Wanting to avoid the extremes of the Demolition Engineer, many Christians go to the other extreme—a Cheerleader of culture. But this is equally unbiblical and problematic.
My daughters were cheerleaders for many years. They simply loved to cheer. My wife and I often chuckled as they very energetically shouted “D-E-F-E-N-S-E-!” when it was our team that had the ball! They were not engaged in the game. They were not evaluating what our team was actually doing. In fact, it really didn’t matter what our team was doing. Whatever the team was doing, or what they thought our team was doing, they were for it!
This is how many Christians approach culture. Whatever culture says or does, Cheerleaders are for it! Whatever the media is currently offering, whatever is currently popular in political circles or whatever is endorsed by their religious leaders, Cheerleaders are quick to jump and shout in favor of it.
For instance, if the culture is against abortion on demand, as it was some time ago, so are Cheerleaders. But if the culture changes its mind and is in favor of abortion on demand, Cheerleaders say “Yeah!” Physician-assisted suicide? “Go Team!” Same sex marriage? “Rah Rah!” Speech Codes? “Hooray!”
And so it goes for the Cheerleader, whether in the pulpit, in the boardroom, at the water cooler, behind the lectern, in the pew, or at the ministries’ office. Though very unpopular in some circles to even hint this may be wrong, I believe the Cheerleader’s posture is equally problematic.
Defining the Cheerleader
For the Christian Cheerleader culture is just fine. It is not in trouble. It is not feeling the effects of a “Fall,” if there is even such a thing. There is no conflict between Christianity and culture. We share much, if not everything in common with the broader culture. We all want to build people up, to meet other’s needs and help people live meaningful, productive and fulfilled lives.
The Church and Culture are like two hands of a potter shaping a beautiful creation. The university, the business community, and the political party of our choice is wholly good, doing what it should be doing and contributing well to a healthy society.
So the work of the Christian is to affirm and aid in this work. We are to come alongside the institutions in our society—government, education, the arts, the media—and focus on our shared goals and programs.
In fact, as we work together to improve culture it will get better and better. We can see the day it will be a utopia, providing all that is good, true and beautiful for everyone, according to each individual’s wishes, desires and definitions of “the good life.” Our social action will ensure this, and is what we as Christians are called to do. Or so goes the mantra of the Christian Cheerleader.
This view has pervaded much of modern Liberalism for more than a century. It is prevalent in such denominations as Presbyterian (PC-USA), Lutheran (ELCA), United Methodist, Congregationalist, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, and Episcopalian (though there are individual churches and in at least one case entire regions which are exceptions, and in many of these denominations there are reform movements underway to correct the extremes of this view).
What the Cheerleader Gets Right
Before discussing the limitations to this approach it is important to note what the Cheerleader gets right. The Cheerleader is on the other end of the continuum from the Demolition Engineer, so he gets right what the Demolition Engineer fails to appreciate.
He recognizes that we can’t extract ourselves from culture even if we wish to. He affirms that all God’s creation is good and should be seen as valuable (Genesis 1:31). He understands that The Fall did not destroy the value of God’s Creation or mean we should withdraw from it. He does not create an unbiblical division between the “sacred” and the “secular,” affirming with the Scriptures, most powerfully seen in the Incarnation, that culture is not to be condemned but participated in, celebrated and nurtured (Genesis 1:28, Jeremiah 29:4-7, Mark 12:17).
From this he understands that God calls men and women to all vocations, not just “full-time Christian work.” He recognizes God’s Common Grace in all things, and since God hasn’t given up on culture (Matthew 5:45), neither does he. Institutions such as universities, the media, companies and government have value and are places truth, beauty, and goodness can flourish.
He sees the Image of God (the “imago Dei”) resident in all people (Genesis 1:26, 27, 4:1, 2 and 9:6), and therefore affirms the intrinsic value and worth of each and every person. Believers and non-believers alike can see and promote truth, beauty and goodness in cultural spheres in virtue of the imago Dei. He understands the biblical teaching that God’s ultimate desire is to redeem all things, and he wishes to be a part of that work. As a result, the Cheerleader can have a “voice” at the table of culture. See last week’s post for more discussion of these themes.
What the Cheerleader Gets Wrong
However, in correcting these errors of the Demolition Engineer, I believe the Cheerleader swings too far to the other extreme. As a result, his view is equally erroneous.
First and foremost, the Cheerleader fails to adequately take into account the extent of The Fall and all its implications—our “sin nature” that taints everything we believe, feel, and do. She may deny The Fall altogether, or at least downplay its significance. The Cheerleader believes we are basically good people. Sure, we have our struggles. But we are not prone to reject God and pursue evil, or create culture that is antithetical to God.
This understanding is contrary to Biblical Revelation. Genesis 3:1-19 chronicles The Fall, as our Representative chose to elevate himself above God and worship the Creation rather than the Creator (idolatry). This resulted in a severed relationship between him and God, and between his offspring and God throughout the centuries. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). As a result, the Scriptures say we now are all “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
We observe the truth of this in us and around us every day. How often do we worship something created, rather than the Creator? Is anyone able to meet even his or her own standards of goodness, much less the standard of perfection set by a Holy God? No, if we are honest we must admit the fact of The Fall is seen every day in our own hearts and the world around us.
(Of course, the Good News is that, even though there is nothing we can do to solve this problem, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners… Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.” [Romans 5:6, 18-19]. This gives us hope that we, and all of creation, can be redeemed. See here for more.)
As a result of The Fall, we will tend to pervert all that is good, true and beautiful. We tend to take God’s good gifts—such as freedom, sex, money, power, and the world around us—and use them in ways contrary to God’s design for our and other’s flourishing. We will take truth that is revealed either in the world around us (General Revelation) or in Scripture (Special Revelation) and distort, misinterpret or misapply it to suit our own agendas. We will take that which is beautiful and deface it, be it part of God’s creation or the beauty we are capable of producing. And we will also tend to elevate the opposite: calling the ugly beautiful, calling falsehoods truth, and calling evils good.
This inevitably moves from the individual to the cultural level. We as individuals create, shape, design and support institutions (governments, schools, media, companies, etc.). So naturally we will also tend to corrupt and distort the true, good and beautiful in these social institutions—in our cultures. The Cheerleader fails to understand, or at least underestimates this tendency to corrupt all things as a result of The Fall.
The Cultural Cheerleader swings too far to the other extreme in other ways as well. Rather than embrace opposition and persecution for maintaining biblical truth (Matt. 5, Acts 16), he tends to run from it, always seeking ways to be accepted by the broader culture. As a result, he can embrace and endorse a wide range of positions that no longer promote human flourishing and the common good. For instance, in the desire to not stand against the tide of abortion-on-demand he inevitably embraces and endorses the taking of innocent life, the opposite of human flourishing. Ultimately the Cheerleader fails to maintain his fundamental allegiance to God when in conflict with the tides of culture.
Still in Search of a Better Way . . .
In conclusion, the Cheerleader is to be praised for correcting the errors made by the Demolition Engineer, taking seriously the biblical mandates to engage culture and seek Shalom. And there are certainly times Christians should adopt the position of solidarity with the larger culture and being a Cheerleader for a specific issue or cause.
But, as a general posture, I believe the Cheerleader is just as destructive as the Demolition Engineer. He swings too far to the other extreme, denying the effects of The Fall at the individual and cultural levels. Therefore I cannot endorse this posture any more than that of the Demolition Engineer.
The good news is that there is a third option—a “middle way” between these extremes. It is both biblically sound and practical. I’ll discuss this approach next week.
Until then, grace and peace.