POST-CHRISTIAN & 4 Mindsets for Facing a Post-Christian Culture

By Bruce Ashford, Facts and Trends, 4-14-16.

As churches in America face an increasingly hostile and post-Christian culture, we must clearly define who we are and how we should approach our social and cultural contexts. As I see it, churches tend to choose one of four mindsets: Bomb Shelter, Ultimate Fighter, Chameleon, or Kingdom Preview. Only one of these applies truth in a biblical manner.

The Church as Bomb Shelter

In a post-Christian and sometimes anti-Christian context, many Christians view the church as a bomb shelter. The political and cultural elite as well as the broader population will increasingly castigate Christians’ beliefs about certain theological and moral issues…

Believers with this mentality have good intentions. They want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing the church is under attack, and hold on to what they have (Revelation 3:11).

However, this mentality is misguided, arising from a timid fear of man. It is spurred more by secular wisdom than by biblical faith, by faithless fear than by Christian courage and vitality. The bomb shelter mentality views the church as a walled city rather than living stones, as a safe deposit box rather than a conduit of spiritual power.

The Church as an Ultimate Fighter

This mindset tends to view the church exclusively and comprehensively as fighters. The fighters’ weapons are beliefs, feelings, and values wielded in the name of spiritual warfare. Unlike those hiding in the bomb shelter, fighters venture forth into the surrounding culture, seeking awareness of its movements and creeds in order to assault culture with lethal force.

Believers with this mentality cling to the biblical principle of waging war against what is evil. They rightly recognize Christians must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), resist the devil (James 4:7), and demolish every high-minded thing that rises up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

However, this mentality is misguided to the extent it wrongly applies the principles above. The fault of the ultimate fighter church is not that it wants to fight but that it suggests the entirety of the Christian life is nothing but war. Today’s social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers, and those unbelievers are not only enemies of God but also are drowning men in need of a lifeboat…


Christians with a chameleon mindset tend to view their cultural context as neutral. They might disagree with aspects of it, but overall, they think of culture as an ally rather than a threat. They tend to interact comfortably and uncritically with the reigning social, cultural, and political trends of the day.

Unlike those with the ultimate fighter and bomb shelter mentalities, they incorporate the dominant culture easily into their lives and churches. These Christians tend to build churches that are institutional chameleons. Their churches change colors as the cultural context changes colors.

Christians with this mindset rightly recognize culture is something ordained by God, something that’s not inherently bad. They recognize God enables all humans everywhere to produce cultures that exhibit real aspects of truth, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality fails to see the ways every culture and all aspects of a culture are warped and distorted because of sin.

When Christians adopt the chameleon mindset, they deny the Bible its rightful place as the standard by which every culture should be judged, and they forfeit the ability to be prophetic voices…

The Church as a Preview of the Kingdom

The best mindset for the church is one in which the church is a preview of God’s coming kingdom. In the midst of unbelief and even persecution, we determine to live our lives as seamless tapestries of word and deed. We proclaim Christ and the gospel with our lips (word), and we promote Christ and the gospel with our lives (deed).

In so doing, the church’s corporate life previews a future era when we will live together with Christ on the new heavens and earth, when we will flourish in our relationship to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation…

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CULTURE & Christ: 3 Lessons to Consider

by Bob Whitesel, excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006, pp. 55-57).

Lesson 1: Carefully investigate and examine elements of a culture.

Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

However, a failure by Christian communicators to sufficiently investigate modern culture can make us look irrelevant. In an earlier book I interviewed Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Larry told me the phenomenal growth of the church was in part because he regularly studies modern culture by perusing secular business, entertainment, and lifestyle magazines. “If I don’t understand the business world, when a businessperson talks to me about his or her world, its like were using two different dictionaries.”(2) The use of disparate dictionaries can also dilute an exchange of ideas with the young culture.

Therefore stay current with today’s youth culture by cautiously scrutinizing their books, music, movies, music videos, computer games, web-sites, web-blogs, etc.. While the truths of the Good News must never be sacrificed nor altered, connecting and contrasting it with today’s youth culture can make it more comprehensible.

Lesson 2: Discriminate and sift elements of a culture.

There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)  “Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category, “Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)  Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3: Reject or affirm elements of culture.

The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled. Freeway’s use of comedic film clips to underscore or juxtaposition God’s Word and contemporary culture has helped this organic congregation connect the Good News to unchurched young people.


1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
8. ibid., p. 114.
9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.