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Faith Meets Culture. McKnight Lectures 2010. Being the Church. Thesis: Though despised on the whole from without and even within, the Church/church is God’s powerful secret weapon to change the world (1 Co. 10:1-6; Ep. 3:9, 10, 20).

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Faith Meets Culture

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Faith meets culture

Faith Meets Culture

McKnight Lectures


Being the church

Being the Church

  • Thesis: Though despised on the whole from without and even within, the Church/church is God’s powerful secret weapon to change the world (1 Co. 10:1-6; Ep. 3:9, 10, 20).

  • Implication: Christians must build the church (the local organization) and be the Church (the organism in all of life) (Ac. 2:42-47; 1 Pt. 2:4-12).

How is culture changed

How is Culture Changed?

Individuals or Institutions?



Evangelism, Political Action, Social Action



Bill Bright

“Fast and pray for spiritual revival throughout America and the world. . . .We can help change the world by introducing people to Jesus Christ” (10).

Political action

Political Action

James Dobson

“The side that wins gains the right to teach what it believes to its children. And if you can do that, you write the curricula, you tell them what to believe and you model what you want them to understand and in one generation you change the whole culture” (13)

Social reform

Social Reform

Charles Colson

“Transformed people transform cultures”

Does evangelism alone change culture

Does evangelism (alone) change culture?

  • While 86 to 88% of American population adhere to some faith, the major institutions of our culture (business, law, government, academics, entertainment) are “intensely secular and materialistic.”

  • Traditional religious adherents give more, attend church more, and get involved in more religious activities but influence has steadily declined over past 175 years.

Is a political and social majority necessary for cultural change

Is a political and social majority necessary for cultural change?

  • Jews have had oversized influence on art, science, economics while only 3.5% of population. While only 3% of population gay community has exercised unabated influence in politics, social advocacy and media.

  • Evolution: 83% of all Americans take a providentialist view of origins.

  • Abortion: Over 50% believe that abortion should only be legal in a few circumstances.



Cultural change occurs from the top down when resourceful patrons (financial and political) sponsor dense networks of intellectuals and educators who inspire artists, poets, musicians and institutions to define a new culture.

Historical examples

Historical Examples

Early Church, Early Europe, Middle Ages, Reformation, Awakenings

Early church

Early Church

Early Christianity exercised an oversized influence on the Roman world through the conversion of aristocrats and political influential.

Influential in early church

Influential in Early Church

  • Aristobulus: grandson of Herod and friend of Claudius (Ro. 16:3-16).

  • Eusebius: lists Xns in places of power.

  • Philip the Arabian (244-49): first Xn emperor

  • Diocletian’s wife and daughter

Networks in early church

Networks in Early Church

  • Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Jerome, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine

  • Christian philosophers who were part of the nobility could speak their minds freely to nobility and fellow educators.

Institutions in early church

Institutions in Early Church

  • Christian philosophers changed minds of politically powerful and changed course of paideia(Roman educational system) which resulted in cultural consensus by 300s.

  • Became dominant politically. Care for poor and disenfranchised (e.g. fatherless children) was distinguishing mark of Christian society.

Early europe

Early Europe

“Barbarians”/”Dark Ages”

Fourth-Thirteenth Centuries

Influential in early europe

Influential in Early Europe

  • Patrick, Columba, Columbanus, Boniface, Pirmin, Willibrord, Wilfrid, Aiden, Amandus, Vladimir

Networks in early europe

Networks in Early Europe

  • Monasteries: centers for learning on every topic, repositories of publications and culture, outposts for evangelization (particularly of politically and financially powerful).

Institutions in early europe

Institutions in Early Europe

  • Barbarian kings propagated Christianization of culture (built churches, monasteries, schools, libraries, helped the poor).

  • Clovis (king of the Franks); Ethelbert (Kent); Edwin (Northumbria), Stephen (Hungary), Sigebert (Essex), Boris (Bulgaria); Peada (Mercia), Vladimir (Kiev), Herald (Danes), Olaf (Norway), James (Sweden)

  • Sponsored relief of the poor



Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

Influential of reformation

Influential of Reformation

  • Growing cities produced wealthy merchants

  • Zurich, Geneva, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Cologne

Networks of reformation

Networks of Reformation

  • Luther: von Staupitz, Capito, Melanchthon, Dore

  • Calvin: Farel, Beza, Knox

  • Cranmer: Knox, Vermigli, Ochino

Institutions of the reformation

Institutions of the Reformation

  • Universities and academies: Geneva, Leiden, Oxford, Cambridge

  • Political states: France, Geneva, Holland, England

  • Commerce and free enterprise

  • Mercy ministries to poor and ill



Eighteenth to Twentieth Centuries

Influential of the awakenings

Influential of the Awakenings

  • Great Awakening: Wesleys and Whitefield (Oxford); Erskine and Gillespie (Edinburgh); Edwards, Brainerd, Parsons (Yale); Prince, Sr., Colman, Pemberton (Harvard).

