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May 7, 2012

Engaging Culture with Discernment

Engaging Culture with Discernment

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 renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.                                                    -Romans 12:1-2

Well, it seems that the pot has been stirred yet again.  The opening of The Hunger Games movie this weekend has Christians visiting again the issue of how to deal with culture.  So what’s a Christian to do?  How should we think about and engage culture? How do we know when to flee, and how do we keep from being simply reactionary?  How can we learn to be critical and discerning regarding culture?  How do we train our children to be leaders in critical and discerning thought regarding culture?  I have a few ideas.

1. Flee the obvious in light of Scripture.  What do I mean by obvious?  Books, movies, video games, and music that by the genre they have been put in obviously are set apart by Scripture to be avoided because by their nature they are meant to lead one into sin.  Examples would be porn, erotica, or any other genre of sexual deviance. Other areas not sexual in nature should be considered as well.  Be sure definitions of what is sin are Biblical definitions.

2. Filter out those things that you (or a family member) are susceptible to.  If your child cannot read a fantasy novel or play a certain video game without having a major disassociation with reality, then remove those things from his use until you deem him more mature and discerning. Also be careful to not make a blanket generalization that just because you are avoiding something, everyone else should as well.  We want to be careful not to fall into legalism as we seek to make wise choices for our families.

3. Test the rest. Test it how?  By engaging it – reading it, watching it.  Watch it with your mind.  Pay attention to the message being sent because there is always a message. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but usually it’s mixed.  Be willing to pull apart the subject matter and find what might have been dropped in there just because we are all made in the image of God.  Look for themes of redemption – everyone wants to be saved, fixed, or found. What is the message the author or movie maker ultimately wants to leave us with?  How does it stand up with Scripture?  If it’s not a Biblical worldview, then what worldview is it?  Postmodernism?  New Age?  Secular humanism? (Ah, yes, we have to know what those are, don’t we.)  Take every thought captive -2 Corinthians 10:5.

4. Do engage in material “from the other side” knowing your own limitations and sinful inclinations.  If you have a friend who needs to check her horoscope everyday, you may want to become a bit more versed in the “language of the Babylonians” in order to show her from Scripture how what she is doing is leading her away from God.  Usually, in order to have these conversations, you need to know something about the subject so that you can have the credibility that comes with knowing what it is you are saying to stay away from. We do our non-Christian friends well to be able to intelligently discuss their views with them. More than a few have come to know Christ through those avenues, C.S. Lewis being an excellent example of this.  Do this with much prayer and  accountability.  Let someone you trust know that you are reading a book to learn more about what your friend believes and have that person pray for you as you research and engage in conversations with unbelievers.

5. Represent the subject accurately.  We are all clouded by our own biases and judgments, so, as people of the truth we must make every effort to represent whatever we are critiquing as accurately as possible.  Don’t you hate it hear a critique of what Christianity is supposedly about, only to learn that the critic is entirely misinformed, or worse is intentionally misrepresenting Christianity?  I just read a review of The Hunger Games by a well-respected Christian.  It was not a favorable review – which is fine.  (Remember – a review is someone’s opinion, nothing more.) What bothered me about his review was the fact that his relaying of the story had some major inaccuracies, especially regarding the thoughts and feelings of the characters, which were very much revealed in the storytelling of The Hunger Games itself.  I highly respect this man, so I was left disappointed.

6. Teach your children to do all of the above at appropriate times in their maturity and development.  It is so fun to have discussion with my children regarding culture – what they like, what drives them crazy, and how they see others trying to make life work apart from Christ. They have not always been able to do this.  They had to learn, and are still learning…as am I.  But it has been so encouraging to learn together, to sharpen one another, and to challenge one another to think more Biblically and not reactionary (I’m a mom…yes…it still happens.)  All of this came bit by bit as we engaged age-appropriate content over the years with them.

I also suggest checking out the ClearPlay DVD player.  It has been a wonderful tool for our family allowing us to watch more movies and shows together while filtering out the elements (e.g., gratuitous language) without detracting from the storyline.

I offer these suggestions because it is my desire to see Christians intelligently engaging culture with a Biblical worldview. We belong to Christ Jesus and we have been fully equipped to engage our culture with discernment.  Put on that armor and go forth in the Spirit of wisdom, courage and truth.

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