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What Does Being Countercultural Look Like?
The word "counterculture," a sociological term describing a group whose actions run counter to mainstream norms, is making a comeback. The term was popularized in the West during the 1960s when it was used to label the movement to oppose the Vietnam war in the United States and England. But the next Christians are also countercultural, though they look nothing like the peace-loving protesters of the mid-twentieth century.
How are Christian leaders being countercultural, and why do their lifestyles give us hope for the future of our faith?
"While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith,"
editor Jon Meacham in the April 4, 2009 issue, "our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago."
To a growing group of believers, the changing religious landscape represents a new chapter in the story God is telling through His people. It's a welcome change from the out-of-control manipulations they've experienced when religion gets intertwined too closely with public life. They see it as a new opportunity to send the Gospel out in fresh and compelling ways. Every generation must face this quandary of how to maintain cultural influence, and in our changing world, the conversation has been resurrected again. Let's consider the way past generations have predominantly related to culture in light of our future leaders.
. In the past, some Christians fell into the separatist trap. They responded to culture with condemnation and retreat. Removing themselves far away from the corruption of culture is the name of their game. But Christians who remove themselves from the world in hopes of self-preservation fail to realize that true cultural separation is impossible. More importantly, separation ignores the task we've been given to carry the love of God forward to those who might need it most.
. Some Christians see little in the current culture worth redeeming and have decided to fight against almost everything culture promotes. Offended by our current cultural disposition, they want to flip over the tables of society instead of negotiating the difficult terrain of working it out from within. By default, they are known for being great at pointing out the problems of society, but they rarely offer good or practical solutions and alternatives that promote a better way of life. They succeed in stating clearly what they are
, but their Achilles heel is suggesting alternatives that embody what they are
. Others have gone to the opposite extreme by falling into the "relevance trap." In my estimation, this is probably the larger threat for Christian leaders today. In an effort to appeal to outsiders, some Christians simply copy culture. They become a Xerox of what they perceive as hip in hopes that people will perceive them -- and their organizations, ministries, and churches -- as "cool" and give them a chance. Unfortunately, this pursuit of pop-culture removes the church from its historically prophetic position in society. Relating to the world by following the following the world is a recipe for disaster.
. The next generation of Christians aren't separatists, antagonists, or striving to be "relevant." Instead, they are countercultural as they advance the common good in society. The next Christians see themselves as salt, preserving agents actively working for restoration in the middle of a decaying culture. They attach themselves to people and structures that are in danger of rotting while availing themselves to Christ's redeeming power to do work through them. They understand that by being restorers they fight against the cultural norms and often flow counter to the cultural tide. But they feel that, as Christians, they've been called to partner with God in restoring and renewing everything they see falling apart.
[For more on how the next Christians are being countercultural,
The Next Christians
by Gabe Lyons.]
Paradoxically, in our current cultural context, this not only opens up more people to personal salvation, but it also sustains a God-glorifying testimony to the world of His restoration power at work. It's truly good news to the world. Rather than fighting off culture to protect an insular Christian community, they are fighting for the world to redeem it. This is the essence of being what pastor Tim Keller refers to as "a counterculture for the common good."
A commitment to being countercultural rather than being removed or "relevant" isn't always easy. Living differently can be hard. Going against the ebbs and flows of culture can create friction and sometimes provoke a hostile reaction to the good we are trying to create. Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon remind us that this should be expected, for "whenever a people are bound together in loyalty to a story that includes something as strange as the Sermon on the Mount, we are put at odds with the world."
Yet, it is through maintaining this cultural orientation that the world can experience God's restoration power and people will be convinced that our faith is all we claim, all that Jesus commissioned his followers to. As the apostle Peter encourages, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Pt. 2:12, TNIV).
Is a countercultural community the answer to restoring the soul of the world, winning the skeptics, and revitalizing our faith? We'll have to wait and see. For now we know that the clear call of Jesus is for the Christian community to be salt on a rotting world and light in the dimmest places.
What are ways your faith community is shaping culture through being countercultural? Do you agree that this is a "way forward" for the Christian movement?
Editor's Note: The
is from a peace protest in The National Mall from LIFE magazine.
If you mean by common good, social justice, then I can concur with this, especially as the trend to bankrupt the states and a move toward privatization ( emulating what Canada has done ) takes hold, it is going to be ore and more people of faith that pick up the pieces of an out-moded system.
Right now the church is not equipped to engage in keeping the fabric of the entire society together. We need a financial structure that rivals and is as robust as an entire state governmental structure, in order to repeal and replace our state governments.
This can be done through the development of a NETWORK of charitable annuitiues that would spin off quarterly dividends to a revolving fund that would pay of things on a round-robin, or rotating, basis.
This would involve unity among the churches in a given community; it would involve gently admonishing cultural excresences--in particular any value that detracts from the poursuit of happiness of the society as a whole; it would necessarily need to eschew all political conflicts--wars--and balance standards of living world-wide; it would be a movement to feed the entire world's popiulation, to bring forth sanitation standards and clean-water standards to the world's populations; it would entail a maximization of innovaton to solve the world's climate peril and to engineer the ways and means of elevating into outer space and ining the moon or asteroids.
Rather than being a movement that prophecies an end of the world as we know it, it would prophecy a world in which all ethne, all social groups, all cultures would be CONTINUING in the God-given majesty and grace of His chosen creation, realizing that the miraculous of God is being left up to ALL humanity to accomplish.
