Engaging Culture without Compromise

Jesus remains in charge amidst the changing world around us. He calls us to represent him well, bringing his lordship to bear on every sphere of our existence. Without a doubt, our society has fallen into chaos and confusion. Men pretend to be women, men “marry” other men, women blindly slaughter their own unborn children, young girls are trafficked and treated as objects of pleasure, prisons are packed, political and ethnic tensions soar, and true justice is denied and distorted. Now as always, the one true God calls his people to faithfulness, to illuminate this dark world with the light of the gospel of his Son. The question is how does this get fleshed out in the mess of our current cultural milieu?

Four Different Responses

Among those who remain orthodox, I suggest that four distinct responses exist and will become increasingly easier to identify in the years ahead. 

Response #1

The first one we will call the response of faithfulness. I realize that I’m putting my cards out on the table here and running the risk of being thought of as arrogant, but this and this alone is the response that I hope, by the grace of God, to live out in the coming decade and beyond. The response of faithfulness will only be possible for those who fear God more than man. It will be the path of most resistance. The path of no compromise. The path of full unashamed loyalty to every single thing Scripture teaches. It will mean refusing to call a man a woman or a woman a man. It will mean refusing to give a blind eye to injustice and murder. It will mean naming sin for what it is. It will mean exalting Jesus Christ as the only Savior for sinners and the only Sovereign over our nations, cities, and towns. It will require a constant return to the gospel, remembering that apart from the grace of God we would still be lost in our sin like the world around us. It will require a more vigorous cultural engagement and a steadfast commitment to counter-cultural formation. It will require reconsidering every activity and every aspect of our lives in light of Scripture, and a willingness to stand apart from the mainstream, and to be laughed at and mocked as a backwards, ignorant, bigot. It may cost us everything––our friends, our finances, our reputations, and our earthly freedoms. But this is not a pessimistic path. Our God will saturate the whole earth with his glory, and our sacrifices are part of what he uses to bring about that future reality. We have no reason to fear, for to echo Chesterton, we serve a God who knew his way out of the grave.

Response #2

The second group is composed of those who will seek to do some or most of the above but in the power of the flesh. These, like the conservative and orthodox Pharisees of the New Testament, take pride in their refusal to bow to the demands of the anti-biblical culture around them, but lack Spirit-wrought conviction in the power of the gospel. Some are viciously engaged in the culture war but in such a way that exudes arrogance and self-confidence. Those in this group are often wrongly confused with the first group, but there are significant differences. Those in the first group seek to fight the darkness out of a deep love for God and commitment to the Scriptures, while this second group is more prone to fight out of a sense of sentimentality or tradition. Many of those in this group are trying to build on a rotten foundation. We could call it traditional conservative culture. They must realize their need to return to first principles. Those first principles begin with the recognition that Jesus is Lord of all. In the name of restoring family values, or in seeking to end abortion or any other injustice, there can be no pragmatic compromises with movements that ignore and therefore reject the lordship of Christ. Remember it is the gospel that transforms, and the gospel is not only a proclamation of Jesus as Savior but also as Lord––over everything. One day every knee will bow. Those who are gripped by this truth can resist the temptation to compromise, and because they are submitted to Christ and walk in the fear of the Lord, they will be careful not to dishonor the name of Christ through their cultural engagement.

Response #3

Perhaps the third response should not rightly be called a response, for it is primarily one of inaction; of waiting on the sidelines. Many in this group admire those in the first group. They are secretly cheering them on, but like Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night, they are still hesitant to visibly identify with those whom outsiders will soon be calling the radicalized extremists. Yes, in many of our states and cities, normal biblical Christianity will be increasingly viewed as a dangerous extremist position. So perhaps this group does well to count the costs. But there will come a time very soon when a decision will need to be made, when a step must be taken beyond the point of no return. If you’re in this group, getting out of it and onto the path of public and uncompromised faithfulness should be your utmost priority. Pray for courage, pray for discernment, study Scripture, read books by men and women who have been faithful, lay distractions aside, test all things, walk in the fear of the Lord, don’t delay. 

