Listening to our culture?!

This morning on the bus, I listened to a talk by Tim Keller on Persuasion from the 2008 Dwell Conference. It was brilliant I highly recommend it. But when I got off the bus and began the short walk to the campus what struck me most was despair. I realised how far I have to go. My theological education was first class in teaching me to listen to the Word, and for that I am forever grateful. But I now realise that I was never equipped to listen to the world, in order that I may better connect the Word with the world. I am not talking about topical teaching but rather connecting Bible teaching with the values of a world which is increasingly not shaped by those same values. A world whose questions are not my questions or often my concerns.

I also realised that even though I have been privileged to experience the teaching of some great teachers who have been really good at listening to the world and the Word and bringing them together, they have never really taught me to do this for myself (in fairness maybe I was not listening). And actually the next logical question is have I taught those who have been in my ministry how to listen to both the world and the Word. And to effectively learn to use the values of the world to connect them with the truth of Scripture.

Tim Keller talks about:

1. Listening to the culture – read the books, watch the movies, talk to people. Find out what are the things that people value, both positively and negatively. Those things that people believe in strongly, less strongly and disagree with.

2. Entering the culture – finding the positive “common grace” values in a culture that agrees with the values of Scripture, and use these as a point of connection

3. Challenging the culture – challenge those inconsistencies in values or ways of applying them.

4. Completing the culture – show them the Biblical story which completes the inconsistencies of a culture and fulfills those good “common grace” elements. Make them hunger for Christianity to be true.

I found this very helpful but my questions are about listening to the culture. I don’t have a TV, how crucial is this? Particularly given the fact that no TV means a more productive use of time for friends, reading, blogging, talking to my wife.

There are some books that I think would be helpful -but they are expensive. I tried the library but it is normally out of date or if they do have books they are normally out.

Movies have been helpful! Actually perhaps a great thing to start would be a movie club – where you watch and discuss movies, particularly given how prominent movies are as a cultural commentator and as a source of authority to most people.

But perhaps my most significant way of listening to my culture is to just spend time with non-Christians. And genuinely listen to them, their concerns, fears, values, joys, goals, things they love, things they hate. And then ask myself – would X understand this, what would his questions be, what would be agree with, what would she get upset about. The more time I spend just being with non-Christians, the more I think about them when I teach, and the better I teach (I think…).

What do you think about all this? What helps you to listen to your culture? How do you process what you learn about people and their worldviews?


~ by John on June 20, 2008.

4 Responses to “Listening to our culture?!”

  1. I also struggle with not watching tv and find myself in a position where I must watch more, or I will become even more out of touch. TV is such a shaper of society’s morals and what seems ‘normal’. Your idea of a movie club is great – just a pity that movies are so long. Maybe watch a movie one week and discuss it the next. I’d like to try that some time. Useful because – we can help each other to think critically about what we see, also because we can hear what other peoples’ responses and thoughts are and so hear the culture speaking. AND maybe people would rather discuss a movie than the Bible – at first anyway. Thanks for the idea.

  2. First you have to find some friends, then take the time to listen to them. I’ve talked about starting a movie club, but haven’t delivered. You’ve inspired me to get going. It’s a great way to not only listen to the message of the film, but also to engage with others in a non-threatening way. People will always tell you what they think about a movie. It’s a legitimate means of ministry. So, if you see me watching movies in the middle of the day, I’m doing ministry!

  3. Nice discussion John

    I think that the kernel of what we need to be is a prophetic people – salt and light. The salt must obviously be in the meat to affect it, and the light must shine into our culture and affect it in some way. By prophetic I mean that we use the gift of applying Scripture to culture as we hear from God, and that speaks to people’s hearts. It also encompasses being a people who hear from God, and then speak into culture what is on God’s heart for a person or group of people, be it encouragement, wisdom, truth etc.

    Jesus spoke into His culture that way: (“You have heard it said…but now I say”). As we follow His example I believe we can impact culture in this way, but we must of course build relationships so that we can speak – the weight of the words spoken will be carried by the bridge that has been built. If we speak to soon, the words will collapse the bridge and wash away.

    Haven’t had time to think thru much more – these are just off the chest ideas.


  4. Mark, your comment just reinforced in it my head again – it is all about people! I so often want to subvert ministry and mission to a programme – read this book, watch this movie, think like this, hang out here – all good things. But yes – get some good friends who don’t follow Jesus and then listen (really, listen!) to them. Life (including mision and ministry and listening to our culture!) is all about relationships. God designed it that way, so why should understanding and listening to our culture be any different, do it in relationship. Listen and spend time with real live people!

    Malcolm, whilst I do believe that sometimes God gives us direct insights into people and situations that we would not have figured out on our own, I also believe that the majority of the time God “sells” us these insights at the cost of the hard work of time and listening. God can, as with all things bypass us in this process but he chooses not to. Rather he wants us to be on mission together with him and to own and love and work hard for His mission too.

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