3 Simple Models for Biblically Evaluating Self-Help, Meditation & Other Pop Cultural Practices
At ChristianMeditation.co, our focus is offering Christian Meditation resources to help people sit in the presence of Jesus. We often explore Christian issues related to Eastern Meditation practices and the world “self-help”. However, regardless of the en vogue topic or practice, it is helpful for Christians to Biblically and intentionally discern how to engage with ALL cultural expressions or societal trends.
Setting the Context: What is Culture?
We all engage with culture by the fact that we are alive in this world. This was true of Jesus in Biblical times as well. Jesus was a middle-eastern Jewish man during a specific time in world history. He existed within multiple layers of geographic, cultural, religious, societal, linguistic, and other contexts… like all of us.
Pastor Mark Driscoll defines culture as “an organized way of life for a group of people.” This includes “unconscious adherence to a set of philosophies, principles, values and ways of living in his definition.”
The collective ideas that surround us in our homes, communities and nations make up the culture in which we live. Popular media, local & national governments, affinity groups, relationships and many other things impact us via books, podcasts, billboards, blogs, radio, television and marketing, and endless other sources. These ideas may or may not reflect Christian values and principles.
So… what is the big deal? How are we to live and exist on a daily basis? Can we not simply go with the flow? Why the pressure to evaluate culture, and thereby, self-help?
With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.Ephesians 4:17
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:2
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.James 4:4
The Big Question: HOW Do YOU Biblically Evaluate Culture?
Traditionally, culture was evaluated by Christians in one of two ways: synchronism and sectarianism.
Synchronism represents the combination of culture and Christianity. This method leads to a weakened view and practice of the faith.
Sectarianism results in Christians not being involved or hiding from culture. This fear and rule-based strategy leads to legalistic behavior. It prevents Christians from identifying ways to adapt to change and help society. Evangelism takes a hit.
These two options war against one another. Modern Christian leaders propose another way. The following examples suggest ways to biblically discern culture and apply to evaluating the self-help movement as well.
Model #1 from John Piper
Dolphin or Jellyfish Principle
John Piper, an American Calvinist Baptist pastor, author and founder of DesiringGod.org, believes this — “God freed us from these institutions as masters, and then sent us back into them to declare his excellencies as his servants, not the servants of man.”
Piper subscribes to a Neo-Calvinistic view that Christians are a cultural force in society. Through common grace, Christians make positive contributions to the culture. The role of individuals is to restore, transform and redeem the cultural, natural, social and spiritual realms. This work bridges the gap between regenerate and unregenerate people.
DOLPHINS strategically cut through & move against tides.
JELLYFISH simply float along… going with the the flow.
How Do Christians Live as Dolphins?
Be more like a dolphin and less like a jellyfish! In Piper’s terms, the oceans of culture have powerful tides. These distractions threaten to pull Christians away from a deep allegiance to Jesus. Dolphins cut through the cultural tides and move against them, while jellyfish go with the flow.
Piper says “to be alive is to be in a culture influenced by the world.” Christians need to be able to swim in the world, in their cultures and societies, with a Biblical worldview as suggested in Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:17 and James 4:4, to name only a few references. The Holy Spirit provides the joy, courage and wisdom to swim against the current of the culture. As exiles or sojourners, Christian “dolphins” swim, abstaining from sinful desires (1 Peter 2:11).
This abstinence does not come by avoiding or destroying culture. Christianity, according to Piper, transforms culture. Christians adapt to 100s of things in this world. Cars, cell phones, clothes and more become used by believers to fit into the culture at large. The New Testament says this is right. Paul illustrates this principle when talking about his freedom in Christ. First Corinthians 9 details his becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.
Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.1 Peter 2:11
What Does Swimming Like a Dolphin Look Like?
Combining the principle of being an exile and alien with the human ability to adapt, Christians biblically discern culture. Piper offers an example in the fashion and grooming industries. The pressures to conform or not conform exist. A jellyfish craves to look preppy or craves to look anti-preppy, neither is freedom in Christ. First Peter 3:3-4 remind that the biblical focus, drive and craving center on being a certain way rather than looking a certain way.
Model #2 from Russell Moore
Christian America vs. Christian Gospel
As an evangelical pastor and current president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council for the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore knows about engaging culture biblically. His book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel” presents a good discussion on what it means for Christians to be in the “moral minority.”
Moore challenges the idea that going back to a golden age when America was a “Christian nation” fails as a solution. He reminds Christians of the fantasy of this thinking and that Christianity emerged in a hostile Roman empire, not Mayberry, where it flourished. Our response? To live and engage in cultural issues through the lens of the gospel without attempting to revert to some “better day”.
Jesus-Centered, Bible-Based, Christian Gospel
What Does it Mean to Retreat and Engage?
Moore calls Christians to both retreat and engage. Retreat includes avoiding the idolatry of culture and politics, to remove our identity from such things and maintain a bigger kingdom view. The gospel must be central. The goal of Christians is not to police morality, stop bad things from happening or ensure conformity of behavior (merely cultural control) but to encourage reconciliation with God.
How Do Christians Retreat and Engage?
Moore suggests Christians become outsiders but engaged outsiders. The idea is to participate at certain levels while building consciousness to live as employers, employees and citizens who embody biblical principles. Stepping outside culturally-defined categories to speak about biblical principles accomplishes this task. Moore uses the example of addressing the dignity of the unborn and racial injustice (moral, Christ-formed consciences) outside the definer of political parties.
A few other recommendations along these lines of thinking include:
- Seek first the kingdom of Christ.
- Remember… ideologies come out of who you are as a Christian, not vice versa.
- Know the gospel changes people, and live like you believe in that power.
- Determine if your allegiance is to Christ or a group, someone, or something else.
Model #3 from Mark Driscoll
Receive, Reject, Redeem Method
From the megachurch Mars Hill in Seattle to The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, Pastor Mark Driscoll is known for his culturally relevant and theologically conservative messages. New York Times Magazine calls him “one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide”. Regardless, he is a faithful Bible teacher who has incredibly helpful ideas from which to learn.
When talking about evaluating culture, Driscoll relies on three words – Receive. Reject. Redeem. Sorting cultural information into one of these three categories helps discern what to do with it. Driscoll warns to avoid receiving too freely, which leads to a weak faith. Rejecting too much also proves dangerous at it leads to legalism.
God grants common grace to all men and women. Neither good nor bad, these cultural expression may be used by Christians.
The simple question to ask is — Is this something I can receive? An example of a common grace item is technology. Computers, cell phones and tablets do not come with Christian or non-Christian labels. Christians enjoy the freedom of participating in culture in these ways.
Some cultural expressions require outright, explicit and holistic rejection by Christians… period. The Bible makes no concession for pornography, addiction, drunkenness, fornication, alternative sexuality, friends with benefits and more.
If the Bible directly speaks against it, Christians need to reject it, regardless of the cultural backlash that may result.. Participating in culture in these ways proves sinful.
Some cultural ideas, practices and approaches are neutral. However, they can be used in good or bad ways… you discernment based on the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and your community.
An example is sex. The cultural views of sexual pleasure diverge from God’s intent. Christians must not accept cultural views but rather take them back from culture, redeem them to their original purposes.
What Will YOU Do?
Whether with transcendental meditation, self-help, popular media or literature, trendy feng shui, clothing or any another aspect of culture, Christians maintain a Biblical imperative and responsibility to Biblically discern thought and action.
Going with the flow of current culture or isolating ourselves from it prove both dangerous and against God’s plan for His followers.