Response #4

What is the fourth response? It is made by those who view the people in the first group as part of the problem. Those in this group see those who refuse to use more sensitive language when speaking of the sexual perversions of our culture as an embarrassment and a hindrance to the gospel. They have adapted the language of the world and now refer to those perversions simply as lifestyles. They have confused cultural engagement with conformity to the world. Too often, this group has assumed that the secular culture is neutral when it is indeed opposed to God and in rebellion to Christ. So in the name of being good missionaries, they have assimilated into the culture and embraced unwittingly the thinking of this world, which Scripture explicitly states we are not to be conformed to any longer. They depend on being like the world in order to reach it, and therefore cannot afford to seem too radical in their beliefs. As if to lend God a helping hand, they try to soften the language of the Bible in order to bring people to faith in the God of the Bible. But the moment we become embarrassed by stating publicly and without qualification the words of Scripture, we have ceased to be salt and light in the culture and have instead absorbed its ways, losing our true evangelistic effectiveness. Those who persist on this compromised path will soon accuse their fellow Christians who are in their view “less culturally sensitive” as part of the problem. They, together with unbelievers, will say to faithful Christians, “You are the cause of this trouble and this divisiveness in our nation.”  They will be like the 3000 men of Judah who came to Samson and said, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?”  

Many in today’s Church have confused having a good testimony with virtue signaling. We long for the approval of men. We are drawn to the path of least resistance. For some of the less sincere, this is about picking a version of Christianity that allows them to remain hip and culturally acceptable. For some of the more sincere but mistaken, it is about becoming hip and culturally acceptable in order to win more people to Christ. We are certainly called to be good missionaries and to not put hindrances in the way of the gospel. But Paul’s words about becoming all things to all men must be taken together with other Scriptures that warn us not to conform to the ways of this world. The prophet Daniel could live and work in the midst of a pagan culture without conforming in any way to it––not even in the area of what he would eat. If Daniel were around today, I am afraid that many in our missional movements would be quick to rebuke him for his lack of sensitivity and failure to adapt to the culture, e.g. “Daniel, I hate to say this but you’re being a total prude!” Yet Daniel was faithful and God brought him before kings. That is influence. Do we want to truly make an impact for the kingdom? It will not come through our hipster sensitivity or through bending to the culture as far as we possibly can without having to throw the whole book out. No. It will come through the path of faithfulness. Faithfulness to Christ and to the Scriptures that he said cannot be broken. 

I do not mean that we are to retreat from the rest of the world, I trust the example of Daniel makes that clear. However, those who think they will reach unbelievers through their sensitivity towards cultural perversions need to realize that only more sensitivity will be required of them in just a short while. It will be impossible to continue down that path and remain faithful to the Bible’s teaching. Those in the fourth group are like a man standing with one foot on the dock and with the other on a boat that is moving slowly out to sea. The boat is moving faster by the minute. A decision will need to be made sooner than later. Those catering to the constant demands for greater sensitivity while also trying to remain orthodox are getting very uncomfortable. The deconstructionists couldn’t handle it anymore and have already decided to jump onto the boat. I exhort you, who love the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture, to place both feet firmly on the dock. Those on the boat may scoff at us for our refusal to affirm their sinful perversions, but we will be free from the fear of man. Their secular culture is a sinking ship, it is a culture of death and folly, and it will eventually end one way or another. In the meantime, God calls us to continue making disciples, teaching them to obey all of his commands, which means bringing all of life under his good rule and reign. This implies the formation of a renewed culture submitted entirely to the lordship of Christ. It is this alternative community shaped by the gospel that is truly attractive to those who have tasted the bitter fruit of their godless pursuits. We truly have something better to offer, and we can boldly implore them to be reconciled to God through Christ. So, remembering always that Jesus is Lord of all, let us fear God alone, and by the power of his Spirit, walk in faithfulness to his Word.

Published by Nathan Cedarland

Child of God. Servant of Messiah. Husband of Julissa. Father of seven. Preacher and teacher. Lover of reading and writing. Amateur filmmaker. Blogs in Spanish at teologiapublica.com

3 thoughts on “Engaging Culture without Compromise

  1. Thanks for writing this, Nathan.
    May we all be faithful to our Lord in these treacherous times, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we will be able to walk by faith and not by sight.
    Praying for you, Julissa and all the kiddos.
    Love, Tim and Anna


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