This is a repost from October 2007. In light of the theme of T4G (Together for the Gospel) this last week, I thought it might be appropriate.
The phrase "engaging the culture" has become one of the new buzz phrases of many in the church over the last couple of years. For some it seems to describe their method of doing church, for others it seems to be their reason for doing church the way they do. I am not real sure that many who use the term have actually given much thought as to what that term means when they say it, as it has become the term du jour if you are cool and trendy in your ministry. In our post-modern time of deconstruction and redefinition the word engage is one of many that has been hijacked and given a new meaning.
I recently asked a friend of mine how he would define engaging the culture and his first response, off of the top of his head, was that it meant the church was doing a good job of getting them in the door. I thought this was an accurate assessment of how many churches define engagement and what engagment ultimately means to them. There are several ways to use the word engage. Mechanically, when we engage it means a meshing or fitting with, or an interlocking, like the gears of truck or engaging the clutch. When we engage in conversation, engage in sex, or engage in politics it means we participate jointly and are involved in the activity and there is some give and take. If you are engaged in an activity then you are busy or occupied with that activity. An engaging person is attractive, charming, compelling, occupies your thoughts, and commands your attention. So if the church is engaging the culture as defined in these ways the church is then meshing, fitting with, or interlocking with the culture. It is jointly participating and is involved in the same activities as the culture, gives and takes with the culture, and is busy and occupied with this activity. The church would be attractive, charming, compelling, and would occupy the mind of the culture and command the attention of the culture. To me it looks like this is what is meant by most of those who view themselves as engaging the culture and appears to be where the emphasis is placed in their church life. If you think about it, is this remotely what the church is called out to do?
I know that many would point out that this is just the methodology, the means through which the gospel is shared, but at the same time it has also become the measure of how they are sharing the gospel. Does the method and means by which the gospel truth is shared matter? Does the venue through which the truth is presented create a certain expectation in the people whom you are engaging? Does this expectation become a mindset that influences how they hear and what they hear when they come? Does their mind then have preset filters that are there and remain because of what is done to attract and retain them? Does what you are known for as a church precondition them and color what they see and hear? Is the gospel truth obscured by all the other stuff that is done to engage them? Is the gospel truth watered down or certain parts ignored or deemphasized so that it will be charming and compelling? Can the gospel truth be be veiled in the garb of what is attractive to the culture of the world and still be discerned by those who are coming with their senses attuned to that worldly attractiveness? Is doing church like this really a subtle from of manipulation? Is it rank salesmanship much like the bait and switch? If so, is it God honoring, can it be God honoring? If it is not, then can God be expected to honor this being done in "His name?"
But there is also another use for the term engage. When we engage someone we come to grips with them or confront them. When the Christian worldview engages the secular worldview should it mesh with the secular worldview? When the Christian worldview engages the secular worldview will it be, should it be, charming and attractive to the secular worldview? Is this what the Lord wants from His church, His people, bought out from the world and its culture by His blood? Or when the Christian worldview engages the secular worldview will it come to grips with it and confront it? Is it important to tell the gospel truth truthfully and forthrightly? Can we dilute the gospel truth and expect it to be effective or expect the Holy Spirit to honor and work through what we are doing? Is diluted truth, partial truth, anything apart from the full truth, still truth? The rub is that truth, by its very nature, is confrontational, especially biblical truth. Biblical truth is offensive, it separates and divides. If churches are trying not be be offensive, but attractive, then is telling the gospel truth their priority; and if it is not their priority then can they claim to be engaging the culture from a Biblical basis?
For the church, the pillar and support of the truth, is true engagement the confronting of one culture by another, the confrontation between light and darkness, truth and deception, sacred and secular? Doesn't the gospel truth engage by confronting? Can the Christian worldview engage the secular worldview without confrontation? If the church is salt and light then can it be anything less than confrontational with the world around us?
So when you say you are engaging the culture what do mean by that? Is engaging the culture from a Biblical perspective really what you are doing?