The Church as Counterculture

What do you have when aspects of "liberalism" and orthodox Christian "fundamentalism" intersect in one movement?

A healthy, missional Church, I say.

Obtaining a thoroughly "liberal" education in the humanities at a Christian university has helped me to see this as overwhelmingly true. Thanks in large part to my communication professors--particularly Dr. Brett Miller--I have had my horizons extended beyond the typical "culture war" rhetoric to encompass a far deeper, more meaningful understanding of the Church as a countercultural force for the glory of God and the good of the world.

Many orthodox Christians are oblivious to the fact that many in "liberal" academia--Christian and not--are actually more committed to countering and transforming Western culture than the majority of evangelicals. While evangelicals tend to rally almost exclusively around issues such as abortion and homosexuality (two issues on which I stand firmly in the stream of evangelical conscience), they largely ignore many other issues tantamount to their witness for Christ and the health of the Church. It is these issues on which, ironically, those of the more liberal persuasion tend to pick up the ball and run with vigor. Unfortunately, the two camps are so busy battling it out over the first two issues that they neglect meaningful and necessary dialogue that could otherwise result from their collaboration.

Fortunately, issues such as care for creation and care for the destitute and oppressed have gained momentum among evangelicals of late. But other issues critical to the life and mission of the Church, such as the following, remain to emerge as serious subjects of broad engagement among evangelicals:
*Media use and impact
*Cross-cultural sensitivity
*Free-market capitalism
*Individualism
*Incarnational community

A recent CT editorial briefly addresses the first of these issues, namely, the relationship the Church, and even the individual Christian, ought to have with mass media. Though the article is far from thorough, the fact that it at least confronts the issue is praiseworthy. Perhaps after reading the article, one of you will be inspired to start reading and learning from some social and communication theorists like Postman, McLuhan, or Ritzer, and expand your appreciation for the breadth of cultural concerns impacting the Body of Christ and her mission in the world.

Until the broader evangelical community comes to understand and take seriously the issues our liberal, humanist friends raise, we cannot hope to maintain a consistent, compelling witness to the greatness and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. In a staggeringly pluralistic and increasingly postmodern society, it is sink or swim with regard to cultural compentency and engagement. If the Church does not wake up and realize that the very cultural air it breathes is poison, she will wake up one day and find herself replaying 19th and 20th century Western Europe all over again, having lost all credibility and impact in the society in which she resides.

I wish the solutions to the exigencies threatening the Church were easy to come by, but unfortunately they require significant commitment of time and energy. Real change never comes easy. In fact, it never comes without a hefty price tag. There is a price to pay for transformation. A cross to bear. But we must bear it out of love for the Bride of Christ and for the lost world He seeks to save through Her. What must we do? Simply, yet not so simply, we have to become educated and engaged in the issues. A few of us need to commit to rigorously studying in the humanities--psychology, sociology, anthropology, communication, history--and becoming top-notch scholars, teachers, and professors in our fields. Others of us need to seek out those who have done this, and learn what we can from them.

Students are walking out the back doors of our churches faster than they're coming in... and they're not coming back, for a number of reasons. For one, churches simply are not engaging the totality of their being, most especially their minds. They are not answering the tough questions young people have about faith and life, and as a result, have lost all credibility. Those who go on to college find their professors and textbooks full of stimulating answers to these questions, often much better developed than the Sunday-school answers their parents and youth pastors gave them. Can you blame them for leaving?

We need a generation of godly, academically competent leaders to infiltrate the college and university campuses (in addition to local churches) around the nation and invest themselves in the future of the Church. Good intentions and zeal for Christ will only take you so far. A warm smile, an ice cream cone, or an arm around the shoulder are certainly critical, but ultimately, in our fast-paced, fragmented society, chances are you aren't going to be there for very long to shelter that friend in your bosom. You've got to have something of lasting substance, something more than nostalgia, to offer them to carry with them into the future. You've got to have the raw materials they need to be equipped to fight the spiritual-intellectual battles waging war against them day after day. And if you love them, you'll get them. One way or another, you'll get them and pass them on.

Resources for further understanding:
Mustard Seed Associates
Ekklesia Project
Sojourners
The Church as Counterculture, Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow
Mustard Seed Versus McWorld, Tom Sine
The McDonaldization of Society, George Ritzer
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Body Life, Ray Stedman
Media & Culture textbook website
Center for Media, Religion, and Culture, University of Colorado

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