quotes reflections Resources

On Christian Ideas and Cultural Ideas

March 20, 2012

“It may seem to be little more than stating a self-evident fact to say that Christianity often unconsciously absorbs ideas and values from its cultural backdrop. Yet that observation is enormously important. It points to the fact that there is a provisional or conditional element to Christian theology, which is not necessitate by or implied in its foundational resources. In other words, certain ideas which have been regarded as Christian ideas may turn out to be ideas imported from a secular context.”

 –Christian Theology: An Introduction, Alister E. McGrath

On occasion, I get feedback that in reviewing books, blogs, articles, sermons, I am more critical of Christians than secular writers and speakers. This may or may not be true, though it is true that I hold teaching that claims to be Biblical to a higher standard. Here’s why:  if someone states something as true and doesn’t try to spiritualize it, I can accept it or leave it — no one said it was Bible. Common grace allows us to observe God’s truth even from unexpected sources. But if someone claims that something is “biblical,” it had sure better be. And it should not merely be personal application, as Wendy Alsup writes:

“Apart from the gospel, the law kills. Presenting instructions to women apart from a thorough fleshing out of the gospel sets women up for failure, and I have sat under much teaching and read many books that do that very thing.”

“Furthermore, among the books I read and teachers I heard, I wasn’t just presented with the law, I was also often presented with the teacher’s personal application of the law…I have had a conviction since I was a teenager that Scripture was sufficient—sufficient in what it says is wrong and sufficient in what it says is right—and have tried to let that conviction constrain me in anything I might project onto others.”)

(I’ll also clarify that I’m not opposed to personal application. It’s an important part of growing and learning from others. But when application or opinion is presented, it needs to be clarified as such, and not presented as absolute or gospel truth.)

Far too often, it’s a lot easier for people to accept an idea, thought, or opinion if we market it as “Biblical,” whether or not is really is. We’re all culpable of this practice — both in naively accepting other people’s presentation of “what is Biblical” and in spiritualizing, adding Christian labels, or presuming to speak for God ourselves.

Sometimes our culture can get so intertwined with our theology that we can no longer see the difference. Even worse, we pull out what is merely culture and call it theology.” (part of this post)



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  • Anonymous March 28, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    You had better be really careful with what you say about common grace and truth. God might give grace to common men, but Christians shouldn’t accept anything as truth from anything but the Bible. I am pretty surprised you would say such a thing, given your upbringings.