At Saltley Trust at the moment we’re doing some work with a group of others to try and devise a resource to help local churches and their leaders acquire some tools to read and interpret their cultural context more sensitively (often it’s easy to jump straight from our own experience and seek to make theological judgements or respond without having listened attentively first).  It’s going to take a while to develop a resource of this kind, but the readings in Forty Days of Yes for days 16 and 17 gave me good pause for thought:  on one hand, we have Romans 12:1-2 which urges us ‘do not be conformed to this present world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect’.  We are not to swallow uncritically whatever contemporary values and norms happen to be, but test them against our understanding of God and God’s purpose for the world.  Yet on the other hand, again from the pen of Paul of Tarsus, we read in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ‘I become all things to all men, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible’.  I don’t see these as mutually exclusive statements, but rather establishing two of the poles by which a Christian response to any aspect of culture needs to be triangulated.  On one hand we retain an eternal perspective on current culture and view with suspicion any attempt to conflate entirely any human movement with the Gospel.  But on the other hand we recognise that there is no single set of rules for Christian discipleship and practice (indeed, getting away from rules is part of the point) and that there is enormous scope to earth the gospel in a variety of cultural forms, with the two poles balancing each other. We often use the phrase ‘in the world, but not of it’ to describe the Christian stance towards human culture – indeed a few years ago I was part of a planning group for a congregation that was doing a series on culture, and we started off with this as the series title… until we discovered that the phrase did not exactly appear in that form anywhere in the Bible.  Perhaps these two passages, along with others, help us anchor discussion about culture and mission somewhat more securely to what the Bible actually contains.

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