What should the church be doing in the world?
That was the question discussed by several panelists, including Southeastern President Daniel Akin, June 4 at a forum called “Church and Culture – Enemies or Allies?” sponsored by First Baptist Church of Durham, N.C., in conjunction with the Advance ’09 conference being held at the nearby Durham Performing Arts Center.
Joining Akin on the panel were FBC Durham Pastor Andy Davis and sociologist Glenn Lucke, who has conducted extensive research on evangelicals’ engagement of cultural issues.
Akin offered that Christians’ interaction with the broader culture, especially in the West, is fraught with difficult but inevitable choices.
“The ramifications of the fall are deep in this area,” Akin said. “How do we engage the culture without embracing the culture? I am afraid we too often reflect, rather than seeking to redeem.
“We must engage culture, and we must seek to redeem culture, because all of it will one day revert to the control of its true owner, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Akin said the best advice he can offer to those who seem be walking a tightrope between engaging and embracing is simple, but he has found it to be a sure biblical guide: “Love God, love your neighbor, and do as you please.”
Davis said it is helpful in this discussion to distinguish between what the letters of the New Testament call the “world” – depraved aspects of human culture that the Christians are biblically bound to avoid – and “culture,” or those human constructs which may be exploited for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel.
Davis said there is an inevitable tension for those seeking to be winsome in cultural engagement. On the one hand, he said, is the biblical injunction toward holiness and separation from anything that would stain the believer’s character and witness. On the other hand, he said, is the command to go into the world and reach the lost.
“Only one man in all of human history did that perfectly,” Davis said, speaking of Christ. Nevertheless, “we have work to do here. There is a calling on our lives to seek and save the lost.”
Lucke called on evangelicals to appreciate that there are both individual and cosmic aspects to the gospel. That is, the command to go into the entire world certainly includes witnessing to individual souls, but it also includes a mandate to work to transform social institutions toward Christlikeness.
“Our mission is to pursue the individual aspect of the gospel into as many lives as possible and to work for the cosmic renewal of all things,” he said.
Akin said one way to pursue this cultural change is to encourage the next generation to explore their calling as believers in whatever field of endeavor they excel, be it philosophy, science, law and so forth. Also, this entire enterprise of cultural engagement must be done with kindness and a spirit of love
“It matters the manner and disposition by which we do engage,” he said. “We must do it with the spirit, heart and ethic of Jesus. The only real offense ought to be the gospel.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.