In every time period and historical context during which it has been shared, the gospel has confronted culture in one way or another.
During the years of Christ’s ministry, the truth of the gospel challenged the mistreatment of the poor.
During the Reformation, the gospel drove Martin Luther to condemn the selling of indulgences.
During the late 1700s, the gospel inspired William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade.
The message of Christ’s redemptive love and free gift of forgiveness for all has been the force behind centuries of social change. Christians who understand the implications of this gospel can’t help but find ways to apply its principles as they live and work in secular society.
For obvious reasons, however, cultural engagement brings with it unique challenges and complications. Many find themselves wanting to charge in, speak prophetically, criticize openly, and then expect to wait and watch for meaningful change to occur. But as Christians work to identify issues of concern in communities—either our own or those elsewhere—a posture of respect becomes critical.
Ultimately, it’s not about forcing others into agreement or ‘winning’ a debate. It’s about sharing the message of hope that we have and trusting God to change hearts and minds.
When we find ourselves in conversation with individuals from other cultures—particularly, those who don’t see eye to eye with us on spiritual matters—it can be easy to enter into ‘prophetic preacher’ mode. An attitude of superiority and condescension quickly clouds our witness and prevents others from receiving our message.
Sometimes, though, the most effective way to share is with our mouths closed.
When Paul visited Athens in Acts 17, we know he spent time reasoning with Jews, Greeks, and philosophers alike. But, he didn’t do so without first getting some context; he pursued understanding of these people’s culture before entering into the conversation.
We see him remark on observations of the Athenians’ religiosity—he tells an audience of Athenians that he “walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship,” reading their inscriptions and considering their philosophies (Acts 17:23).