An interesting post and related interview video by Matt Olson that highlights a true issue: the isolationism of the fundamentalist subculture. Here’s the post:
It has been my growing concern that many of our churches have created a sub-culture that is not built on the Word but on a comfortable lifestyle of yesteryear. Often it is simply a conservative pragmatism that gives a false sense of separation and safety from “the world”. In reality it is nothing more than a pop culture taken from a different decade. The past culture is no more spiritual than today’s culture—only irrelevant. Orthodox churches are losing relevance and don’t even realize it. They are also losing the ability to be salt and light. And what troubles me most is that we are losing the next generation and then turning around and blaming the young people for abandoning their parent’s faith. It is not the faith they are abandoning. Forms, traditions, and methods maybe, but not the faith—in fact I think they are more in tune with theology and what the Bible says.
Walking into many church buildings is like stepping back in time – it is an entry to another world. When children grow up in this environment they really struggle with communicating the gospel with the 21st century life. The separation they are taught is not biblical or theological separation, it is sectarian isolationism and it is crippling great commission work. My prayer is that we return to a biblical example of reaching this world the way Christ and the early church did – in the world but not of the world, current with our culture but not contaminated by it. Fruit is what God wants, it is what glorifies Him, it is what proves us to be disciples, and it is what brings joy into the church. It is possible to be both biblical and relevant. Let’s be salt and light in 2012!
I think he is spot on to say that in many cases fundamentalist churches are perpetuating the pop culture of a past decade, and Kevin Bauder has been saying the same thing in the realm of church music for years (read: gospel songs). And he puts his finger on a significant failing when he points out that a young person who grows up insulated in a fundamentalist church is essentially going to a foreign land when he attempts to engage the broader culture because he has no idea what that broader culture is all about. But what is the solution? Is it to perpetuate in the church the pop culture of the present day, and then to make sure we keep up with it at all costs? If I mistake not, that’s the sort of philosophy popularized by Charles Finney.
In the video associated with the post, Dave Brown marshals 1 Corinthians 9 in support of Matt’s proposal:
As I go out [with the gospel] I need to be willing to morph and to change . . . [Paul] said I’m going to adapt, I’m going to morph in the things that are not hostile to the Word of God, I’m going to change anything that is flexible in order to meet my target culture.
In an outstanding essay, however, Kevin Bauder bids the reader cast his eyes upon the context of the oft-used 1 Corinthians 9 “all things to all men” passage:
This entire discourse [of 1 Corinthians 8-11, in which Paul emphasizes limiting his rights] provides the context for 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23. These verses are popularly taken as Paul’s description of his positive strategy to gain a hearing for the gospel. People often assume that Paul attempted to imitate the customs, habits, and mores of those to whom he ministered, acting like a Jew when with Jews, a Gentile when with Gentiles, a weak person when among the weak, and so forth.
Some Christians go a step further. They find in this passage permission, or even an obligation, to adopt the same evangelistic strategy. . . .
Paul’s point, however, is not that he imitates the customs, habits, traditions, mores, or even the look and feel of his intended audience. Rather, his point is about the exercise of his rights and liberties. When among Jews, he exercises no right that would be offensive to Jews. Among the weak, he does nothing to offend the weak. Among the Gentiles, he does nothing that would offend a Gentile. Paul’s point is that rights and liberties are to be freely surrendered for the sake of the gospel.
Perhaps we should mimic the customs and even the preferences of those to whom we minister. If so, that will have to be justified from some other passage. 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23 simply teaches us not to offend those whom we love.
Dr. Olson notes in his post that “Walking into many church buildings is like stepping back in time – it is an entry to another world.” And that is true. I agree with the point he is stressing in this particular statement: that churches have embraced and become stuck in a culture of yesteryear. But is there not a sense in which walking into a church building should be like entering another world? A world that doesn’t feel like the mall, or a circus, or Starbucks, or a rock concert? A world that embraces both ancient truth and ancient traditions, both biblical content and the forms that can rightly express it?
I believe so.