In Season 1 Episode 5 of The Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould discusses why it is crucial for the apologist to understand our culture.
Paul’s example in Acts 17 is instructive for us. Like Paul, we would be wise to better understand “our Athens”—whatever culture or ministry context we find ourselves in—so that we can more effectively communicate the truth and beauty of Jesus and the gospel. We want the gospel to get a fair-hearing and a part of the solution is to better understand those we seek to reach as well as the world they inhabit.
Three mental images that help us better understand the collective mood and mindset of the those in the West.
- A Broken Cord (Philip Rieff)
- Every culture prior to our own understood the natural and social order as a reflection of a sacred order; however, currently, the “cord” uniting the divine with the natural, the sacred with the secular, is broken. As a result, culture today is “a warring series of fragments” – no unifying thread in culture, just warring “fictions” that compete for self-legitimacy in an otherwise meaningless world.
- A Dungeon (Charles Taylor)
- The secular age is an age of contested belief: unbelief is possible, and belief is made more difficult. We live in an “immanent frame”—a dungeon—where all of life is understood without appeal to transcendence. The problem is that in sealing ourselves off from the divine, the buffered self is “also sealed off from significance.”
- A Shopping Mall (James K. A. Smith)
- In a disenchanted age, cut off from the divine, we are witnessing the commoditization of just about everything: people and things find their value in terms of the pleasures they bring. We shop because we want to, we need to, and we can. In acquiring stuff and new experiences, many hope to find the good life. The image of the shopping mall helps us remember that humans are not only rational animals, but desiring animals too. We are moved by our loves and longings and our vision of the good life.
A broken cord, a dungeon, and a shopping mall—three mental pictures to help us better understand the worldview, social imaginary, and vision of the good life within “Our Athens.”
Understanding our culture is the first step in seeking a genuine missionary encounter with those in our culture. May we all be like Paul in first understanding our culture and then building a bridge from “our Athens” to Jesus and the gospel.
Next time, we will discuss the causes and problems of disenchantment in our culture and why we should care.
- Rieff, Philip. My Life among the Deathworks. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
- Smith, James K. A. Awaiting the King. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017.
- ______. Desiring the Kingdom.Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.
- ______. How (Not) to be Secular. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.
- ______. Imagining the Kingdom. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.
- Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.