Engaging Culture: 4 Key Takeaways from the 2016 ERLC National Conference

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Race, culture, politics, millennials, art. These were just a few of the topics addressed at the 2016 ERLC National Conference. Here are four lessons I walked away with. (If you were at the conference, I’d love to hear your takeaways, too.)

1. We need to go to war with Evangelical passivity about racial reconciliation.

Bryan Loritts kicked off the conference with an impassioned plea for Christians to be intentional and active in pursuing racial reconciliation. “Can you really claim to be an evangelical without dealing with injustice?”

Many racial wounds in America and the church remain unhealed because too many evangelicals are passive about racial issues. As a result, Loritts challenged Christians to take intentional efforts to reach neighbors who are different from them — even if doing so is uncomfortable. “You cannot hold on to comfort and pursue ethnic diversity at the same time. The two don’t match,” he said.

D.A. Horton offered Christians a similar challenge. “Critically engage with people of different viewpoints and life experiences,” Horton said. In a breakout discussion, Horton modeled that critical engagement by giving a balanced analysis of Black Lives Matter.

2. The gospel transcends all political ideologies.

The 2016 election is a “nearly unmitigated disaster,” said Dr. Bruce Ashford in a panel discussion on faith and politics. “I say nearly unmitigated because I think it has taken something of this magnitude to awaken many of us or most of us to the fact that we should not be beholden to any narrative.”

Ashford explained that every political ideology has idols lurking beneath it. As a result, we should not be beholden to any political narrative — not Fox News’, MSNBC’s, Republicans’ or Democrats’. Instead, Scripture should mold our understanding of the world.

3. Engaging culture is connected to the Great Commission.

“Cultural engagement needs to be connected to the Great Commission,” said Trevin Wax in a panel discussion. The two are virtually inseparable. After all, in order to love your neighbor and share the gospel, you need to understand your neighbor. At its core, this is what cultural engagement is all about

Other speakers offered a similar refrain. “If you want to engage culture, be faithful in public,” said Trip Lee. “You can engage culture simply by talking to your neighbors,” said D.A. Horton.

4. Pastors must address difficult topics.

Pastors overwhelmingly don’t know how to talk about difficult cultural topics in their churches. Yet, Gabe Lyons noted, Church members overwhelmingly want to hear about these topics.

This congregational need and pastoral hesitation is creating a perfect storm in which the church is ignoring important topics. And, Lyons argued, this perfect storm is occurring at the worst time. “The question of truth will be challenged like it has never been challenged in your lifetime,” Lyons said.

As a result, pastors and church leaders must be willing to understand the difficult topics of our day and winsomely communicate these truths to their church members.

These four takeaways could just as easily been twenty. At the conference, Russell Moore powerfully condemned cultural Christianity. Matt Chandler addressed the temptation of Pharisaism. Andy Crouch talked about the necessity of authority and vulnerability. Gregory Thornbury talked Cain, Abel and Kanye (while singing Hamilton). Alissa Wilkinson and Karen Swallow Prior talked about the arts. And that’s just scratching the surface.

If you want to continue to gain tools to engage culture, we have a free resource to help. Drop your email address in the box below, and we’ll send you A Pocket Guide to Christianity and Culture, a free e-book from Bruce Ashford.

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Nathaniel Williams

Editor and Content Manager for the CFC

Nathaniel Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and BRNow.org. He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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