Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the church as culturemaker? yeah? right?

(This is the introduction for the paper I’m delivering at the International Conference on Baptist studies, July 15-18 in Melbourne.)

The story is true, but the names are changed in order to focus on the question at hand, that of the interface between Baptists and others. In 1995, members of First Baptist, began to murmur. As a church in the city centre, they owned, through a Trust, nearby property. A long term tenant was of foreign descent and had, in recent times, began to display their gods in the shop front window. Prayer among church members began to focus on the need to remove the idols, and the shopkeeper, from the building. This is one response, that of condemnation and critique, in a Baptist relationship with an/other, both ethnic and religious.

Down the street was “Fresh expression” Baptist Church. Formerly a dying City Mission, a new minister had begun to experiment with liturgical and ecclesial innovation. Contemporary culture was to viewed in a more positive light and a growing group of young adults had began to gather. Both churches were Baptist in name and shared over 100 years of history in the inner city. Yet both churches embody contrasting approaches to the interface between Baptists and others.

Andy Crouch, in his accessible book, Culture Making, summarises a range of contemporary stances toward culture:
– condemnation
– critique, with the emphasis on intellectual analysis of culture
– copying culture, in which a subculture develops around the imitation of forms from contemporary culture
– consuming, in which “most evangelicals today … simply go to the movies … [and] … walk out amused, titillated, distracted or thrilled, just like our fellow consumers who do not share our faith.” (89)
– creating
Crouch argues that the first four are problematic and that the “only way to change culture is to create more of it.”

Posted by steve at 10:36 AM


  1. Are not culture and religion two different things? The example you give is of a person expressing his religion. So there is a spiritual matter that presents itself.

    Comment by Ingrid — July 15, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  2. separate but entwined. the way religion and spirituality are expressed is always through culture – embedded in language, worldview, forms of expression.


    Comment by steve — July 15, 2009 @ 11:11 am

  3. “only way to change culture is to create more of it” ??? I’d say rather, create something better, but that is hard. And it probably would not change anything much, because like attracts like. If culture is defined by what most people like, I don’t know if most people would like what is better.

    Comment by Ingrid — July 15, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  4. What I have posted is the first few paragraphs of a 5,000 word paper. It’s the introduction, the teaser 🙂

    A Bible text that has been shaping it is Genesis 2 – humans made to till and to name; to till is an act of repetitive hard work, to name is creativity. Both are important, both allow us to partner with God in Your Kingdom come, Your will be done


    Comment by steve — July 15, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  5. Maybe the question should not be how Baptists approach others, but how Christians approach others. And then one cannot make a single perscription. I guess, if there is a congregation of elderly people, one cannot expect them to jump up and down and get excited about hip-hop. Personally, during my teens I enjoyed the usual stuff, like Beatles, Dylan, Elvis, Leonard etc., but I would not have expected to find that kind of music in church. When I came to NZ I loved the singing of the old hymns. Some new music has developed and though there are a few “hits”, much of it, that others might like, does not reach the old hymns in my mind. And then there are people I have come across here, who wrote great songs, but they don’t get to be used.

    Comment by Ingrid — July 15, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  6. I’m glad I don’t have to write 5000 words. Whenever I start thinking, my head ends up spinning…What I was thinking about is: the naming of the animals, the creative activity, happened before the fall…Work and toil came after the fall and was part of the curse…So for me the question was: Are we still under that curse?… There is the scripture:”Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law”, but are we redeemed from that curse in Genesis???…And then what came to me was: “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin…”

    Comment by Ingrid — July 15, 2009 @ 2:37 pm


    Comment by Ingrid — July 15, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  8. Kia ora Steve,

    You must have read, ‘Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View’ by Walsh & Middleton ? we ( myself & Randy Hein – pastor ) did a book study with a bunch of University students recently on that book. Among many other interesting topics, it talked a lot about the role/ reality of culture on religion – how they inform each other. They even posed the idea that originally came from the early chapters of Genesis that we, as followers of Christ now, are to be culture makers – that it was the original intent. All very interesting stuff.

    That book was written back in the early Eighties. If I had read stuff like that back then, I think it would have set my weave as a Christian in a very different way. Then again, I didn’t become a Christian till the late eighties, and most of the Christianity that I was involved in back then was reading ‘wanky’ books like : The late great planet earth by Hal, The satan seller by warnke , This present darkness series by Franky, etc, etc. I’d be interested in reading your paper.

    Naku na

    Comment by Tangira — July 16, 2009 @ 4:07 am

  9. Ingrid, the instruction for humans to work – as in tend the garden – is in Genesis 2. That suggests to me that work is how humans are made. It’s work as toil ie work gone feral, that’s the result of Genesis 3, not work itself.

    Tangira, yep, read Transforming Vision. But for me, Truth is Stranger, was Walsh and Middleton’s best book. I hope the paper get’s published, but can slip it to you off-blog if you want in the meantime. Got to deliver it 1st though.


    Comment by steve — July 16, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  10. Okay, slip it to me when you can. You have my e-mail.


    Comment by Tangira — July 17, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  11. I came across this. Haven’t read the book, but like the cover………….Wouldn’t mind reading your paper also. Can’t it be published here?

    Comment by Ingrid — July 17, 2009 @ 11:34 am

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