By Mary Meadows
Culture is complex. Not only does the term encompass everything that makes up a unique society, but culture is constantly changing and evolving. In the previous Artios Leadership Conversation, Israel Steinmetz and Amber Mann Riggs (co-directors of Artios Christian College) established that, as Christians, we should care about our culture. Whether we like to admit it or not, culture shapes us and shapes the Church. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s important to recognize that influence and ask if this is helping us accomplish God’s mission for our lives—or if it is pulling our attention away from Him.
But, how do we recognize this influence? How do we step back and take an unbiased look at our own lives? Culture plays such a role in shaping our identity that it’s often hard to separate ourselves from its influence. As Christian leaders, we must go beyond simply caring about culture. To fulfill our leadership calling we must actively study culture.
Israel sums up this need to study culture with a brief, but powerful statement:
I believe Christians are called to be as careful and deliberate students of culture as they are of Scripture.”
To help us begin this intimidating task, Israel breaks down the three basic forces that shape culture:
- God—He created the world and the potential for customs and peoples to develop unique cultures. He set the stage for history to be played out, for families to form, and languages to evolve.
- Humankind—God created us as moral, free agents with the capacity to create and shape culture. Culture shapes us, and we in turn have the potential to shape culture.
- Sin—sometimes we choose to shape culture in a way that does not honor God. Sin has a way of taking on a life of its own, of becoming more than just the sum of actions. It can be a malicious, enslaving power that can shape us at an individual or collective level.
Because it is affected by sin and death, culture has the potential to deform us. Since culture is inherently tied to our identity, we are often blind to this negative influence. All too easily, we can begin to develop thought patterns and habits that do not honor our God.
Thankfully, there is a way to combat the deforming power of sin. In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us not to conform to the world, but to be transformed:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).
The Greek word Paul uses (metamorphousthe) indicates a complete transformation, an utter reworking of our lives and our thoughts. This transformation isn’t meant to happen once in a while, but should be a daily process of refocusing and realigning with God’s will.
WHY SHOULD WE STUDY CULTURE?
Studying culture has two immediate benefits: it allows us to get a glimpse of our lives from an outside perspective—to see our habits and customs through the lens of God’s Kingdom. Secondly, studying culture allows us to effectively minister to those lost in the deforming power of culture. As Amber says in the conversation below: “We have to be able to speak the language of the culture in order to communicate.”
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a hand in shaping culture. The question to ask is not: “am I shaping culture?” but rather “am I intentionally shaping culture?”