The Dangerous Allure of Being a Cultural Warrior
There is something tempting about being a cultural warrior. We jump into battle on social media, in our Sunday School lessons, occasionally in our work.
Our day seems ripe for war. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. There is no shortage of cultural landmines to step on, or ideological trip-wires to activate. Daily we’re provided with new fronts for the battle. There are many thoughts to contradict and many philosophies to oppose (Col 2:8).
Yet we must be clear not only on what issues to engage, but the manner in which to engage. This is uniquely necessary for pastors, who should exemplify what faithful engagement looks like. If I read your tweets and blog posts and can’t tell if you’re a pastor or Rambo, something is wrong. But the lesson holds true for every Christian.
Many Christians—I assume with good intentions—take up the cultural warrior sword, a bit like Peter in Gethsemane. When their Christian principles are attacked they respond in kind, drawing their weapon and striking their opponent. I think Jesus just might shut down their reckless emotionalism like he did Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath” (John 18:11).
Others Christians oppose worldly ideologies with imprecatory pronouncements, as if they were the disciples: “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” They too have a word from Jesus: “But he turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55).
Cultural warriors may use the Bible, but very rarely are governed by it. They may get obvious results, but it will not be wrought by the power of God, for it will not be based on the Word of God. Therefore, this way of engaging the world will not bring glory to God.
Whether we are pastors leading a church, members posting on Facebook, or even police officers patrolling our beat, we must expose works of darkness and be lights in the world—letting our light shine before others. God has assigned us with different jobs and authorities: the pastor one thing, the police officer another, and so on. Yet no matter who we are, we’re called to engage the culture we’re in with a mindset they don’t know. After all, we have the mind of Christ. We have the Spirit of Christ. We have the living and active Word of Christ. These glorious realities should govern our engagement. Not only must we fight the battles we should, but we must fight those battles in a certain kind of way—a way that brings glory to God.
HOW TO ENGAGE
How then are we to engage the cultural battles and wars we find ourselves in? Here are some suggestions for consideration. Hopefully, they will move us away from the cultural-warrior face paint and toward distinctly Christian ambassadorial faithfulness.
First, we must remember that, first and foremost, we always represent another kingdom.
Some things encourage me every time I’m reminded of them, such as this truth: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Often, I’m tempted to respond in a worldly way to what I view as worldly problems. But that’s not the realm I’m called to live in. That’s not the citizenship I’m to be dominated by. Rather, I’m to act and live as an ambassador of Christ’s kingdom—his other-worldly kingdom. Again, that’s true whether my full-time job is to make disciples or make arrests.
Second, we live and engage by faith.
Culture warriors put their hope in the transformation of this world, and so that do all they can to change this world by force. They seem to believe more will be accomplished by their arguments than by their prayers. Christians, as citizens of a nation, must also use the devices of this world. Christian parents parent. Christian lawyers make argument. Christian soldiers fight. But they do all this by faith, knowing the kingdom only advances by faith.
Make no mistake, our faith should produce works—and qualitatively “good” ones at that. There are good social causes to take up. There are good policies in government to fight for. But the Christian’s good works should be completely flavored by another world.
Third, we know the real battle isn’t in what we see.
Just as Jesus was sent, he has sent us. But he’s not sent us to be warriors after the world’s kind, but to be word-bearers after his kind: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3–4)
Our armory is in the throne room of God, and our power comes from on high. Our aim isn’t locally focused or even momentarily achieved, but rather anchored above in eternal glory.
For Christians, the battle isn’t won when a policy is adopted, a president is elected, or an ordinance is passed in any particular territory. Our marching orders are of a higher calling and from a higher rank. All our endeavors and undertakings, each of our personal pursuits, the whole trajectory of our dealings in this world—all of it must be tethered to our King’s edict which is exclusively found in God’s Word.
Fourth, we don’t confuse our message for God’s.
The Scriptures transform us from living subjectively into being living sacrifices, fully consecrated for his use. We can faithfully engage culture only when we depend on God’s Word for our message and our method.
People drift into becoming cultural warriors when they assume their message is the same as God’s, and therefore distance themselves from being under the entire domain of Scripture. They assume that something they feel strongly about is something that God feels strongly about. They assume their angle of voting is the Christian angle for voting. They assume their call to social action is the call to social action.
In disregarding the total authority of the Word of God, people seek to take the throne of authority themselves. As if they’ve snatched the ruling scepter from Christ, they feel free to pronounce judgment on those who disagree with them. It becomes nearly impossible to hold such people accountable to their communication or their conduct since there’s no shared standing under Scripture.
Fifth, we let the Word of God determine our method.
The Word of God must shape our methods as we engage culture. It’s one thing to know the right gospel to share, but we also must also know the right demeanor of a herald: “the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:24).
We must stay tethered to an “other-worldly” behavior that’s above reproach and commends the gospel. For instance, we must engage others with gentleness and respect. Culture warriors have little place for gentleness and respect in advancing their agenda. Christ, on the other hand, has required gentleness and respect as among the best tones for sharing his agenda (1 Pet. 3:15).
Both method and message reveal our true devotion and commitment to Christ. We belong to Christ and live totally for him, and he has told us precisely how to live for him in his Word.
So much of what we encounter every day seeks to make us ambassadors of earthly domains. The news, our neighborhoods, and especially our social media seek to recruit us to take up their cause and devote ourselves to them.
But in the gospel, we’ve been made ambassadors for Christ. His agenda is ours, and he is the one in whom we hope. Our King is in heaven, his kingdom is of heaven, and even though we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven with him.
Our cultural engagement should always advertise our true hope. Just as we are not of this world, our hope is not of this world—nor is it dependent on this world’s acceptance. Our words, actions, and aims should reflect the reality of our otherworldly hope: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”(Phil 3:20–21).