Scripture, Culture, and Convictions
We live in a culture in which there are two competing sources of authority vying for the minds and hearts of professing Christians–--the Bible and the media. Many Christians have not come to recognize that they are in a battle to maintain biblical convictions and practices. 36 years ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote The Great Evangelical Disaster--in which he offered an analysis of the way that Christians––who claimed to believe in an inerrant Bible––were denying the authority of Scripture on account of their willingness to accommodate cultural immorality. Schaeffer explained, “We can say the Bible is without mistake and still destroy it if we bend the Scriptures by our lives to fit this culture instead of judging the culture by Scripture.” The cultural agenda Schaeffer warned about in that book in 1984 has come to full fruition in 2020.
There is a painfully evident epistemological and hermeneutical divide in our day. Many professing believers are willing to cherry-pick verses of Scripture in order to substantiate a widely accepted cultural conclusion about some particular ethical matter being pushed by the media. On the other side of the divide are those who seek to deduce from Scripture what is necessary to form a framework by which they can rightly interpret any particular current social or ethical matter. They seek to have their convictions first formed by the word of God rather than coming to Scripture in order to find support for predetermined social and ethical conclusions. Both groups claim to believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. Only those in the latter group seek to live consistently in light of their profession about the nature of Scripture. This is not to say that those in the latter group understand everything or that they live perfectly consistent lives. The Bible clearly teaches that "we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). However, it is to suggest that there is a proper hermeneutical method for guiding our conclusions about how we are to interpret societal events and live faithfully as Christians in light of them. Since God's word is the only infallible, inerrant, and authoritative rule of faith and life, the latter approach--albeit, largely unpopular at present--is the only God-honoring approach.
Scripture is its own interpreter and the divinely inspired interpreter of life in this fallen world. In our day, predetermined cultural conclusions about any given ethical matter in society are formed in academia and popularized through the medium of television and the internet. In fact, they are not merely popularized. They are packaged in manipulating forms of communication and subliminal messages. Schaeffer noted this when he reflected on the influence of the television 36 years. He wrote,
"Television is [the] worst offender. Malcolm Muggeridge has commented on this. He points out that people think they see reality when they see those television pictures, but what they do not realize is that they are looking at pure fantasy. They are looking at an edited situation that does not present what is, but what the man at the console wants you to think is. You feel you know everything because you have actually seen the picture with your own eyes, but in every situation you have been given an edited version.”
If this was true 36 years ago, it is exponentially true in the post-Christian, technologically evolving, sexually debased, and materialistically driven society today. We allow ourselves to form opinions about maters about which we know nothing other than what we are fed through news sources or social media. We see video clops and allow ourselves to be outraged over a matter about which we know little to nothing. This becomes a form of voyuerism--metaphorically speaking. We accept the synchronization of pagan religions and philosophies. We are constantly bombarded with the zeitgeist of our day in the advertisements, shows, and news we watch. We have become desensitized to the sexual immorality being propagated on our televisions and computers. Many professing Christians are willing to compromise biblical convictions without any realization that they have done so.
What is the way out of this? How can we live according to God's word in this environment? The answer is not to seclude ourselves from society. Neither it is to accommodate our lives in order to fit in with the widely accepted ethical norms of society. Rather, here are six practical ways by which we can reorient our minds and hearts according to Scripture:
- We need to commit to living faithfully to Christ--not simply as He is the Savior of our souls, but as He is the Lord over all things in heaven and on earth. When we pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are asking God to work in us in such a way that we will live in accord with what He has revealed in His word for our lives on the earth.
- We need to give ourselves to a consistent and daily study of God's word. The Apostle Paul summarized this in Romans 12:2, where he says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We need to have our minds renewed every day by the truth of God's word--both by the ethical and the redemptive-historical content of Scripture.
- We need to learn to interpret Scripture properly. This comes from submerging ourselves in all of God's word--both Old Testament and New Testament, as well as by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Since Scripture is its own interpreter, it is incumbent on us to read it in a systematic manner. We need to understand that the New Testament epistles are the divinely inspired interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures.
- We need to give ourselves to a study of historical theology. By so doing, we learn how previous generations of faithful Christians exegeted the Scriptures and what conclusions they drew from them about how we are to live in the society in which God has placed us. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, not reinventing the wheel––as a wise man once said, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9). In all that we do, we are seeking to rightly understand what God has said in His word, and what impact that is to have on our lives at this era of human history.
- We must live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Essential to the Christians life in this fallen world is the daily remembering that we are "strangers and exiles on earth" (Heb. 11:13) and that "here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (Heb. 13:14). This means that our ultimate hope is not in winning a culture war or a Christianized world in the here and now. The believer's ultimate hope is to be with Christ in glory in the New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells. This will give shape and form to all of our thoughts, words, and actions. A pilgrim mindset should also lead us to do good to those around us. We are to be, as one old writer has put it, "so heavenly minded that we are of some earthly good." We were redeemed to be "zealous for good works" (Tit. 2:14) and to do good to all, as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10).
- We must be prepared to be opposed and persecuted. Every true believer loves the first seven beatitudes in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. However, if we are honest, the eighth leaves us unsettled. Nothing is more counter cultural than being "persecuted for righteousness' sake." Yet, Jesus says that that is one of the marks of being in the blessed state of the redeemed. We need to be ready and willing to be persecuted for doing and saying what is right according to God's word.
No matter what cultural issues may arise, Christians must commit themselves wholly to God as He reveals Himself in His word. We must stand firm on the foundation of Scripture, no matter what a multitude of professing believers may do. We must live as strangers and exiles on the earth. And, we must seek to do good to those around us. The more we are in the practice of doing these things, the more prepared we will be to do so under the threat of persecution--as so many of our brethren have been called to do throughout the history of humanity.