Slip Sliding Away: Culturally Accommodated “Christianity”

"To what extent do we, American Christians especially, allow our Christianity to be shaped and re-shaped by contemporary American culture? Are we supposed to stand out rather than (just) fit in? To what extent? Whatever happened to the Christian norm of avoiding 'worldliness?' Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater when we move away from perceived legalisms of the past and embrace the permissive standards of contemporary culture?" - Roger Olson

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josh p's picture

It seems like Olson may be facing the unfortunate results of being in a church sphere which, for instance, has deacons that don't affirm the deity of Christ. Hard to be shocked about ladies talking about a Vegas trip in a church like that. Olson is always interesting to read but I think his own church associations is a lot of his problem here. That being said, there is an opposite problem for some fundy churches that can be foolish in their attempt to avoid worldliness. I still prefer an orbit that attempts to do so though. 
 

Part of the challenge is that we are so immersed in our culture that it's difficult even to know where we have accommodated. 

Bert Perry's picture

My wife and I had a good discussion about this yesterday, and one thing that strikes me is that increasingly, it does not seem as if we even have the tools we need to discuss this.  For example, in discussing family norms, the concept came up that we ought to have a certain degree of freedom to set up fences to prevent people from falling into sin.  The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

Whatever happened to.....laying out the fences where Scripture does?  And so I wonder if many of the "morality" movements we've had in and around the Church--"Basic Life Principles", etc.,--have had the perverse effect of making large portions of our churches have extreme difficulty in discussing these matters in Biblical terms, and in doing so, it makes it almost impossible to defend traditional norms.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

For example, in discussing family norms, the concept came up that we ought to have a certain degree of freedom to set up fences to prevent people from falling into sin.  The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

I don't see any issue with my "family norms" and fences being different from yours, especially given that since families are different, the issues and temptations faced will be different.  As long as I don't try to make your fence be the same as mine, I still believe I have the right to "cut out my own eye" lest it offend, and I be cast into hell.

Quote:

Whatever happened to.....laying out the fences where Scripture does?

That's what our church at least attempts to do in our SoF, Covenant and Constitution.  We want to draw the line as close as we can to where the Bible does, recognizing that other congregations will do the same, and still come up with a line that is not exactly the same as ours.  We don't want to be either stricter or looser than the Bible.  The problem, of course, is that that is a really hard thing to do well, and impossible to do perfectly, even though I believe it should be attempted.  However, none of what we write in our church documents or preach from the pulpit in any way keeps a family from drawing their lines more strictly than we would.  We just make it clear that our church will not enforce anyone's stricter line on others in the church.  I'm not saying we get all of this right 100% of the time, but in practice we haven't had a lot of issues with stricter families trying to impose their own fences on others, though we are a fairly small church.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

How about "Make no provision for the flesh?" Or "flee youthful lusts"? Both of those are not just permissions, but requirements. And they both give considerable freedom as to how to make that happen. The proverbs are full of practical advice without specific instructions. So, "Guard your heart with all diligence" assumes that you will erect some fences to guard your heart and they may not be the same fences someone else would erect. It would be impossible to run a family (or anything else) only by the explicit commands of the Scripture. God never intended it to be such. I think this sort of legalism is ultimately unwise, impossible, and dangerous.

Bert Perry's picture

Does that mean flee from actual sin, or does it mean that we set up arbitrary barriers to behaviors that may or may not be sinful?  My thought is that properly speaking, it should mean fleeing from actual sin.  That's certainly how Christ applied it--He was constantly being harassed by the Pharisees and scribes because He had violated their "fences".  

And that is, in a nutshell, why I object to a lot of these fences--it's not how Christ lived, and Colossians 2:21-3 tells us that these rules are of no value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Does that mean flee from actual sin, or does it mean that we set up arbitrary barriers to behaviors that may or may not be sinful?

I don't want to derail this thread, but if we take one of your favorite examples, alcohol, are you seriously arguing that someone who just got victory over alcoholism can't legitimately setup a personal fence where he not only doesn't partake, but keeps the temptation to do so far away from him, so that he won't get drunk, which is definitely a sin, whether partaking moderately is or isn't?

