Should Christians copy culture?

By Amanda Parrish

Merchandise lines the shelves with bright colors and flashy boxes. Crosses gleam from the glossy cardboard, boasting of a more appropriate, toned-down version. Everything is brand new and just waiting for the next buyer to take it home and gleefully pull back the plastic and cardboard.

This is the world of “Christianized” merchandise. Cheerful imitations of popular fads — here one day and gone the next. Guitar Praise, a version of Guitar Hero, boasts “solid rock” while the pristine “Jesus Buddy” statue, clad with a shiny heart, winning smile and a thumbs-up, is more than a little plastic. From one extreme to the other, movies to mouse pads, Christianity as we are aware is sweeping the nation in plastic boxes.

The immersion of this new fad begs one question: Is there something wrong with this picture? Are copies and imitations the best and most effective form of Christianity? Is following the cultural and societal trends truly the core of this faith so many claim?

I think not.

In a world where emphasis is placed on fitting in, falling in step and climbing the social ladder, much of what appears to be Christian follows these themes. Rather than engaging the surrounding culture, many elements are merely removed from
the culture and transformed to match “Christian themes.”

Hence, a copying of culture occurs. One must wonder at the goal of copying culture. Is it for the sake of drawing others in? If so, it is possible the goal is merely to convert Christianity into a more comfortable, familiar concept for others.

Or is there even a slight desire to “keep up with” the culture? This could be rooted in being culturally acceptable and, in a sense, striving to “keep up with the times.”

Or is it even for making a safe haven for Christians themselves? It is a reflection of a culture with potentially offensive elements removed far from those worldly themes, but close enough to not be radically different.

And yet, this theme of comfortable conformity is soundly rebuked by Martin Luther: “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies,” Luther admonished. “And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ. If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been spared?”

These elements, removed from but conformed to culture, are made “safe” for Christians. All attractive elements remain, but are somehow made bigger and better with possible dangerous themes removed. Yet to be in the midst of beggars and thieves and all those dangerous things while pointing to the One who brings ultimate transformation and renewal is the call.

Another aspect involved is discerning why we as creatures made in the image of God and designed for creativity merely copy what comes before?

Rather than being at the forefront of the creativity surrounding us, many of us follow behind. Rather than encouraging God-given creativity and attributing all new creations and initiations to the glory of God, copies of culture is often the extent of innovation.

For example, a dramatic shift has been appearing in numerous organizations across the map. “Toms Shoes” is growing in popularity, striving to provide shoes for poor communities. “Invisible Children” dramatically raises awareness concerning the exploitation of children. These organizations are oriented toward making a difference in lives for the better.

The question again remains, why are Christians not the ones setting such examples and attributing all success and glory to God? Instead, glory is given to the wisdom and kindness of mankind rather than the grace of a loving and merciful God.

The challenge for us is breaking habits. After such an extended amount of time spent copying and “making safe” cultural elements, it is difficult to break from such thought processes. Yet the scriptural challenge and affirmation remains, as stated by Paul in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

The life-long challenge is to imitate Christ rather than a shadowy imitation of culture.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.