Have you ever been in a disagreement with someone who was kind enough to hear the real questions you were asking, rather than just the (irritated, misspoken, inflamed) way you actually said it?
A college relationship professor once taught me the 1% theory, and it’s changed the way I look at life. The gist: In whatever negative way someone’s berating you, find the percentage—however small—that’s true. Then choose to be 100% responsible for your percent, even if it’s just 1% of what they say that’s true.
That seriously impacts my relationships, probably because it reminds me to approach life as a listener. (Like most homo sapiens, I frequently need this reminder.) But it’s also indirectly swiveled my perspective on matters of faith. My husband has helped, too. Unlike me, who grew up in the era when the Church was engaging in boycotts and condemning rock music, he grew up largely outside the Church. Rather than drawing lines of black and white in cultural issues, you could say he sees things a little more pixilated: intricate combinations of good and evil, truth and untruth.
In movies, he sees good triumph in its battle between evil; in music, he hears the soul-level questions –perhaps even conveyed with more honesty. In people I would have formerly dubbed as political or cultural adversaries, he’s helped me locate some of their longings and hopes; to truly “see” them, not just how they’re so wrong. You might say he’s increased my compassion, decreased my “us/them” attitudes. It helps me engage out of faith and love rather than fear and anger.
And sometimes, he’s taught me, when I lump cultural matters into black and white—searching to eliminate some of that ambiguity–I miss even some of God’s truth that human culture illuminates poignantly.
It takes “discernment” to a whole new level when you can’t put a whole cultural activity or group, or even a whole person, into a category.
Instead, like my university was fond of saying, All truth is God’s truth. That means whatever the culture uncovers of God’s truth still belongs to God (including books, movies, music, and TV)—and we can celebrate it as such.
Am I suggesting you finally pull a Game of Thrones marathon? …Not really. I’m not offering some convoluted excuse to overturn what the Word says on thinking on things that are true, noble, right, lovely, or that we love the world. But as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has written, The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man. We can search out the beauty our culture creates, and turn it to God’s ends.
I see this when Paul openly quotes secular poetry and myths in Athens, hijacking them for the sake of uncovering the truth the Athenians crave. It’s like the concept of Don Richardson’s book, Peace Child: God’s carefully inlaid redemptive elements into every culture throughout history, throughout the world.
Seeing God’s truth everywhere, and from unending sources, changes everything. We hear it in verses like, “To the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15) and “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light” (Matthew 6:22). It makes us gratefully aware of God working everywhere. And it turns a lot more “secular” into…sacred.
For example, my kids are cuddled in the basement right now watching Bill Nye The Science Guy concoct chemical reactions. Bill Nye believes quite differently than I do. He’s extremely outspoken that God did not make the world. And yet Bill Nye–apart from missing the boat on the entire Source of science—is a really fantastic science teacher. And my kids, knowing the Source, can learn a whole lot about the world He made through Bill Nye. God willing, they will master that truth and use it for the Source’s honor. My husband and I choose to use cultural interactions and media as stepping stones for some of our most crucial discussions with our kids.
A friend of mine used to refer to “plundering the Egyptians”—a concept I now see everywhere. Before the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, God commands every woman to “ask of her neighbor…for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” Essentially, the Israelites sought riches from those who enslaved them, and put them to use for God and His people.
Sometimes I think when disagreeing with culture, we’re hearing how it’s said and missing the heart. In that argument I described above, they might think, You just. Don’t. Get it.
Tim Keller, in his highly-recommended book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, speaks of “saying of…cultural hopes, ‘Yes, but no, but yes.’” My paraphrase of his explanation: Yes, this “hole” that you feel, this question you’re asking, is legitimate. No, you’re not looking in the right place. But God is your ultimate yes in this; He’s got what you’re famished for. Like the 1% theory, this helps me enter into every situation as a listener; a learner.
“contextualization”…means to resonate with yet defy the culture around you. It means to antagonize a society’s idols while showing respect for its people and many of its hopes and aspirations. It means expressing the gospel in a way that is not only comprehensible but also convincing….
There are sore spots, as it were, where people who don’t believe in Christianity or God feel pinched, like feet in a pair of shoes that are too small, by their view of the world. These are the places where what they profess and say they believe about the world does not fit their intuitions or experiences. [We] must know those sore spots and press on them with questions, offers, illustrations, and examples that make the tension they feel more acute and the incongruities more troubling.*
Holing up our families in a secular-culture-free bunker misses not only an opportunity to engage real people needing Jesus. It might just miss some of the ways we have to grow, learn, and thank God for redemptive elements He liberally scatters for people to find Him.
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*Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (pp. 72, 73, 91). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.