Friday, January 18, 2013

Culture: Its Power and Persuasiveness

Culture is imperialistic. It determines our thinking, attitudes, and worldviews. If this is so, I think we need to be aware of its impact on our lives. After all, the unexamined life is an automated life, and an automated life is a robotic life.

Let me give you an example of the influence of culture, even on the church. Maintaining a good relationship with our adult children should be a high priority, but often, it has become our highest priority. One Christian talk show hosted a counselor – I’ll call her “Doris” - talking on this very subject. She suggested that parents ought to think of themselves as “coaches” rather than “teachers” or even “parents” regarding our adult live-at-home kids. Although she was ready to admit that today’s 23 year-olds were more like 17 year-olds in regards to emotional maturity, Doris insisted that they are still adults, and if we want to maintain a good relationship with them, we can’t talk down to them by telling them how they must live their lives.

Instead, it is preferable that we think of ourselves as life-coaches. We can present the options along with a cost/benefit analysis, but we need to refrain from telling them how they should live.

Admittedly, this strategy will make for a more harmonious relationship, and this is a high cultural priority. It has become the number 1 criterion to determine whether or not you are a good parent. If your adult child likes being around you, this means that you’re a successful parent.

Although this criterion is important, I wonder whether it leaves out the First Commandment (loving God) in favor of exclusive attention on the second – loving others. Doris didn’t even begin to consider whether or not her strategy honored God and His priorities. This consideration was entirely neglected. In fact, some cultural messages are so deeply imbedded within our thinking that we barely notice, let alone question them.

I too hadn’t noticed Doris’ omission of the First Commandment, until thinking about it later. Something seemed to be limiting about the life-coach model. Although it represents one very important tool or option in a carpenter’s tool-box, it shouldn’t be the only one. Instead, we are sometimes called upon to rebuke and correct:

·         All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Sometimes we need to rebuke and correct. The drug addict requires some tough-love –maybe even a family intervention. Perhaps, if we want to maintain a ripple-free relationship with our adult kid, we will refrain from rebuking.  However, being a coach in certain circumstances might merely serve to enable self-destructive behaviors. Used by itself, the coaching model tends to communicate an erroneous message – “Your life is entirely your own, and you bear no responsibility for others. You’re the captain of your own ship.” It is therefore ironic that our culture then laments the pervasive destruction of communal ties.

Why then do we unnecessarily narrow down our Scripturally-mandated responsibilities? Why are we now content to merely be a friend to our kids and not a parent? We allow cultural standards rather than Scriptural ones to set our priorities.

What type of protection do we have against imbibing the standards of the surrounding culture? We need to be able to see its pervasive influence from a stationary lookout – Scripture (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8; Romans 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). Only when we stand outside of our culture can we be in any position to critique it.

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