Culture, Faith, and Perspective

Faith and Culture Now

Faith and Culture Now is designed to help people think about culture critically, lovingly, and more Christianly. It is my goal to help people of all develop a worldview that encompasses creation, fall, and redemption as revealed in Scripture in order to allow those themes to shape how they see the world. God is interested in every aspect of the human life and as such, the way we relate to every issue we faith is important to the Lord. We should approach family, friendship, education, work, hobbies, entertainment, politics, community, health, and other issues from a biblical perspective. Christians are to live in the world. The world is our home.

In the World Not Of It

God created us to be representatives of his kingdom on this earth. As such we are to share all of the goodness, love, mercy, and hope that come from living within God’s will with the world around us. We are not to be of the world. This does not mean that we are to retreat from culture or segregate ourselves from society. It means that our lives are not to be characterized by the sinful practices that hinder our relationship with God. We are to live in such a way that society looks up to us. People who are not Christians should see Christ in us. Christ loved people where they were at but always called them to something better. As Christians we should love people where they are at and always do what we can in order to make the world better.

In America culture is a broadly used term. In fact, in we have many cultures. We have social media culture, entertainment culture, political culture, church culture, school culture, etc. Each person lives in numerous cultures. As Christians we should allow our faith to permeate each culture that we live in. We should allow our Christian faith to help us know what kinds of entertainment to participate in and which kinds to avoid. We should also allow our faith to guide us in how we vote, how we care for the poor, how we care for endangered species, how we approach racism, etc.

The culture helps shape the ideas and beliefs of a society, and the society helps shape the culture. The church has had a role in shaping society, but society has also played a role in shaping the church. We are all a product of the world around us. As Christians we desire to cling to what is good. We desire to live a life actively engage in society but in obedience to the moral will of God.

This blog is designed to help people evaluate, judge, and decide for themselves what to believe and how to live out their faith in culture.

Cultures and God

There are upper, middle, and lower-class cultures. There are ethnic cultures. There are gender cultures. There are geographical cultures. There are religious cultures. There are educational cultures. Each person lives in multiple and sometimes contradictory cultures. Each person sees the world through the lens of ethnicity, gender, religious preference, income level, educational background, past experiences, family tradition, and more. As Kant would say: “You cannot see the world as it actually is, but only how you perceive it to be.” With so many influences all around us, it is imperative that we discover for ourselves what cultures we are surrounded by and how we are to live within those surroundings. Part of this process is learning what we believe about God and allowing those beliefs to help guide us to an understanding of how to act and think in our present circumstances.

“What do I believe about God?” is perhaps one of the most important questions a person can ask, because the answer affects how that person thinks about everything else in his or her culture.

This blog is not designed to tell you how to think about God, but it is designed to make you think about a wide variety of issues from  multiple perspectives that will challenge you, encourage you, inspire you, empower you, infuriate you, and maybe even shake your foundations.

Here is a quick YouTube video that introduces some of the topics that are covered on this site:



Who I Am

To give you a better idea about who I am and what perspectives I bring to the topics on this blog, here is a little about me.

I was born in Odessa, Texas in 1981. Odessa is located close to where the state of Texas makes a “boot” connecting it to New Mexico. The primary employment of the region is oil-field work. As the oil field business goes up and down, so does the population.

When I was born, my parents lived next door to my grandmother. We went to her house some nearly every day, but the whole family ate lunch there every Sunday after Church. First Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in town is where we all attended.

I grew up as a white, male, middle-class American in a small town. All that helps make me who I am.

One of the first things I remember about music is that when I was around 4 years old, my dad would get out his LP’s (Vinyl Records) and play me “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. It was on the album, The Early Beatles which is the American version of Please Please Me. I was also wearing cowboy boots before then, but more on that later.

From day one, I was hooked. I loved music and I listened to it every day. I liked Herman’s Hermits, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jim Groce, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Sly and the Family Stone, and just about any other band from the 60s I could find. In Odessa the Oldies station was 96.9 and I listened to it all the time from the age of about 6 until I was about 12 years old. I can remember taking my radio into the back yard and just listening to music for hours, while I did things like shoot a BB gun or the bow-and-arrow. Back then it was not that big of a deal to do those kinds of things in the backyard.

