Disengage from the culture and don’t change the world – change yourself

Casey Anthony.  Who is she?  Why is her case important?  Or, is her case important, or before that Anthony Weiner’s case, or before that some other politician or movie star, or both – why is anyone at all paying attention to this string of social pablam?  And we Christians have our own diversions:  “Good bye-Rob Bell”?  “Eugene Peterson is the devil because he wrote the Message”.  Are these conversations  more important than our national fiscal crisis, or the torture of citizens in Syria by their own government, or the ongoing challenges of human trafficking in Asia, and right here in our own country?  Are these stories more important than how I’m dealing with finding my calling, or how I’m dealing with my family challenges, or vocational challenges?  And most significantly:  Are these stories more important than my threefold calling to 1) live justly by advocating, paying attention to my lifestyle choices and affects they have, being the first to cross social dividing lines,  2) love mercy, by cultivating a heart that is quick to forgive and relentless in pursuing honest, open, and reconciling relationships, and 3) walk humbly with God, which means developing a real relationship of intimacy with God by making time for Bible reading, prayer, and receiving God’s revelation through creation, life circumstances and relationships.  (I unpack all three of these much more in my new book)

I understand the value of cultural engagement, understand that we’re called “the light of the world” because we’re meant to shine into the messiness of it all, bringing beauty, hope, joy, generosity.  This time, like any other time, is not a time for withdrawal.  Still….

I’m increasingly concerned that we who follow Christ are wasting way too much time feasting on social and theological trivia.  Like candy, our debates about the merits of “the church down the road”, or “Love Wins” or John Piper, or Casey Anthony Weiner might give us a rush but I’m the parent warning you:  it’s rot your teeth, and then you won’t even be able to handle important food but will, like some early Christians, be stuck on milk forever.  The author to the Hebrews reminds us that mature saints have had their senses trained to discern between good and evil.  How do we train our senses?

1. By turning – and beholding

Maturity in my life and faith is ultimately bound up with maturity in my relationship with Christ. That relationship, like any relationship, requires two things:

First, I need to see that I’m changed into a better person by spending time with Christ.  I simply must develop habits that allow me to receive from God as God reveals Himself through His Word, through creation, through silence, and through real relationships. There are lots of reasons we struggle with this, but the main reason is that, like shiny bright lights to babies, other things call us away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”

Before I can behold, I need to turn away from everything else.  Any relationship requires our offering of the gift of presence.  For example, in marriage, I need to put the paper down, turn off the TV, or set aside whatever’s occupying me, before I can make eye contact.  It’s the same with God; and this is where Facebook, and the social trivia bantered about on it becomes so insidious.  Is it really more important to hear about national gossip than to meet with Christ?  Is it really more important to debate the merits of Rob Bell’s new book than to pray?  I didn’t think so.  I’ve got to set some of this stuff aside if I’m going to behold.

2. By listening – and responding

As I develop habits of beholding (through coffee with God, or walking with God, or Verse of the Day as an e-mail, or whatever), God begins to speak to us.  He reminds of relationships that need repairing.  He invites us to confess our failures and move off the ground of shame and fear, onto the ground of boldness and confidence.  He invites us to change our financial priorities, or our time use, or he speaks to us about vocational matters, or marriage, singleness, parenting matters.  God, in other words, REVEALS!  It’s not as clear on some days as others, but I promise you this:  keep showing up, and God will bring guidance to your life.

The final piece of the puzzle is our response.  We need to not just listen; we need to listen and take the next step – the step of obedience.  Do you notice that this step, the last step, propels us into the culture – and once there, we’ll engage, imparting hope through acts of justice, hospitality, service, mercy.  We’ll do it through art, through transformative marriages, through being vitally alive as single people, through our practice of law, or teaching, or cooking, or whatever it is that we do.

I’m not really against engaging the culture, as I hope you can see.  It’s just that the cultural engagement umbrella has recently become shelter for a lot of things that aren’t that valuable.  I’m pretty sure that pontificating about the fate of Rob Bell or Anthony Weiner or the church down the road isn’t a big piece of God’s pie.  It might be sweet to talk about… but it’s not very good for you.

Why is social and evangelical trivia so engaging these days?  How can we elevate the conversation?



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  • sp

    “disengage from the culture, and don’t change the world”!!

    …that’s hilarious. Rebel with a cause. 😉

  • Excellent post again, Richard. I think you do a great job of elevating the conversation, and this post is right on point. I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about how to make a difference in the world. My grandmother passed away earlier this week and left a huge legacy- churches planted, a family full of believers- but so much of her life was not spent paying very much attention to culture. In fact, the most fame she ever got was a write-up in her local paper for taking homemade brownies to the McDonald’s staff near her home… every night. Her life reminded me that so much of Christian living is in the showing up and creating habits that celebrate Christ, and I’m thankful for her example, and spending a lot of time thinking about what kind of legacy I’ll be leaving and what kind of habits I’m creating.

  • Tiffany

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  • Ryan

    Sensationalism, ratings, money, and scandal. I don’t think News of the World is that far off from traditional news networks anymore. I love Beth’s story about her grandma. That is the kind of news I want to hear more about daily. Where can I find more of that? How can we elevate these kinds of storylines, living examples of Christ, into popular culture?

  • Ryan


    Here is some evidence of the narrowing of the gap between traditional news networks and tabloids.

  • Marissa Johnson

    Interesting post Richard. I think that the balance between a healthy disengagement from culture and our necessary inclusion in it is a tough one. This struggle for me with such a sharp distinction is that my involvement in the world is twofold, it is not only that I may change the world, but that the world itself and the Spirit that is consistently working in it teach me more about who God is. So, while casey anthony and weiner can become distracting idols in life, I often find that God speaks to me in light of these situations when I ask the question “How does this speak to our fallen nature, our divine callings, or both?” Thank you for the reminding word Richard.

  • Deborah

    After reading this I think I’m glad that I don’t even know who Casey Anthony or Anthony Weiner are. 🙂

  • Nick

    Social trivia is so engaging because we love to see the failures of others in order to make ourselves feel better. The pride within our hearts soaks up the failures of the Anthony Weiners and Casey Anthony’s. Marveling at these cases remind us that “we will never be that bad.”