Ways Culture Distorts Our Minds (Part I)

Tim Keller, a pastor and theologian in New York, wrote in his book “The Reason for God” that, supposing that Christianity really is true, “…we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.” When he says human cultures, he means the beliefs, practices, values, and structures of society.  I think he’s right. I want to write a few articles on why Christianity can critique not only American culture in general, but also “Christian” culture. In this first article I will talk about one of the ways that our surrounding culture has lied to us, and how we can work to reverse this deception.

Lie #1: I’m Not Being Judged= I Can Do Whatever I Want!

Back in the Sixteenth century when Martin Luther introduced the idea of sola fide, or, “faith alone” as it related to what gives a human peace with God, one of the Catholic Church’s problems with the idea was that it seemed to leave no room for works in our relationship with God. If how well we submit to God’s commands doesn’t affect how much he approves of us and loves us, what motivation is there to do good? The Doctrine left room for the necessity of doing good, however, as Luther and other reformers then knew.  But it appears the Catholic Church did have a legitimate concern.

When us humans see that no other person is “Judging” us, or displeased with our actions, we tend to do whatever the heck we want, which usually has nothing to do with what we ought (why else do we do all kinds of weird and sick stuff when no one else is watching?).  As long as others are happy with us, we often feel free to do what we wish, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us.

With the advent of Post-modernism, a wave of non-judgmentalism has gradually entrenched itself in the attitudes of many Americans—and this is a good thing. What gives us the right to assume a condemning stance of others when we likely don’t understand their situation, and when we harbor a wealth of imperfection in our own souls?  But it seems like this attitude can have some pretty bad consequences when it gets mixed with the likes of sinful hearts (most things do). Something about finding out that nobody is going to judge us anymore has turned, in large degree, the collective post-modern humanity into a group of un-disciplined fun-addicts with no desire for much more than what other people’s approval demands—which isn’t much, these days.

So how do we fix this? Well, there are three important things to remember. First, that standards of what is acceptable and what is not most certainly do not rest in hands of other people (no, not even in your TFC professors!), or even ourselves.  For this we can be thankful. But not only should we embrace it when it is convenient (i.e. recognizing that when other people don’t like the way we act or look, we have no obligation to change these things to please them) but we should also submit to it when it is inconvenient (i.e. accepting that whether or not we or our friends recognize it, sometimes the actions we are performing and mindsets we are entertaining need to be changed because they are unacceptable).

Second, we have to find a real standard to decide which of our actions are acceptable and which aren’t. Clearly, we can’t rationally think that people can determine how we should live, on pain of all manner of logical error. There is, however, an omniscient Judge who determines what is acceptable or not as a mindset or action. The Bible isn’t quiet about it: The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” (Psalm 111:7-8) So, rather than looking to other people to decide whether or not what we do is acceptable, we ought to instead go to God to find out if what we do pleases him.

Third, make God’s standards your own. You’re going in the right direction when you recognize that the people around you don’t get to determine the way you ought to be living (despite how much they often think they do). You’re going in the same direction when you realize that it is God who determines the way you should live. But you haven’t completed the process until you recognize and make God’s standards your own. Until you made your standard of personal purity and conduct one which honors and is acceptable to God, you still haven’t fully made it past the first two steps.  Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) As you can see, the ideal Christian who has followed Paul’s advice has taken to heart all that God has required, living his or her life as a full sacrifice out of honor and worship.

In this process lies the formation of confidence and conviction. For when we no longer depend upon what others think to determine how we shall act and think, we no longer need their approval to feel we live rightly. At the same time, we act in conviction, knowing that the truth requires much of us—regardless of whether we or the crowds around us realize or not.