How to Change the World, 2/4

Published by Brian Hershey on

For Christian leaders, I submit there are fewer questions more worthy of thoughtful consideration than how the church goes about fulfilling its cultural mandate.

It is not that the question is new because nearly all denominations and para-church organizations share a deep desire to change the world for the better. But good intentions are not good enough. How we answer this question is just as important as the mandate itself.

Hang with me for second.

The Common Assumption [1]

Implicit in our answer is how we define the term culture. Frequently, Evangelical organizations and those that support them believe culture resides in the hearts and minds of individuals. Essentially, those beliefs reflect one’s general worldview and values. The operating assumption is that however one believes will in large measure determine how one behaves. Thus, destructive behavior has its source in wrong-headed values. Conversely, good behavior results when people think rightly about reality.

Make sense so far?

The Common Solution

The common solution, then, for many Evangelicals is to persuade and convince more and more people to develop a Christian worldview. The thinking goes that if the majority of a culture’s citizens have a Christian worldview, then society will gradually be transformed from the inside out. Therefore, the means by which this transformation takes place begins with evangelization and discipleship and proceeds to political action which culminates with social reform.

Like an ever-expanding glob, Evangelicals strain with commendable zeal to swallow up the culture by changing the people that comprise it. Basically, it can be reduced to a “might makes right” mentality. Such a strategy does have logical appeal: good Christian values, or worldviews, produce good choices, which translate into good behavior. When the majority of people undergo personal transformation by means of the gospel, a culture is changed.

Still with me?

The Problem with the Common Solution

But here’s the rub: the common solution operates on two faulty assumptions.

First, it assumes people make decisions rationally, as though they are modernistic robots.

What really drives our decisions? Logic? Or emotions? If logic, then we would all be as cold and heartless as Spock (think Star Trek). If emotions, then humans are largely irrational beings. So let’s consider the world of marketing. Most advertisements appeal first to an emotion. Only once marketers surface that emotion do they attach a rational solution to resolve that tension. We would like to think (perhaps because of our Western cultural influence) that we make decisions rationally, but at bottom we are emotional beings, not programmed robots, who seek rational justification for the decisions we make.

Second, the common solution assumes that “might makes right” – that moral majorities are what is lacking today. But, do moral majorities shape culture? If so, then how does one explain the influence of the Jewish nation in world history? How can a relatively small group of people have such a dramatic impact in our world? Or how can the relatively small percent of professing homosexuals have the enormous political pull that they do? These are but two examples among many that illustrate the deficient thinking of a moral majority approach to changing culture.

Bottom line is the common assumption of what comprises culture held by many Evangelicals is woefully inadequate. Culture is far more complex than the outworking of people’s worldview.

The Right Question

“What, then, comprises culture?” you ask.

That, my fellow traveler, is the right question! For only in answering that question rightly can we make solid progress in fulfilling our cultural mandate with any measure of success. I’ll answer it in next week’s post.

[1] As a note to readers, my views here are heavily influenced by James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Last Modern World (New York: Oxford, 2010). I am indepted to him for re-shaping my whole approach to fulfilling the cultural mandate.

Brian Hershey

Brian Hershey currently serves as the Campus Life Military Senior Advisor for the Greater Omaha Youth For Christ chapter in Omaha, NE. He holds an undergraduate degree in education, a Masters in Theology from Dallas Seminary, and 20 years of youth ministry experience. He and his wife, Bonnie, have been serving military teens and families since 2001 in Bad Aibiling, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Kaiserslautern, Germany as well as Naples, Italy.


How to Change the World, pt 3 | right lane reflections · November 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

[…] ← How to Change the World, pt 2 When Life Doesn’t Make Sense: The Exodus Attitude → […]

How to Change the World, 4/4 | right lane reflections · November 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm

[…] the great irony for churches and para-churches who ascribe to some form of the “common view” of culture is that it will never produce the intended results. The reason is because they fail […]

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