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Should Christians be Culture Warriors? – AP

This article has just been published in AP – here.

Should Christians be Culture Warriors?

‘I was wrong’.  This is not a phrase I use a lot!  At least when it comes to major subjects.   Over the years I have been aware of significant changes in thinking that have had an enormous practical impact for me – baptism, Calvinism, the European Union, socialism, worship and environmentalism being the main ones I can think of.  Recently I have been forced to change my view on the question of culture wars.

Culture Wars?  No thanks!

I often used to say that I did not want to get involved in culture wars and that it would be a mistake for the Church to do so.  Recently I have been compelled to rethink.  The trouble is that the term ‘culture wars’ is itself a product of the culture wars.  Here in Australia, we look askance at some of the culture wars that are going on in the US, and most of us want nothing to do with them.  It is a negative term associated with white nationalism, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson,  and suggests that Christians are some kind of political force whose mission in life is to combat the Left.  No thanks.  We want to influence the culture, to win the culture,  not to fight it.  Besides which if we engage in culture wars then won’t we alienate people from the Church and the message of the Gospel?  Doesn’t the Scripture itself tells us that our weapons are not the weapons of this world? 

What is Culture?

I think those objections are valid – but like so much it all depends on what we mean.  What is culture?  I like this summary from the University of Boston: “Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.”  If that is the case, then surely Christians are interested in the way of life for an entire society – especially a society in which we live?

It was ok then….

I’ve noticed that those who speak somewhat disparagingly of Christians being involved in the ‘culture wars’ are quite happy to speak of the culture wars of the past.  We rightly glory in the fight of Wilberforce and others in the supreme culture war of their day – the abolition of slavery.  So, what is the difference today?  Would we say that Wilberforce and those who supported and campaigned for him, were wasting their time with “culture wars”…?

Posh apologetics

There is something I would describe as ‘posh apologetics’.  There are those who like to talk about the culture to each other, because they are part of that culture and make their living from that culture.  They don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.  They are safe within it.  Of course, a general discussion of Christian ethics, a reflection on historical rights and wrongs, is fine.  Because that does not upset the powers that be today. Podcasts, books and inhouse messages are fine…as long as we don’t stray out of our comfort zone.   Anything that would get you cancelled – or that fails the Sydney Morning Herald test – must be frowned upon.  After all we must be ‘winsome’ and nice!  But I want to ask – who is going to speak on behalf of the poor, the voiceless and the dispossessed today?  Does the Church have no prophetic role in today’s society? – or is our public role just to consist of politely nodding along with the causes our society supports and keeping quiet about the ones they don’t?

The Gender Wars

Take the current major issue of the day – the culture wars surrounding gender and identity.  Who is it that suffers the most when children are taught the Hellish doctrines of Queer theory?   It is the children.  “If we truly love our neighbours, we will not withdraw from the public square, particularly if we understand the way in which “today’s uncontested folly becomes tomorrow’s accepted wisdom….Therefore we must not only pray fervently for our world but, as part of our prophetic task, take up our apologetic responsibility to expose the corrupt foundations and calamitous effects of contemporary gender ideology.” (from “How Should We Think about Gender and Identity? Questions for Restless Minds” by Robert S. Smith)

What about the death cult that seems to pervade so much of our ‘progressive’ elites?  Abortion on demand will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of our fellow humans. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/labor-urged-on-free-abortions-and-to-stop-boats-close-nauru/news-story/9f49e0df2168efbfdb182ab73b4314ae?utm_source=TheAustralian&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Editorial&utm_content=TA_DAILY_AM-CUR_02&net_sub_id=281196935&type=free_text_block&position=8&overallPos=16

Should we keep silent about that?   What about the creeping, and now rushing, move towards euthanasia?  Those who sneered at the concept of the slippery slope should perhaps consider the proposal of the ACT government to allow euthanasia for 14 year olds.  https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/teens-as-young-as-14-could-access-voluntary-assisted-dying-in-the-act/news-story/44dfd2f135c71e2f88d4603275ed794b?utm_source=TheAustralian&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Editorial&utm_content=TA_DAILY_AM-CUR_02&net_sub_id=281196935&type=free_text_block&position=8&overallPos=14

How long before depression, poverty and suicidal thoughts become sufficient criteria for ‘the right to be killed’?

Silence is Golden?

Should we keep quiet about poverty, family breakdown, racism, child trafficking,  drug abuse, domestic violence?  Or should we only select the ones that we will get credit for?

