Thursday, June 15, 2023

Don't Read the Bible Through the Lens of Culture

(Weaverville, California)

Eugene Peterson writes, "North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Kindle 19%)

Some pastors acquiesce to the American way. They work hard to develop a "product" that people will be attracted to and buy. Hence, they engage in public relations, image building, salesmanship, marketing techniques, and competition for buyers. (= the Consumer Church). 

The result is a "mindless cultural conformism [which]..., far from being radical and dynamic..., is a lethargic rubber stamp on worldly wisdom." (Ib.) This has led, as Chesterton saw ahead of his time, to "the degrading slavery of being a child of this age." (Quoted in Ib.)

Peterson, writing in 1992, saw that "we are immersed in probably the most immature and mindless religion, ranging from infantile to adolescent, that any culture has ever witnessed." (Ib.) That describes 2023 in America.

At Redeemer, one way we combat the religious mindlessness is to preach, on Sunday mornings, through the biblical texts. Several years ago, I and others preached through the four Gospels, verse by verse. This took us seven years. Since then we have preached through many of Paul's letters, the book of Revelation (took us a year to get through this), Hebrews (one year), and so on. Currently, we are preaching through the book of Acts. This is exhilarating, empowering, equipping, and encouraging for anyone who desires to interpret the vicissitudes of culture through the lens of The Enduring Word.

Biblical illiteracy fuels religious mindlessness and cultural conformism. The Bible is our distinctive, our text. In the Bible a follower of Jesus gets situated in the Grand Narrative.

We show our people how to speak to our culture through the biblical Narrative, rather than allow the culture to interpret and, thereby, trivialize the Narrative.

Peterson says that when Christians come from Third world countries to the American church, "what they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism..., the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy" (Ib.)

Pastors - revolt against our culture's systematic trivializing of what we are called to do.

People - do not allow our culture shape you into its mold.

And go back to a praying life - my book can help you with this. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.