When I was teaching students about worldview and varying Christian approaches to culture and the world, I often simplified them as three main stances:
- Separation from the culture: This stance suggests that all worldly culture is bad, and Christians need to avoid it. Culture is irredeemable, and they cannot afford to be tainted by it. Whether “culture” is a beautiful painting or a symphony or a wood carving, if it wasn’t made by a Christian or performed by a Christian, it should not be enjoyed or appreciated and must certainly not be pursued.
- Accommodation: Christians assuming this somewhat fatalistic stance take in the culture without any filter—without any analysis of what is good, pure, or holy. They live six days a week just like everyone else, then worship the Lord on Sunday to purify themselves and confess their sins before carrying on in the same pattern the next week. Christian accommodation seems to suggest that the world is just too big to make any difference, so Christians must simply do their work, live their lives, and immerse themselves in the culture without looking for opportunities to engage it as Christians; they love our neighbours and carry on.
- Transformation: This stance, which is probably the most difficult, requires Christians to see God working in the culture, to see God working in places that do not declare God at all. They proclaim that God is active in the world, not just in Christian communities. Because this is so, the role of Christians is to work diligently to bring shalom, justice, love, and compassion no matter what they do or where they contribute.
In choosing the transformation stance, the biggest change that I believe we as Christians have needed to make is to let go of triumphalism, believing that it is our job to tell all non-Christians that they are wrong, we are right, and their work is not “good.” This posture is not only egotistical, but it is also inhospitable and self-righteousness. Jesus did not grab at power, nor did he (unless asked) critique others. He continued to ask questions and tell stories his whole ministry. Whether it was dealing with the Pharisees (separating from culture, I would propose) or the rich young ruler (accommodating culture), he continued to engage, to love, and to transform society.
The other piece that I think we need to emphasize in Christian education is that the gifts, talents, and resources that we have cannot be for OURSELVES. Christian education or learning needs to have embedded in it service, the belief that our learning is for the sake of others so that we can enrich their lives. Thereby our lives may be enriched. The end goal is not to gain our own comfort, wealth, or wants but to love God and our neighbours as ourselves.
Jamie Smith asks us to help young people (and ourselves) to become a “peculiar” people. This peculiarity means, I believe, that we are open, transparent people of God who see Him working in the lives of our students, our churches, and our communities—but also in our world.
Giving our students a worldview that sees God in the world, as if we are giving them a special set of eyeglasses, is not enough. We also need to equip our young people with the hands to serve and the hearts to love ALL those who come into their lives. May we not be content with just “knowing” and “critiquing,” but also loving and serving!