A new Web site, www.gospelandculture.org, is equipping Christians to transform their cultures.
Combining high-impact photography and artwork with strong, incisive writing, the Web site challenges believers to think deeply about contemporary issues and avoid simplistic responses. It suggests a “cultural-redemptive approach,” hoping to become a resource for “training and shaping leaders and equipping the body of Christ to bring the gospel to bear on key issues and circumstances of our age.”
Online since early November, gospelandculture.org already features a variety of thoughtful articles on topics such as: practicing an “ethic of life” that leads to major social change; trends among the youth culture in America’s cities; a review of the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace; and the relevance of Christian faith to the “culture of fear” spawned by terrorism, health scares, and the global economic crisis.
Contributors are “specialists,” according to Dr. Chris Simmons, who oversees the Web site as executive director of The Gospel & Culture Project. “They are people who love the Lord, good writers who know the issues and questions they write about—and understand the big picture.” Most will write from a Reformed perspective, but more important is creating “a community of conversation” among people of different faith traditions.
The Web site, along with public discussion forums and a proposed educational center and graduate-level curriculum, represent the culmination of nearly 20 years of thinking by Dr. William Edgar, professor and chair of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, who also serves as director of The Gospel & Culture Project (GCP). “This whole concept originated at the seminary,” Edgar said. “We could never have gotten this off the ground without Westminster’s encouragement.”
Tracing his Christian roots to Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri community in Switzerland, which emphasized applying biblical truth to all human endeavors, Edgar hopes the Web site will cause users to rethink “the tendency toward dualism—a perceived separation between this ‘profane’ world and the ‘sacred’ world. Many people see engagement with culture only as a stepping stone to seeing souls saved for the afterlife. That is important, but it undervalues the world God created, its institutions and humanity.”
Edgar says the “cultural mandate,” which begins in Genesis 1:26 (“fill the earth and subdue it”), along with exhortations to “do justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8) and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) form a biblical basis for a more comprehensive understanding of the gospel that is “transformative in every area of life.”
Learning to become culturally redemptive, he believes, involves practicing Hebrews 5:14, which states, “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from bad.”
History offers glowing instances of believers successfully confronting their culture and bringing about change: William Wilberforce working to abolish slavery in England in the early 1800s; believers promoting peaceful resolution of apartheid in South Africa in the late 1980s; and Dwelling House Savings and Loan fostering renewal of blighted urban areas in Pittsburgh, Pa., through a unique lending program. However, examples like these have been relatively rare, the Web site points out:
“The contemporary church tends to reflect the Western private/public division in which our inner convictions are seldom expressed through social involvement…. Although we proclaim Christ Lord of all, we accomplish little in applying the gospel to our world in a way that brings about significant social, structural change.”
Simmons cites a parable he once heard to communicate the GCP’s vision to encourage proactive, biblical response to pressing societal problems.
“In the story, two men were wading into a river trying to save babies who were floating downstream. Both tried valiantly to save every infant, but were overwhelmed by the volume of newborns in the river. Finally one man climbed up on the bank and began walking. The second man became furious at the prospect of being abandoned and angrily asked the other where he was going. The man replied, ‘I’m going upstream to see if I can stop whoever is putting all these babies in the water.’
“To the degree that God gives us grace, we are going upstream,” Simmons declares. “If Christians are going to have a meaningful effect on our culture, we need to change from seeing the world as ‘out there’ to seeing ourselves, and our faith, as constituent of it. We also believe Christians need to be encouraged, even exhorted, in how to relate our beliefs to the larger world.”
He hopes gospelandculture.org becomes a community of sorts. “We want this site to be a place where users can discuss key questions in ways that lead to shared growth and perhaps, even solutions,” said Simmons. “Viewing the world through a cultural-redemptive framework is to understand God can and will work with us and through us so the world might more fully reflect His character.”
Dr. Tuck Bartholomew, pastor of City Church (PCA) in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, serves on the GCP board of trustees. Leading a congregation of urban professionals, students, and faculty from nearby universities, he holds a unique view of the Web site.
“I see it helping people begin to think through larger, often troubling cultural and world events. Cultural issues are usually more complex than we would like to admit. The gospel enables us to wade into the complexity without reducing everything to simple black and white answers. The Web site can model how the body of Christ can take part in discussions of important cultural issues, thinking about the gospel beyond its individual, therapeutic implications to its world implications.”
Bartholomew’s church, which rents space from Spruce Hill Christian School, also has hosted two GCP Forays, public gatherings designed to explore issues through the lens of biblical faith. The first dealt with contemporary media, particularly TV, and the second included a dialogue on genocide in Rwanda and the role of forgiveness in bringing about societal healing. Topics in the spring of 2009 will include how an understanding of being created in the image of God helps believers to interact with the culture; how the Gospel can speak to cynicism that pervades society, and how to effectively communicate one’s faith in an environment of religious pluralism.
The Web site and Forays are just two of the initiatives the GCP is developing to assist followers of Jesus to engage the culture. The independent non-profit organization also plans to initiate “Word Meets World” weekend seminars in 2009; start a School of Cultural Engagement by 2010, where lay people and those in professional ministry can take graduate-level course work; and establish The Gospel & Culture Center in 2011 or 2012, to house offices, classrooms, gallery space and media production facilities.
“We want to become international in scope,” Edgar points out. “Our goal is not to transmit American culture, but ultimately to serve believers on the whole planet, helping them to understand how to bring the Gospel to bear on their culture in the broadest possible applications.” Robert J. Tamasy, a member of North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tenn., is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., an Atlanta-based ministry to business and professional leaders; author of Business at Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace, and co-author of The Heart of Mentoring with David A. Stoddard.