In order to accomplish any of this, the world's populations will need to be baaptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that they will rule and reign at the right hand of God Almighty, and gain assurance that such a counter-
cultural implantation will be accoiplished ! For those of us who have that assurance now, it is most important IMMEDIATELY to work for unity of Christian churches in their
communities, and to establish the financial structure ( charitable annuities ) that will
replace government as it is now known.....
You are welcome to contact me if you have additional innovations to contribute to this plan.
Sincerely, Everett Barton EBartScribe@gmail.com
I believe that Os Guiness coined the term in his book The Dust of Death.
Great article. And, I wholeheartedly agree with your thesis about being 'counter-cultural.' Being salt and light, while allowing God to work his redemptive, transforming and restorative grace and power in the world we live in, seems to be exactly what Christ inaugurated and the first disciples continued in the Acts record. Our message and choices may sometimes be at odds with cultural norms, but what we represent is not different for the sake of being so, but because we truly believe that what we live for and promote will effect positive change for everyone, if they accept Christ for themselves.
Thanks for always speaking optomism and future into this generation. I think Q sees that, on its best day, this generation is "counter-cultural." By claiming that as our identity, I think God will continue to do beautiful things to regenerate and restore this culture's creative potential and hunger for God.
Our community here in south Florida is loving and serving for the sake of loving and serving rather than for promoting an event or religious agenda. It's funny because when we love on these people and learn to love them in this kind of "non-evangelical" fashion, we suddenly start seeing their names and faces pop up in our prayer groups and Bible studies. They ask the questions, they initiate talk about God and we just get to be open and authentic in telling them about the mad love of Jesus.
It has made me think of those passages in the gospels where Jesus warns, "the world will hate you." The "world" is always interpreted as the "pop culture." So, as Christians, we're supposed to expect hatred and revulsion from the culture. But, recently I've decided that maybe there are other interpretations. Maybe Jesus characterizes "the world" as an entity that is supressing and deadening the gospel. In his day it was the religious leaders and their hypocricy that was damaging the gospel. I guess we may be in a similar place in some ways. Although the church and the religious end of Christianity embodies part of the glory of God and thus needs to be upheld and loved, maybe we shouldn't be afraid of being "counter-cultural" against some of the hurtful trends and norms of its past. And, as Jesus promised, there may be persecution. We may be called heretical and "anti-evangelical," but maybe it comes with the territory.
Gabe, I came to Christ 31 years ago through a counterculture movement and have always felt there was much more for the body of Christ than what was being modeled for us, but we have to realize we are bound by human effort and leaning to much on our own thinking. There is a discernment factor to the operation and fruit of the holy spirit that often is at odds with our great thinking and wonderful ideas. I think God is changing our mindset through circumstances and suffering and is reveling the way foreword.
One thing I sense from you is that you are decidedly critical of past generations of Christians to delineate a new direction and I understand that, because i feel that as well, but it doesn't square with the spirit within me to tear down the ones whose shoulders we are standing on to gain favor with those who we are trying to have an impact on. It will eventually weaken our efforts and divide us in the long run Gabe.
Like new parents of young children we can spurn our elders advise because times change and we need to change with them but eventually we gain the wisdom that they were trying to share with us, but by then its to late to make good use of it and we are left trying to rebuild the bridges we have burned.
Gabe I am excited about new ways foreword with Christ and there will be many but we need not tear down the efforts of hard working well meaning sacrificing Christians of the past to move foreword into a new paradigm.
At the heart of our culture is the black hole of egotism. To be self-centered, self-assured, self-motivated, self, self self oriented, this is the dominant message of our culture.
In order to be truly counter-cultural, we must be humble, humble, humble, humble, humble. What does that look like? We don't know exactly, unless we look to the saints. But we know that we are supposed to spend our lives getting the logs out of our own eyes. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what can we do? Well, it is easier to organize an event than to learn to be humble--I know that from experience!)
As Saint Seraphim of Sarov (a beloved Russian saint) said, "Acquire a spirit of peace, and a thousand souls will be saved around you."
He wasn't speaking about peace as in nirvana, nor peace as in the absence of political turmoil, nor the absence of internal conflict. He was speaking of self-emptying for the sake of being filled with the grace of God.
The very shadows of the apostles healed people because they were in such close communion with Christ through humility and prayer. The Holy Apostles are our best teachers about being counter cultural.
What is our community doing? I cannot boast anything particularly spectacular in an organizational sense. I cannot boast for myself. But understanding the objective is important, because prideful temptation lurks everywhere, even with the purest of intentions.
P.S. As an Orthodox Christian, I can say that our whole faith itself is quite counter-cultural as our services are nearly 1700 years old and we do not change or modify things...so we look pretty outdated to a lot of people.
Why do "leaders" in every so-called "new and improved" movement that has to do with the Church's content, course, and communication find it necessary to replace clear Biblical expressions with a new labels, handles, titles, terminologies or catchy phrases? Counterculture? What the heck is wrong with calling it what it is: Biblical Christianity, Berean Christianity , being salt and light in this darkening and decaying generation; treating others the way we want to be treated ourselves; loving our neighbor as ourselves. We don't need a new movement or a new venue, we need compassionate and obedient believers and followers of Christ.
2Cor. 5:20-21, "We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Colossians 3:15-17, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
Jude 22-25, "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear --hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen."
pastor mike <'(((><
I'm impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knowlegdealbe?
Hmm. Rather than avoiding those differences all together, couldn’t the key to true Christian unity be to pursue God’s truth in all of those issues? Wouldn’t the process of seeking His will automatically bring us all together in love? Many of us may have different opinions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rights & wrongs â??Â wouldn’t a true Believer in Christ be all about continually seeking that which is right?
faith without action is dead..
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