One of the most challenging things for any follower of Jesus is to know how to engage our culture. We are told to be in the world but not of the world.
In Romans 12: 2, Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” In this it is clear that we ought to be cautious about just accepting or embracing all that our culture believes or has to offer. In fact, this is a reminder of the importance to seek God, and let His voice be the primary voice influencing our heart and behaviour.
Yet, when Paul is in Athens, he does something surprising. He quotes pagan poets. In Acts 17: 28-29, Paul says to the crowd who has gathered. “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’ ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill.’”
It seems Paul understood the tension of how to engage culture, whilst not submitting to it.
It can be easy to read Paul’s words to the Romans and assume that we must reject everything of our culture as being not of God. Yet, Paul seems to recognise that not all of culture or insights of the world are bad, but neither are they all good.
The reality of our culture is that there are some things that are bad and should be rejected. There are many things which are neutral, in other words they are neither morally or ethically good or bad, they are just the way a particular culture works. Then there are some things which are true or good about culture.
Too often the church has been known as the ones who point out just how bad our culture is. As a result we are seen as judgemental. Where there is injustice or evil, we ought to address it. Yet, like Paul, perhaps we ought to also be looking out for the moments when our culture is in sync with God. Like Paul, we can quote the poets who get it right, as well as celebrate the actions of culture which are noble and compassionate. I wonder if more of our conversations were around the nobility of our culture (whilst not endorsing all of it), we might find ourselves in moments like those which Paul experienced, or being in the midst of great, robust, and significant conversations about faith?