  • Social Reform: Wilberforce, Venn, Clarkson, Simeon (Cambridge); Shore, Teignmouth (aristocracy); Thornton (business elite); Hannah More (literary elite); Pitt (government).

Networks of the awakenings

Networks of the Awakenings

  • Whitefield’s communications network

  • Clapham Circle

  • Underground Railroad

Institutions of the awakenings

Institutions of the Awakenings

  • Churches: 150 Congregational churches alone between (1740-1760); 25-50,000 converts (3-20% of population).

  • Princeton

  • Georgia Orphan House (Bethesda)

Faithful presence

Faithful Presence

The doctrine and practice of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the only answer for” dissolution” and “difference”

Without an incarnate christ

Without an Incarnate Christ. . .

  • Culture dissolves: trustworthiness of relationship between words and world (e.g. revisionism, deconstruction, political correctness, political speech)

  • Culture disintegrates into differences: e.g. racism, multi-culturalism, political parties, rich and poor.

With an incarnate christ

With an Incarnate Christ. . .

  • Truth, learning, communication possible: “Truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17)

  • Relationships made possible among different: “Destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of separation” (Ep. 2:14).

What do we do

In the power of the Spirit, after the example of Christ, and with a willingness to suffer we must practice FAITHFUL PRESENCE as



Within Institutions (existing and new)

What do we do?



  • To each other

    • Christians (Ro. 15:1-3)

    • Non-Christians (He. 13:1-3)

  • To our tasks

    • Cultural mandate (Ge. 2:15-18)

    • Calling/vocation (Co. 3:22-24)

  • Within spheres of influence (1 Pt. 2:17)



  • Presbyterian Church in America

  • Gospel Coalition


  • Christian Legal Society; International Justice Mission

  • Redeemer/South Africa/WSA

  • Christians in the Visual Arts



First Presbyterian Church and Beyond

First presbyterian church

First Presbyterian Church

Restoring People and Rebuilding Places through the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Restoring people

Restoring People

  • Do Church (Acts 2:42-47)

    • Worship: Preaching, Sacraments

    • Work: Teaching, Mercy, Discipline

    • Witness: Evangelism, Community Development, Cultural Transformation

  • Be Church (1 Peter)

    • Cultural Mandate (Ge. 2:9,10)

    • Calling/Vocation (Co. 3:19)

Rebuilding places

Rebuilding Places

Do church

  • Places for worship, work, and witness

    Be Church

  • Places for human flourishing:

    • Housing (justice for poor, dignity for handicapped)

    • Respite for hungry

    • Restoration through recreation

Global and lifelong strategy

Global and Lifelong Strategy

A great commission

A Great Commission


  • Harness wealth for strategic purposes

  • Leverage social capital for kingdom initiatives

  • Continue WSA’smissional focus

  • Network with peers to do vocation according to Kingdom values

  • Influence MCG at highest levels

  • Influence ASU at highest levels

  • Set standard for arts

  • Eliminate social ills: abortion, poverty, sex trade, hunger, homelessness

A great commission1

A Great Commission

Send “missionaries” into upper tiers of cultural matrix

  • Nationally: plant churches in key cities, urge youth to pursue upper tier vocations

  • Internationally: plant churches and schools in key world cities



“This, I would insist, is not a cheap pietism. The fact is that Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers was a victory over the power of oppressive institutions—the sense that reality is what it is, that all is as it should be, that the ways of the world are established and cannot be changed; that the rules by which the world operates are ones we must accept and not challenge. We are not bound by the ‘necessities’ of history and society but are free from them. He broke their sovereignty and, as a result, all things are possible. It is this reality that frees all Christians to actively, creatively, and constructively seek the good in their relationships, in their tasks, in their spheres of influence and in their cities.”


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