Cultural Engagement: Culture or Cultures?

October 25, 2016
Darrell L. Bock and Andy Crouch

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Topic Time Codes

00:47
What does it mean to talk about “the culture”
04:57
Understanding cultures helps us better love our neighbors
08:28
Replacing the “culture war” mentality with the heart of an ambassador
10:54
The cosmos, culture, and mission into the world to God’s image bearers
15:16
The pervasive nature of culture
18:25
How should Christians react to cultural pushback?
23:01
The Church can no longer assume shared values in culture
30:37
Loving our enemies in times of persecution
33:59
Fear, envy, and grief can hinder the God’s work in the church
38:08
How should the Church react to hostility?

Transcript



During this podcast with Andy Crouch, we lost a good line of communication and had to change the way we recorded him. You will notice this near the end of the podcast. We haven't lost any of the content, but the image will change as a result of technical difficulties. Nonetheless, we thought the conversation was so important that it was worth preserving what it is that Andy was saying to us. So, we hope you enjoy the podcast, and we thank you for your indulgence.
Darrell Bock
Welcome to "The Table," where we discuss issues of God and culture, and our topic today is Engaging Culture. I have my friend and very well-known author, Andy Crouch, on the other end of the line here by Skype, executive editor for Christianity Today, who loves to write pieces that make us think.

And he wrote a piece that made me think. It made me think and write. And I sent him an e-mail, and we've interacted. And the title is "Stop Engaging the Culture Because It Doesn't Exist." And what I like about headlines like that is is it's not controversial.

And so, Andy, it's a real privilege to have you in to talk to us about what I think is actually a very important topic that you're raising, and we're going to discuss our way in kind of over, under, around, and through it, a kind of, I guess, consubstantiation conversation on cultural engagement.

And I've just used a whole bunch of words that nobody understands, but that's okay. Tell us what you ere after and what you were hoping to say, and then we'll go from there.
Andy Crouch
Well, thrilled to get to talk about it. I can't think of a better person to talk about this topic with. Well, what I'm really after is it's very specific. I'm after the phrase "the culture." I hear this phrase a lot among Christians.

By the way, I never – I don't think I ever hear it from people who aren't kind of within the Christian subculture. At least I'm not aware that I do. But while I'm with Christians, often I hear people talking the culture.

And I find this is not a very helpful phrase, because it implies that there's one thing called the culture. And what people are usually using it as a rough approximately for is what you might call "mass" culture or "mediated" culture.

So, in the piece, as you know, I compare it to these suggestions. I have a Twitter account that I've never used. I had kind of a crazy idea for a Twitter account; I've never got around to doing anything with it. But Twitter keeps suggesting, to this empty Twitter account, people that I could follow.

Now, Twitter knows nothing about me. I've never posted a thing in this – using this e-mail address and this Twitter ID. So, all it suggests is like CNN, Kim Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres – I don't know, maybe Justin Bieber, and because Twitter doesn't know anything about me, it just suggests the most generic possible form of mass media culture.

And I have two problems with making that the proxy for the culture. One is it's actually just part of the culture that we all deal with. It is a part. I mean no doubt what Kim Kardashian does affects me in some way; it probably affects my neighbors more than it affects me. And it's real, and I ought to pay attention to it, but there's a bunch of other cultural realities that affect me and my neighbors just as much, that don't show up ever in what Twitter suggests my unused account might follow.

My other concern about it, Darrell, about that phrase "the culture" is that we use it to refer to things where we actually have no agency or effectively no agency. By "agency" I mean the capacity to actually make a difference, the capacity to actually have some sort of effective change.

And I think for us to fixate our attention and even our analysis on things that in fact we have no ability to shape undermines our attention, and analytical kind of attention even, to the parts of culture that actually we have a lot of agency in and we actually could shape.

So, in the piece, I'm basically trying to say don't pay attention to this big, fuzzy, broad thing called the culture. Instead, pay attention to specific cultural places and people, especially those where you have some responsibility and some agency.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Now that I completely get. And so –
Darrell Bock
So, let me –
Andy Crouch
That's not the part you disagreed with.
Darrell Bock
So, let me try – let me try and come at this a different way, and that is I think that sometimes what we get and what we're dealing with actually in our world are culture[s]. More than one: in hybrids, in combinations, and that kind of thing.

