTV come to mind. It doesn’t have to be this way, but if Christians want to keep Christianity from becoming a marginalized, irrelevant social minority (some might say we’re already there), we need to remember why it is we’re here and what it is we’re called to do.
And when I last wrote on this topic, I admitted that I didn’t have an answer to the question. But I do have some ideas. Well, actually, I only have one idea but I think it’s an important one. And it’s a general kind of idea that merely hints at the answer to the question, but it’s a good idea.
“So get to it already, Randall!”
Okay, I don’t have a specific answer to the question, “what is Christianity good for,” but I believe that a big part of the answer will have to do with culture forming. And I use the word, “forming,” as opposed to words like, “redeeming,” or “influencing, or even “transforming” because those words suggest a kind of evolution, taking what’s there and remaking it. I envision something more grandiose, something more transcendent. I believe that a truly effective Christianity will require nothing short of revolution.
But let me be clear. I’m not talking about remaking America as a Christian nation through force or compulsion. I’m talking about communities of Christians living out the teachings of Christ in such a way that non-Christians want to join in. Did you catch that? “. . .in such a way that they WANT to join in.” But that’s not the case with Christianity today.
So much of church planning, when it comes to evangelism, has to do with figuring out new ways to market Christ to an increasingly disinterested demographic. And this sometimes leads to distasteful bait-and-switch campaigns that trick people into listening to a gospel presentation.
For example, when I was in college (University of Hawaii at Manoa), one of the on-campus Christian organizations was putting on this campaign where they were taking surveys. You’d be walking to class and someone would walk up to you with a clipboard and they’d say, “hey, I’m doing a survey for a project I’m involved with, would you like to participate?” If you said yes, they’d start asking you some generic questions about your background and then little by little the questions would get more personal until two of the last questions were, “do you ever wonder what will happen to you after you die?” and then the clincher, “would you like me to tell you about Jesus?”
Someone actually gave me one of these surveys while I was a student there, and I remember how I felt. At first, it was cool because participating in a survey kind of makes you feel important because instead of just reading about some anonymous statistical result, you actually get to be one of the people who participated in the study that led to that result. But then the questions started to get weird and by the time the surveyor got to those last two questions, I knew the survey was a ruse. And then I felt cheap, lied to, manipulated. And I was a Christian. I can only imagine how non-christians felt about it, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.
And what is it about Christianity that makes it so distasteful that we have to hide it under a so-called survey? If being a Christian is so great, why aren’t people clamoring to be in on it?
And although the one doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the other, I believe people don’t care about becoming Christians because Christians in America have no culture of their own. They only have a subculture.
More and more, everyday, Christianity is becoming entrenched into its own subculture. We have our own record companies, our own radio and television stations, we have our own bookstores and cafes and in some places, we even have our own nightclubs. And it would be one thing if we were offering something compellingly original, something hopeful, something fresh. Instead, the only thing the Christian subculture has to offer is a refried, recycled, repackaged version of the culture at large. We have Christian hip-hop, Christian fiction, Christian diet fads, Christian leadership books, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it sounds and reads and tastes like its secular equivalent, only sanitized and stripped of all originality and flavor. And why would anyone want to sign on and be a part of a poor imitation?