"Counter-Culture Living: It's Not Just for Hippies"
Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, August 2014
In three speaking engagements this month, I’ve delivered a presentation entitled “Counter-Culture Living: It’s Not Just for Hippies.” I’m pleased to say it has been very well-received with those three audiences and I hope you find the subject interesting too because I’m going to give you a sample in this month’s LifeSharer letter. If you would like the whole thing, great. Give Claire a call as to when I could present it to your church, Sunday School, or home group. But for right now, here’s a few brief notes from the talk.
What images arise in your mind when you read or hear the term counter-culture? A commune of flower children in California? An Amish settlement in rural Pennsylvania? A reclusive hermit on a Nepal mountaintop? Well, you should think of the Church for it is Christianity that is counter-culture to its very core.
A general definition of the term counter-culture is a way of life that is a) at variance with the prevailing social norms, b) even opposed to those prevailing norms, and/or c) a movement whose aim is to change culture for the better.
Orthodox Christianity is counter-culture in all three of those ways. We are, for instance, at variance with the surrounding cosmos in that Christians are born again. We have new natures, a new Master, a new destiny. We are no longer earthly-minded. We are heavenly-minded citizens of another city, one that is to come. Believers in Jesus are now strangers and exiles to the prevailing culture. We are a peculiar people, a royal priesthood, ones expressly called out of the world and into the kingdom of God. We are, most certainly, at variance with the prevailing social norms.
But the people of God are also counter-culture in reference to the second point of the definition. We are opposed to the world. Need a couple of examples?
I John 2:15 -- “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
James 4:4 -- “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend to the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Romans 1:2 -- “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Not much wiggle room, is there?
Now does the modern church take these Scriptures seriously? Does it reflect these counter-culture values? Hardly. No, in many churches nowadays the attitude towards the world is more like this -- “Hey, bro. Don’t get uptight. Baby, we’re just like you. We’re no different. We try to look like you, sound like you, do the same things you do. We’re hep, dude. We’re with it. We’re not squares like our spiritual grandpas and grandmas. We’re not prudes. In fact, we’re into the same stuff you are: fashion, fads, entertainment choices, heroes, art, lingo, even philosophies. We’re into whatever you are. So come to our church. You’ll be completely comfortable. We’ve got everything you want and we will do our best not to bother you with things you don’t like.”
Why, oh why this naive and craven submission to the world? Why do church leaders act like 14-year old kids desperate to get into the cool kids’ clique?
There are some big philosophic forces at work here, all of which deserve greater consideration than what I can give them in this letter. But mark them nevertheless. One is progressivism, the blind belief that everything is getting better and better. It is an unwarranted belief but one that has, in the last two centuries, profoundly shaped education, art, politics, religion, and more. Its key feature is to make the strong and beautiful things of Western culture seem old fashioned, tired and therefore obsolete in order to make room for new truths. Progressivism is also tied to our era’s uncritical embrace of science and technology – even when they set themselves against God’s design. There is also the matter of advertising which drives consumerism which makes us slaves to novelty, superficiality, and wasteful spending.
These things have worked to create the remarkable lack of clarity and confidence we see today among Christians. So many have rejected learning the basic doctrines of the Faith, let alone hermeneutics, church history, comparative religion, and practical theology. Bible study and expository sermons are so…so…1975, dude. The modern church knows so little, is so lazy, and is so shortsighted. Therefore, it has become afraid of genuine confrontation with the world. We’re not engaging the world. We’re aping it. We are caught in its currents and drifting downstream, moving rapidly to the sea of irrelevance.
We lack confidence in the authentic and amazing truths of revealed Scripture because we haven’t studied them nor have they been taught to us by our own preachers and youth leaders. Our theological understanding thus being shallow and mismanaged, it is no wonder that lifestyles of holy adventure are so sadly rare.
And that brings me back to that third point of the definition I gave for the term counter-culture. I’ve commented on living in variance with the prevailing norms and on opposing them. But the third aspect is a view to deliberately change the existing culture for the better. That too is a hallmark of orthodox Christianity for we are to strengthen the things that remain, to exercise a principled dominion over the earth, to bring light to the darkness, health to the sick, friendship to the lonely, truth as a corrective of error, and so on. And, fully aware that this world is a perishing one, we have as a primary goal the rescue of sinners from the already-judged cosmos by winsomely, courageously presenting to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Counter-culture examples who emphasize this third element? The Pilgrims. The abolitionists. The circuit-riding preachers. Missionaries. Pro-life activists. Home-school parents. And every believer in Jesus who seeks to serve Him as a true light of the world.
I’m feeling a little frustration in having to cut down this presentation to fit the space I have for this brief letter so again I’d urge you to consider inviting me to deliver it in full to one of the groups you’re involved with. That fuller treatment allows me to add more details, more illustrations, and even parts of my own conversion testimony. But, before I close this, I want to at least list the three action steps with which I’ve closed the talks this month. They are what I believe are the three most important steps to being a genuinely counter-culture Christian.
1) Unplug yourself from the world. Yes, this will take work and prayer and sacrifice. But it’s an absolute must. Find wholesome alternatives to the news sources, entertainment choices, spending habits, opinion leaders, fashions, priorities, and other elements of the prevailing social norms.
2) Find quality friends, Christians who take godly living seriously, who are pursuing God’s best, who are wisely investing not in this world but in the world to come. Cultivate and enjoy those friendships.
And 3) Actively seek ways in which you can not only avoid being poured into the world’s mold but actually speak truth and beauty, righteousness and joy into the world. Remember, you are different. By God’s rich grace, you are holy. You are an adopted son or daughter of Jesus Christ the Savior. So, live like it and let your light attract others to the supernatural, other-worldly life you lead by His power.
Counter-culture. It’s not just for hippies. It is, at its most basic and most beautiful, a term to describe the lifestyle of the born again believer in Jesus. Let’s get after it.
P.S. We have a lot going on right now – a lot of the usual ministry activity at the abortion clinic, in cyberspace, in the senior care centers, and so on. But we’ve taken on a few other tasks too. One is another senior facility for “When Swing Was King.” (That makes 12 different places every month.) One is the new website, almost ready for unveiling. One is a new L’Abri lecture series we will be hosting at our home beginning in September. And yet another is a book I’m writing that deals with sanctity of life issues in a fictional yet very true-to-life (and we hope, compelling) form.
“Can one find hope, joy, even heroes in a nursing home, of all places? A visit to The Christmas Room may well surprise you.” I am currently about 45,000 words into the project and beginning to make the turn towards home. We will, of course, keep you informed about its future.