Gregory Thornbury: It’s Too Late to Engage Culture. Culture Has Already Engaged You.

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Are we merely content to watch and comment on the culture, or are we willing to actually create culture? Gregory Thornbury, President of The King’s College in New York City, addresses this question in his lecture at Southeastern Seminary titled, “Joseph Got It Done.”

Here are a few relevant excerpts:

Why we should stop saying cultural engagement

“I need us all to stop using the term cultural engagement… What? Stop using the term cultural engagement? This is like stock and parlor stuff of all that we’ve used in our mission statements and our brochures for all of these evangelical institutions. I want us to stop it because when we say, ‘I want to engage culture,’ guess what? Too late. Culture has already engaged you.

“If you think somehow we pious Christians are standing back here imperiously from…, looking down upon culture, and that we might condescend to descend the staircase of our lofty theological principles, you are kidding yourselves. We are swimming in culture. We’re immersed in it it. It affects us in ways that we have no idea….

“You want to engage culture? Guess what. Too late. You are already soaking in it. We need to step out of culture long enough to realize all of the powerful ways it is operating on us, epistemologically, theologically and spiritually in our time.”

We often talk about culture, but we don’t actually engage in culture.

Why we need to create culture.

“We often talk about culture, but we don’t actually engage in culture. We write blogs about it, we think about it, we fire missives on blog posts, but it is a different thing altogether to actually wade in and do the hard stuff….

“It’s one thing to talk about what culture’s doing and to inveigh against sin and to think back here from the pulpit about it, and it’s a different thing to be at Goldman Sachs. It’s a different thing to actually work at The New York Times as a Christian. As one of my fellow seminarians… used to say, ‘You need to get your hallelujah to line up with your do-elujah. And that seems to be our problem.”

Who is on team Jesus at the top of the tech world, on Wall Street, in media?

On the slacker generation.

“I am concerned that all of our rightful recovery of Reformational principles from the Protestant Reformation that we celebrated yesterday on Reformation Day, and our rightful recovery of the doctrine of Grace, may unwittingly have produced a slacker generation of millennial Christians that are not prepared to compete in the arena that actually does shape culture. Who is on team Jesus at the top of the tech world, on Wall Street, in media? It’s one thing to talk about it; it’s another thing altogether to do it….

“We are content to stay at home, watch what is happening in the world and comment on it and theorize on it rather than actually create the sort of culture that we want to live in.”

On our receding influence and power.

“Transformation may not be an option for us at this stage. We may be forced to live in what Niebuhr calls ‘Christ and culture in paradox,’ and that may be a difficult transition for us to make as our influence and power recedes in the public square — and as we have humiliated ourselves in 2016. The eyes of the world —  they don’t believe us. As Charles Blow said last week, ‘Apparently the evangelicals think of their faith as a cardigan that you can slip off whenever it’s convenient for you.’ That’s how the world views us right now.”

We’re going to get a Pharaoh next week.

On serving Pharaoh.

“Joseph wasn’t a transformer. Joseph was a survivor who thrived on blessing Pharaoh. We’re going to get a Pharaoh next week, guys. One way or another, we’re getting Pharaoh. And we’re going to have to learn what it means to serve Pharaoh, not just there but everywhere.”

Do we “get it done?”

“If anything happened in that place, Joseph got it done. Can that be said of the church today in culture? In great advances in rooting out corruption, in stopping evil, in making advances that actually grow the human conception of what the imago Dei means…. Are we the team that people look to and say, ‘They sign the front of the check, not the back of the check?’ I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s how people see us.

In my book on Carl Henry, I mention lecturing in Norway and someone asked me to define what evangelicalism means. I said, ‘I’m going to answer that with a joke:

Anything you can do, we can do later.
We can do anything later than you.
No you can’t. Yes we can.
No you can’t. Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can.’

We’re always adopting ideas and motifs and ideologies just as they’ve expired everywhere else…. So we have to be gamers. We have to keep the ball in play. That’s what it means. We may not transform cultures, but we can be significant contributors and shine a light in the firmament as we hold forth the Word of life.”


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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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