Cultural engagement is a topic taken up by books, blogs, podcasts, conferences, and even sermons. How should Christians interact with the culture? Should we go into our evangelical bunkers? Should we take up arms and fight in the culture war? I’m convinced now more than ever that we take a beautifully simple thing and make it a terribly complex thing, particularly as it relates to the weekly gathering of the church. A little simplicity and focus would go a long way.
The Sufficient Gospel
Curriculum, denominational networks, and para-church organizations claim to point us to the Gospel. There is value in those resources and tools to the degree that they succeed in that claim; however, there is also an inherent danger that we supplant the Gospel itself with mere strategies about it. The Gospel requires no gospel supplement.
We’re constantly pulled in two directions and told that what we do is not enough. Neither our silence on issues of justice nor our voice added to them is enough. The Gospel is solely and entirely sufficient. Neither our damnable good works nor our vilest transgressions are enough to negate the good news of Jesus Christ. The alien and perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone is the only merit we can claim.
The Centrality of the Gospel
The Gospel should be so central to our congregational worship that both the cultural left and religious right are offended every single week. Christ’s atoning work exposes the utter insufficiency of our efforts, whether they be social or moral.
When the sermon drifts away from the message of the cross, the very lifeblood of faith is taken away. No matter how winsome or exegetically astute the message, if the Gospel is not central, then sinners and saints alike are left like weary vessels at sea with no lighthouse to bring them home again.
Our voices raised in song should strike the gospel chord frequently. The rhythm of our services should let the full weight of the law crush our self-sufficiency and the splendor of the Gospel have its freeing, forgiving effect every single week.
How does this apply to my life? When churches spend most of their time answering that question, they end up shepherding a flock toward self-flagellation instead of life transformation. It is quite possible to use the Bible pervasively and miss its pervading message. Doing so causes the sheep to use scripture like shears to make some cosmetic changes instead of trusting in the Shepherd who is their true hope and help.
The Gospel does have implications for our lives. But those implications are only realized when the good news is continuously proclaimed to our merit-based, sinful hearts. Apart from the consistent preaching of Christ crucified for us and the power of his resurrection, we’ll always tend to serve, work, or “change” our way back into his good graces or walk away in utter frustration.
There is room to discuss cultural engagement, apologetics, philosophy, education, and ethics as they all intersect with Christianity. There is also great need. However, that room and that need is not among the saints on Sunday morning gathered to hear Christ and him crucified.
There are complex issues with which Christianity must wrestle, but there is a beautiful simplicity and intentionality of focus in Gospel proclamation that would do more good in the rhythm of our worship than all our efforts to engage the culture combined.