Is Jesus a Five-Star General in the Culture War?

culture wars 2

It caught my eye as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed recently. A friend had posted a link to an article with the comment that explained a Christian organization’s stance on some issues in the “culture war.” I briefly perused the article and some attached documents from the organization. Ultimately though, what stuck with me was the idea of a culture war. Are we as Christians supposed to be at war with our culture? What about Christians who are from other cultures; are they engaged in a war as well?

War connotes aggression and a struggle for power; a literal war obviously includes violence. And while I know the difference between a word being used figuratively or literally, words are always chosen to highlight a point, a feeling, or an emotion. Many Christians feel as though their way of life and system of morality are under attack by the current “culture” in the US. Perhaps they consider their only options to be a choice between ceding more ground to the “unredeemed” culture or aggressively fighting to turn back the clock to a time where Judaeo-Christian values were more culturally embraced here. No matter where the idea of a culture war originated, I am left to wonder if the aggressive approach is the one that Jesus would take… Is it the approach he took when he was on Earth?

Jesus lived in two distinct cultures. He lived in the Jewish religious culture; but he also lived under Roman rule and all of the cultural ramifications that it entailed. Jesus’ strongest critiques were reserved for the religious culture that he was born into, and rarely for broader Roman culture. The elite Jewish leaders had established their power based on a corrupt culture of religious control marked by legalism. Jesus knew that if he could change the culture of the religious, their lives of faith would have influence on the broader culture in which they lived.

This is what Jesus spoke about in the parable of the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19). His Jewish audience would have understood that if you plant mustard seeds in your garden, you run the risk of the plants becoming invasive and overtaking the whole garden. This is why the Jewish people in Jesus’ time were careful not to plant mustard in their household gardens at
all. Similarly, this is what happens with faith and the kingdom of God. When one gives themselves to faith in Jesus, that faith should begin to permeate their whole life, changing their heart and outward behavior in the process. And like the mustard seed, faith multiplies to the soil around it. It is as our faith multiplies to those around us within a culture that we begin to see the course of culture change. 

Our faith is counter cultural. Our lives shaped by faith will look different from the dominant culture around us. In his book Surprise the World, Michael Frost speaks of living “questionable lives;” lives of faith lived so differently that it causes those around us to ask questions about why we live the way that we do. The multiplication of faith and the way it impacts culture is more organic than aggressive. In the end, it seems that Christians don’t make war against the culture, but we seek to influence it in a positive way by living markedly different lives shaped by our faith in the Prince of Peace.

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