Fences certainly won't solve the heart issue, since the heart can be just as evil ("looking on a woman...") without the action ever taking place.  However if someone wants to get victory over a sin, putting fences in his own way can be a legitimate help (not a solution), even if the lusts can still be there.  We understand that only Christ can solve the heart issue, but there is still a blessing to not walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, or sitting in the seat of the scornful -- i.e. staying away from temptation.  There are many ways to help accomplish that, and personal fences are just one of the tools.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

....is not personal choices, but, per the article, those that churches seek to proscribe behaviors that are not in themselves sinful.   And that's what Paul is referring to as well--churches, or movements in churches, that tell believers, no matter what their personal history, "do not taste, do not touch, do not handle."

My contention is, per Colossians 2:21-3, that these blanket prohibitions have nothing to do with the restraint of youthful lusts or excess.  And in setting up useless rules, then we would have a bigger issue:  people subjected to rules they figure out are useless start to generate contempt for those creating the rules.  That would be, again, churches, and that's the situation we're in now.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The fence at issue is not personal choices, but, per the article, those that churches seek to proscribe behaviors that are not in themselves sinful.

Your comment above was about "family norms," not churches. 

The wisdom and usefulness of fences is indisputable. The exact type and location of fences might be debatable, even in terms of a family vs. an institution. We can be a part of institutions that have fences tighter than we might personally have for institutional reasons. We can also be part of institutions that have fences looser than we might personally have. 

If you think fences are pharisaical, wait until your child asks for a verse on why you turn the internet access off at 10 p.m. Or why you won't allow him to drink a 2-liter of Mountain Dew at 9 p.m. Neither has a clear basis in Scripture, but both are certainly appropriate fences. The idea that the only rules or fences we can have are ones that explicitly biblical is a type of legalism that is clearly unscriptural and impractical.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Really, Larry?  Then what does Colossians 2:21-3 mean?  The legalizers were clearly in favor of fences around God's law that Paul clearly says are worthless--I'd even suggest worse than worthless.  If we describe it as "just" family norms, we have to deal with the horrors that we're seeing with the Duggar family.  Pay attention to the externals (skirts, check, tie, check, hearts.....oops!), fail to reach the heart of your kids.

Regarding your examples, I really don't see a "fence" against sin in what you suggest.  When I consider either example, my thought is that the Mountain Dew example is warning the child of the sin of gluttony, and both are pleas to 'make sure you can get some sleep so you can do your school in the morning."

I would dare suggest that one of our issues is that our "fences" tend to spiritualize issues that are actually a little more on the "earthly consequences" side, or (the Mountain Dew thing) indicate not a "fence" around a sin issue, but a real sin issue like gluttony.  If we build these fences instead of dealing with earthly consequences and underlying sins, we are going to make things a lot worse.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

I've spent the last 5 years at an otherwise conservative Southern Baptist church in a relatively conservative part of the country. I can say with no exaggeration the the concept of "avoiding worldiness" is totally gone from this church, and many like it. The idea never came up in the sermons or Sunday School lessons. I was the only one using the term. When I started to teach Sunday School to a group of people older than me all talking about avoiding worldliness did was make them lie or make them mad.

My observation is "worldliness" is a dead concept in modern evangelicalism.

 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yes, I think the wisdom is indisputable. The type and location may be disputed.

Would you really let your 15 year old son have unrestricted and unlimited internet access with no accountability, no questions, no nothing? I doubt it.

What would you tell a person who struggles with alcohol about going in bars to have a meal and a coke? Wouldn't you tell him not to? 

What would you tell a man who struggles with pornography about late night unrestricted internet access? Wouldn't you tell him not to?

What would do with someone who is suicidal? Leave them alone or sit with them and try to get them help?

Then what does Colossians 2:21-3 mean?

It means that we should trust Christ over the elementary principles of the world.

Col 2:21-23 is preceded by 20 verses (and all of chapter 1) that set the context for that. So their meaning grows out of what Paul is talking about, namely, the use of manmade laws as a substitute for Christ. Part of the elementary principles of the world is to trust in rules rather than Christ. So there's a whole lot there, none of which deals with the wisdom of setting up fences of some sort to help discipline oneself for the purpose of godliness.

...that Paul clearly says are worthless--I'd even suggest worse than worthless.

