Confront? Or Conform?

by Richard Doebler

What do we do when facing a tidal wave of sinful culture? The answer depends on whether our goal is simply to survive the onslaught—or turn the tide. In other words, do we want to retreat and withdraw to protect ourselves? Or advance to effect change in society?

When I saw the January, 2017 issue of National Geographic touting the “gender revolution” with a 9-year-old boy-turned-girl from Kansas City on the cover, I did a double-take. Then I opened the magazine and began to read.

I’ve always appreciated the insights into strange customs and foreign cultures provided by National Geographic’s amazing photography and stories. Occasionally, though, I’m disturbed by what I find.

Is the magazine merely “reporting” on culture here, or is something else going on in this issue? Are the editors pushing an agenda?

We know everyone has a bias—his or her own worldview. Christian believers have a strong bias, and that’s as it should be. But for reporters who claim to be neutral in their writing, when does telling a story shift to promoting a cause?

It’s no surprise

We should not be surprised when secular magazines cross the line to push a particular agenda.

I don’t expect non-Christians to think like—let alone act like—Christians. (It’s hard enough to get Christians to act like Christians, but that’s a topic for another time.) Furthermore, I don’t expect secular humanists, sociologists, and anthropologists to listen to—let alone respect—the opinions of their political or theological adversaries.

They perceive themselves to be educated elites. So why should they listen with open minds to other points of view? They generally disregard anyone beneath their academic standing. Worse, if an intellectual equal (someone with conservative views) contradicts their opinion, they often resort to mocking derision rather than open dialogue. If he’s not liberal, they think, he’s obviously not educated.

This, of course, betrays their bias. Many agenda-driven secularists listen only to those who reinforce their own views. So what should Christians do in the face of such prejudice? How should we push back? How can we engage in a conversation with people who refuse to listen?

I have friends who canceled their subscription to National Geographic. That’s one response: make a statement by boycotting the magazine. If only hundreds do that, of course, the magazine will not notice or care. If hundreds of thousands interrupt the revenue stream, however, National Geographic will notice. They might even care.

But I’m not so sure.

Another way

For my part, I haven’t canceled my subscription. I will continue to read National Geographic. I do this not to support secularists, but to understand them. I want to be informed for the debate. Know thine enemy, as it were. How can I poke holes in their logic if I don’t know their logic or what they say? Unlike them, I want to demonstrate an open mind and a willingness to listen. I hope to maintain some legitimacy to participate in the cultural discussion, adding my voice to theirs.

When I write to editors or simply have a private discussion, I try not to lecture as much as ask questions that may reveal the fallacies of their thinking. Typically they won’t consider another point of view, so I try to catch them off-guard with difficult questions. At the same time, I trust God’s Spirit to convict their hearts, something I cannot do.

We might, for example, ask National Geographic why this gender-bending phenomenon (like so many prepubescent activities) is not simply a “phase” these children may be going through. A friend pointed me to findings from the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), which says “as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.”

Here’s another: Is the ACP wrong when it says: “Conditioning children into believing that a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse”?

Pushing back

Others will disagree that dialogue is a way to deal with culture in these troubled times. That’s fine, as long as they push back in some way.

I am not opposed to boycotts and cancellations or other more public forms of protest. They can be legitimate responses to confronting the secular agenda. I’m only saying there is room enough to push back in multiple ways on several different fronts.

Whatever we do, we must not give in or conform to society. Writing to Christians surrounded by the Roman culture, Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:2).

To see our world transformed, God calls us to be transformed. We need renewed minds and determined spirits so we will not give in to the pressures of the world around us. Instead of conforming to society, we must confront it—but in a winsome, engaging way.

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” Peter wrote to the first-century church. “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

Paul, steeped in his Jewish upbringing before converting to follow Christ, could not have been a missionary to the Greek and Roman cultures without understanding them. He saw how important it was to connect to those he hoped to reach. In Athens, for instance, he quoted Greek philosophers familiar to his audience (Acts 17:28). He became a “slave” to people, he said, in order “to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19). So he identified with them and even became like them (1 Cor. 9:22). He urged the Colossians to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).

Salt and light

Jesus also spoke of salt, calling his disciples to be light penetrating the darkness and salt covering the earth (Matt 5:13-16).

