Culture At Large

Have we forgotten how to influence culture?

Andy Rau

John Seel has a good article at Provocations asking how Christians can—and should—go about the task of influencing the culture around us. He starts out with a critique of the legislation-focused, "moral majority"-style strategy that Christians have employed throughout the last several decades: focusing on mobilizing majorities and legislative coercion, these faith communities have alienated their opponents while squandering their cultural and biblical capital. They have failed because the convictions that underlie culture cannot be coerced. They can be proposed, never imposed. Culture changes when a society’s assumptions and aspirations are captured by new ideas and images that are developed by thinkers and artists, expounded in both scholarly and popular forms, depicted in innumerable works of art, literature and entertainment, and then lived out attractively by communities of people who are committed to them. By narrowly focusing on Washington and state legislatures, faith communities have forgotten how to assert cultural influence. Today, most Christians in America are known for self-serving power politics rather than humble service for the good of others.

But he's not just complaining about past mistakes; he goes on to elaborate on some ideas for how we ought to approach the mammoth task of influencing our culture. He suggests that evangelicals have an outdated understanding of how ideas operate in society and come to take root in people's minds. Simply trumpeting an idea and trusting that people will realize its truth on their own is not enough. Using the widespread cultural acceptance of homosexuality as an example, he notes that

ideas don’t influence society because they are true; rather they influence society because they have supportive networks, which have accumulated economic, social, and symbolic capital, and have access to the reality-defining institutions of society.... [Christians] have established our own subcultural networks that have not gained equal credibility within the reality-defining institutions of culture. Not only have we not been engaged in the cultural conversation, we often lack the economic, social, or symbolic capital to be taken seriously.

It's a long article, but well worth the read.

(Via Church of the Masses.)

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends