Why Culture Matters
About the Guest
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of "BreakPoint," tells how advancements are changing our society for the good and bad. Stonestreet reminds listeners we aren't the first generation to face a broken culture. Believers have to decide how to interact within society, and how to live out their convictions despite the world's brokenness.
John Stonestreet tells how advancements are changing our society for the good and bad. Stonestreet reminds listeners we aren’t the first generation to face a broken culture.
Why Culture Matters
Bob: You ever feel like you would like to isolate yourself and your family from the culture we live in? John Stonestreet says the message of Christmas is a message, not of isolation, but of incarnation.
John: Christianity—if we start with what Christianity is—it’s not an escapist religion; right? So, we can’t adjust Christianity to our cultural experience; we’ve got to adjust our cultural experience to what Christianity is. The center of Christianity is the God who became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We do not have an escapist religion.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 11th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. The challenge of living in the world without becoming of the world is something every generation of Christians has faced and, in our day, the challenge remains. We’ll talk more about it. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I look at what’s going on in our world these days, and more and more I’m singing, “This world is not my home—I’m just-a passing through!” You know what I mean?
Dennis: I do; and yet, at the same time, Bob, as you see the world kind of disintegrate, it’s a great time to be alive. I mean, if you know Whom you serve and who you are—and you know the God of this Book and the Book—you’ve got all that you need to make an impact on this world.
Bob: And we’re supposed to be on mission; aren’t we?
Dennis: We are. We’ve got a friend, who’s back with us in the studio—John Stonestreet joins us again. John, welcome back.
John: Thanks Dennis. It’s great to be with you. Bob; good to see you.
Bob: Yes; you too.
Dennis: He’s the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the co-host of BreakPoint, which is a daily commentary on what is happening in our culture. He’s just finished a book. I’ve got to tell you—this is good work that you’ve done here along with your friend, Brett Kunkle.
It’s called A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.
I use that term, John, myself, a lot these days. We’ve got a generation of young people that need help to know how to handle the waves / the tsunamis that come at them, because they’re coming! That’s what you’ve written about in here; isn’t it?
John: That’s right. I think a lot of us feel that pain—that culture has dramatically changed. You could say there’s a—we’re going through a time of cultural upheaval. It shouldn’t have been unexpected—guys like Chuck Colson, and Francis Schaeffer, and others kind of told us where it was going—and they were right—I mean, we see this.
The next generation is kind of floating around in this. Many of them don’t know how to navigate it. Here’s the thing we know—is leaving the next generation to navigate these waters without any help—that’s not an option. They’re going to lose their soul if that’s what happens.
Bob: I was alive in the ‘60s—I remember what the ‘60s felt like.
I’m just looking around and going, “This feels a little bit like one of those cultural mega-shifts that we experienced in the ‘60s.” Do you think we’re seeing accelerated cultural change?
John: I think we are. I think technology makes everything happen just a little bit faster. There’s a level of access, as well, that this generation has to the changes in culture that maybe—even when I was growing up—I mean, even talk about an issue like pornography; right? When I was a kid and I wanted to look at dirty pictures, I, at least, had to go and look at a convenient store clerk—at least, face somebody—but man, a kid today? He has that on demand, whenever he wants, on one of the many screens that dominates his life. That sort of stuff—technology and access—that’s really sped things up, I think.
Dennis: I really like, in the book, how you start by just defining and helping us think through what exactly culture is. I love what Chuck Colson said—
—Chuck said that: “Culture is a reflection of your belief system. It’s really a reflection of your worldview.” Now, that’s looking at it from the top down. Explain: “What is culture?” and how it comes about, and how it impacts our life.
John: I’m glad that we can start there; because I think, sometimes, in the time of cultural upheaval, it’s easy to kind of default to an understanding in definition of culture that’s just defensive: “It’s all the bad stuff that’s happening out in the world,—
John: —“and we’re Christians; so we stay out of culture.”
But before we decide what to do with culture, we need to figure out: A: “What is it?” and B: “What does God expect me to do with it?” Defining culture is a little bit tricky; but the simplest way, I think, is that: “It’s what humans do with the world”; right? If you’ve gone from one country to another country, you’ve experienced different cultures in many ways—it’s not right or wrong to drive on the left side or the right side of the road—but you need to figure out which one it is so that you can live together.
Culture is what we make of the world, as human beings. It’s actually a—the way God made us to live in the world. We’re actually made to make things of the world and to create an environment where we live. This environment can go in a direction that brings life and flourishing / it can go in a direction that steals our humanness, and trivializes people, and treats them as products or things instead of image-bearers. That’s why I love what Chuck said; because, really, what we do with the world is determined by what we deeply believe about the world.
So, the problem is not that we have culture; the problem is what we’ve done with culture—it’s a reflection of what we believe about God, and about truth, and about morality. We have to, ourselves, understand what to do and how to think about the culture around us; but we’re also living with people who have different beliefs, and that creates a lot of the tension.
Bob: That’s where the polarization comes in;—
John: That’s right.
Bob: —because what we deeply believe we’re divided on, as a nation, today.
It’s leading to—I hate to use the term, “cultural wars”; because we thought we’d put that to bed and we learned to get along. Boy, it’s emerged with a fresh vengeance.
John: Absolutely. There’s a level of divide that our country is in right now—and even our larger culture—and it’s not just political. It’s on what we deeply believe about fundamental questions like: “What is true? How do we know what it true?”
I think—one of the things we talk about in the book: “What does it mean to be human?”—I mean, when you can’t agree that the person you’re riding the train with or driving behind is actually valuable in and of themselves / that they are who they are because they were created by God—that creates a lot of tension in the culture.
Of course, we’re sending our kids out to live in this world with other people, who believe differently; and so helping them navigate those differences?—man, it’s huge.
Dennis: There’s a lot about our culture, though, that is really good. You point this out in your book—
—you said, “Culture is what we do in our world: we invent, imagine, create, tear down, replace, compose, design, emphasize, dismiss, embellish, and engineer.” There’s a lot of positive things about our culture that, I think, we kind of toss them all in the wastebasket, talking about culture just being evil, like you said. But culture, really, is—would it be right to say it’s amoral?
John: It’s moral depending on which direction we take it; right? I mean, it’s going to exist—anytime people get together, you’re going to have culture. So to just, basically, take a posture towards the bad things to dismiss culture altogether—“A: It’s not possible, because you can’t really escape culture”; but “B: It’s not actually what God’s called us to do.” Not only do we want this next generation to survive culture now—it’s that they grow into adulthood, able to live out their God-given talent and ability, and recognize that those talents and abilities have been, not only given to them by God, but given to them for this cultural moment.
In Acts, Chapter 17, Paul talks about God to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. What does he say?—he says, “God determines the exact times that people live in the boundaries of their dwelling place.”
Dennis: You use a great illustration. Share that story, because this is what I like about your book—you not only talk about what’s taking place in the culture—but you call out people to have a chest—
John: Yes; that’s right.
Dennis: —to be courageous today and have an impact on their culture.
John: You’ve got to have a vision of success. If you look at culture, and all the change, and throw your hands up and say: “It’s terrible! It’s terrible! It’s terrible!” then we’re missing the fact that we’re not the first generation of Christians to find themselves in a very difficult cultural moment.
John: We’re not the first generation of Christians to face even things like the sexual brokenness or some of the other kind of really hot topics that we see. The story that I love to tell is a story that really gave me a vision of success: “What does it look like for a young person to grow into adulthood and take on their God-given responsibility to make a difference in the culture?”
