Formations lesson for Sept. 5: Faith and the Influence of Culture : Friday, Aug. 20, 2004
August 20 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for Sept. 5: Faith and the Influence of Culture : Friday, Aug. 20, 2004
Friday, Aug. 20, 2004

Formations lesson for Sept. 5: Faith and the Influence of Culture

By Ken Vandergriff
Focal Passage: Daniel 1:1-21

It has been said that, "if you have integrity, nothing else matters; if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters." As a feature of one's moral character, integrity is certainly one of the more important virtues. When we discriminate between worthwhile and unworthy commitments, or when we evaluate conflicting desires and act on those that keep our character intact, we display integrity.

This month we will explore integrity through the experiences of Daniel. His experiences afford the opportunity to examine some challenges to integrity as well as to see how integrity may be demonstrated in critical situations.

Relating faith and culture

A perennial challenge for Christians is how they will relate to the cultural environment. Actually, this is not unique to Christian faith; it's a question all religions face. Christian ethicists have identified several approaches for correlating faith and culture.

One is the rejection-withdrawal strategy, in which persons of faith withdraw from the larger culture. These believers hope to preserve their religious and cultural integrity by living apart, in communes or separate communities.

The Amish would be an example; although they don't totally withdraw from modern society, they do live differently to avoid contamination by many of the dominant values such as modernism, secularism and consumerism. For most of us, however, this is neither feasible nor enticing.

A second approach is identification, whereby faith and culture are identified with each other. No distinction is made between the sacred and the secular. This is seen in theocracies such as Calvin's Geneva, some of the Puritan colonies, and in some Muslim countries today. However, when faith is fully identified with the culture, it usually loses its power to prophetically challenge the prevailing values.

Transformation strategies constitute a third approach. Here believers attempt to transform the secular culture into conformity with God's will.

Finally, some believers adopt a tension approach, which strives to live out the ideal of God's will in the secular realm, while recognizing that actual situations may necessitate some accommodation to the secular. Baptist ethicist T.B. Maston wrote, "The tension between the church and the world should not become so great that the church would lose all opportunity to minister to the world and the people of the world."

Maston likens the relationship to a rubber band; a certain tautness draws the world toward Christian ideals, but "if the tension becomes too great the 'band' may break and the church would no longer be able to minister effectively to the world."

Our integrity in our culture

The question for us is: By which of these strategies can we best maintain personal integrity as well as the integrity of Christian witness? Old Testament scholars differ in their assessment of which strategy Daniel employed.

A widely popular view is that Daniel demonstrates the tension approach. Certainly he rejected some elements of Babylonian culture, but he also became a high-ranking official in the Babylonian royal court (1:19; 2:46-49; 5:29). He led a rewarding, creative life within the foreign culture, while remaining loyal to his faith.

Others argue that Daniel demonstrates the rejection-withdrawal approach. In this view, Daniel and the Jews maintain their integrity by displaying hostility and confrontation toward the dominant culture.

As we consider which approach best suits our own situation, Daniel Smith-Christopher poses a critical question.

Unlike Daniel, American Christians are not a minority living in a hostile environment; we are the dominant culture. How, then, "can a book meant to encourage the faith of a politically subordinated people be made meaningful for those of us in a dominant culture?"

8/20/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments




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