When I was 6 my dad built me a fort. It was a lot of fun to play in and jump out of. It was also about a 6-ft. drop to the ground which would be painful if you didn’t land it right. That same year I accepted Christ and was baptized.

I loved riding a bicycle, playing in the sand, looking for snakes, scorpions, box turtles, horned toads, and just about anything else we could find. My family never bought me a snake, but if dad ever caught a wild one, he would bring it home and we could keep it for a while.

Here are some pics of some of my favorite critters!!!

Horned Toad

Cicada

Scorpion

Tarantula

Box Turtle

Hog-Nosed Snake

This is a hog-nosed snake. I think we had kept 4 or 5 of these by the time I could drive.

In 4th grade, I began taking piano lessons. I ended up taking 10 years of lessons plus one semester in college.

In fifth grade, my parents bought a horse for my sister and me. Her name was Shanon. She was a bay, she was gentle, and she was very old. Soon after, they bought another horse for my sister, but that one ended up being better suited to me. His name was Apache. He was a paint, and he was the same age I was. He died when I was 28, and my parents still had him.

From fifth grade through high school I was on a horse nearly every day. I loved riding, and I loved…wearing my boots. To this day I do not even own a pair of dress shoes.

In addition to riding horses, I showed horses. Some of my favorite memories come from those times.

Just before going into 7th grade, I went on a pre-teen retreat with my church. There I decided to get serious about faith in God. I had accepted Christ as savior when I was 6, but never really did much about it besides show up on Sunday’s and Wednesday nights.

I liked the kind of person that Jesus was and I wanted to be more like him, more understanding and forgiving, more caring and loving.

In Junior High my love of music really broadened. I began listening to more hard rock, country, and some Contemporary Christian Music. I started playing Tennis. I also joined the Youth Group at Church. During my first few years in the youth we took several mission trips including one to Houston and one to Oklahoma City. We also went to several youth camps, Disciple Now’s, and a youth ski-trip. In junior high I met some of the best friends I have ever had.

Ok, so at 15 my first car was a 1981 Toyota Celica, Supra.
 Just like this one…

Celica

It was a standard and it had a straight 6, so I could start in 3rd gear if I gave it enough gas.

Unfortunately, it had a little crash.

So I drove my dad’s old truck from then until my third year of college.

At the beginning of high school, I felt the Lord calling me to full-time ministry. So I surrendered to it. But back then I thought he was calling me to music ministry. In tenth grade I started a band that played praise for a mission church for about two and a half years.

I played keyboard. This one…

Keytar

Yes, I still have it and yes, I can still ROCK IT!!!…maybe

In college, I began to feel like God had different plans. Instead of playing music, I thought he was calling me to teach. I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate.

While in college I had two really great roommates: Tanner Tollett, and Thomas Brandon.

It was Thomas who began introducing me to really great films. I knew music was a window to the soul, but never really gave movies that much thought. Thanks to his friendship, God has allowed me to see the depth in music and film. Hence the development of a love for dealing with popular culture in ministry.

In 2005, after taking a class on Pop-Culture and philosophy, I believed God was calling me to create a special ministry for dealing with culture.

That same year, I met Lindsy, the love of my life and the woman who would later become my wife.

An Early Picture of Us


We were married in 2007 in the summer, and we have since had four (yes 4) daughters. Being a parent has helped shape the way I view culture and art.

Our Girls

In 2006 I began teaching religion and philosophy courses. I finished my doctorate in 2014 and have now been teaching theology and philosophy for over a decade. I have taught at community colleges, private colleges, universities, and seminaries. Much of what I write about now is informed by my studies and my students.

