It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Because you and I can’t really answer it. If we’re shaped by culture without even knowing it, we wouldn’t know it. But still, this is a question we must ask ourselves. And if we give it a minute and refuse to brush past it, the answer may become clear.
Our culture tells us stories. Most of them are compelling. That’s why we binge watch them, endlessly scroll them, purchase them, finance them, pursue them, and consume them. The stories are compelling, entertaining, and promising but they can also be damaging.
Are You Being Shaped by Culture Without Even Knowing it?
Parenting puts this question in focus. We limit our children’s time interacting with culture and we filter what they encounter. But we don’t do the same for ourselves. At least most of us don’t, and that’s a mistake.
I don’t know how culture is shaping you. I’m still figuring out how it has been shaping me.
Maybe your hand picks up your phone and you don’t even know why.
Maybe you think that vulgar show or movie doesn’t affect you in any way.
Maybe you’ve been busy pursuing a raise, a promotion, a new home, a new car, or something else in hopes that it will make you happy.
Maybe you find yourself digging deeper into debt because you had a bad week.
Maybe you’ve been longing for the good ole days or you’ve been longing for the hope of progress.
Maybe you’re thinking about giving up on your marriage because you just don’t love your spouse anymore.
Maybe you are addicted to pornography or casual sex.
Maybe you’ll spend hours on Facebook but avoid true in-person community.
Behind each one of these possibilities is a story. It’s a subtle one and that’s what has made it dangerous. It has taken root in your heart and you didn’t even realize it. But you know something’s not right, you just haven’t been able to put your finger on it.
One Example of a Troubling Story
According to researchers Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, 84% of Americans believe “enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” And just to dig a little deeper into our Christian subculture, 66% of churchgoers agree.
Well, as long as it makes you happy.
You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve said it. What’s the story behind it?
There was a group of people, back in the day, who felt oppressed – and rightly so. They moved to a new land, flowing with milk and honey. Israel? No, silly goose. America. Or as I like to say ‘Merica. Yes. They moved to this new land in search of a better life. They rebelled. They fought with valor in hopes to bring into existence an experiment that had never been done before: a free society that lifted up individual rights.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A land where you can live your own life without worry of oppression from the throne – there was no throne anymore. Full of ingenuity, togetherness, and God as its witness, America burst onto the scene of history.
The story was well intentioned. The viewer walks away inspired. It’s my right to pursue happiness! The problem? Happiness was never defined in the story. And it’s here some of you pause: what’s wrong with happiness?!
Hold on. We’re getting there. So impatient!
As the main storyline continues, many subplots begin popping up. We begin to see the camera angles widening. Slavery. Slaughter. Most of us fast forward past those. Let’s see… ah, yes. Here’s a good place to resume.
Modernity. It inserts itself into the main storyline of America. Everyone say hello modernity. We began to believe that truth was in our grasp. We have everything we have before us – right here. Modernity to materialism to revolution (the sexual kind this time) to progressivism to our time. A time when we must be true to ourselves! That is the goal. The highest one of all.
Today, happiness is not a thing in and of itself, they say. They proclaim their belief loud and clear: I have my own version of it and I must authentically pursue it!
But today it’s not just they who proclaim it loud and clear… We do the same – 66% of us anyway. We give an enthusiastic yes! when our reaction should be…
A Christian’s Foundational Story
“We are created,” Trevin Wax reminds us, “by God for God, and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God.” Enjoying ourselves is not the highest goal of life. It’s not even close. But it’s what we can easily drift toward.
And let’s be honest… if we really believe that, no wonder we’re miserable. Because let’s face it, we’re terrible gods. We are pitiful, puny, wobbly creatures who can’t even figure out what to eat on a given day let alone figure out what makes us happy.
If I may, I’d like to let Trevin speak to this again:
We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not celebration of them… To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am – His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ – and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. True authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ. (p. 85, This is Our Time)
In Case You’re Being Shaped by the Hand of Culture
What do we do? We respond to everything we think, everything we are told, and everything we are shown with the gospel of Christ. Christ has the final say on everything. And His declaration is far greater and far more beautiful than anything our culture offers us.
I recently finished reading This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax and I highly recommend you pick up a copy for yourself, take lots of notes, and let the gospel inform you and guide you in our present time.
Engage Culture With the Gospel
I’d love to go on this journey of following Jesus with you and help you engage culture with the gospel. So let’s be email friends. I’d love to send you a copy of my two free eBooks: Bible Hacks: Understanding the New Testament and Do Something: Cultural Crises and the Gospel. And I’d love to give you my free daily devotional: Journey to Knowing God. You’ll get all this (and updates with new content) when you subscribe to the blog.