I’m all for cultural engagement. There are lots of echoes of the gospel story in music, film and books. And it is good for us to watch with eyes wide open and spot those and talk with others about them. They can be great conversation starters about Jesus and we ought to take them.
But here’s my slight concern. In the rush to be culturally aware I worry that we’re basically trying to be less holy so that the world likes us and therefore likes Jesus and will listen to the gospel. Here’s the problem, firstly that doesn’t work, when was the last time a non-believer said ‘Wow! You’re just like me there must be something in what you believe.’ Secondly, the world doesn’t need us to be more like them it needs us to be less like them and more like Jesus. It needs to see what purified believers look like. It needs to see people sold out for God. What God’s radical kingdom looks like not a half hearted compromised version of it.
The reason Israel failed to be the light to the nations it was intended to be wasn’t that it did not engage enough with Canaanite culture, but that it aped Canaanite culture too much. It became just like them. It was not holy.
I’m very aware that that brings challenges. I’m not suggesting that we withdraw from society, not at all, but that we live holy lives in society. And yes, that does mean there will be things our friends and family and work colleagues do that we don’t take part in. Yes it might mean they accuse us of being prudish. But holiness isn’t just about what you don’t do but about what you do do.
To be holy is to be pure but it is also to be more loving than the world can imagine. A love that acts and cares and provides for others, even those who oppose us. To be holy is to be generous and merciful but to stand up for what is right. I wonder if we’ve dispensed with the purity part of holiness, arguing that it made us seem like a prude. Rather than adding to the purity the love that is also a part of holiness.
What if we were the most loving, gracious, welcoming people, but we also lived pure lives, if we fought sin in ourselves (not go on a moral crusade against culture) and loved in such a way that the cries of ‘prude’ or ‘bible basher’ (other far worse insults are available) died on their lips and instead they were intrigued enough to ask about Jesus?