And your desire to personalize this engagement – which I see is the second point of your piece, that you ought to think through who it is that you're engaging with – when you're in engagement and kind of getting a sense of where they are coming from as you interact with them, the personalized – what you call the personalizing of the engagement – is an important part of this exchange back and forth.

That rather than having an abstract, what I call "dragon," out there that we call the culture that we're kinda swinging at, when I actually am engaging with a person, they have a way they're putting things together, the way they live their life, the way – what draws them and makes them the way they are, that we need to pay specific attention to as we're interacting with people. Is that a fair summary of kinda what you're driving at?
Andy Crouch
Spot on. And I think that part of what I think you and others got right nervous about is I said, "Look, the Bible never says we're supposed to engage the culture; it's says we're called to love our neighbor."

Now, the danger of that is that personalizing, which is a good word for it, can become a kind of, if I can put it this way, a pietistic personalism or even individualism that says, "Oh, I don't need to – I don't have to do all the stuff that Darrell Bock keeps telling me to do about paying attention to culture; I can just love my neighbor." You know? And that's a very kind of evangelical instinct, I think, that is not right because – or, well, it's not right to the extent that it neglects the fact that my neighbor is profoundly formed by culture at a bunch of different levels.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Andy Crouch
But my concern is my – I mean I'm literally thinking. So, I happen to be sitting in y home office right now as we're talking, and I'm thinking about the specific neighbors I know. And I – hmm, let's see – I can think of one family on the street that probably is influenced by Ellen DeGeneres and Kim Kardashian quite a bit.

So, for those folks, I need to know, if I'm going to engage them, I might need to know something about mass media culture. But for the guy who lives down the street whose wife recently died, who was – she as from China; he has spent his life studying China; he's a scholar, teaches at the University of Pennsylvania; he's one of my real-life neighbors – knowing about the culture in the way that evangelicals usually use that phrase is almost no help to me in loving this particular neighbor.

But the culture of the university world, the culture of the humanities within the university, the culture of China and Chinese America, as well as interracial couples and multiethnic marriages, those are all things that are incredibly important to understand this guy, and many other things we could name.

So, all I want is for us to hook up our attention to culture, to the actual people we're called to love, and recognize that on any give block, in most parts of America, that's gonna change house to house what cultures are salient and matter. Does that seem fair?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that does. And I actually want to connect this to what I think are some biblical metaphors that will help this make sense to people, and that is, you know, I actually think we've made a mistake in the way we've gone about engaging culture by engaging full bore on what's been called the cultural war. I'll just say it directly.
Andy Crouch
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And part of the reason is is because it has a tendency to turn the person who disagrees with me almost immediately into an enemy and as another.
Andy Crouch
Yes, yes.
Darrell Bock
When in fact, the Gospel is asking me to stretch out a hand to them, an invitation, even in the midst of offering them a challenge about what the Gospel says to them about the way we all live.
Andy Crouch
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
And so – so, there's this tension between invitation and challenge. Well, I like the picture – I say to people, if you want to use a military metaphor, if you have to use a military metaphor, think about it in two stages. Stage One is Ephesians 6:12 which says, "Our battle is not against flesh and blood, it's against principalities and powers." This is a spiritual engagement that we're engaged in.

And the Part Two of that is which means that I'm actually engaged in an effort that's more like Special Forces operation than an outright war. My goal is to rescue a hostage who's in the clutches of someone else. Now, that doesn't mean that they're – may not be there, but it means I view the operation differently. M-kay? This is not an enemy; this is someone who I'm trying to regain towards something. So, that's an important image.

And then the second image is the image of the ambassador, which I actually think is the core cultural engagement image of the Scripture, that we represent God as members of the kingdom in the midst of a world that pulls people's allegiances in another direction. And that operation of being an ambassador is person specific.

In other words, when I go to – if I'm an ambassador in a foreign nation, and I go to a mining plant, I'll have one set of discussions, but if I end up at a publishing house, I'll have another set of discussions. If I end up in a school, I'm in a third set of discussions. And those elements may have some elements of overlap, but they'll also be varied features that are very different because of the locale where I find myself.
Andy Crouch
I love it.
Darrell Bock
That was a long explanation, but I think that's kind of what I'm after in terms of thinking about this.
Andy Crouch
I think that's so good. I mean just to add to the biblical kind of frameworks or language we could use – and I did talk about this a bit in the editorial, I think when we use the phrase "the culture," actually what we are often referring to – it seems to me the nearest landing place for that in the New Testament is this language of "the world," "the cosmos."

