How much are we shaped by our culture? I think it is true to say that we are not only shaped by our culture but that we are in many ways inseparable from our culture. This is not all bad either. God has called individuals to himself from every tribe and tongue. This means in some sense he wants a diverse witness of the glory and grace of Jesus Christ in every land and every culture. In other words, there is a sense in which it is honoring to the glory of Christ and helpful to the mission of the gospel that we are a part of our culture.
On the other hand, Christians have always recognized a need to be distinct from their culture as well as a part of it. As saints (for instance, Col. 1:2, 4, 12), all Christians are fundamentally different than the rest of humanity. At the very least, that difference is rooted in our new relationship with God the Father, through the work of God the Son, by the power of God the Spirit. The truth of the Christian gospel is unchanging, rooted in the objective revelation found in the Bible. Because of this there should be a certain continuity between Christians of every age and culture (Jude 3).
Where are evangelicals today? Historian Mark Noll makes a rather significant claim: “It is not an exaggeration to claim that this nineteenth-century Protestant evangelicalism differed from the religion of the Protestant Reformation as much as sixteenth-century Reformation Protestantism differed from Roman Catholic theology from which it emerged.”
Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, p. 3.
I believe Noll is right. In the nineteenth century, some radical changes took place which altered the fundamental character of professing evangelicalism. The result is that in today’s evangelicalism, there seems to be a radical departure from a biblically instructed and biblically anchored faith that goes beyond mere cultural variety. Sadly, evangelicals today have imbibed far more of the spirit of the age than the Holy Spirit.
This reveals the need to examine ourselves to see how our personal faith and convictions are rightly or wrongly influenced by our culture. Sometimes this is not as easy to discern as we might suppose. What portion of our personal beliefs and convictions actually arise from the Bible and what portion arise from our upbringing, our experience, our religious leaders, in short…our culture?