Why We Should Use Contemporary Culture

Thoughts from Dave Buckna

I think it’s important for Christians to use aspects of contemporary culture if they are serious about beginning a dialogue with non-Christians. Rev. John Stott (in Basic Christianity) has said: “The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world.”

One can also use examples of contemporary culture to point out the truth of a situation. When the Pharisees and Sadducees tested Jesus by asking him to show them a sign from heaven, he quoted a popular saying of the day: “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16: 1-3)

When Paul spoke to the men of Athens on Mars Hill he quoted at least two pagan poets (Arastus, a Stoic who lived about 270 BC, and Cleanthes, who lived about 300 BC); he also made a reference to Greek architecture (eg. the statue to the unknown god.) Why did Paul does this? To first establish common points of reference and contact. You can’t have a productive dialogue with someone if you are talking past each other.

The fishing metaphor in Matthew 4:18-19, when Jesus saw Simon Peter and his brother Andrew casting a net into the Sea of Galilee, he told them: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In fly fishing, the fisherman won’t be very successful unless he first gets the fish’s attention! How does he do this? He uses the right type of bait. So too, one can’t “catch people” for the Kingdom of God unless he uses the right bait – which includes a) God’s word: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) and b) aspects of contemporary culture (books, movies, television, music, etc.) to establish common points of reference.

REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION: David Buckna writes regular quizzes based on popular culture – usually films or music. These are intended for those who enjoy reading about popular culture – whether they are Christians or not. Buckna’s quizzes are listed here. He originally wrote this piece for Internet Evangelism Day.

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To contemporise: To make something modern or fashionable.

What are your thoughts concerning contemporisation? Some are opposed to it, suggesting it compromises the message. On the other hand, some churches have built their evangelism strategy around reaching so called “unchurched people” with “seeker-friendly” methodology, whilst others suggest sticking to a straightforward presentation of the gospel by expository preaching alone.

Can evangelicals be both biblical and contemporary?

Where do you stand on this issue?

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Web articles on this subject:

Discernment 202: Pop Culture: Why Bother?

Paul in Athens

Hipsters, the Hill, and the Danger of Rock’n’Roll

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