It’s a story of Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister in Nazi Germany—grew up in kind of a moderate Christian home—kind of the same cultural Christian home that was typical among Germany—most of them went along with the Third Reich. But at university, Hans and Sophie Scholl met some mentors that took Jesus seriously; and they began to take Jesus seriously. As Steve Garber writes about in his book about this story, Hans Scholl wrestled with this question, “I am Christian, and I am German; therefore, I am responsible for Germany.”
So this idea that he had met Jesus and that God had placed him in this cultural moment came together and coalesced into a vision which led them to actually actively resist Hitler by publishing a series of pamphlets and tracts and distributing them around the university campus. They got caught when they were doing their sixth distribution. Within four days, they had been brought in; they had been tried; they had been convicted; and they had been executed, within four days.
Dennis: And these were college students.
John: These were college students! You’d think: “Wow! What does it take to get college students to care about the right things and to be able to live out their faith with that sort of conviction?” That’s a vision of success, I think, that we can all take seriously. Instead of just throwing our hands up—and either hiding from culture or just throwing our hands up and surrendering to it and just changing our deeply-held beliefs to accommodate the cultural moment lest we be on the wrong side of history—to live deeply out of the truth of the gospel and run into the culture of brokenness, believing the right things and, therefore, acting in the right way.
Bob: About three times, now, you’ve said: “We can’t retreat from…” / “We can’t isolate ourselves from culture.” That’s been a strategy that a lot of Christian parents have tried to employ over the last 30 or 40 years—seal off your house from cultural influence as a way to protect your kids from the toxicity that exists in the culture. You’re saying that strategy won’t work?
John: No; but listen; I get the impulse; right?—I have three daughters.
Dennis: Of course; of course.
John: I mean, listen—my three daughters—I tell people all the time: “We just had a son, which is fun; but raising a boy is easier than raising a girl; right?—because, if you have a boy, you just have to worry about a boy. If you have a girl, you have to worry about all the boys in the world.” [Laughter]
It’s—you know, the temptation to want to escape—in fact, my wife put on a praise CD when my—maybe four or five years ago—I think it was the song, 10,000 Reasons, by Chris Tomlin. My middle daughter pipes up, “Hey Daddy, is that Justin Bieber?” [Laughter] I go, “Where did you hear that name?!”—we’ve never talked about Justin Bieber in our home. So we spanked her—I’m just kidding!—we didn’t. [Laughter] We thought of that. [Laughter]
The point is—is you can try to escape culture, but you can’t. That’s what a lot of parents, who’ve used that strategy, have figured out. Obviously, there’s a level of protection guarding innocence. Our culture steals innocence at a very young age, particularly in the area of sexuality.
I think we’ve got to take that seriously and be very intentional about what comes into our homes and so on, but the goal isn’t escape.
That’s the second point, which I think is even more important, is that Christianity—if we start with what Christianity is—it’s not an escapist religion; right? So, we can’t adjust Christianity to our cultural experience; we’ve got to adjust our cultural experience to what Christianity is. The center of Christianity is the God who invaded history. The trajectory of God is to come into the human experience—He didn’t escape. The center of Christianity is the God who became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We do not have an escapist religion.
We are offered a vision of reality that actually helps us to make sense of the world—a world that God created—said was good / [Apostle] John says “…He still loves”—and to live into it by following Jesus.
Dennis: I like how you said it a couple of times in our conversation—you actually said, “We are saved for something.”
Dennis: That’s what those German college students, who became martyrs, were willing to give their lives for. They felt like they were called for this time to be in this world and to engage it, purposefully.
I think, as believers, there’s not enough discussion among us of: “What’s your mission?” “What does God got you here for?” “What are you uniquely gifted to do for this time and this day in this marriage, in this family, and in this culture that will make an impact for the glory of God?” Everybody’s got a mission! The question is: “Are you on that mission right now?”
John: That’s right; and then connecting that with the culture in which we live—that it’s not a mistake that our kids live in today’s world and not another. Listen, if you gave me my choice, I would probably choose that my daughters were raised in a culture in which they’re not, from moment one, judged on the basis of what they look like.
