Read Part 1 here.
1.Going to the places of worship in the city.
It might be surprising to think of there being places to worship in our city, especially as our culture bends towards secularism. Yet people still worship and create things to worship, as John Calvin says
“The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion I:XI.8).
Although the idols remain the same, the temples that our neighbours go to have dramatically changed over the years. They have transformed into the shopping mall, the football stadium, the university campus, the cinema and the mobile phone in our pockets that contain all the apps that connect us. There is so much to be said about all of these areas but in summary, each one is a beacon that transmits to our city a series of messages on how we should live and think.
This includes: what we should wear, our success, ethics and morality, what we consume, how to present ourselves etc. Each medium is telling us a story and it feeds into our fears, dreams and desires, so that, as we come together in the shopping mall, coffee shop, football stadium or on facebook, we begin to share those values, dreams and fears. In doing so, we find ourselves worshipping the same idols together (money, success, popularity, intellect etc).
That isn’t to say that those places are bad and should be avoided. It isn’t wrong to go shopping or watch a football match. But as Paul observed, it’s the idols we make in those places that steal and break our hearts.
As Christians, we need to enter those places being alert to the messages that are being fed to us and bring them up against the truth of the Gospel. We can’t be completely dismissive of our culture, burying our heads in the Christian sandpit but nor can we soak up our culture like a sponge without any serious thought of what messages we take in.
2.Engaging with culture and communicating with People
So, as we stand in these temples it isn’t enough to simply observe the idols, we now need to engage with them, exposing the truth and lies of the message and then measuring it up to the Gospel. Just as Paul did in Acts 17, he observed the idols and then he moved on to engage with the culture by communicating the Gospel in a way that was persuasive and in a context that the Athenians understood.
Using these stories as platforms to share the gospel allows us to engage and speak into a context that our city already understands. One area that I am personally interested in is that of films and the cinema.
For example, when we look at the top 10 films in 2015 in the UK that have made the most profit, they include: Avengers, Spectre, The Martian, Cinderella and Jurassic World. All films that contain the themes of either a superhero/person saving the world or someone being saved from a situation they are in. The story our culture loves is the one where someone is saved or someone steps up and becomes a hero. These are platforms that we could easily share the Gospel from.
Jesus is the better superhero and the better James Bond and he is better at saving the Cinderella’s of the world. Weaving stories like this or pinpointing the stories that people can identify with helps us connect them with the truth of the Gospel and to Jesus who is the one who saves, the one who fulfils our desires, the one who is successful for us and the one who loves us.
The danger of not doing this and just plowing on like we are still in 1950s England, is that we will be like a clashing cymbol, we will make a lot of noise but no one will care or understand us. We can preach the most theological and eloquent sounding gospel to the city. But, if there is no attempt to relate to the people on any level then we cannot expect them to listen.
The reality is that the people in our city increasingly have little to no knowledge of the stories of the bible compared to 50 or 60 years ago but they do know what the Kardashians are doing and who won Bake off. The other side of the coin is simply grabbing the attention of our neighbours with nice sounding stories they can relate to but never pointing them to Jesus. We don’t want to over contextualise to the point where we sound exactly like our culture and no one can tell the difference.
In conclusion then, we have a firm grip on the Gospel, not wavering from the truth. But the way we communicate the Gospel, the medium we use, the platform and stories we bounce from must relate to the culture we are in. Using the stories that our culture loves or even fears can enrich our Gospel message, allowing us to connect with people’s hearts, exposing desires and fears that can only be fulfilled or mended by Jesus.
We can go to the temples and observe those stories and then we can go to the marketplace and show people that those stories point to a much better and satisfying story.
*1st Picture: d26b73
*2nd Picture: Surian Soosay