It’s easy to ape the culture. To assume that the norms that we’ve breathed in every minute of our lives are just that norms. In fact they are wallpaper against which we grow and develop, they are like the 90% of the iceberg that is under the water level, they are unseen and so their influence is enormous and yet largely unnoticed. But the gospel calls us to a radical rethink of every influence on our thinking, even those that are unseen and culturally normal.
I’ve been preparing a sermon on Paul’s letter to Philemon this week where he encourages Philemon to do just that; to apply the gospel to transform his thinking in an area of his life where societies norms go against the gospel. You get the impression as Paul writes that he knows what a challenge this will be for Philemon, to radically rethink the assumed values and norms of life in light of the gospel and it’s call to radically reshaped community. How much potentially this will make him stand out and what it might cost him.
There are some huge challenges for us as evangelicals in Britain here. Personally it challenges our sense of entitlement, rights, classism, sexism, racism, the cult of individualism, consumerism, all are things we naturally find are part of us when we stop and view them in light of the gospel. Because they are part of the cultural air we breathe in every day. But seeing them is far easier, if unpleasant, than repenting of them and changing, which is what Paul calls us to.
It challenges our church and evangelical culture too. What are the cultural norms that we assume as organisations or charities that actually go against the call of the gospel? How distinctive are we really? What about in the way we look for leaders, or who we look for as leaders? Or how we provide training for ministry? Approach giving? Who we partner with? How we promote ourselves? How different are we from any other charity, organisation or business? Is our gospel distinctiveness obvious or are our practices culturally normal?
That’s not to say there is nothing to learn from outside the church, God in his grace liberally scatters his wisdom, but our learning must always be tempered in light of the gospel. Lessons learnt must always be applied in light of our call to stand out, to love God and love our neighbours – all of them.