Be In Active Dialogue With Surrounding Culture

Series: Other Speakers

Sun am 13 May 2012 – Justus Swart

Acts 17:16-28

In recent years there’s been a shift away from institutional religion, from the way we come to church, the way we commit ourselves to a denomination, our allegiance pledged to the name of a church rather than to God. It’s moved towards something of a journey. People want a journey of self-experience. People are trying to build a framework for themselves through which they can interpret life’s every day events, and find meaning in it. Where do people find the material to build this framework through which to interpret things? The most obvious answer is: through the media. Media is the most dominating force, controlling the minds of people today. It now controls the largest audience in human history. The media includes a large spectrum of things: radio, music, movies, television, even news. These are all part of what influences and affects us whereas we used to gain a world view by watching our parents. Today it is different, children from a very young age have the ability to exercise free will and choice; what they believe in and what they want to do is up to them; nobody can tell them anything else.

Post modernism has challenged the family model. It’s a celebration of individuality, saying, “This is me, this is who I am.” It is a separation from the collective. People pride themselves in their choice, but their choices are not related to any purpose, so there’s a lack, a vacuum, there’s no anchor. As Christians we have to ask ourselves what the influences are, that are shaping the worldview of Christians and non-Christians alike. The media is the dominating institute of emerging global culture. That is frightening because something we have no control over is controlling the whole world’s culture. How then does the Church relate to such a colossal giant? Do we become timid and turn away from it? Do we shut ourselves off from it? The answer is to infiltrate and influence it. If we say, “We are the Church, we know what is good and you are either with us or against us”, we are making a mistake. We are isolating a large section of people who have built for themselves an identity around things in media and culture, and to dismiss that is to dismiss the person. We have to be in active dialogue and we have to be engaged with it. In our minds we are critically evaluating things and constantly bringing it back to the Word. That is our anchor; the spiritual text, something we build ourselves on, something the Church is built on, and forever will be what the Church will based around.

To condemn popular culture is to lose an entire generation. This is something we have to be very careful of, because it is easy to cut something off, and with all our grand proclamations of taking over the world, we often forget that some of these things we will have to take over and influence. We have to be the leavening influence in these situations. “Unless Churches today value feedback and two way communication, religious authority will remain under siege just when the global problems cry out for a prophetic voice” (P. Horsfield) If we are going to stand back and watch as the world tells non-Christians how to react and respond to situations, we are letting them take over; we are shying away from the responsibility. The responsibility we have is to be in active dialogue. We have made a mistake to think we can disengage and separate ourselves from it.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Here’s the active dialogue. He was sitting down in a two-way communication; he reasoned with them, it was not a finger-pointing condemnation. If we do not value listening as much as we do speaking, what is the point? People want to be heard. It was “day by day”, it was not a once-off; we have to be there at every step, advising. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Christianity has some radical ideas. Love alone is probably the most radical fact that Christians have; it’s a radical lifestyle to love, to give, to forgive. These things that make us who we are; are things the world needs to see; but not in the way they have been portrayed. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” If we say, “Because the Bible tells me so,” it’s a very weak base. We have to give an account of what we believe and why. (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)Where do we get the latest ideas from? The media! It tells us what to wear, it tells us how to feel, it tells us what a good family looks like, what a good family is, what a successful person looks like, and what a poor person looks like, but it is not how Christianity should view these things. The Word has spoken about these things and we should feed that back into it. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown godPaul went through their system of understanding to tell them about the God who made the world and everything in it. Stop leaving God in church. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’ (Acts 17:16-28). Those were quotes by poets who were not religious, they were the philosophers and thinkers who had tapped into something that is inherent in man, a need for something to live for, to position your life around.

Pope John Paul II said, “The radically different cultural expressions and activities of our time especially those which catch the attention of young people demand that educators be open to new cultural influences and be capable of interpreting them for your people in the light of Christian faith and of Christ’s universal command to love. Young people today are pushed by loud and competing claims upon their attention and their allegiance. From around the world they hear daily messages of conflict, hostility, greed, injustice, poverty and despair.” That is real, but then he says, “Do not accept a divorce between faith and culture. You are being called at the present time to a new missionary effort. In other words, you will develop your culture with wisdom and prudence, retaining the freedom to criticize what may be called the cultural industry, remaining all the while deeply concerned with truth. Faith will ask culture what values it promotes, and destiny it offers to life; what place it makes for the poor and disinherited with whom the Son of man is identified, how it conceives of sharing forgiveness and love.” We need to be asking media, “How are you promoting love, how are you promoting family values, and how can we shed light on how to do that?”

The main thing I would like to get through is: analyze and critique because here is the standard (the Bible) of what we have in us, and it is something we should be uncompromising about. We don’t separate ourselves from culture, but we approach it knowing who we are, where we come from and where we are going, and through that we can make a difference.