Are You a "Separatist" or "Cultural" Christian?

by John Dickinson on May 17th, 2012

I am reading a book called The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons. I haven’t finished the book yet but I want to share some provoking ideas I have found so far.

Lyons categorizes what I might call “traditional” Christians in two groups based on how they interact with current culture. He says that there are “Separatist” Christians and “Cultural” Christians.

Separatist Christians tend to keep a barrier between themselves and the current culture. These Separatists can be further defined in three subcategories: “Insiders” circle the wagons and remove themselves from contact with current culture for the most part. “Warriors” battle with culture to hold the line on truth and the Christian way. “Evangelizers” work to save the lost from this broken and corrupt world.

If you think of the Separatist’s interaction with culture on one end of the spectrum, you find at the other end the Cultural Christians. In this category you find the “Blenders,” those Christians that are like chameleons blending into the culture around them, yet having no impact on the culture.

Joining them are the “Philanthropist” Christians, those that do many good works for society and culture, yet their deeds are void of any redemptive message. They run with the tagline, “Preach the gospel whenever you can and when all else fails, use words.”

I do not know about you, but I find a bit of myself in several of those categories. As I consider my calendar, I find myself spending very little time rubbing shoulders with people in current culture, making me an Insider. I am concerned about the shift of culture away from Christian principles and I wonder where I make a stand to say, “enough is enough!” Am I not then a Warrior Christian? On the other hand, as I do some good work in the community, I am not sure anyone I have served understands my motives and the grace I have found in Jesus Christ. The old question, “If I were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence found to convict me?” I would have to say I am largely a Blender Christian, enjoying the current culture (movies, dining, shopping and material possessions, etc.) but not leaving a trace of my Christian faith on that culture.

What about you? Hit the comment button and tell me what categories you find yourself falling into.

Lyons offers up that there is a third category that is growing among the “next Christians”: it is the “Restorer” Christian.

These Christians, Lyons says, “are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. (p.47)

The gist that I get as Lyons continues is that Restorer Christians do not become acculturated with modern culture, yet they do not become isolated or insulated from it either; perhaps inoculated is closer to the idea. They encounter and engage culture, more than just an “in the world, but not of the world” mentality.

This helps me to better understand some of Jesus' peculiar ways in the Gospels. Think of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery (John 8) or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Jesus was direct about sin but did not condemn them even though he was the only one justified to do so. He also did not blend in and overlook sin, but he engaged these women at their points of need with compassion, forgiveness, grace and love; yet also with direct instruction to turn from their sin. It appears that his goal was to restore these women steeped in the culture of the day.

I am trying to figure out how I can more effectively demonstrate this restorative attitude in my life, what about you?

Look for Part II to this post in the next few days.

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