When that is used in a kind of an absolute way, and it's used, I think, maybe a better translation of cosmos, many times when it appears in the New Testament, is the world system. So, there's this kind of – and that hooks up to the principalities and powers you're talking about. There's this world system – that has all of us, to some extent, in its clutches – that is kind of implacably opposed to the purposes of God and distinguishable from the people and mission of God.

So, do not love the world system or the things embedded in the world system. But the people who indeed are kind of prisoners of that world system, although we ourselves are also, in some ways, imprisoned by it to a certain extent – yeah, to sort of flatten them into only representatives of the world system, as if my neighbor just represents the culture, is to miss, actually, everything that makes my neighbor redeemable, because the world system I don't think is redeemable.

But then the interesting thing about cosmos, of course, is it's used in other places positively, "God so loved the cosmos that He gave His only Son."
Darrell Bock
He made it; he made it.
Andy Crouch
And he made the cosmos, right?
Darrell Bock
He's the One who designed it. It's Genesis 1. I think part of the issue here is we tend to start our engagement out of Genesis 3 –
Andy Crouch
Three.
Darrell Bock
– when in fact, it starts in Genesis 1.
Andy Crouch
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
And so, we're made in the image of God, life is precious because of the image of God indwells within us. We are supposed to respect people because they're made in the image of God. Christ calls us to love our enemy because they're made in the image of God. I mean there are lots of ways to think about this.
Andy Crouch
And – and the very – you and I totally agree on this, I know – the very human act of culture is part of the expression of the image of God in many respects. Like the things that the peoples of the Earth create are working out that image-bearing in relationship to creation as they discover the possibilities within creation.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I mean the whole mandate to be good stewards of the creation opens up this creativity in the way we manage what God has given us the capability to do and to create and to be. And all this is a very important part of the discussion.

And the other thing, of course, that happens with culture is it tends to be a very negative, dark image.
Andy Crouch
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
And sometimes there are things in the culture that actually are reflections of the fact that God has made us in His image, and He has made us with the capacity to care for one another and to be supportive of one another and that kind of thing. And that sometimes gets lost in the language of "the culture."
Andy Crouch
Well, even if you think about someone who – I mean I think of Kim Kardashian as a pretty pure representative of mass mediated culture. And to the extent she is that (a) she's enslaved by it and trapped by it in ways that none of us would wish on our people, anyone we loved, but she's still an image bearer. And you can actually meaningfully talk about the way the image of God is still reflected and refracted in the life even of someone who's such a sort of embodiment of many of the things that make mass media culture unhealthy.

So, I think getting to that image bearer, but with – but not in that personalistic way that neglects the fact that that person is embedded in an ethnic tradition, and we should bring that word in, too – right?
Darrell Bock
Right.
Andy Crouch
The other biblical word that helps us with this is ethne, the peoples. And we get "ethnic" from that in English. And the peoples of the Earth each have their own cultural tradition, and that's, on the whole, a really healthy thing and something we actually should do a better job of attending to them than we do rather than assuming everybody just has one default culture.
Darrell Bock
Now, I – like I say, we very much get that. I actually think that if I were to do this subtitle, I might have done it "Stop Engaging the Culture and Start Engaging the Cultures." You know?
Andy Crouch
Yes.
Darrell Bock
That that's – that that's really what you were after. 'Cause there are – the piece by John Stonestreet that's interacting with your piece basically said there are things that do impact the culture to such a significant degree that we have to begin talking about them. I mean the way in which individualism permeates the West in ways that are destructive. The way in which a sense of entitlement permeates the West in ways that are – and notice I've said the West here; so, I've excluded certain people in the midst of doing this.
Andy Crouch
Yep.
Darrell Bock
These are core values that actually eat at our sense of connection to one another, if we're not careful, or that make us less caring about the way other people think, because what counts is what I think, which, if you actually analyze that very, very carefully, turns us into a kind of demigod, which is dangerous in terms of thinking about who we ought to be when we're trying to relate to the God – and there "the" is the appropriate word. You know?
Andy Crouch
God gets a definite article.
Darrell Bock
That's right. And so, I'm glad you agree with that; at least we haven't thrown the word "the" out of the dictionary. And so, we're off and running on a kind of conversation that recognizes that there are certain values that float around at least certain large segments of culture that Christians have to engage with in order to understand what's driving many of their neighbors.
Andy Crouch
Yes, and – well, and us, too.
Darrell Bock
That's correct.
Andy Crouch
It's a pull. And this is – see, this is my other beef with the phrase "the culture." It's so often opposed to the Church. Right?
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Andy Crouch
It's like – but actually, the people of God are embedded in the world, the created good world, and the world system that exists, and all those things – the individualism, the entitlement – I mean that's as much a reality inside the Church as it is outside, and that's also why I don't want us to get into this kind of dichotomized way of talking about the Church and the culture.

