There are equal and opposite extremes between the gospel and culture: assimilation and complete rejection. Most churches are somewhere in the midst of some compromise between these two extremes. The Amish are at one extreme, rejecting all of culture until it can be found to be acceptable to the spiritual life of the community. However, even in the Amish there are cultural assumptions that are not biblical, such as a farming lifestyle as well as clothing fashions that might be more than a hundred years old, but they aren’t two thousand years old. Even so, some churches or youth groups seem to be completely assimilated, yet if there is any preaching of God’s word, then even the most liberal churches are a compromise between the gospel and modern culture, not true assimilation.
Culture, of course, is itself a compromise between traditionalism and new ideas. Any culture, as traditional as it seems, is an evolved form from the old ways of doing things and more recent. Perhaps a culture—such as hidden societies untouched by the world—seem so ancient to us. But every culture, without exception, is touched by human innovation. The more humans that touch the culture, the more innovation, but innovation and creativity is a part of every culture.
And with every innovation, there is a traditionalist portion of a culture that is disgusted by the innovation. It is not simply a disagreement about the innovation—it is an out and out revulsion. As if the innovation is the one item that would undermine the basis of the traditional culture. Sometimes the traditionalists—those who distrust innovation—are right. Some innovations really do undermine traditional culture. Some ideas are so radical, so in opposition to where a culture has been, that the older culture would no longer be comfortable in the newer one, should the innovations really take hold. In this way do the traditionalists rise up in opposition to certain innovations. Of course, traditionalists are not opposed to all innovation—only those that undermine the basic values of their traditional culture.
And innovation does not always win the day. Culture always progresses, but not always in the direction of new innovation. In fact, radical innovation often creates a backlash of traditional values, creating a pendulum swing. Should the battle be strong enough, then a culture war develops, battle lines are drawn and the whole world is seen to be on either one side or the other.
A compromise culture is usually created near the center of the battle lines. Thus a new set of values, philosophies, systems and cultural icons are created out of the previous battle. This new cultural consensus becomes the new tradition. When the next radical innovation comes, then it is this synthesis that feels attacked and creates the new battle lines.
In church culture, it seems that the traditionalists hold sway, but this is far from true. There are many innovationalists within church culture. The traditionalists in the church often have the older resources to have a louder voice, but innovationalists also have a strong voice, however weaker it is than the traditionalists. In this manner, the church can be an active participant in both sides of the culture wars.
The traditionalists seem to be more the heart of the church, because they have been able to use the cultural trappings of the church for longer periods of time. They have traditional songs and their interpretation of Scripture has been repeated so many times that it is the assumed “correct” interpretation of Scripture. What must be remembered, however, is what the Christian innovationalists repeat ad nauseum: that the traditionalists were once the innovationalists of old. That they do not, nor ever have had, a monopoly on “truth.”
This may seem to the innovationalists that their truth is equal to the truth of the traditionalist. In a sense, that is so—they could both be equally wrong. And they probably both are. Because, as different as they seem they are fundamentally the same—they are both swayed by the repeated a priori assumptions of their party, rather than seeking for truth in a semi-objective manner, recognizing their own weaknesses as seekers of God’s values as well as their oppositional parties.
The difference between the church and the rest of the world is the third group that is neither traditionalist nor innovationalist—or, one might say, they are both. These are the group that interprets the various culture battles via the word and acts of Jesus. Not necessarily by the “Bible” in general. The Bible is to vast, too varied of opinion, too complex in values to really pinpoint. But Jesus, as a single, but powerful force in the Bible, is much easier to read and understand. When interpreted against himself alone, his words and deeds act as a single testimony that continually speak to and challenge the church, as well as the rest of the world.
And within the church are those who do not align themselves with either the traditionalists or the innovationalists, but with Jesus alone. This group would instinctively see the weaknesses of both groups and so could not stand behind either. Because they would separate themselves from the culture wars and instead, in standing with Jesus, mount a lifestyle “attack” on all sides.
The innovationalist sees the Jesus follower as traditional, because they would accept a few of the values of traditionalist that they could not accept, simply because Jesus also held those values. However, Jesus is so radical, that He is seen as innovative to all cultures. Jesus is the promoter of the undermining of all systems—whether traditional or innovational. Jesus seeks to welcome the cultures that both the traditional and the innovational rejects. And Jesus does not participate in culture wars, for He is on a crusade for love of all people, which no cultural warmonger could ever support. For all war—whether martial or cultural—is a compromise of universal love.
Thus, those who focus on Jesus alone as their Lord—not the traditional Jesus, but the radical Jesus of the gospels—act as a third group in neither the traditional nor innovational parties. And this third party is what preserves the world, keeping them from destroying each other in the latest cultural war. The third party may suffer much themselves—as they accept suffering and persecution even as Jesus did—but they never fully disappear from this world. For every Jesus follower that disappears, one or two more takes his or her place.
The Jesus follower can be seen as traditional, because Jesus is the basis of all his or her values. Thus, like a traditionalist, the Jesus-follower can seem text-based and stagnant, without interest in any real change. However, since Jesus is such a radical that He has influenced the world without the world ever really accepting Him, standing for Jesus’ values and beliefs is always innovative, always outside the box. To delve deeper into Jesus’ principles of life is to automatically be seen as the outsider, the unacceptable to both the traditionalists and the innovationalists.
This is not the only manner in which the Jesus party is an outsider. The Jesus party, in following the example and principles of Jesus, is also a pursuer of the outcast. The outcast—the “sinners”, the “poor” the “needy”—are those who are seen as unacceptable to either the traditionalist or the innovationalist. Both cultural groups for one reason or another might want to adopt an outcast group, but only to bring them into their cultural agenda. Should the outcast group reject the assumptions of either the traditionalist or the inovationalist agenda, then the outcast individual remains outcast and the outcast society remains a viable cultural entity, separate from both sides of the culture war.
At the onset, it seems that the Jesus party and the outcast group are natural allies, as they have been both rejected by the main cultural forces. However, the Jesus party and the outcast societies do not share the same hopes or values any more than the Jesus party and the two main cultural groups do. The outcast societies (every broad society has at least one, often a number of them) are the children of their own sociological and cultural forces: disenfranchisement, dehumanization, sense of victimization, and a longing for being accepted for who they are. It is this last sociological force that draws the Jesus party and the outcast together: the Jesus party have a desire to accept the unacceptable and the outcast have a need for acceptance.
Nevertheless, it is a tenuous alignment. The Jesus party sees their hope in Jesus and want the outcast to seek Jesus as they do—His live, principles and His self as the center of their being. The outcast are constantly doubtful that they are being accepted for who they are, rather than for what they could be in Jesus. And those of weaker faith in the Jesus party end up standing in one cultural party or another, finally throwing their hands up in opposition to the outcast because, in the end, they believed in change more than in Jesus. But the strongest in the faith of Jesus remain with the outcast in patience and hope, because change or love is not in their hands, but in the hands of the all-powerful Spirit.
Because of this, the mainstream culture—involved in one way or another in the culture wars—don’t know what to make of the Jesus party. On the one hand, they identify with the outcast, which makes them one with the outcast. On the other side, they provide the best examples of love and society working despite differences that any culture has ever seen. Some become so oppositional against the Jesus party that they are openly attacked. Mostly, however, the Jesus party just does their work in quiet—quietly changing the world, quietly undermining all the premises of culture war.
A quiet revolution of culture, that will never completely take over the world. It remains at the edges, where it belongs.