Niebuhr was surely right when he warned in his classic Christ and Culture: “A spiritualised Jesus allows the kings of the world to run free without restraint from the church, and allows the church to run after the things of the world without the downdraft pressure of the return of the embodied Jesus” (cited in Scott Dawson, Jesus Ascended, p.146)

Lyle Shelton

One of the people who has helped my thinking on this is Lyle Shelton – and his book ‘I Kid You Not’  The best summary of this book is from Amazon “Lyle Shelton takes readers on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of culture wars. “I Kid You Not”, is because the Left has gotten away with things most Australians would find incredible, if only they knew.  Before #MeToo, Shelton fought the legalised sexual abuse of young women. On human rights for the unborn, his revelations of politicians turning a blind eye to the evil of eugenics is shocking. He details the bombing of the Australian Christian Lobby’s office and its poor handling by the Australian Federal Police. Chapters on “Safe Schools” and the 2017 marriage plebiscite are a sad tale of what could have been. Shelton ends with a compelling call for good people to rise and pay the price for a better future.”

The subtitle of this book is “Notes from 20 Years in the Trenches of the Culture Wars”.  I’ve met Lyle.  He is one of the most misunderstood and maligned political figures in Australia – sadly far too many Christians have shared in that ignorance.  I would strongly recommend that every Christian interested in public life in Australia and beyond, should read this book – especially those who speak somewhat contemptuously of people involved in ‘the culture wars’.  I have to confess that I may have shared their viewpoint to some degree.  That was already beginning to change before I read I Kid You Not – but any vestiges I had of that viewpoint were blown away by reading this remarkable story.  Its 15 chapters are enlightening, encouraging and enlivening.

Shot in the Back

Lyle Shelton, Rob and Claire Smith, Moira Deeming, John Anderson, Marytn Iles and other Australian Christians are putting up a valiant fight – it’s such a shame that sometimes they have to be more concerned about the arrows in their backs than the assaults from their enemies!  Without taking a party political stance or falling into the trap of equating the Kingdom of God with right or left wing politics, Christians need to proclaim the truth – even, or especially, when it hurts us.

One of the great descriptions of the early church was that it sometimes caused riots – “these men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here”  (Acts 17:6) or as the KJV puts it ‘these men who have turned the world upside down’!  My fear is that in much of today’s church Paul, Luke and friends would be advised to tone it down and be much more winsome.  Causing riots is such a bad witness!  But then we can hardly turn our churches round one iota – never mind turn the world upside down!

This is not an argument for crudity, rudeness, power politics or evangelical virtue signalling.  But it is a cry for a prophetic voice to the nation.  For the sake of those who have no voice. And for the glory of the King of kings.

Bigotry, Anger and Confusion – AP


  1. Thanks for this, David! Indeed, we need to have a prophetic ministry to all Australians, telling them what God thinks about the various aspects of our culture.

  2. Thoroughly agree with your points made in this article…the Church has remained very silent for too long so the issues of the day that are pure evil have ramped up and we have been caught being ineffective…there is a need to speak against sin and all it’s offspring that are affecting our children and their future. The Lord needs us as His hands,His feet and His messengers who are told to be bold and to stand against evil, not take an easy way around it. Blessings to you.

  3. Writers like CSL and GKC (who drew on the strong philosophical-historical foundations for the Christian worldview) have left us a priceless legacy. The gigantic problem for mainstream Protestants is abuse cover up by hierarchies in the Church. The Mike Pilavachi exposure is just the latest. Is our right to be heard reduced if we fail to mop up our own junk? I am ashamed to see the Archbishop of York spewing rubbish about not addressing God as-“Our Father”-yet the Church of England not embracing independent safeguarding! Was Pilavachi protected for years (or decades) and have 200 complainants already come forward?

  4. Your points are valid and the call needs to go out to all nations that we, God’s people, will not stand idly by while sin takes over. Sin roars in like a flood, but God raises a banner and we fight on His side. Say what you can, do what you can, be all that God created you to be.

  5. Very good David. Jesus addressed the then current culture war over divorce in His earthly sojourn. Also how far to accommodate a secular authority – ‘Render unto Caesar…’ J the B ‘Be content with your wages’ – how topical!
    The ‘winsome’ debate is a bit of a smokescreen for compromise and to lessen the cognitive dissonance of having a spirit vexed by modern culture. I don’t read of Jesus pulling punches – some people were enraged and deeply offended by His and the Apostles’ preaching. Jesus even insulted the elites of His day ‘Tell that fox…’ ie Herod, ‘You are whitewashed graves’ ‘You nest of snakes’. I read of a Quaker preacher addressing a heckler in a crowd he was preaching to ‘Sir, thou art a dog’! He was profoundly convicted and saved. Are we nicer than God? Hell isn’t nice.

