A discussion arose the other day on how Christianity is supposed to be counter-cultural, and it occurred to me how much this phrase gets thrown around and how it can have very different implications depending on its context. 'Counter-Cultural' to many of the Christians I've been around means to reject the culture at large and surrender to church culture, which really means reject only certain things about the culture at large, and embrace church culture, which may or may not be any better. Example - I know Christians who have rejected the sexual culture outside the church, but have fully embraced the culture of materialism (exacerbated by the concept of "blessing") within the church. I know Christians who have rejected cussing, alcohol, and 'R' rated movies as being products of the culture who simultaneously embrace un-just war, sexism, and consumerism within their church culture.
At the same time, there are reactions to church culture that are partially corrective but then create their own problems. I know a Christian who has rejected legalism as part of church culture. But he still embraces the materialism and consumerism of both church and secular culture with abandon. In other words, he seems to be rejecting whatever he doesn't happen to like from both cultures, so that neither culture causes him to make sacrifices of his lifestyle.
There is a great tension between cultural relevancy and counter-culturalism. In what ways do we connect with and redeem culture, and in what ways do we become counter-cultural?
I believe that the answer has to be found in the example of Jesus. Jesus engaged the culture around him, and yet he was constantly challenging cultural norms with his teaching and with his example. Christ's life was redemptive.
If we are to be 'counter-cultural' like Jesus Christ, we must stop using that term to justify our rejection of culture (negative understanding) and learn what it means to engage and redeem culture (positive understanding).
So what does that actually look like? What will this cost us?