"If you want to know what water is like, don't ask the fish."
You won't find that proverb in the Bible, but it is packed with wisdom. Immersed in the watery depth, the fish is unable to "stand outside" of its environment and evaluate it.
We are a lot like the fish. We can become so immersed in our cultural waters that we fail to recognize how strongly the current flows contrary to the ways of God. No wonder Paul wrote, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within." (Romans 12:2, J.B. Phillips)
How does that re-molding process work? How do we "get out of the fish tank" and evaluate the waters in which we live? The key is asking the most important question. We find it in Acts 17:11. Commenting about the Berean Jews who heard the gospel message, Luke writes, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Did you hear the question? They heard the teaching and then said, “Hmmm, what does God say about that?”
Christians go back to the Bible because they believe God has exalted his name and his word above everything.1 What God says matters! God's word provides the framework from which we view all of life. As Nancy Pearcey has written, “There is a biblical perspective on everything, not just on spiritual matters.”2 I believe that. I believe there is a biblical view of politics, recycling, population, communication, sports, sex, sales . . . even video games!
Knowing this . . .
- We watch Wall Street 2 and say, “Hmmm, what does God say about that?”
- We examine the video game Call of Duty and say, “Hmmm, what does God say about that?”
- We read the NY Times editorial, Victory for Families, and say, “Hmmm, what does God say about that?"
Perhaps you are wondering, YES, BUT HOW do I do that? In the book, Everyday Theology, Kevin Vanhoozer provides a model that helps one examine and respond to culture from a biblical perspective. It is based on Paul's interaction with skeptics recorded in Acts 17. Here is a brief synopsis:
- Respectful assessment (Acts 17:22)
- Take a respectful assessment of a particular cultural text or trend on its terms. What can you appreciate in what you see or hear? Paul acknowledged that the people of Athens were ardently religious.
- Careful analysis (Acts 17:23)
- Analyze the text/trend in light of the biblical story and theology. What does God say about this?
- Paul assessed their polytheism in light of the biblical teaching that there is one God.
- Thoughtful response (Acts 17:24)
- Respond to the text/trend with a thoughtful/substantive biblical reply. Paul "pushed back" on their thinking and pointed them to Christ.
Evaluating culture -- cultural exegesis as it is called -- is hard, but necessary work. Today, step out of the water and ask the most important question: What does God say about this?
STAY FOCUSED TODAY: Examine the Call of Duty video game trailer and then ask the most important question. Try VanHoozer's model as a framework for your thinking.
2Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, page 44.
3Kevin VanHoozer, Everyday Theology: How To Read Cultural Texts And Interpret Trends, page 11.