The Paradox of Cultural Engagement

Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:13-14, calls his followers to be salt and light in the circumstances to which he has called us. We are to flavor, preserve, and illuminate our families, communities, and workplaces – to imitate, as much as possible, characteristics of his kingdom in our various spheres of influence. On the other hand, the apostle Paul writes that we are not to be conformed to this present world, but to be separate from it (Romans 12:2).

At the surface, the idea of cultural engagement as described in the gospel of Matthew seems to be at odds with the concept of separation from the world as presented by Paul in Romans 12. How can I be salt and light to the culture in which God has placed me and be separate from it at the same time?

Those who are called to follow Christ and who want to make a difference in this world will wrestle with this apparent paradox. The way we approach the issue of cultural engagement will ultimately impact how we carry our Christ’s great commission, so our conclusions are of extreme importance. Will we approach our culture as an entity created and loved by God (but in need of redemption) or as something to occasionally encounter but mostly retreat from in order to enhance our own personal holiness? Is it one or the other or somehow both?

The answers to these questions are not simple and, in reality, represent, for the serious Christian, an ongoing exploration. In Romans 12:2, Paul labels this inquiry a “renewing of your mind” (New English Translation). So, rather than defining separation from the culture as embracing a list of restrictions, Paul defines it as an intellectual process that leads to our discovery of God’s will for our lives (verse 2) – what it’s like for us, in our particular circumstances, to engage our culture for Christ and his kingdom.

Although there are many ways to renew one’s mind in preparation for kingdom service, university studies provide a depth and richness perhaps not found in other venues. At Belhaven University, regardless of one’s area of study (there are many from which to choose), the exploration of how a biblical worldview informs the ways in which we engage God’s world is of primary importance, especially for non-traditional adult students who are deeply entrench in family, community, and career. As stated on our website, our programs “are taught from a Christian worldview perspective and are guided by the mission to prepare students academically and spiritually to serve Christ Jesus in their careers, in human relationships, and in the world of ideas.” At Belhaven, our students learn of Christ and how to apply his teachings holistically to a culture in need of biblical flavor and illumination – to “approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”



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