Bob: Little House on the Prairie looks a lot—[Laughter]
John: It looks really attractive; doesn’t it?
Bob: Right; I get it! Yes!
John: I prefer my son not live in a culture where he’s, essentially, sexually assaulted with bad ideas and images all the time.
You brought it up, Dennis, and it’s the importance of prepositions. When we talk about our faith, we often talk about what we’re saved from—that we’re saved from sin and death and—Man! If that’s all salvation was, that’d still be a great deal—we would still take it. We talk about what we’re saved to—you know, heaven, when we die / the glory of God—Man! That’s fantastic too! But what are we saved for?
John: Why is it that we’re left here in this time and place when we meet Jesus? Why aren’t we just whisked to heaven immediately? Jesus prayed, in his high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, in the garden, before the crucifixion, “Father, don’t take them out of the world but protect them from the evil one.” For some reason, God wants us, not only in the world, but in this particular time and place. We’ve got to keep that vision in front of us as we engage the very specific issues of the culture, which we try to do in the book is—attack the very specific issues—
—but you’ve got to have that framework in place first.
Dennis: Back last summer, I was talking with one of my granddaughters. I was just asking her what she’s seeing, as a young lady, who’s in junior high—middle school, I guess, what they call it today—I just asked her what she was seeing among her peers. Man! I’m telling you—she was on target—she said: “There’s a lot of confusion. They’re not sure what to think. They’re being swayed by all kinds of things.” I said, “What about you?” She said, “Well, you know, I just kind of look at the Bible, and kind of read, and let it—let it sink into my soul.”
She went on to really talk about how she’s applying her Christian faith, at a very young age, in the midst of being surrounded by peers that don’t necessarily know why they are here—what their mission is / how they’re supposed to impact the world. She’s having an impact on them. I got a chance to put my arm around her and say:
“I just want you to know, God’s going to use you in some powerful ways in your friends’ lives over the next half a dozen years, because you’re going to go through high school together / may go to college together. Those relationships will endure—you can have a great impact on their lives if you represent the gospel and will speak into their lives.”
John: Yes; you know, the most true thing about any cultural moment we find ourselves in—including the one now—and I’m not trying to gloss over, at any level, the real challenges of the moment that are significant—but the most true thing about our moment is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
As Christians—sometimes, we say that as if it’s a personal truth—well, yes, it’s a personal truth; but it’s a public truth. It’s public in the sense that: “No; it is actually true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead; and that He is over human history; and that no Supreme Court decision, no Presidential election, no really bad music video or pop star, that steals our kids’ innocence is ever going to put Jesus back in the grave.” That’s the perspective—and your granddaughter has it; right?—
—that the truest thing around her is what we read in the Scripture.
John: It’s not what we see—we look through the Scripture to understand the world. We don’t look through the world and what’s happening in our culture to renegotiate Scripture.
Bob: What I want to know is: “What you’re doing, as a dad—together with your wife—to have your kids be engaged, culturally, and yet protected from evil”? You quoted the verse that says, “Don’t take them out of this world, but protect them from the evil one.” Where do we find the balance line between enough cultural engagements but not so much that your kids get polluted?
John: The first thing is that—from the very beginning, is presenting to them the truth that we see in Scripture about the world. What happens, oftentimes, when we talk about the Bible to our kids—is we’re using kind of disconnected Bible stories to give a specific moral lesson. What they learn is that the Bible has really good things to say about morality—which is great—but they don’t understand the Bible as the true story of the world.
If you pick up the Scripture and just look at it, what we’re actually given is, not just a set of disconnected—I think Philip Yancey once called it “moral McNuggets”; right?—[Laughter]—about life in the world—but there’s actually an overarching narrative, from creation to new creation—it tells us who God is, and who we are as made in His image, what God’s doing in the world—and why we see the evil, and the brokenness, and the sin around us; and yet, why we also see the goodness, and the beauty, and the truth around us. We try to talk about Scripture, first and foremost, as being that sort of book—not like Aesop’s Fables sort of book—but really like: “This is the map!”—right? “This is the Big Story—capital ‘B’ / capital ‘S,’” “This is the framework.”
