Church AND Culture

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, February 22, 2016
Church AND Culture

Church AND Culture

I was recently asked why there is a ChurchAndCulture.org website, and why there is an annual Church and Culture Conference.

The short answer is easy: our mission as followers of Christ is the evangelization and transformation of culture through the local church. I believe that to the core of my being. It is a hill I will gladly die on. So having resources committed to that mission is a necessity.

But there’s more. Specifically, that there aren’t many resources devoted to the singular nature of that mission.

There are countless books and conferences on church growth.

There are countless books and conferences on church leadership.

But what about culture?

To be sure, the evangelical world is full of cultural pundits. But all too often these pundits are divorced from the local church and its ministry. They are not church leaders, much less pastors. 

Some are enamored with critiquing culture. 

Some are enamored with building bridges to culture.

Some are enamored with speaking into culture. 

Some are enamored with identifying with culture.

All of which are good. 

But the goal is not simply cultural relevance or critique, but cultural transformation. And not simply any transformation, but one by means of the great revolution set in place by Christ through the local church.

Which brings up the “Church and…” part.

I continue to be stunned by the weak ecclesiology present in so much of contemporary evangelicalism. 

Near the beginning of my rather short tenure as a seminary president (which is another story), I sat in the boardroom of a prominent Christian business leader to try to pitch a vision for contributing to theological education, specifically student scholarships. 

Instead of listening to the opportunity, or asking pertinent questions as to the value of such an investment, he was determined to boast of his company’s identity as a Christian enterprise. He told of the mission trips he had taken with his employees, the investments the company had made from its profits in select boutique parachurch ventures, and the Bible study offered on campus for employees. 

Throughout his self-congratulatory spiel, he took more than his fair share of shots at local churches and pastors who were not as “alive” as he and his company were in their faith. Forgive me, but he was insufferably full of his own spiritual self-importance and virtue, as if he had drunk a bit too deeply from the fawning of countless pilgrims who had come to his corporate offices to laud his beneficence and ask for his generosity.

Like me.

At the time, as a new seminary president facing an inherited budgetary shortfall of seven figures, I was willing to endure almost anything – or anyone – for aid. I smiled and nodded, affirming his many self-ascribed accolades. 

Then, in the midst of one of his personal asides about the sorry state of the church, as compared to the pristine missional nature of his business, he maintained that it was for this reason that he wasn’t involved in a local church. They were, he intimated, beneath his own theological vision. 

“And after all,” he added, “we’re the church, too.”

And then everything within me wanted to leap from my seat, shout “Enough!” and say, “No, you are NOT!” A company is not the body of Christ instituted as the hope of the world by Jesus Himself, chronicled breathtakingly by Luke through the book of Acts, and shaped in thinking and practice by the apostle Paul through letter after letter now captured in the New Testament. A marketplace venture that offers itself on the New York Stock Exchange is not the entity that is so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell can withstand its onslaught. An assembly of employees in cubicles working for end-of-year stock options and bonuses is not the gathering of saints bristling with the power of spiritual gifts as they mobilize to provide justice for the oppressed, service to the widow and the orphan, and compassion for the poor.

With jaw-dropping vigor, ignorance and, at times, unblushing gall, increasing sectors of the evangelical world are abandoning two thousand years of ecclesiology as if the church was some malleable human construct that can be shaped, altered, redefined or even disposed of as desired. This, coupled with a radical revisionism in terms of biblical interpretation and ecclesial history that would seem more in line with The Da Vinci Code than Christian theology, the doctrine of the church is being reformulated apart from biblical moorings, or simply dismissed as if not a part of biblical orthodoxy at all.

This from a movement that had one of its early fathers, Cyprian, maintain that, "You cannot have God as your father unless you have the church for your mother."

All to say, the clarion call of our day is for conversations related to church and culture. 

So I hope you take full advantage of the ChurchAndCulture.org website. I hope you will join me for #CCConference2016 in the U.S. and the U.K.

But even more, I hope you will join me in its spirit.

James Emery White


Sources

To find out more about the 2016 Church and Culture Conference, visit ChurchAndCulture.org.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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