  6. Grahame Wells – Well said! I especially like this: “The ‘winsome’ debate is a bit of a smokescreen for compromise and to lessen the cognitive dissonance of having a spirit vexed by modern culture.” I think we can find better responses than ‘thou art a dog’ – hopefully with a similar result. A work in progress?

  7. Mmmm. I’m not so sure. Jesus speaks against sins in Israel who were nominally the people of God.. he did not condemn the Roman occupation. Paul says ‘What have I to do with judging outsiders’. There is no condemnation of slavery or other social ills in the church except so far as they affected the behaviour of believers.

    The NT injunctions re the world are to a) preach the gospel b) be an example in faith and conduct. Individual Christians may feel called to become involved in a culture war but it doesn’t seem to me there is a biblical mandate for the church to do so. To seek to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty seems to me to be the norm for which Christians should aim in the world. They should aim to live as far as possible peaceably with all men.

    Of course there may be times in conversation with unbelievers where they express their convictions on controversial issues but I don;t see a command to become a cultural warrior as such.

    1. No command to feed the poor? heal the sick? protect children? Thats a million miles away from the Christianity I know and Christianity throughout the ages…..such extreme pietism is thankfully rare!

      1. The things you cite are humanitarian issues. Christians have always done these things. The more difficult interface is when these shade over into culture wars Reactions to culture vary according to the possibilities society allows. However, even in a culture where protest is possible I do wonder how far aligning with a crusade hinders the possibility of gospel engagement with those very people. Making the gospel central will lead into these issues but crusading on a cultural issue is unlikely to lead into a hearing for the gospel.

        Our aim is not directly to change society but to add to the church. However, I accept there is a kind of grey area and that personal convictions may tip a balance.

    2. John – You write “Paul says ‘What have I to do with judging outsiders’.” This is in relation to judgment within the Church at Corinth. Some were expressing their sexuality in ungodly ways, and Paul’s instructions were to bring those people to account. His reference to not judging (in similar manner) those outside the Church, does not mean we should refrain from trying to persuade non-Christian people that such activity is not what God made us for. And if we can tell ‘outsiders’ that, why can’t we try to persuade our law-makers to make a law that restricts such activity? Why hide our light under a bushel? Why not let our light so shine that people can see the goodness of God in our lives and in His good laws? So our involvement in any kind of activity to that end is always one of persuasion, whether it be by life or word.

      1. Yes,Geoffrey, your express the ‘involvement’ argument fairly. Yet we don’t read of Paul engaging in the politics of his day or encouraging the church to engage in politicking.. I am on the whole happy with MLJ’s distinction; the church in official senses should remain above politics and culture wars though individual believers will be salt that preserves culture to some extent. They will engage with the issues of the day at various levels and for some these will be political. I look at the C of E. And groan.

        I read at one point an American evangelical who had spent his life in sociopolitical activity expressing the conclusion it had largely been a waste of time. Perhaps he was jaded. I remember two great attempts at cultural transformation through legislation and the mechanisms of social engineering that proved to be failures. The first was the OT law which did not prevent Israel being as dissolute as the surrounding nations leading to Paul’s assessment; by the law is the knowledge of sin. Kuyper’s attempt at cultural transformation seems to have been at best skin deep and soon collapsed.

        I worry too that block ‘Christian’ perspectives tend to veer either to the right or the left and often leave a bad taste in the mouth of following generations. Thee USA seems to be an example of this.

        So, if we get engaged sociopolitically to any great degree we should remember a) we should be prepared for marginal impact and change b) be alert to labelling that may narrow the gospel c) take care to distinguish between a political opinion and a clear moral principle.

        The great answer to OT failed law is the NT successful gospel. It is in the gospel that the power for transformation lies. God’s way is by redeeming people (not a culture) one at a time. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills and people are brought into the kingdom.

        I greatly benefit from David’s sociopolitical insight but I am glad it is under the authority of his passion for the gospel. It is in the salvation of sinners that he will see real and lasting transformation.