Or even, you know, Richard Niebuhr's thing, Christ and Culture, to me sets up a way of thinking that separates – as if Christ were a word or a name – it's actually – we know it's a title, of course; I'm not sure Niebuhr's audience knew that – but it floats free of culture in the way you present that, as if you could separate Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ from a cultural tradition, specifically the culture of Israel, the people of Israel. That's a very dangerous kind of abstraction level to go to I think.
Darrell Bock
No, I think you're right. And I think that one of the things that New Testament studies, at least recently, has proven is that if you really want to understand Jesus, you've got to understand a little bit about Jewish culture in order to get him.
Andy Crouch
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And without that, you can't make much sense out of what he's doing. Well, this is a fascinating conversation. I mean I'm kind of pausing to think about what direction to go next, but let me try this: you've talked about how the Church is embedded by culture, and I think you're right. And I think one of the hard things is for the Church to recognize what it has that is in the culture and what is – let me try one on you – okay? –
Andy Crouch
Mmm, mmm, mmm.
Darrell Bock
For size. There's a lot of discussion about religious liberty today. There's a lot of discussion about how the Church is persecuted today. And I don't want to demean that idea. I think that's – I think there's a lot of truth to the fact that the Church is getting a lot of pushback from the world.
Andy Crouch
Right.
Darrell Bock
The flipside of that is the Scripture's pretty clear that that's going to happen, that Jesus spent the whole second half of His ministry, with His disciples, basically telling the disciples this, "If I'm going to suffer, you're going to suffer, too." You know? "The student is not in any different place than the Teacher."

In the upper room discourse, He says, "You're gonna get pushback from the world." There's hardly a moment that goes by in the latter half of Jesus' teaching, once he introduces the fact the world's gonna reject him, that they're going to reject them as well.
Andy Crouch
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, part of my concern here is is the way we respond to the pushback, are we gonna good – I'm gonna use this phrase; it's a figure – are we good losers? You know? Are we people who when we get the pushback that Jesus said we're gonna get, "You can expect it; it's coming; don't be surprised," do you get the kind of – I'm gonna use the word "whining" that we sometimes inject into our conversation, and is our whining a reflection sometimes, perhaps, at least to a degree – I'm trying to be nice about this – a reflection of the fact that maybe we haven't come sufficiently to grips with what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to expect certain pushback for what you get without looking for it? Without going out and actually trying to promote the fact that this is gonna happen.
Andy Crouch
Yeah, it's so right. I mean – and I think that that sense of entitlement, which lurks behind that, that is an entitlement to a certain kind of – well, at least – well, I think it's a privilege. I mean it's sort of inevitable. I mean we have – for what? – 1,500 years of established Christianity in the West. And a lot of good came out of that for the West and for the rest of the world I would be glad to say.

But one thing that comes out of any long-established access to power is sort of an assumption that it's just natural.
Darrell Bock
It's your right.
Andy Crouch
And the – your right, exactly, and deserved.
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Andy Crouch
And actually, it was only ever deserved to the extent that the Gospel actually was profoundly leavening and transforming cultures. So, it's one thing when Christianity arrives in Ireland – in gothic Ireland – literally Goth – well, you know, Celtic, sorry; the Goths were elsewhere – in the midst of the pagan Celts and profoundly transforms this kind of honor/shame/warrior culture into a much healthier kind of culture.

It's another thing when the Catholic Church becomes just the taken-for-granted power structure a thousand years later. And so, Christians only, in a sense, deserve power in a culture to the extent we are being profoundly transformative within it. And the reality is that has not always been the case in Western history; it hasn't always been the case in United States.

