Monday, January 01, 2007

Constructive Time-Wasting

Douglas Groothius decided not to make New Years' resolutions, but to list fifteen things that he refuses to do in the next year. They're generally good, but I disagree with a few:

1. I refuse to waste time on trivia: that means 95% of popular culture. Instead, I will center on study, teaching, preaching, writing, and mentoring.

And:

7. I refuse to ever play a video game. Instead, I will look for Kingdom opportunities in the land of the living.
8. I refuse to waste time on small talk. Instead, I will endeavor to make all my words count for eternity.

These may work well for an academic, but are counter-productive for anyone in a pastoral role. Evangelism must take place in the language of the host culture. One does not go to China and proclaim the Gospel in English; one does so in Chinese. In a similar manner, a Christian in America cannot effectively communicate Christian truths without speaking the cultural language of America. Which is more effective in a congregation of laypeople: a sermon referencing Brueggemann and Tillich or one referencing The Simpsons and Star Trek? Which gets the attention of people, keeps it, and conveys the Gospel in metaphors that people will best respond to?

Are such things 'small talk'? Of course. But is it bad for a pastor to visit a homebound parishioner and chat about her garden instead of rhetorical criticism of the Pauline epistles? Is it wasteful for a Christian to talk with a non-Christian co-worker about the football game last night? Henry Neufeld:

I once visited a number of people with a gentleman who was involved in extraordinary work for the Lord. We were to try to make contacts and raise money for his work. We were never able to get a conversation going with anyone because the only thing he wanted to talk about was his ministry and the money he needed for it. One of our contacts even stopped me as we left the audience and said quietly, “Come again yourself and I’ll talk to you, but don’t bring him.”

Now I'm not proposing that we engage the services of prostitutes so that we can eventually understand that underworld, or that we snort cocaine so that we can more effectively speak the gospel message to drug dealers. But we can and should understand morally neutral metaphors (e.g. RPGs or motorcycles) so that we can establish relationships with people who communicate in those metaphors. That is the starting point of evangelism.

If we refuse to engage in small talk or to encounter other cultures (pop or otherwise), we are communicating to people around us that they and their cultures are worthless. And that can only be a stumbling block to building relationships inside and outside of the Christian community.

Hat tip: David Wayne

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your post kind of reminds me of the country song that says "I have friends in low places". I can only evangelize to them if I go to those "low places" and be the "different guy"...one who isn't rejected because he's different, but is accepted because he came with someone who is respected in that culture.

It does not mean that we abandon who we are and our purpose for our lord, rather, it means that we interact with those there, in the "low places" by virtue of someone they trust bringing you along.

This is not much different than relating to gamers on their terms and in their language. If you can talk Everquest to someone and get them to be curious about Jesus Christ because you can talk Everquest...that is a good thing...a very good thing!

I hope that my reference to Everquest is on target with the term RPG...but if not, sorry for the confusion.

Larry B said...

I especially like the term morally neutral metaphors.

It helps to clarify things like you listed and others as not inherently bad or good. I think it's easy for me to sometimes broadly paint something as bad and dismiss it or avoid it.

Sometime, I would like to hear more ideas on what we should consider morally neutral in todays culture.

Anonymous said...

Reverend John Stott ("Basic Christianity") has said: "The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world."

Christian Discernment 202: Pop Culture: Why Bother?
by Denis Haack
http://www.ransomfellowship.org/D_202.html

FINDING GOD ON MARS (HILL)
BY CRAIG DETWEILER AND BARRY TAYLOR
http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/exploratory/articles/dettaylor00.doc

Christianity and Culture, Rick Warren Style http://jinxblogbill.blogspot.com/2006/12/christianity-and-culture-rick-warren.html

*

Some examples of how to be both biblical _and_ contemporary:

U2 Quiz: 30 Questions For Those Who Have Ears To Hear
http://www.assistnews.net/stories/s05120086.htm

LOST Quiz
Can the lost be found?
http://www.blog.ashleylangford.com/archives/2006/08/lost_quiz.html

All You Need Is Love
A quiz...
http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/s06060117.htm

Superman As Super Savior
http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/s06070029.htm

Anonymous said...

Bad link. That should be:

U2 QUIZ: 30 QUESTIONS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE EARS TO HEAR
http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2005/s05120086.htm