Bob: I’ll just say here—what you’ve done in the book is—you’ve given parents, who would say, “I don’t know what to say to my kids in these moments,”—you’ve given them outline on the—the compelling cultural issues of our day so that they can go there and get—get a little coaching before they have those kinds of conversations with their kids.
John: We really tried to do that. We called it a “practical guide,” which made us make it practical. I think there’s been a lot of really good books written about culture over the last several years—I mean, big framework books—but what we felt wasn’t there was just kind of a handbook, like: “If you’re dealing with this issue, you can look at the table of contents and go to that issue.”
John: If you want to say, “Well, wait a minute; where did this issue come from and how has it developed?” That’s also there as well—what we call the difference between undercurrents that are happening in our culture and the waves that we are being pounded by.
Dennis: John, as I was reading your book, there’s one other thing you give people. You don’t just give them a framework to know how to answer the questions and address culture, but you also give them the courage to do it. I think having the right answer doesn’t guarantee you’ll be courageous, but it sure goes a long way to help a parent step into the battle with their children and address the issues.
As I was reading your book, I kept thinking about a verse we’re not quoting often enough these days from the Apostle Paul’s writing to the church in Rome—he writes in Chapter 12—and notice what he says about the world—he says: “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, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
You can take on the world / you can go make an impact on the world if you surrender to Jesus Christ; you’re applying this Book to your life, as best you know how; and you’re passing that truth on to your kids. This is a life-and-death matter.
I do think these are days when parents do need to be called to courageous involvement with their kids.
Bob: Yes; I think all of us, as parents, need help knowing how we’re going to answer some of the specific challenges that we face today. That’s where, John—what you’ve written, A Practical Guide to Culture—you’re helping parents know what the Bible says / why it’s reasonable. You’re helping the next generation navigate the culture in which we live. We’ve got copies of John’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order A Practical Guide to Culture, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, here, in the middle of December, most of us continue to have Christmas at the forefront of our thinking—
—preparing for that holiday / that celebration—maybe a time with your family. I hope you’re going to get some time with your family during the Christmas holidays. Then, we’re also starting to think about the turning of the calendar. It’s going to be 2018 before we know it.
For ministries like ours, this is a very critical time of the year; because what happens over the next few weeks will really determine, for us, how much ministry we’re able to do in 2018. The reason is because we’re listener-supported. The cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program is covered by folks, like you, who partner with us so that these messages can be heard by more people. What happens in December lets us know whether we can expand or maintain what we’re doing or whether we’ll have to reduce what we do in the months and years ahead.
As we’ve talked about today, we don’t think this is a time for pulling back.
We think this is a time when this kind of practical biblical help for marriages and families needs to be expanded. The good news is that we’ve got a matching gift that’s available—we’ve been talking about it this month. Our friend, Michelle Hill, is here to give us an update on how things are going with our matching-gift challenge. Michelle—
Michelle:…and Bob, you mentioned expanding our outreaches? well that’s exactly what this matching fund is for. As listeners like Nate and Dorothy call in and make donations, their gifts combine with funds from the match…and this multiplies what we can accomplish…so Bob, I’m grateful to report that as of today, folks have given three hundred fifty six thousand dollars toward the two million dollar match… which is fantastic! See ya Bob…
Bob: So if you’d like to participate—if you’d like your yearend donation to be multiplied—you can go, online, to donate at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Thank you, Michelle. We’ll see you back tomorrow.
And we hope we’ll see you back tomorrow when John Stonestreet’s going to join us again. We’re going to continue to talk about how we raise counter-cultural children in a culture that continues moving away from biblical thinking. We’ll explore that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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