Updated: Oct 7, 2021
The modern evangelical church has been well below par on cultural engagement over the last 60-75 years. The church's lack of action in the public square is the reason why we have watched our country's collective morality disintegrate before our very eyes. However, the problem does not go back to lack of engagement and come to a screeching halt. Everything has a cause. Why are we not engaging with culture? I would argue that we are engaging with culture but not in the sense of interacting. The church has jumped in bed with culture. We are engaged alright, engaged to be wed. Not only have we jumped in bed with culture but we are making it breakfast the next morning, making sure that their eggs are cooked just right so that they will hopefully think we are actually decent chefs (Ezekiel 16:15). This is manifested most clearly in our church worship services. It appears that ever since we began to make our worship services "seeker-friendly" we have given up more on the doctrinal front as well. One day we will look up to find ourselves making an actual sacrifice to the pagan gods in our service so that we can continue to garner outsiders. More on that another time.
The reason we engage poorly with culture is because we have kept our Christian label and abandoned that which gave it to us (Romans 10:14-15).In general there are four types of Christians. We have true Christian men and women who are stuck in the slough of despond because they got confident somewhere along the journey and decided to set aside their map (Psalm 16:11). We also have men and women who claim Christianity the same way I claim I am a body builder because I went to the gym a few times at one point in my life, but now I despise it and see no need for it, and quite frankly I would never want my body to look like those that still pour their lives into weight lifting and being fit, let he who has ears hear. There are also those who read the word but refuse to let go of the world so they begin to compromise on scripture so that they can continue in their sin and simultaneously have the world accept them. They have their cake and eat it, but they have indulged on it so much they do not realize that it is laced with poison. The problem with compromise, to paraphrase Toby Sumpter from Blood-Bought World on one of the pages, no one openly announces that they are about to compromise, and compromising usually starts by quoting scripture.
The fourth type is the one who, by God's grace, has just been brought into the marvelous light. The lost soul wandering in a parched land with no water, not knowing they were dehydrated and on the brinks of death until they came across the river of living water, and they drank and had their fill (John 7:37-38, John 4:13-14). This is the one who realizes they were saved by grace alone and now wants to be filled with the richness of God... but they do not know where to start. In the rest of this article I will walk through ways to get into the Word of God whether you are new to this and do not know where to begin, you're stuck in that slough of despond and realize you made a mistake, or you realize you have been lying to yourself about your faith all these years.
One Day at a Time
A few years ago after my wife and I married, I found myself to be the body builder Christian. I grew up in church and had memorized all of the key bible verses. I told everyone I was a Christian but certainly was not representing the kingdom very well. God, in His infinite grace, instilled within me an understanding that it was crucial for me to have our family in church. I was also given an understanding that I needed to be in the Word of God. Through college I kept a Bible in my apartment that I would open about once bi-weekly and read a few verses. I would go to church about once a week on Wednesday nights because waking up early on Sunday was too much to ask. One day on a whim I decided to read through the Bible chronologically. I still remember it like it was yesterday when I sat down on my lunch break and the reading plan said "Genesis 1-4" and I thought to myself, "This will be cake!" I read the first four verses of Genesis and made a full page of notes while thinking to myself this was going to be great. Four verses a day won't be too hard to handle. It wasn't until the next day I realized that it was Chapters 1-4... I was immediately discouraged to the point of not even wanting to continue. How on Earth was I going to read four chapters per day when I have hardly ever read through any chapter in the Bible? However, I pushed through and finished in a little over a year.
I share this story to let you know you are not alone. If you call yourself a Christian, know this: it is your duty to be in the Word of God every day of your life (Joshua 1:8). Some days you may read ten verses and others you may read ten chapters but it all starts at Day One. Pick a reading plan that works for you and take it day by day until you finish. I went through chronologically because of the way my brain works. If you happen to miss a day do not be discouraged and do not try to cram it in on the next day's reading because you will only further your discouragement or rush through the text and miss what God has written for us in His Word.
Okay, But How?
If you want to start this journey that never ends tomorrow, what do you do? The first thing you need to do is pray that God would instill a zeal within you for the reading of His Word. You can buy the best possible potting soil on the market and plant yourself in it. You can take that pot and put it in optimal sunlight with the proper amount of water and nutrients, but if God doesn't give the growth your seed will rot away in that overpriced sludge (1 Corinthians 3:7). The second thing you need to do is decide what time of the day works best for you to read. If your mind functions best around lunch then you should set aside time to read then. Maybe your mind does not function best at 5 a.m. but that is the only time of the day you are not serving your family so you need to compromise. The third action you take is to find a reading plan that suits you. Please, if you use a published daily devotional just put it on your shelf. You need so much more substance than some well known individual quoting a verse of scripture and relating it to some trial they faced in their life and how you can also get through it, because you know, Philippians 4:13. Here is a link to several different reading plans for you to choose from. Just pick one and get to it!
Read every single day even if its only a few verses. If you miss a day that's okay just pick up where you left off on the next day. Pray each and every morning that God will continue to make you thirst for His Word. Never cease to ask the one who gives all things to give you a desire for Him (James 1:5). At first it will be tough to acclimate yourself to become a student of the Word, but with time you will desire more and more. There will come a point where you will look at the clock and realize it is time to go to work, and you will plead with God to turn back the dial! Like an orphan child asking for one more cup of porridge, so too you will plead with God for more bread.
How does all of this tie back into our cultural engagement? Why should we have to be students of the Word in order to be Christian? To begin with, we are commanded in Matthew 28 by Jesus himself to make disciples of all nations and to do what? Baptize them and teach them all that I have commanded you. How are we to teach the commandments of Jesus if we do not know them ourselves? If we attempt to make disciples without grounding them in the Word of God we are setting ourselves up to be the next great cult leader.
Further, it is extremely common for the Christian to overlook the verse before Matthew 28:19, the great commission. How and why are we to go and make disciples? Verse 19 begins with "Therefore" which should immediately point us to the previous verse.
And Jesus came and said to them, “'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'"
Do you see that? Read all of it this way: "Because I have ALL authority, not only in heaven but on earth as well, you need to go and make disciples of all nations. The way you will do this is by baptizing them and teaching them all I have commanded you." Jesus wasn't saying this for His health, he truly has authority over all things in existence. That includes all matter, all relationships, all social structures, and all thoughts. His authority is how we go forth in confidence, and because He has authority is why we go forth. Immerse yourself in the Word today that you may go forth on His behalf tomorrow.
May He bless you for His glory.