The Christian View of Culture

Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.

– The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

I’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

Or I might be convicted to commit myself to God … Or willing to mentor someone new in the faith … Or whatever.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

11 Comments

  1. Your thoughts are well written and well thought out, but I cannot agree. You see, Christians don’t have time to waist on entertainment.

    If something doesn’t build me up SPIRITUALLY, then I have not time for it. We’re on a mission. We aren’t here to have fun.

    Christians should not watch Avatar because, quite honestly, it’s a waist of your time a money. You may say “Well, it built me up!” but truth be told, you could have been at home reading your bible. Or ministering to your divorce neighbor. Or praying. Or visiting with that hospitalized second cousin. Or feeding the homeless.

    Christians need to stop waisting their time.

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  2. I disagree. Not everything in life builds you up spiritually, but they can do other things, such as help build connections with non-Christians. Things like movies, books, games, can be bridges by which we connect with those who are lost.

    We were not called to sit at home and read our bibles, live in our little christian fortresses and once in a while, run out across the drawbridge to those who are lost outside, throw them a tract, then scurry backside our christian stronghold. The best way to reach the lost is to live with the lost.

    I believe that is what Jesus did, without sin. He ate in the homes of sinners, hung out with sinners and ministered to sinners; and this got the religious community up in arms.

    Now does this mean we throw our consciences out the window? No! We still need to be discerning as Becky has pointed out. And sometimes we choose not to watch a movie or read a book because of the content. But sometimes these can be conversation starters because we live in the same world as those we are reaching.

    We do everything by every means possible to reach the lost without doing the following: watering down the gospel or sinning. But everything else is fair game.

    And by being discerning Christians, watching Avatar might spark conversations with those we work with, go to school with, or live with. People know there is a God, it is deep in their heart. And I suspect the religiosity of Avatar reaches out to them.

    Its like what Paul said while he was waiting in Athens:
    “Men of Athens, I notice that you are a very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it:’To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.”

    We can point out that God is a real being (not some mystical force that fills all of nature) who loves people and died to save them from that which lies deep inside, something no human can save themselves from: sin.

    And that story, in my opinion, is more amazing than anything else.

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  3. I agree with both of you 😛

    Sitting in a castle does no one any good. Yet inputting trashy media drains you walk with God.

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  4. Morgan, your point is valid, but you miss interpret my point. I’m saying there are better ways to do what you say we need to do. Sure, Avatar can be a conversation starter, but there certainly are other, better options.

    I’m not saying we’re called to sit at home. In fact, I said “…you could have been at home reading your bible. Or ministering to your divorce neighbor. Or praying. Or visiting with that hospitalized second cousin. Or feeding the homeless.”

    Notice ministering, visiting, and helping others. Not something you can do at home, and much greater ministry opportunities than watching a movie.

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  5. Neil, I think your position breaks down because you claim going to movies is a waste of time without considering that doing so may be the starting point for ministering to that neighbor or opening a discussion about God with that second cousin or getting to know your co-worker well enough that he’ll tell you what he needs prayer for.

    Throughout time, stories have served to pass on our values and history. Jesus told stories to illustrate the truth He proclaimed.

    I believe we are hardwired for stories. We remember them better than a list of unrelated facts and principles. (Most people, I suspect, could tell you the story of David and Goliath with some degree of accuracy while they probably couldn’t name three of the Ten Commandments.)

    We as Christians, therefore, ought to be the ones passing on our values to our culture (writing novels and producing movies), but we should also know what the values are that non-Christians are passing on. How else can we stand up, wave our arms, and say, SEE THIS MESSAGE? IT ISN’T TRUE.

    Becky

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  6. Morgan and Sam, thanks for jumping in and adding to this discussion. Very thought-provoking.

    Becky

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  7. The problem is that the unbeliever always asks “if you don’t like the message, why did you watch the movie?”

    Yes, it may be the starting point, but is it the best? If your neighbor is smart, they’ll ask, “If you have a problem with this, why are you so eager to defend it?”

    Remember “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” This works in both ways.

    Can any Christian honestly say that God approves or even encourages us to watch a actors take His name in vain? The good in a movie can’t outweigh the bad. “A little leaven, leaves the whole lump.” Add to this the other problems of portraying (perhaps promoting?) a world view and God which is entirely contrary to the commands of scripture.

    And, while I am aware that the old covenant has been fulfilled, it’s important to remember that if someone had presented this story to the Jews as a play (without technology, of course) the Law would have demanded a harsh penalty.

    “We, as Christians, therefore, ought to be the ones passing on our values to the culture…” I agree. I wonder how we can do this while we watch movies in which actors break the Ten Commandments.

    “…but we should also know what the values are that non-Christians are passing on.” Actually, Paul writes that we should “not speak of what sinners do in the darkness.” And also there is written “I have set no evil thing before my eyes.”

    We are called to be in the world but not of the world. We cannot be seen by the world as something different from them unless we STAND OUT instead of SPEAKING OUT but not doing anything.

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  8. I think that avatar almost influenced people to god because the Na’vi people all turned to there god when they’re home was destroyed and worshipped him when times were good showing what examples Christians are supposed to be.
    Also star wars, the force was like god, powerful and in everything, “it surrounds us, penetrates us, it’s what binds the galaxy together, the force is in all living things” . Just like how god is in all of our hearts some just haven’t realized it yet. The Jedi also represent angels defending the innocent and defeating the dark side such as the sith or Satan. So yes religion is strong in both and I believe both promoted Christianity in my opinion.

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  9. Neil, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this topic. I don’t think some of your “always” statements are true. From my perspective, it’s far more important to understand what others in our culture believe so I can present the gospel in an understandable way.

    I’m reminded of Peace Child the story about the missionaries who went to a culture that glorified betrayal. When they first heard the story of Jesus, they revered Judas as the hero. Those missionaries needed to understand that culture so they could find the connecting points that led them to present the gospel in a way they could understand.

    I don’t think we’re in a different circumstance.

    Sure, not everyone is engaged with the philosophy/religious position of Avatar, but a growing number are. And more are coming under its influence without knowing what it is they are being taught.

    How can we understand unless we go where the culture goes. First century Christians went to the synagogues and market places, in Athens, to the Areopagus. Jesus went to tax collectors homes and the homes of Pharasiees and the well where Samaritan women came.

    As I see it, movies are just one source for us to come into touch with our culture. What we do with it from there is another matter.

    Becky

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  10. Richard, thanks for taking time to comment.

    You’re right that the Na’vi turned to their god, but my goal through this series has been to point out that this concept of god is opposed to God as He reveals Himself in the Bible. Same with the Force. Sure, there is some similarity, power being one. But in Star Wars, that Power had a dark side. Not so with God.

    The two concepts cannot both be true—the Na’vi view of god and the Biblical view of God.

    Becky

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  11. This is a great topic. Jesus dealt with life as it is and related to all kinds of people so long as they wanted to be near him. A Christian who thinks he or she has to be separated out from the world is at best misguided and ineffective. A Christian writer should be able to deal with any topic of universal significance, which is what makes for good literature. In my new release, Angela 1: Starting Over (the first in a series of three set in a coastal Texas high school), I try to write according to these principles.If you would like to know more, please click on my name and follow the link to my website. Thanks!

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