One of the first virtues necessary for the believer who seeks effective and God-honoring cultural engagement is diligence. The Bible describes diligence, in fact, as the foundation for the other virtues (see 2 Peter 1:5-8).
No one can be an expert in everything. But we can choose to be more knowledgeable about some of the issues that most define and vex the current culture. To practice the virtue of diligence requires that we approach issues we choose to engage with the care and attention due them—and to refrain from ironclad pronouncements when that care and attention reveal our need for another virtue: humility.
The Bible has a great deal to say about humility and about the pride that obstructs it. Over and over, the Bible tells us that God looks with favor upon the humble. How we approach engaging culture generally, or engaging on specific issues, Christians must do so with a spirit of humility if we desire God’s favor. God does not need us to be right as much as we need him to be pleased with us.
Integrity—generally defined as purity or wholeness—is a virtue that takes two distinct but not unrelated forms: moral and intellectual. Moral integrity is concerned with the way one’s practices accord with one’s beliefs. Intellectual integrity centers on the pursuit of truth.
Both the content and the form of the Christian’s engagement with culture must be marked by moral and intellectual integrity. Integrity in cultural engagement pertains to not only what one believes but also why one believes it, how one applies and advances that belief, and the willingness to engage confidently with opposing ideas.
Such integrity requires far more than knowledge. To judge and apply knowledge requires wisdom. Humility leads us to recognize our strengths and limitations; wisdom compels us to act on that knowledge by pressing on or holding back, accordingly.
While human wisdom can be cultivated through practice, godly wisdom comes from God, and it surpasses all human wisdom. James 1:5 exhorts us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” When God told Solomon to ask of him whatever he wanted, Solomon chose wisdom. And because Solomon chose so wisely (not to mention humbly), God gave him that and more—both wealth and honor (1 Kings 3:4–13). We should do likewise. In engaging culture, the Christian is to seek not only human understanding but also the wisdom that is a gift from God.
In addition to the virtues of diligence, humility, integrity, and wisdom that are available through common grace to all human beings, and in addition to the godly wisdom that comes only from God, the Christian is called to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is especially essential to effective engagement with the culture because human culture is defined by a spirit of worldliness, not the spirit of the Lord. Sadly, everywhere we look, we can see this worldly spirit in those who engage culture in the name of Christ. We might go so far as to say that to engage in a way characterized by a spirit of worldliness while invoking the name of Christ is to take the Lord’s name in vain.
The best check and measure against this worldly spirit is not, we would argue, sequestering ourselves from the world, but rather is being filled with the Spirit. If we do not demonstrate in our engagement with the world (or with fellow believers) love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23), then our efforts are for naught. And even if we adopt the right position or espouse the right view, if we have not love, we are but a “clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Ultimately, engaging in culture is nothing more—and nothing less—than seeking the truth in order to love with a godly love.
— Adapted from Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues by Joshua D. Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior.
How To Use This Book
Cultural Engagement will equip the people in your church to engage and shape culture from a distinctly Christian, biblical perspective—while offering you a crash course in nine of the most pressing issues facing the church today, including sexuality, gender roles, human life and reproduction technology, immigration, race, and more.
With its brief essays from leading Christian thinkers, discussion questions, and helpful context on important debates, Cultural Engagement will help you foster stronger, more productive, and more biblical cultural engagement in your church. Get copies today and consider it for your small group and adult education ministries.