A Theology for Hipsters (Part 24): Keeping the Fundamentals (Part 3)

Gospel Distractions – Cultural Transformation

 Among the other diversions that hipsters must be aware are the competing “gospel” messages promulgated by the church today, each with their own innate appeal to hipsters. These alternative gospels address important hipster issues, like social justice, community, and spiritual journeys. There are truths hidden in each of these and indeed they are important, but to confuse these with the gospel is to miss the essential word of Scripture. The Gospel is good news about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and coming kingdom (all these pieces together) and while it includes other elements this is at the heart of it all.

Greg Gilbert is, I believe, wrong to criticize cultural transformation as part of the church’s role in the world, yet he is spot on when he warns us not to confuse this with the gospel message itself. He writes:

My main concern is rather something that I hope my evangelical transformationalist friends would heartily agree with. It is that far too often among some transformationalists, cultural redemption subtly becomes the great promise and point of the gospel – which of course means that the cross, deliberately or not, is pushed out of that position. You can see this happening in book after book calling for a greater emphasis on cultural transformation. The highest excitement and joy are ignited by the promise of a reformed culture rather than by the work of Christ on the cross. The most fervent appeals are for people to join God in his work of changing the world, rather than to repent and believe in Jesus. The Bible’s story line is said to pivot on the remaking of the world rather than on the substitutionary death of Jesus.

And in the process Christianity becomes less about grace and faith, and more a banal religion of “Live like this, and we’ll change the world.” That’s not Christianity; it’s moralism.[1]

While I applaud the interest in cultural transformation, and I hope to show later on that this is a Biblical goal, I nonetheless sympathize with Gilbert’s concern. The pursuit of cultural transformation has, in many corners, pushed the gospel of Jesus’ death for sinners and belief in him to the periphery. The gospel is about first and foremost individuals confessing they are sinners in need of a savior and turning with faith to Jesus’ death and resurrection as satisfactory payment to God for their debt. From this point we may consider the subject of cultural transformation, indeed must, but not before and not instead of this message. Gilbert even comments:

I actually think it’s possible to be a committed transformationalist and at the same time be committed to keeping the cross of Jesus at the very center of the biblical story and of the good news. After all, it is the forgiven and redeemed people of God whom he would use to accomplish the transformation, and forgiveness and redemption take place only through the cross.[2]

If we are going to truly see culture transformed we must keep the cross of Christ and His resurrection at the center. While the doctrine of common grace acknowledges that sinners can do good things, we know that people and culture will only truly be transformed by the power of the gospel which frees men from the kingdom of darkness and brings them into the kingdom of light. There is no other means of escape and change than the work of Jesus, and when men put their faith in Him they are transformed and can truly impact their world. The gospel, then, must be about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and from that flows cultural transformation.

[1] What is the Gospel? 109.

[2] Ibid. 108.

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