Monday, July 12, 2010

Concentric Circles - Culture vs Biblical Essentials

This is not about the recent solar eclipse in the South Pacific.

The last time I attempted to teach a high school Sunday school class (before I was quickly replaced--and you will quickly see why) was just four years ago. On the first day, I drew two concentric circles and told the kids, "The inner circle represents Biblical Christianity. The outer circle, American, Evangelical culture. So, in your opinion, how much space is there between the inner and outer circles?"

They were totally perplexed . . . which was the response I was hoping for. They had assumed that they were one and the same. "Sorry," I said, "They are very different. The inner circle is the clear directives of the Bible, the outer circle is the manifestation of those essentials as a culture. Culture is neutral while the Biblical center is the essential . . . if what you are talking about is true Christianity."

I made it clear that culture is a natural function of humans living together. It can be good or it can be bad. It can enhance the truths of the Bible or they can stand in the way of those truths. For my text I gave:

Mark 7

Clean and Unclean
1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.a]" style="line-height: 0.5em; ">[a])

5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
b]" style="line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

They scratched their heads. Finally, the most rebellious one, spoke up. "Well, for one, Christian girls in Africa go topless while the one's here wear shirts. I prefer the ones in Africa!" Then he burst out laughing until one of the girls from a devoted Christian family screamed out, "You are such an idiot, Jake! Now shut up!"

I gave a very dramatic look of confusion on my face. "Oh, I think Jake gave an excellent answer (even Jake was looking confused now)." But that is only one, small example.

When I redrew the circles, I made the inner one much smaller, quarter size, and the outer one as big as the black board would contain.

We spent the next hour with me tossing up concepts and the kids had to place them in either the inner circle or the outer one. I was amazed at the things the kids put in that tiny inner circle. It included Church on Sunday mornings. Church starting at 10 AM. Churches with pews and steeples. Church services starting with singing, then preaching, then more singing. Pastors being the complete authority of the church. It also including not saying swear words, not drinking alcohol, not going to R movies. I could go on and on and on.

So, based on a recent discussion on iMonk, what are the Biblical essentials? What is a flexible part of our American, Christian culture? What part of our American, Christian culture is a hindrance to the Gospel? What belongs in the inner circle? What, as Christians, are you willing to die to defend?


Leanne said...

I just started reading "unChristian" by David Kinnamon - which is the published results of a study on what people outside the Christian culture think of Christianity, based on what they've seen...I'm not too far into it, but I have a feeling that it is going to shake up my world and make me even more angsty about my faith than I already am [I believe in Jesus, and that's not going to change, but I am finding more and more how little Christian culture really has to do with Him!].

If you haven't read it yet, another excellent book - focusing on politics and Christianity - is "Myth of a Christian Nation" by Gregory Boyd.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Mere Churchianity by Michael Spenser.

The only book Internet Monk was able to write before cancer got him.

MJ said...

UnChristian certainly sounds interesting. I will have to put it on my list.

I did read Michael's book. Bought it in Ca two weeks ago and literally read the entire thing on the plane ride back.

Anonymous said...

Re unChristian, there's a DVD with a similar theme titled Lord, Save Us from Your People!. I think it has a website, so a search might bring it up.