And in a sense, the culture wars we were fighting, as much as it's painful to admit it, are partly a result of ways we didn't transform the culture. I mean a lot of the legal apparatus for what's allegedly the persecution of the Church in the US, such as we have it, comes out of the Civil Rights era when the failure of white Protestants who ran this country, for 150 years, to establish legal frameworks that protected the rights of African-American citizens – well, initially slaves, then citizens – the fact that we failed to protect that gave us the legal framework that is now used to, in some cases, marginalize Christian institutions.

So, that's the tough truth about what we've inherited and what we left behind from our [inaudible] of power.
Darrell Bock
Andy, here's how I describe what I think has happened to us, at least in my lifetime – you're younger than I am. But when I was growing up, in the world of Leave it to Beaver and other such – other such realities, there was a Judeo-Christian net that wrapped around Western culture that captured a lot of people, a lot of the time, even if they weren't necessarily tightly connected to the Church.

Those values were not only oftentimes taught in churches, they were taught in schools. They were part of a public discourse, and there was this shared net that captured people, whether they were tightly connected to the Church or not. That net is gone today, basically. I'm not even saying it's leaking; I'm saying it's gone. That most people who are not associated with the Church, are not very exposed to those values in many ways – they might pick up pieces here and there, but it's not anything at all coherent. There's no net.

And so, what we are living with is a world that has become much more diverse in the backgrounds that we tend to be exposed to. The world has also gotten – as it's grown in number, it's actually gotten closer through communication and contact it's given through exposure.
Andy Crouch
Yes, that's right.
Darrell Bock
– in these kinds of ways. So, there are lots of ways that we – that this net has broken down, which has put us in the position of being more like where the early Church was in the first century.

And so, we're in a position where we can, perhaps, again learn anew how they managed to do it without any accoutrements of cultural power wrapped around them.
Andy Crouch
Right. Quite the reverse, really –
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Andy Crouch
– with their leaders imprisoned and constant threat of the state cracking down, as it eventually did.
Darrell Bock
That's right. So, the question is, you're responsible for a magazine that communicates in the midst of this world that's changed around us. What do you find to be the challenges in helping readers of Christianity Today, helping Christians think through this? What do you find are some of the greater challenges you face as you think about what you guys have to write about on a regular basis?
Andy Crouch
Yeah. Well, just to underscore your kind of setup of this part of the conversation, which I think is spot on, I think the first time I really thought about this topic was actually reading an essay 30 years ago by – maybe 25 years ago – by Will Willimon, the United Methodist bishop at the end of his career – and I can't remember if he was a bishop when he wrote this, but he wrote this piece – I think it was in The Christian Century, which it's like Once Upon a Time was our arch rival –
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Andy Crouch
And then actually, there's an interesting story about how much closer those two publications are now. Some of our friends who say because we've gone liberal, but I would say it's because the whole situation of Christianity has changed, that now anybody who's trying to maintain some kind of faith identity, even if they're theologically liberal, as The Century is, has something in common with me that maybe we wouldn't have felt like we needed to have in common back in that Judeo-Christian time.

Anyway, that was a total digression, totally for free. But anyway, Will Willimon wrote this piece – I can't remember the exact the name of it; it was something like "The Day the Fox Theater Opened on Sunday." And he talks about growing up in this kinda small town, or maybe a small city, in the Carolinas and how, in his youth, one day, on a Sunday, the Fox Theater showed a movie.

And up until this moment, the theater had always been closed on Sunday, because everything else was closed on Sunday, because that was the Lord's Day. And he said, "That was when I realized the world would no longer serve as a prop for the Church." And while a lot of things are more contested right now – obviously we think about various kinds of sexual ethics and so forth – I think Sabbath is such a great proxy for what you're describing.

That even with – I'm a little younger than you, but within my memory, partly 'cause I lived in Massachusetts, which was actually, oddly, one of the last states to really keep this in place, when I was growing up, everything, essentially, was closed on Sundays. And unwittingly – I mean Massachusetts, when I grew up there, was a very secular place, not a churched – not like the deep South. And no one every called Massachusetts the buckle of the Bible Belt.

And yet, even in Massachusetts, thanks to law, you couldn't go to a department store; you couldn't go to a grocery store. There were mom and pop stores that were open, but that was it on Sundays. And so, it kind of reinforced one of the Ten Commandments for God's people, which is the honoring of a day of rest, not just for you, but for everybody who works for you, which I think, for us in consumer culture, translates into, "Who are the retail employees who serve you," and so forth.