        Paul worked with a form of sphere sovereignty a little different from Kuyper. He recognised that the age was evil and could with John affirm that the whole world lies in the wicked one. His commitment was not to save the world but, again in the language of John, to save a people ‘out of the world’ who are not ‘of the world as Jesus was not of the world. In good calvinistic theology he recognised that God had an elect people and preached that they would be converted. Jesus brought the blessings of the kingdom to all and proclaimed a message that ultimately challenged Rome – Jesus is Lord and the Saviour of the world, not the emperor. Yet he submitted to Rome, did not resist evil, submitted to abuse, loved his enemies etc. We are called to this. I, for one, find it costly.

        This is written in the spirit of dialogue not debate or dispute.

      2. Hi John! Thanks for sparring with me so gently! Allow me to offer a different understanding of some of your ideas in the areas of politics & culture.
        Firstly politics! John Stott writes “The words ‘politics’ and ‘political’ may be given either a broad or a narrow definition. Broadly speaking, ‘politics’ denotes the life of the city (polis) and the responsibilities of the citizens (polites). It is concerned therefore with the whole of our life in human society. Politics is the art of living together in community. According to its narrow definition, however, politics is the science of government. It is concerned with the development and adoption of specific policies with a view to their being enshrined in legislation.” (John Stott ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’ Marshalls 1984 pp 10, 11).
        If we search the NT, we find lots of instruction about politics as ‘the art of living together in society’ in the words of Jesus & Paul, but little – and mostly scathingly or with disinterest – about ‘politics as the science of government’. Jesus’ interest was building the Kingdom of God: His rule in the lives of people so they could be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16, 6:9,10). It was in the proclamation of the nature of God and His will and purposes for mankind that Jesus sought for responses from those to whom he preached. We see this particularly in the event of Mark 12: 28-34. One teacher of the law agreed with Jesus about the greatest commandments. Jesus eagerly responded: ‘you are not far from the kingdom of God’.
        Why did Jesus not seek to influence the government of his time by lobbying for laws that represented God’s will and purposes for mankind? I think the main reason may be that the Roman government was not a democracy where people had the opportunity to influence the laws under which they lived (apart from rebellion). But we Christians today have that opportunity. If we truly take to heart Jesus’ desire for changes in people’s lives towards God through us being salt and light – and through praying that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven, we can and should take hold of this opportunity to persuade our governments that what our Creator says about life is good for humankind.
        Secondly, culture! It is mostly true that politics is down-stream of culture, and culture is down-stream of religion (or ideological beliefs). We agree that the gospel message helps people see the world through God’s eyes, and sets a foundation for godly culture and then God-honouring politics. Whether we call that ‘’Christendom’ matters little. The reality is God will be seen more clearly.
        But we live today in an increasingly post-Christian culture. The beliefs of an increasing number of people in the Western world are secular, self-centred, and absent God. (Charles Taylor’s ‘A Secular Age’ is apposite in this assessment). How do we convince them that what God has said is extremely relevant to their human flourishing?
        I think – and I see it work – that the good news about God and Jesus will prosper if we place our communication in the context of the idea that human flourishing is best explained by our creation in God’s image. I am indebted to the work of many modern writers in this regard, especially J I Packer & Thomas Howard with ‘Christianity: The True Humanism’, and Tim Keller’s ‘Making Sense of God’.
        By all means, help our people understand that we fall short of God’s intentions for our lives. Proclaim what the living Creator has done for us in Jesus. But also help them see that bending our knee to God and living for His glory brings true human flourishing, because it allows the spiritual treasures of God to reign and grow in our lives.
        In this way, culture is changed because human beings are being changed ‘from one degree of glory to another’..

  8. ‘ There is no condemnation of slavery or other social ills in the church except so far as they affected the behaviour of believers’. ‘In the church’ should read ‘in society’.

  9. Thanks David, good article, but the supposed quotation from Richard Niebuhr isn’t. At least, I can’t find it in ‘Christ and Culture’. It may be a paraphrase of what Scott Dawson thought Niebuhr to mean. The expression ‘downdraft pressure of the return of the embodied Jesus’ was the giveaway, it seemed anachronistic and quite unlike any expression Niebuhr himself might use.

  10. It may be too late for that .

    When I was a wee laddie in St Andrews , a local pub applied to the Kirk and police – influenced , local licencing authority for permission to improve , by renovation, its rather primitive toilets.

    Permission was not granted . This gave rise to a priceless comment by a council dissenter :

    “Well if Drink is the Road to Hell , I suppose the toilets should look as much like Hell as possible.”

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