How the Church can transform Culture!

514406103_72866daa16There are many different views on current cultural issues and how the pollution of our culture is to be cleaned up. In Christendom there are 4 distinct visions generally held of how the church can bring about transformation in the world at large. They include (Adapted from Vintage Church):

  1. The evangelistic vision: This vision seeks to clean up culture by converting as many people as possible to Christianity. The focus is on outreach events, personal evangelism and outreach based ministries. The underlying assumption in this vision is that if more people have new hearts, somehow the world and its culture will change. While the effort to convert is good and right, our culture is as polluted as ever and does not necessarily lead to cultural transformation. It’s definitely apart of the solution.
  2. The political vision: This vision seeks to change the world through powerful political influence. This vision believes that if we just vote in godly leaders who would enact godly laws, the world would be transformed from the top down. Christians must be involved in politics but this vision has failed for 3 basic reasons: true Christians are currently a minority group. Secondly, politics follows the culture because it’s downstream from the true cultural influencers. Thirdly, Good and just laws are no match for unregenerate hearts and weak Christian community support. Good laws are already known but regularly disobeyed. 
  3. The fundamentalist vision: This vision says that the world is dark and evil and should be avoided altogether so as to not get stained in any way and to preserve one’s personal and familial holiness at all costs. Therefore large cities, movies, secular music and television are to be avoided because they are ungodly and worldly. The general population see fundamentalists as mean and irrelevant and nothing more than a bother because they don’t contribute anything to the common good but angry ranting about how evil everyone is. 
  4. The liberal vision: This vision seeks to lovingly serve people, particularly the marginalised, in hopes of showing God’s love and compassion to the culture. The problem with this type of ministry is that it tends to concentrate so much on deed based ministry that it neglects Word-based ministry that calls people to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus. This vision’s goal is worthy and needed but can be void of the power of the gospel to actually transform people’s lives. It can be so focused on good works that it overlooks the need for people to repent of sin.

Each vision is not wrong just incomplete. Christians should seek to see people saved, laws changed, Christians living in holiness and Christians serving those in need with loving compassion but how can all this be accomplished in a way that affects true cultural change?

How to change the world?

Peter Berger once said, “Ideas don’t succeed in history because of their inherent truthfulness, but rather because of their connection to very powerful institutions and interests.” 

This is highly controversial but Mark Driscoll follows on with this thought, “Just as not every person has the same amount of financial clout, so too not every person has the same amount of cultural clout. When it comes to changing culture, while all people are loved by God and are ontologically equal because they equally bear God’s image, some people are more strategic in effecting cultural transformation.” 

In other words, He’s saying that ‘some people are upstream and decide what goes in the river, and other people are downstream and have to live with whatever comes down the river to them.’

Culture is much more complicated than individuals hearts and minds. It is not individuals wills that move culture but culture that ultimately shapes and directs the lives of individuals.

Sociologist James Hunter proposes 5 propositions about culture:

  1. Culture is a resource and, as such, is a form of power: Cultural capital translates into power and influence because it is accompanied with credibility and thus authority that causes others to consider that person an expert who names things, and in so doing defines reality itself.
  2. Culture is created and imparted not by individuals but by cultural elites in the privileged position of being upstream.
  3. Cultural networks and institutions that produce culture live in cultural epi-centres and work in influential cultural shaping organisations. They set the agenda for the culture downstream even if their ideas are argued against.
  4. Culture changes from the top down and rarely from the bottom up: Yes, some cultural revolutions start from the grass roots of the masses but rarely sustained and is generally short lived. Cultural gatekeepers live upstream and decide what happens in fashion, finance, media, politics and education. Hunter asserts that as few as 150 people but no more than 3,000 people working in key networks have framed the assumptions that undergird the thinking of the world’s civilizations.
  5. The energy for changing the world are most intense where cultural, economic and political resources overlap: The greatest impact in culture comes about when networks of elite influencers join together and collaborate.   

Personal transformation is important but it must lead to the next step of cultural transformation because of God’s love for the world in the here and now. Shaping culture requires gaining favour upstream from those leaders who make the culture, which is why Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 calls us to pray for them.

God does call some people and some churches to shape culture more than others by the mere fact of their location and resources. This does not mean that people who aren’t resourced or positioned like these cultural shaping ministries are in any way less valuable than those strategically positioned near urban center’s of cultural influence. However, from a strategic point of view culture shaping does require the church to be strategically planted and located near urban cultural capitals to affect cultural change.

When a strategically positioned church partners with the urban cultural epi-center’s to do it good and add value to it for the sake of all the people within the city and thus culture, it contributes to the building of relationships, networks, pooling of resources and collaboration of ideas for the benefit of everyone.

Missional churches everywhere need to make it a focused priority to concentrate on planting and building missional churches in cultural capitals of the woirld we live in. We need churches everywhere but churches influencing the upstream influencers are transformers of culture and world changers. 

Suburban and rural areas can be influenced significantly culturally by churches that are at the heart of the culture, and this is generally in urban epicenters. Missional churches need to innovate and pioneer ministry in new and daring ways to engage with the 3rd space of cultural influence. Food for thought.

Lead the Change!

4 Responses to “How the Church can transform Culture!”

  1. Where are you positioned with respect to cultural change, Corey? Are you one of the movers and shakers, or are you downstream struggling along with the shit-kickers and bogans?

    Perhaps you are in the middle somewhere, amongst the chattering classes.

    • Corey Turner Says:

      David, i think the context of my blog clearly reveals that I don’t think that the cultural downstream are full of quote: ‘shit-kickers’ and ‘bogans’ as you articulate. God does not, nor do I put a value on a person because of where they are at on the cultural influence spectrum. God is no respecter of persons and is not wooed by cultural hierarchy.

      I am called to be Christ’s hands and feet wherever God calls me and positions me and to whomever he calls me to and positions me to influence. I do believe that the church should be seeking opportunities to influence the cultural epi-center’s of our world, wherever they may be and whomever they include.

      I would hope that as I am faithful in ministering to whomever and in whatever context, that God would give me and every other Christian the opportunity to influence upstream cultural icons of our society in a positive way without losing any sense of clarity or commitment to the marginalised and cultural downstream demographic. It’s not an individual value based issue but a cultural value based issue.


  2. Rach Wallace Says:

    ‘Hunter asserts that as few as 150 people but no more than 3,000 people working in key networks have framed the assumptions that undergird the thinking of the world’s civilizations. ‘

    WOW! That is mad! Compared to the world population that is a tiny cross section of inviduals with a ridiculous amount of influence! From a statistical point of view, that ratio is completely unreliable and ill equipped to have influenced and established such authority. So does this mean that those 150 – 3000 people are the proverbial ‘they’ that keep challenging my free thought, influencing my outlook and in effect, attempt to define my reality?? LOL I am astonished. How much do I want to find those guys and shake some sense in them?? LOL

    I’m finally up to date with all your recent blogs and I have to say I just love all the kingdom culture ideas you have put forth. There is so much food for thought, I don’t want to monopolise your comments, but gosh you get the brain juices flowing! I feel incredibly blessed to be part of a church and vision that manages to find those healthy balances between the supernatural and the sensible, the visionary and yet the authentic and realistic, the culturally relevant and yet uncompromising and true to the Word.

    This blog is such a blessing and really helps us to understand more of the direction, beliefs and heart of our church, which in turns helps us to continue to connect and own and align ourselves with God’s vision manifest in this place. The more I hear, the more I like and the more blessed I feel that God has planted us in this place. xox

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