And now that's utterly gone. And a measure of the Church's cultural captivity is most Christians don't even notice it's gone. Right? And so, it's not just that the culture no long observes Sabbath, but we can't even really imagine a weekly practice of profound withdrawal from work and commerce.
Darrell Bock
Not to mention sport.
Andy Crouch
Well, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Andy Crouch
Right. So – and in fact, in my next book, I'm writing a little bit about the difference between work and rest on the one hand, which is the biblical pattern, and toil and leisure on the other. And each of those – toil is a distortion of work, and I think leisure is a distortion of rest. And it occurred to me, as I was working on this, that the distinction is that leisure is bought at the price of other's work.

So, when I sit down to watch the football game on Sunday, which – I mean I can't fake it; I don't actually ever do that, but I have my own form of this with – but my Christian friends –
Darrell Bock
Okay, but, I'm guilty as charged, so, go ahead.
Andy Crouch
When sinners like you sit down to watch the football game on Sunday, you may feel, "Ah, this is great. I've got my cold iced tea," presumably for a professor–
Darrell Bock
It's a Dr Pepper, but you're close.
Andy Crouch
Something, yeah.
Andy Crouch
But other people are working. Now, they're highly paid, some of them. A lot of the people are not, but the people on the camera are highly paid, but they're still working. And we don't even notice that this might, in some way, not really cohere with the biblical picture of how societies ought to govern themselves so that everybody, especially the vulnerable, can flourish.

So, that's a – I hope that's a helpful digression, but I just think it illustrates – you know, right now – right now we feel more tension on some other things. So, you and I may be part of churches that still affirm a biblical sexual ethic that feels really out of step, but I think we're gonna see the same basic capitulation among Christians that many people who identify even as Christians in another generation, will be – it'll be just as hard to imagine a fully fleshed out kind of biblical sexual ethic as being relevant to us as Sabbath is for most Christians today.
Darrell Bock
That's actually a wonderful transition to an observation I want to make about this kind of a circumstance. And the situation I have in mind is the situation you find – the Church found itself in in Acts 4. Here you had two apostles who had just been arrested. They were released, and the Church was in the beginning stages of experiencing the persecution that Jesus promised they would experience.

And the question is, how are they gonna react to it? How are they gonna react to this persecution? And I tell people, when I look at this passage, there are two things the church didn't do that our instincts might lead us to do. One would be to pray, "Remove this persecution from me," okay?
Andy Crouch
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
They don't pray that. The second one might be, if I'm in a little more of a vindictive move, "God, nuke 'em." Okay? Now, they wouldn't have said nuke 'em in the first century, but they would have, perhaps, said something equivalent. Okay?

No, they pray for basically two things: they prayed to be faithful and bold; that's one thing. And the second is they commit themselves to serve the very people who are persecuting them.
Andy Crouch
Wow.
Darrell Bock
And I look at that, and I go, "Man, is there a lesson in that?
Andy Crouch
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
I mean and it's profound. You know? We want to represent you well, and we understand that part of that representation is actually reaching out to the very people who are putting pressure on us. 'Cause I go in the next scene, and they're performing miracles in the very city, for the very people who have rejected their Messiah.
Andy Crouch
Yeah, wow.
Darrell Bock
And it's profound.
Andy Crouch
It's amazing.
Darrell Bock
So, it strikes me as that's kind of the path.
Andy Crouch
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And I look at the – I look at the way in which we tend to respond, which is either with immense fear about the circumstances that surround us – I actually think that – I actually think the Church is reacting out of a terrific amount of fear right now.
Andy Crouch
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And lack of confidence. I actually think that fear is a lack of confidence, which means behind that lack of confidence is actually a lack of faith –
Andy Crouch
Yes.
Darrell Bock
– in where God has us.
Andy Crouch
Completely.
Darrell Bock
And the passage that comes into mind, in contrast to that, is the 1 Peter 3 passage, where it says, you know, "Set apart Christ in your hearts. Be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you." But around that, it says – I love this passage – it begins by saying, "You know, if you do good, you really should expect to have a pretty good life." That's verse 13. Verse 14 says, "But if you're slandered for doing good –"

And when I talk about this passage, I say, "Think about that phrase for a second, 'you're slandered for doing good'. That's not a normal world."
Andy Crouch
Right.
Darrell Bock
"That's a fallen world."
Andy Crouch
Right.
Darrell Bock
"Okay? But you're blessed if that happens."
Andy Crouch
Right.
Darrell Bock
Okay? That's the next thing the passage – the passage is full of surprises. Then it tells you, "– to set apart Christ in your hearts." And then there's the rest of it, which people tend not to read on, "– but do so, make that defense with gentleness and respect." M-kay?

