In Every Square Inch, Father George Rutler examines various perspectives regarding the relationship between Christianity, culture and religion. Father George Rutler says that the discussion boils down to three main points:
Christianity against culture
The first view sees Christianity as a threat to culture. Culture is on the one side, while the Church is on the other. Father George Rutler states, “This is a temptation for Americans, who realize that the country is becoming increasingly post Christian, and in some ways even anti-Christian.” They know that specific moral and theological issues they believe in will be increasingly rejected by the political and cultural elites and many of their fellow citizens.
Father George Rutler offers two analogies that illustrate the relationship between Christianity, culture and religion. First, “Some Christians against culture tend to see the Church primarily in terms of a bomb shelter.”
It transforms the Church from a place of persecution into a refuge for people seeking refuge from the world’s spiritual ravages.
Christians often talk about finding the right balance between fully immersed in the world and living in a bubble. But, unfortunately, this view has entirely accepted the drop.
Father George Rutler states that “believers with this mentality have great intentions.” They want to preserve the purity of the Church, recognizing that it is under attack. Therefore, they should keep the faith (Revelations 3:1). They are aware that there is a great struggle going on (Ephesians 6, 6). This battle plays both invisibly and visibly in this world’s cultural realm.
These artificial barriers create an illusion of safety, but they are not safe from sin.
“[This] externalizes Godlessness and makes it something that can be kept out of manufactured walls rather than understanding that Godlessness can never be cured.
What happens next? Father George Rutler states that this mindset is prone to legalism and attempts to limit Christians’ interaction with society and culture. It rightly acknowledges that Christianity is a war against the powers and darkness. However, it wrongly attempts to wage this war by fleeing from the world. It ignores one-half of Jesus’ command to be in the world but not of it (John 17, 14-16).
The bubble of legalism cannot keep sin out of the Church and hides one of God’s most valuable tools–us. His second analogy uses a more aggressive approach.
“Christianity against Culture” advocates also see the Church as an Ultimate Fighter.
There is biblical support for a view that pits the Church against culture. This mentality is akin to clinging on to the biblical principle that we must wage war against evil. However, they recognize that we must wear the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6,11), fight for the good of faith (James 4,7), resist the devil (1 Timothy 6:12), and cast down everything that exalts itself against God (2 Corinthians 10, 5 & 6).
Father George Rutler thinks this mindset is still inadequate. It’s easy to see ourselves as fighting against people rather than sin. However, the Church is used by God in his plan for people’s salvation, not destruction. He states, “Our cultural and social contexts are complete unbelievers. But those unbelievers are enemies of God and drown people who are in desperate need of a lifeboat. The Church is more than a military base. It’s also a hospital for the seriously ill.
Let’s try a different approach to the fighting analogy. Culture is what beats people up. People will continue to fight without God if they are left to their own devices. People can appear to be happy with the false promises, social norms, distorted morality of different cultures, and unchecked sin. However, we know that God’s law was created with love (Matthew 22,37-40). Many of the wounds they are suffering are caused by their actions, not the Church. The Church combats culture by pointing out the One who heals all brokenness.
Christianity as a culture
Father George Rutler second view embraces culture and brings it into Church. “Christianity of culture” people tend to build churches that reflect the culture. Cultural shifts that occur without the involvement of the Church are not always negative. He states, “God has allowed all People-Christian and not-to make valuable contributions in the cultural realm.” These monumental positive changes were brought about by the human rights movement and the abolishment of slavery. We can see that Christians were involved in these movements, advocating them and others resisting them. Those Christians who opposed these cultural shifts were wrong. However, culture isn’t always right, and the Church cannot follow every artistic move. Culture, without God, raises idols: celebrities, politicians, wealth, power and even freedom.
Can the Church embrace culture while also accepting its idols?
Father George Rutler states, “Christians with such a mindset tend to view the cultural context in very high regard-perhaps disagreeing a bit with it here and there but for the most parts finding it to be an ally rather than a threat.” This view generally sees advancements in culture as positive changes that the Church should embrace. Although some parts of Christianity can be described in black and white terms, many areas of culture are often grey. Different perspectives might identify grey as either black or white. This view fully embraces grey.
This mentality recognizes that God created the world so that people could make culture. Arthur also says that this belief is correct. This mentality, however, is flawed because it fails to see how every culture and every aspect of culture is corrupted by sin.
The Church could lose its role as a champion for a better way of living if it becomes a reflection on culture. But, on the other hand, the better way to live can also be offered by Christians who embrace the “grey zones”.
Arthur puts it like this: “When Christians adopt the ‘Christianity in culture’ mindset, they take away Christianity’s ability to prophetically speak and often end up giving up doctrines and moral beliefs which are contrary to the cultural consensus. While there are many good intentions and positive results, it might not be the right path for the Church.
Christianity for and in culture
It is how Father George Rutler views the relationship between culture and Church. Although he does not use metaphors to describe his perspective, here is a typical example that might be helpful:
Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (Colossians 5:20). We represent another world while we live in this One.
God designed the structure that allows culture’s existence, evolution, and progression. We, as humans, create and shape the culture within God’s framework. Father George Rutler states that every cultural context is both structurally sound and directionally flawed. “For this reason, it is essential to living amid cultural contexts (structurally) while trying to steer cultural realities towards Christ and not toward idols (directionally).
Ambassadors are immersed in the culture, but all that is around them points back to Christ. Of course, we don’t necessarily agree with every culture. Still, we do learn to understand and communicate with it and identify its true desires, all with the intent of showing Christ the only One who can fulfil these well-meaning, though often misplaced, desires.
Arthur states, “Every facet of human life and culture are ripe for Christian witness.” Each dimension of culture, be it art, science or politics, can speak about Christ and then reflect his character with our lives. We praise God for culture’s existence and acknowledge its good qualities. However, we also seek to redirect any that are not in the right direction toward Christ.