(Not) Transforming Culture

August 10, 2007

There’s a great article in Christianity Today this month by Mark Galli titled On Not Transforming the World. The subtitle is “we have better and harder things to do than that.”

We are certainly responsible for going to the ends of the earth and making disciples from people of every nation. There is plenty in Scripture about doing justice and loving mercy and feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan. But I find little or nothing about us having the task of transforming the culture.

Britt has talked about how Changing the World is something that isn’t found in scripture. At least not something that is assigned to us.

Galli’s article touches on how service is our number one task, in terms of transforming the world:

Servants aren’t about world-changing initiatives as much as about washing the dirty feet of the travelers sitting at their kitchen table. Jesus never tells us to do anything because it will transform the culture. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem interested in transforming the Roman Empire, one of the most oppressive and unjust cultures in history. He seemed rather to think that society would always have economic disparity, and that not only should changing Rome not be a priority, but also we should not even object to underwriting it with our taxes…

I remain puzzled as to why we’re so bored with the very things Jesus asks us to do, like picking that foreigner up out of the ditch, giving away our goods to the poor, going to court with a young man who’s being railroaded by the system, taking an orphan into our home, going the extra mile with the oppressive and manipulative, forgiving the offender, baptizing, and witnessing. I find these things really, really hard to do. I fail all the time. If I can’t even do these things well, why would I believe that I could transform my culture, let alone change the world?

Despite my political rants and opinions, I’ve been learning more and more that it is not our job to make political systems reflect the church. Does that mean we should be apathetic towards politics? I don’t think so. But it makes it all the more difficult to discern when we are pushing our own religious agenda into politics.

People tend to think that Christ’s mission was about transformation, and that in today’s culture, we should redeem the culture (by keeping it sanitary), transform social politics (by enforcing charity), or other high ideals. But by doing so, we are trying to place a significance onto ourselves that simply isn’t rooted in scripture. Galli says “we all face the common temptation of Adam and Eve. We want to feel significant.”

Scripture is clear that Christ’s mission was about service, and that this is our mission also. In today’s culture, I think the targets of that service are clear. While it is hard, it is not a complicated thing to fulfill what the scriptures have required of us. And it is about doing it ourselves, not about creating a governmental structure to force everyone else to do it our way.