Last week I stepped outside onto rain-slick ice and suddenly lost my footing, crashing painfully down on concrete steps. Defeated, I crawled back inside the house. I still have scrapes and scabs from that mishap.

The sad thing about that incident? At the very moment I fell, a bag of salt sat inside my house, ready to spread and melt the sidewalk ice. But instead of being outside on the ice where it could do some good, the salt was still inside the house, still in the bag.

When, unprepared, we encounter the icy cold ways of the world, we can expect a fall. Saltless, we can be defeated, left to crawl back to the safety of our Christian communities, bruised and beaten.

Salt does no good if it stays inside, safe and dry. So can we do some good? Our goal should not be to protect ourselves but to effect a change. Let’s spread out into society. Let’s engage our culture. Let’s get out from our secular-free zones. Let’s be salt and light that penetrates our world.

  • Rich Doebler

    What’s your way to push back? I’d like to hear what you’ve tried to change your world..

  • Roger Armbruster

    Excellent article, Rich. Please permit me to quote somewhat at length about a posting that I made on Facebook just the other day, which I put out there for further feedback and input as to how we engage the culture around us in ways that use the weapons of the spirit rather than the flesh. I quote:

    “The culture war is a battle, not for physical territory, but for the hearts and minds of individuals and the souls of nations.

    “Perhaps a new image can be found in the words of II Corinthians 10:3-5: ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’

    “Perhaps the new metaphor for ‘culture wars’ should be ‘captivating culture.’ The war in the West (western intellectualism and individuality) and from the East (eastern mysticism and the evacuation of the mind into cosmic consciousness) are both battles for the soul of culture. It is not fought with guns and bombs but with love and ideas.

    “We are to influence people with the excellence of our ideas and the beauty of our love, to captivate the culture by speaking the truth to lies, by living just and merciful lives in the midst of unjust and cruel societies, and by promoting beauty instead of the mundane and hideous. That is not only a work of persuasion. It is a movement of God’s Spirit to set people free, free in mind and heart, free in life. Ultimately it is to bring freedom to the community and the nation.

    “Governments rightfully bear arms to defend their citizens, but the church’s battle is different. When a contingent of armed Roman guards came to arrest Christ in Gethsemane and some of the disciples responded with force, Christ forbade them, and in so doing He disarmed the church.

    “We are to engage in a love-and-service offensive. Our message? ‘Jesus has wisdom and light and truth that can speak into every area of our darkened culture. Life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Liberty is better than slavery. Prosperity is better than poverty. Education is better than ignorance. Justice is better than injustice.'”

    Within the context of my own family and local church, I have a son who has recently been given a prominent position within the Department of Family Services in our Provincial Government in Manitoba. He will be bringing a Kingdom perspective into what is a very broken system with the Child and Family Services. We have creative worshipers in our local church who are making God’s praise glorious, and who are bringing praise and worship out beyond the walls of the church building to allow the world to see that there is a real King of all nations, and His Name is Jesus. We have a Christian comedian in our congregation who uses only clean humor, and who can connect with a lot of people outside of the church walls, and bring in the message of salvation to any whose hearts open up to receive what is his real desire, and that is to share the gospel with those willing to hear.

    In this way, we are becoming like “salt” that penetrates every aspect of our corrupt culture, and acts as a preservative agent, and we are becoming “light” that shines and spreads truth into darkened corners in this present world. We have not arrived by any means, but we are on a journey toward transformation, and the new covenant is a covenant of transformation, not of avoiding reality, and not of escaping it, or withdrawing from it, but those who shine as lights in the midst of it. The light is greater than the darkness, and the darkness cannot overpower the light.

    • Rich Doebler

      What a great perspective, Roger! I appreciate your concept of “captivating culture” instead of warring against it. For all the things we can do using our human abilities, you are right when you say captivating culture can’t be done with mere persuasion. It must be “a movement of God’s Spirit,” liberating people held hostage to worldly ways and values.

      With God’s help, then, we want to captivate the captives of this world. Slaves of sin (slaves to lies, despair, rejection, futility, and more) can be set free when they become slaves to Jesus, who gave his life to pay the price of purchasing them to be his very own. What a way to push back against the sinful culture in which we live!

      • Roger Armbruster

        Thank you so much Rick. Your response to my comment is much appreciated, as was your original article.