So, there's a tone that comes with what we represent.
Andy Crouch
Oh, I love it.
Darrell Bock
Okay? All right? And I'm saying this early Church has figured something out, very early on, that we need to relearn.
Andy Crouch
Mmm. You know, I think, in a way, we have had a dry run of this situation in American Church history and American history in the modernist fundamentalist split of the early 20th century. Because really what happened there was the evangelicals – the original evangelicals, the 19th century evangelicals who had built many of the institutions of American life – in about a generation lost control of those institutions to the new wave of modernists or eventually it became – called liberal Protestantism.

So, your parents or grandparents might have started or funded or at least felt a sense of participation and belonging in almost any of the universities, with a very few exceptions of the United States, the hospitals, the YMCA, just so many institutions. And within a generation, suddenly, if you identify with the more – with some of the modernism rejecting positions, which now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say it was right to not capitulate to majority.

And actually, when you capitulate that much, you lose your Christian saltiness and savor and eventually become absorbed into a secular culture. But at that time, what that looked like was the loss of cultural power.

And I've thought about how, I think, you could almost sum up all the mistakes that the fundamentalists – who were the losers of that battle and their children, who then call themselves the evangelicals again, after the Second World War – you'd almost sum up all the mistakes they made – I'll say "we" made, 'cause I've kind of joined this tradition in my adult years – as being shaped by fear, envy, and grief.

So, fear of the loss – well, fear of losing something more, fear of loss of access, grief of the actual loss that had happened, and envy of the cultural power of others. And I just think it's amazing how immune the early Church, like in Acts 4 and really in the whole story, is of all three of those things.

There's not this sense of overwhelming fear, which I think you're – to me, that's the most dominant emotion, when I'm with certain conservative Christians right now. I will say not the ones I spend most of my time with, partly 'cause I live in the North, and we who are more conservative Christians in the North haven't had cultural power for a really long time.
Darrell Bock
That's right. You know what it is to be where you are.
Andy Crouch
That's like – I mean I moved into my dorm, freshman year at Cornell University, and the sign on the bathroom that said – I think it said "Women," but I don't even remember what it said, because it had been papered over with "Anyone."

And I had a both sex, any sex, any gender bathroom, which I shared with my lesbian RA and my cross-dressing, seemingly gay hall mate who – but then he, one day, came out of the shower with my lesbian RA. So, it was very confusing. Like that was day – that was the first week of freshman year. That was 30 years ago. I'm like, "All this bathroom stuff just is not surprising to me."
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Andy Crouch
Now, I have my own views about what's healthy, what's conducive to flourishing, but gosh, you just get used to not being able to dictate how the culture's going to approach that. And so, you don't feel fear. And then, actually being immersed in it, you stop feeling envy, because you actually see cultural power is not all that it's cracked up to be.

I think that was the other kind of weird thing about my experience in the Ivy League. And I went on to work at Harvard, and you just – you see cultural power from the inside, and you realize it's not the healthiest thing to have a lot of anyway.

But if you're shaped by fear, grief, and envy, I think you make very distorted choices, and you don't love your neighbor when you're consumed by any of those things.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. In fact, I think that your tendency is to so distance yourself from your neighbor, that you lose the ability to connect with them if you're not careful. And it's a tragic place to be. It's an interesting – I like your three choices – envy, fear, and grief – because I think they do interact with each other. And it raises the question, "How does the Church react in a culture in which it is losing, or in some cases has lost cultural power?"

And yet there's this tension between attempting to advocate, I think, for those things that we really do think benefit all humans, and on the other hand recognizing that if you step into the public square, given the way the public square is oriented, the chances of winning versus losing, you better be prepared to lose.

