I was listening the other day to a Portland-area Christian guru type. He said that he’d done some reading and came across a model that he shared and that got me thinking a bit.
The model is how gospel, culture and church interact. My apologies, Rick, if I didn’t get this right, but this is what I came away with…
We start with the gospel. The gospel interacts with culture (really “society”). What happens when the gospel effectively engages society? People come to Jesus – that’s a good thing! Those new believers group together because the both want to and should do. That leads to a church.
The next thing to notice is that the church then goes back to the gospel. This is a continuous thing – the church always has to remind itself of what the gospel is while staying connected to its birthing society.
Now get this part: the gospel is above both church and culture – neither the culture or the church “own” the gospel (this is what our Roman church friends miss), however the church’s function is to posses and use the gospel in culture.
Note the progression: the gospel interacts with society and a church is the result – the church is a child of both the gospel (which is easy for most Christians to see) AND the culture (which causes most Christians to squirm a little). This is important to grasp: each individual church is a product of its community, society, and culture. By the way, most PoMos get this immediately.
And, for evangelicals, this should sound right. After all, we keep saying that we want to present the timeless truths of the gospel in the relevant language of the world in which we now live. The same applies to a particular church.
Also note that the church is interacting with BOTH gospel and culture. If the church ceases to interact with the gospel and only engages culture, it presents (at best!) as “watered down gospel.” I would argue that such a church presents no gospel at all. For evangelicals of the last half of the 20th century, this is what we think happened to the Liberal wing of the church. Some evangelicals are concerned that certain segments of the emerging-emergent church are going down the same path.
If the church stops interacting with the society and culture, it is also guilty of sin: we have held our fists up to God in disobedience to both the Second Greatest commandment and the Great Commission. The church becomes insular and ineffective. There can be no impact without contact.
R. Neibuhr present four models of Christ In Culture as it relates to the church: 1) Church against culture, 2) Church accommodating to culture, 3) Church over culture, and 4) Church in culture. Rick’s model touched on three of these. A church disconnected from society is Christ against culture. A church disconnected from gospel is Christ accommodated to culture. A church engaged in both gospel and culture is Christ in culture. While Neibuhr was quick to say that each of the models he developed had biblical support, the best understanding was that of Christ in culture. That is, the church engaged with both gospel and its society.