Passing the evangelical torch: Will young leaders create or mimic culture?

Evangelical leaders of previous generations are in the process of passing the torch to younger leaders, for whom there are at least 10 fresh challenges. We’ve considered the challenges of  Navigating Newfound AuthorityWaging a Bloodless Revolution, and Overcoming Spiritual Superficiality; now a fourth challenge:

 Creating Culture. 

New leaders will be faced with the challenge of combating what has become transcendent societal secularism. The culture gives no one– young believers, newlyweds, young parents, mid-lifers, or the aging–help in dealing withthe hard work and hard choices that are necessary to live godly lives in a secularized environment. 

 Who teaches us values? Who leads the celebration for what is right and good? Who establishes the boundaries of decency? Who paints the living portraits of beauty?

Today, the answer to all of those questions is usually someone who is not guided by the biblical view of life or the Creator’s definitions of goodness and human flourishing. A rising generation of Christians seems to be attuned to cultural trends, but will the leaders among them influence the cultural waves or be carried along by them to an unknown destination?

 Chuck Colson writes:

“We bear children, plant crops, build cities, form governments, and create works of art. While sin introduced a destructive power into God’s created order, it did not obliterate that order. And when we are redeemed, we are both freed from sin and restored to do what God designed us to do: create culture.”

 In How Now Shall we Live, Colson and Nancy Pearcey called this the cultural commission:

 “God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace, but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”

 Os Guinness pins the blame not on the culture, but on the church: 

Much of the opposition to Christians has been brought down on our own heads through our sub-Christian behavior, as in the failure of Christians demonstrating love for their enemies in obedience to the call of Jesus,” Guinness writes in The Last Christian on Earth. “We’ve lost a tough-minded understanding of ‘worldliness.’ Though we’re getting better at recognizing and resisting philosophies and ideologies –secularism, humanism, postmodernism– we are often naïve about the shaping power of culture. But the real menace of the modern world comes in its philosophies – in things such as ‘consumerism’ and ‘secularization.’”

Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, writes on his blog:

 “Cultural transformation is something that a lot of Christians talk about and aspire to. We want to be a part of transforming the culture. The question is, how is culture transformed? Does it happen just because we think more about culture, or because we pay more attention to culture? As I was thinking about cultural transformation I became convinced that culture changes when people actually make more and better culture. If we want to transform culture, what we actually have to do is to get into the midst of the human cultural project and create some new cultural goods that reshape the way people imagine and experience their world. So culture-making answers the “how” question rather than just “what” we are about. We seek the transformation of every culture but how we do it is by actually making culture.”

In an interview, sociologist Peter Berger observed that in the U.S. evangelicals are shifting from being largely a blue-collar constituency to becoming a college educated population. His question is, will Christians going into the arts, business, government, the media, and film

  • assimilate to the existing baseline cultural narratives so they become in their views and values the same as other secular professionals and elites?
  • seal off and privatize their faith from their work so that, effectively, they do not do their work in any distinctive way?
  • or will they do enough new Christian ‘culture-making’ in their fields to change things?

That’s a primary question for the next generation of evangelical leaders.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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6 Responses to Passing the evangelical torch: Will young leaders create or mimic culture?

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