But that doesn't mean you don't – you aren't bold. You know? That's the interesting thing. But you also don't fear, because your citizenship and identity lies somewhere else.
Andy Crouch
What this brings to mind – a couple of things, but going back to the Sabbath example, I think it's actually really interesting to think about how countercultural the early Church's practice of Sabbath was in that the early Church, very early on – I mean we have evidence of this in Revelation, when John talks about the Lord's Day – the early Church moves its worship from the Jewish day of worship, the Sabbath, the day that the Lord commanded in the Old Testament, to the first day of the week, or the eighth [sic] day of the week, depending on how you look at it.

So, suddenly the Church is being doubly countercultural. Right? So, it was countercultural, just as a Jew, to keep the Sabbath day: Rome didn't do that. But now you're not only keeping a day of worship and rest, but you've actually transferred that day to a day when no one else around you is worshiping and resting.

And so, I like to think about, "What would it be like if I left the United States for ten years, and I came back and discovered that in all the churches in my city, that formerly had been occupied on Sundays, that now the Christians were getting up not on Sunday, but on Monday morning, while everybody else is going to work, and they are worshipping in their church building on Monday morning?"

And you would think, "Something absolutely radical has happened here." And that's, of course, what happened was the resurrection of Jesus that causes the early Church to say, "This day is so significant, that we're going to move our day of worship to the first day of the week."

So, they not only were amazingly countercultural, they're also incredibly kind of culturally innovative and creative. And you only do that when you are motivated by the opposite of fear, by this kind of resounding, unbelievable, authenticated hope that the early Church had in the resurrection.
Darrell Bock
Now, you talked about the idea of resilience as opposed to relevance. That's an important idea. You said the idea came from someone who you know, and I'm sure I didn't get the name of who it was –
Andy Crouch
God.
Darrell Bock
– but I've been to Australia. I go to Australia every other summer for two months. And part of my reason for wanting to go there is because they are further along in dealing with this lack of cultural power and cultural presence, and yet they have this very – the Christian community there has this very deep, resonating faith that they are working with as they try and engage this culture from a position of very little cultural power and presence, but yet are very effective in thinking through, "How can we be – how can we be distinctive in a potentially positive kind of way?
Andy Crouch
Absolutely. And I think a very oddly encouraging thing to do, as an American Christian, is to build relationships. I have a similar relationship with a church in London called ChristChurch London. And just to be with Christians who live in a much more pervasively secular environment than ours, like Europe or like Australia, and realize it's not easy, but it is incredibly robust, and it's incredibly powerful and encouraging.

And so, you know, it does require a change of posture. It requires us to build something different into our people, into our institutions and systems and structures, and rather than being relevant, we're going to have to learn to be resilient. But that is not necessarily, in the long run, a bad thing for the Gospel.
Darrell Bock
No, I don't think so, either. I've got time for maybe one more idea I want to put out on the table that's related to this. I think it has to change the way we communicate, to a certain degree, by saying – rather than saying something's true because it's in the Bible, saying that it's in the Bible because it's true.
Andy Crouch
Wow.
Darrell Bock
And I think that what that means is is that you've got to probe the depths for why God said this way of living is an appropriate way to live, is an effective way to live. And I think we've lost the ability to explain that, and we need to recapture it.
Andy Crouch
Wow. Totally right. I think one of the major intellectual projects – it's not just intellectual; that's not quite fair – but one of the major challenges for the Church in the 21st century is to recover an account of how the Christian faith gives a more coherent explanation of everything we know about reality, especially including what we now know from science.

All the things that are accessible to us – I mean the fact that there are billions – not of stars, but of galaxies, when you look up at the sky, which no one knew before the last 50 years or so – maybe 100 years. There's actually a profoundly Christian way to account for that that I think can stand up against any other possible explanation that our neighbors – and secular neighbors can come up with.

But it does require this kind of deep reframing of what we believe in light of everything else we and our neighbors know and sense to be true. And I think it's a totally achievable thing for us in our day and time to say this way of looking at the world is, in a way, self-authenticating, especially when you sort of add in kind of history and the evidence from history, ultimately, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is what it's all about in the end.

That this makes more sense now than it would have made 100 years ago or 500 years ago, that the more we know about the world, the more Christianity actually seems plausible and true.
Darrell Bock
Well, it's a nice place to end to think about how plausible Christianity is. We thank you for helping us think through cultural engagement and engaging cultures and thinking through that with us. And I appreciate your time, and we look forward to more conversations in this regard, 'cause I think this is an important conversation.

And we think you, listener, for joining us on "The Table" and hope you'll join us again, soon.

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