How do we engage the culture while remaining salty in a world that needs seasoning? How do we weave our lives into the world we know and yet remain distinct from it? These are the types of questions that are being asked today within the church as a whole. It seems that much of the emergent movement has been a reaction against hermit or isolationist Christianity. The challenge they are posing to the traditional church is to wake up and get involved with the changing world. I wholeheartedly agree. It is important to know what is going on in our world today including cultural norms. What are specific things that people are dealing with on a daily basis? What are the influences within culture? Who are the influencers within culture? What makes our particular culture tick? What challenges are people facing within culture? What role does our culture play globally? I believe these are important questions that we should be investigating. I believe the answers to these questions will help us know how to better minister to the people we are trying to love, serve, and reach. I believe it will lead us to a place where we will need to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty in the lives of others. It will be messy. We are messy. And Jesus came to love and save the messy. If we are to be like Jesus, we will love the messy. If we are to look like Jesus, we will learn to reach out to those who don’t have it all together. And the reality is that we all fall into this category so we can all relate. This fact has not changed over the course of human history. Since the core of human nature is unchanging and indifferent to cultures and periods of history, we can be confident that the gospel is always relevant. The good news is good news to everyone because we all have the same need. We all need redemption, forgiveness of sins, justification, and transformation. We all need Jesus.
But how far is too far? How deep do we immerse ourselves in the culture before we begin to compromise the very thing that makes us distinct? Where is the balance between immersion in culture and distinctiveness as a Christian? As I was preparing a survey sermon on the book of Daniel a few weeks ago, I realized that Daniel is a great example of what it means to be completely immersed and yet uncompromisingly distinct. Daniel 1 talks about the training that Daniel and others were given to prepare them to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. It would be easy to dismiss this example based on the fact that Daniel was essentially a slave. There is no doubt that Daniel had limited options. However, Daniel did have options. He could have refused to be educated in the pagan ways. He could have formed a picket line outside of the King’s court to show his disapproval for the King’s unholy kingdom and actions. Of course, there would have been consequences for such an action or choice. It is highly possible that he would have been put to death. What impact would Daniel have then if he was dead? Instead, Daniel learned “the language and literature of the Babylonians.” He studied the culture and learned how things work in the Babylonian society. In fact, he excelled in his Babylonian studies and distinguished himself as a man of great wisdom and understanding. In Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, King Nebuchadnezzar found men who were “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” There were no equals to these men and the king recognized it.
Since Daniel and his friends distinguished themselves by being diligent to learn the culture of the Babylonians, they were given positions of prominence within the kingdom. The king often looked to these men for guidance and answers. What greater opportunity for influence can there be than having the respect and ear of the king? I’ve heard Mark Driscoll say several times that the greatest opportunity for influence is found within the cities. Why? It seems that change begins in cities and later spreads to the rest of society. It seems that cities are the heartbeat of culture. In this case, the king’s royal court is the heartbeat of his kingdom. Many important decisions, decisions that alter a culture or society, are made with the counsel of the king’s court. And here are Daniel and his friends being highly praised and regarded by the king himself. The king seeks the counsel of Daniel on multiple occassions and Daniel reveals a word from God in each case. You only have to read further to understand the type of influence and impact Daniel had on the king and his kingdom. Daniel was immersed in the Babylonian culture.
At the same time, Daniel would not contradict God’s law by eating meat sacrificed to idols. Nor would he stop praying to Yahweh when a royal edict was made outlawing all prayers except to the king himself. He could not deny his convictions. He could not deny his faith. He could not deny his God who gives him life. God used Daniel in multiple ways. One of the most obvious ways is as an instrument of revelation. God revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar and others through Daniel. He made it known that there is no other god outside of Yahweh. Daniel was immersed and distinct.
This is where we need to be. We need to follow Daniel’s example by immersing ourselves in the culture. We need to know what makes our society tick. We need to engage the culture in love and service. At the same time, we need to be distinct in humility, godly character, and work ethic. We must honor the Lord first in the midst of engaging the culture and world around us. We must remain salty, otherwise we are useless and no different than those without Christ. Our task is to be immersed and yet distinct. As we do so, we shall see the Lord open doors to influence those around us.