Culture and Freedom

I am often asked questions about how to interact with the culture. “Is it ok to play this video game?” “Is it alright to watch this movie?” “Is there anything wrong with playing sports where people get hurt?” (like kickboxing) “Is it wrong for Christians to get tattoos?” Each of these questions is usually asked with an ulterior motive. Perhaps the teenager who wants my permission to play a specific, violent, game is looking for a reason to justify it to his parents. Perhaps a college student knows a movie will contain a substantial amount of questionable content and so she wants me to help her justify the decision she has already made to see the film. It may feel less “sinful” that way. Or, perhaps a person knows not to do something and what he or she really wants to hear is the word “No!” Sometimes people ask questions so that I will help confirm to them that they should not do whatever they were thinking about doing. Either way, most of us have a number of questions about how to live in the world, without embracing its sinful aspects.

In our culture, Christians generally react to their environment in one of four ways. They condemn all things that are not explicitly Christian. They think about everything as permissible for a Christian but do little to redeem any of it that is out of line with Christian values. They imitate the broader culture by creating their own “Christianized” version of it. Or, they simply consume the cultural and never think about how what they do effects their walk with Christ.

These ideas are expanded in the book, Culture Making, by Andy Crouch. He suggests that while it is acceptable to condemn, critique, copy, and consume culture, these things must be done in moderation and from the standpoint of cultivation and creation. Christians must work to cultivate a culture by preserving the parts of it that are exemplary of God’s kingdom and they must learn to create new culture that further extends God’s Kingdom for the good of all people.

When Paul states that Christians are free he also states that not all things are beneficial for Christians and he never anywhere condones the willful participation in sin. Christians are to become all things to all people without losing their identity as Christians. They must be willing to condemn culture when it violates their moral principles, they must be willing to critique culture and analyze it for its merits, they must be able to copy it in some areas in order to make the Gospel relevant to the culture, and they must be able to consume enough of it that they will not lose touch with what is happening in the world around them.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5 that Christians are to be a city on a hill and a light in the darkness. How can Christians be a light in the world if they are completely removed from it? Jesus clearly spent his time in public interacting with the religious and irreligious people of his day. What Jesus never did, however, was condone the sinful practices of either group of people. Neither did he partake of those things.

As Christians, we must ask ourselves how we can be in the world as a light in the darkness without letting the darkness consume us. We must ask ourselves how we can know when it is acceptable to use our freedom in Christ to partake of culture, and when it is not.

To this end, several important questions may be asked (and were originally proposed to me by Dr. David Naugle) in order to help believers know when something is and is not acceptable:

  1. How will participating in this particular thing affect me as a person? If it will affect me negatively, then it should be avoided as much as possible.
  2. How will my participation in this event effect others?  As believers we are not to knowingly cause others to stumble. We are also not to do things that could hurt someone else.
  3. How will my participation in this event affect the cause of Christ? If it will mar my witness, I should not do it. If it will not negatively affect my witness and the Scriptures do not instruct me to avoid it, then it is most likely acceptable.

These questions may provide a basis to help believers know what they should participate in, and what they should avoid. It is not black and white, but unfortunately in life, very little really is.

Christians need not be legalistic about the culture; they merely need to evaluate all things in light of Jesus Christ and what he would have them do. Is it ok to get a tattoo? Is it ok to go to the movies? Perhaps, but not just any tattoo and not just any movie.

Each aspect of culture must be evaluated individually from the family, to the neighborhood, to ethnic background, to vocation, to entertainment. All the things that surround us must be understood considering Christ. All we are and all we do must be reflective of his glory.

We are humans and sometimes we make the wrong choices, we say something we should not have said, we watch something we should not have watched. Whenever we fall, we simply need to humble ourselves, repent, and ask for the Lord to give us the wisdom and strength to learn from our faults and to make better decisions in the future.

May God grant us all the grace to know what things to participate in within our culture and the knowledge to know how we can live in the world as a light in a dark place.

Until the next time, think about what makes you who you are. What things in your life have caused you to think the way you do? Think about how movies, music, and television shape you. Think about how your style of clothes represents who you are. Think about what the kinds of food you eat say about the kind of person you are. Think about how you see the world, and how the world sees you!

Remember, we are all shaped by multiple cultures in American Culture.

Plato said that certain kinds of individuals produce a certain kind of society, and a certain kind of  society produces a certain kind of individuals.

What you value speaks about American Society and about you as an individual. I always welcome comments and questions.

I hope you will enjoy reading. I also hope you will join me in the dialog.

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