So Paul got that incorrect? 

If we describe it as "just" family norms, we have to deal with the horrors that we're seeing with the Duggar family. 

No you don't. Running to extremes hardly makes for good principles of living. And attributing the sins of one person to a whole family, much less a whole idea, is simply wrong. It appears that there are a good number of the children in that family who are doing quite well. That may be one family who wishes they had had a little taller fence between their son and their daughters. Things might be different now. But under your idea, it seems there is no way to protect people from Josh Duggar aside from appealing to Josh Duggar's conscience and good will, and we see how that turned out.

A fence that says, "You will not go in that bedroom" or "you will not use a computer" or "you will not live in this house" would have saved a world of heartached. And yet it appears you think that would be sin, worse than useless. 

Pay attention to the externals (skirts, check, tie, check, hearts.....oops!), fail to reach the heart of your kids.

Here is a major problem: You assume that doing one ignores the other. Not to mention that  the fences I am talking about have nothing to do with the ridiculous list you mention of skirts and ties. Unfortunately that is all too typical in these kinds of conversations. Rather than deal with the legitimate issues, someone runs to an extreme and pretends like that is the conversation. I have no interest in debating skirts and ties. That has nothing to do with the point I am making.

Regarding your examples, I really don't see a "fence" against sin in what you suggest.

I imagine if you do research on inappropriate use of the internet, you will find an awful lot of it after "bedtime." So to not see a fence against sin in that is simply to ignore reality. You really want to give your teenage boys unrestricted and unaccountable internet access? 

When I consider either example, my thought is that the Mountain Dew example is warning the child of the sin of gluttony, and both are pleas to 'make sure you can get some sleep so you can do your school in the morning."

So you say it isn't a fence against sin but then admit it is a fence against the sin of gluttony. A fence is a warning: Don't go here.

I actually would say it's about gluttony at all. Drinking a two liter of Dew isn't gluttony. I would say it is about not sugaring and caffeining up your body at that time of day because it isn't good care for the body, it isn't good for sleep, and it isn't good for being prepared for school tomorrow. 

Not because it is sin to drink a two-liter of Mountain Dew.

I would dare suggest that one of our issues is that our "fences" tend to spiritualize issues that are actually a little more on the "earthly consequences" side, or (the Mountain Dew thing) indicate not a "fence" around a sin issue, but a real sin issue like gluttony.  If we build these fences instead of dealing with earthly consequences and underlying sins, we are going to make things a lot worse.

I think a biblical anthropology and harmartiology recognizes that "earthly consequences" are often actually the system God built. Sin comes with its built-in consequences that looks like "earthly consequences." The idea of a "fence around a sin issue" vs "a real sin issue" isn't clear to me. 

But the reality is that a fence is a way of dealing with earthly consequences and underlying sins before they get worse. It is to make no provision for the flesh, to flee fornication, to guard your own heart, to not run with sinners, etc. 

 

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, I think Colossians 2 is pretty darned clear; there is NO advantage to man-made rules.  None, zero, zip, nada, bupkus.

And regarding your examples, just ask Josh Duggar how well that internet filter protected him.  Like it or not, they're straightforward to disable, and just when you think you're protected, somebody sneaks something past the filters.  Like it or not, it's where you've got to pray for heart change and self-control.

Same thing with that Mountain Dew, and your contention that it's not gluttony to down a full 2 liter bottle--all 1000 calories and 300mg of caffeine--not only flies in the face of what your doctor would tell you (it's about 7x the recommended daily intake of sugar and 3x the average) if you want to avoid diabetes and heart disease, but it also flies in the face of Proverbs 24:13-14.  It also ignores what any responsible parent tells their children--bedtime is not the time for huge doses of sugar or caffeine if you want to be coherent and functional the next morning.

It also illustrates, in my view, why so many fundamentalists and evangelicals have trouble with habit-forming behaviors and addictive substances.  When it's something we see as "safe", like food, we never bother forming habits of self-control, but indulge a "the more the better" ethic.  And then when we're confronted with something with demonstrated harms, we then really don't know what to do, because we've never really developed self-control in other areas.

And notice; when we try to "fence these areas off", we then make the matter worse because it's still more areas that we haven't developed internal safeguards.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.