Theologian Carl F. H. Henry talks with the Christianity Today Institute about Christianity and culture.
Roger Nicole has written that “to impose one’s culture on a group of people is mischievous because it demands on the part of the nationals a sacrifice of their own culture that the gospel does not require.” We usually think of this in the context of foreign missions. Is there a danger of this happening at home? In other words, is evangelical expression of the gospel too dependent on white, middle-class values?
The biblical message is classless and colorless, and its divinely revealed commandments are not reducible to personal “values”—including those of white, middle-class persons. But some who routinely assail distinctive American values or the Western way of life write not only as if these options necessarily prostitute the gospel, but as if some existing alternative is virgin-pure. As recently as the mid-1980s they were applauding Marxist socialism as if it were born in Bethlehem.
Coercive imposition of revelatory doctrines and moral imperatives upon others violates the voluntary character of true faith. But when mere tradition or custom is involved, to link acceptance of the gospel with social conventions is unjustifiable. Africans should feel as much liberty to worship God under the open skies as Americans do to gather in buildings. But an immoral or sinful practice should not be condoned as an acceptable alternative to biblically ordered behavior.
The call of Christ often requires a turning away from the trappings of secularism. In terms of American culture, what does the gospel require us to reject? What aspects of our culture should one not find in the church?
A generation ago it was modernists with the social gospel ...1
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