Shooting Sacred Evangelical Cows: First Up, Incarnational Ministry and Engaging Culture

I’ve recently had a number of evangelical buzzwords come to mind, and have pondered them a little bit to see whether they really represent worthy ideas. After some examination, it seems that many of our well-intentioned buzzwords, our quick definitions, don’t really capture all they claim to, but rather reflect partial truths.

Some people are careful with these terms, of course, but others are not. Here are a few examples that I think prove my point, which some like Russ Moore and Carl Trueman have also skewered:

Incarnational ministry: Why does incarnational ministry seem to often end up meaning one ministers only to poor people? It is certainly true that Christ made Himself poor and ministered to the lowly. But He and His disciples ministered to people from all spheres of society. Was the apostle Paul not “incarnational” when he challenged the philosophers of Mars Hill?
Was Peter not “incarnational” when he witnessed to the truth of Christianity to Cornelius, the Roman centurion?

While it is certainly right to equate Christlikeness with self-sacrificial, personally generous piety, do not the acts of the apostles show us that we must “incarnate” Christ (if one even wants to use such language, which I am not convinced of) to people from all walks of society? You are “incarnational,” if you witness to the truth of Jesus Christ to lost sinners, whether those are Wall Street tycoons or homeless street-dwellers.

Engaging Culture: Readers of this blog will know that I want to “engage culture” even as I want to be what is often called “incarnational.” But as some are increasingly pointing out (see pastor Kevin DeYoung’s hilarious and correct post on this topic), engaging culture does not mean that one must own a Mac, listen to Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Bon Iver, watch CNN, listen contemplatively to NPR, drink local-brand coffee only, and cultivate stylish facial hair.

One may be engaging culture with these sorts of life choices. If so, terrific! But isn’t one also engaging culture, so to speak, by listening to Hank Williams, eating at Wendy’s (note: I do not encourage this), and seeking to witness at the local truck stop? Are these things not “culture” that we should engage? Or is “culture” only what is branded cool by the upwardly mobile? Though I like a lot of the stuff that this group likes, I confess that it drives me nuts to see otherwise thoughtful Christians think that they alone are “engaging culture” because their brand of “culture” happens to line up with the societal zeitgeist. That is just plain dumb.

This is all I have time for right now. I’ll try to reload at another date and shoot some more sacred cows later. That shouldn’t be a problem–there are plenty running around our odd evangelical world.

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  • theophilogue

    Rata-tat-tat-tat-tat! ! You got em’