by Caitlin Meadows

In the previous two Artios Leadership Conversations, Artios College co-directors Israel Steinmetz and Amber Riggs discussed the relevancy of culture in the Christian life. Specifically, the first conversation explored why Christians should care about their surrounding culture. The second conversation followed up with the explanation of why Christians should study their culture.

Why should we care about it? Because we are both shaping and shaped by our culture. Why should we study it? So that we can not only be aware of how it is shaping us, but so that we can be intentional in our shaping of it.

As Israel boldly puts it, “Christians are called to be as careful and deliberate students of culture as they are of Scripture.”

A Touchy Subject

Unfortunately, culture is a touchy subject within the Church. Some fear it’s influence on them and seek to avoid it at all cost. Others are so wrapped up in it that they’re not even aware of how it is influencing their lives.

The fact is, we can’t escape our cultures. Nor should we. God created the concept of culture. It is the context through which communities interact and build relationships. Without it, there would be no civilization. Culture even affects how we relate with God.

The problem, however, is that sin affects culture. Like with all things, sin taints what God designs for good. This is all the more reason to care about it and study it. So that we can prevent the silent but harmful influence of sin in our own lives. And so that we can deliberately meet that influence of sin in our culture with the influence of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. As Amber reminded us last week, to influence others, we must be able to relate to them—to speak their language. Our Christian influence requires we know our surrounding culture.

But what does this study look like practically? How are we to study culture?

10 Practical Ways to Intentionally Study Culture

We asked Amber and Israel for some practical ideas on how our readership and students can study their surrounding cultures. Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Watch a variety of movies and television shows representing diverse perspectives of society. (Editor’s Note: We are not advising anyone watch anything that is inappropriate or perverse. Please exercise sound judgement and biblical wisdom.)
  2. Read and watch a diverse diet of news sources, from ultra liberal to ultra conservative and in-between.
  3. Read American fiction written between 1900-2000, particularly Pulitzer prize winning novels.
  4. Strike up conversations with strangers—particularly ones younger than you—in public and let them do the talking while you lend a receptive ear.
  5. Read books by Mark Sayers and other Christian cultural commentators.
  6. Pay special attention to advertising and what you are exposed to in order to access “free” tools and resources.
  7. Go “window-shopping” up and down the streets of the nearest major city to where you live, noting the stores that are there and the people who frequent them.
  8. Sit in a central location in a coffee shop and take notes on the topics that you hear being discussed by those around you.
  9. Watch this “Counter-Culture” sermon series from 2017 on New Hope United’s Youtube Channel.
  10. Take Artios’ course PHI 311 on Worldviews!

But here’s the clincher: you must be intentional as you study!

Israel advises, in all of this be cognizant of at least a few questions:
  1. Are people making assumptions about God, reality, and the world around them? If so, what are these assumptions?
  2. What are people’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations?
  3. What are people’s fears, limitations, and struggles?
  4. Who is spoken of as having authority?  Who is spoken of skeptically?
  5. What are the values that are being verbally expressed and what are the values that are being lived out?
  6. Can you identify what motivates people?
  7. What do people expect of one another, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, etc.?

When actively studying culture and honestly reflecting on the questions above, you will gain a new awareness of your community, your church congregation, and yourself. Our hope is that with this new awareness, you will become better equipped in your everyday influence for Christ as you interact with your co-workers, neighbors, and everyone else you encounter along the way. In Christ, you are re-created to lead and be an active culture shaper. So let the studying begin!