Does a fish know that he’s wet?
Fish don’t think about being wet. But when you take them out of the water and put them onto the boat, they know that they’re not in the same environment they were in before. Only when they leave the water do they understand the significance of being wet. Like fish, a lot of us are completely immersed in our culture and don’t realize it. While living in water is vital for fish, immersion in our culture can blind us to the truth of God’s Word. Only when we get into Scripture and understand a biblical worldview can we look back at where we were and realize the environment we were in. Here are four ways to “dry off” and start proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the culture.
#1–Know the Bible
Drying off begins with the Bible–understanding what it says, getting into the Word and getting the Word into us. All Scripture is breathed out by God, the Bible says, and is profitable for rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means there’s nothing to which we will be called for which Scripture does not equip us.
We need to read the Bible, study it and memorize it. If we don’t understand what God has said, we’ll operate from our default position, which is the cultural worldview we’ve been inundated with.
#2–Understand How the Bible Dictates the Way to Live
Next, we must understand how the Bible undergirds our lives, our culture–all of reality–and how biblical truth informs a biblical worldview. We can’t have a dichotomy of sacred and secular, where on Sundays we apply biblical truth, but Monday through Saturday we function like everybody else.
We tend to be very selective in the way that we apply Scripture; we adopt the cultural mindset and not a scriptural mindset. For example, I was preaching once at a prominent church in the South, and a woman came up to me afterward, sobbing. I prepared myself because this looked heavy; she was dealing with something. I told her to take a deep breath and asked her how I could pray for her.
She could barely get the words out: “It’s my son.”
I said, “Wow. What is it?”
“He’s getting married.”
I paused, then asked, “To a Christian girl?” I kept asking questions and, from what I gathered, a believer had found a believer whom he wanted to marry. Then the woman let the other shoe drop. “He’s not finished with college.”
I waited, but that was it. That was the big “I need to come and have you pray for me because my life’s falling apart” moment.
Why is this such a big deal? Where did we get the idea that a young man or a young woman’s college education is more important than their marriage? And what do we communicate by affirming that?
I said, “Ma’am, let me understand. You’d rather have your son wait for another year and a half or two years before he moves forward with this, right?”
“Yes,” she said.
“But he loves this woman enough to ask her to marry him?”
I said, “Do you realize that the wisest men, the strongest men and the most godly men in the Bible all fell to sexual sin? Unless you think your son is wiser than Solomon, stronger than Samson and more godly than David, let him get married.”
She looked at me as if she’d never considered that. It never occurred to her because of the unwritten rule that you’ve got to have a diploma in hand before you marry.
Marriage is an area where our mindset is often cultural and not very biblical. Many people can’t give you book, chapter and verse for what the Bible says about marriage. Most of the decisions that we make in this area come from what we’ve adapted to in our culture. We must understand what Scripture says above all else, and then we have to apply biblical truth to marriage and every other area of life. We need a full-orbed biblical worldview.
And this starts at home. Right now, only 20 percent of people in their 20s still maintain the level of church attendance, Bible reading and prayer that they had in their teens.
We don’t connect the dots. The No. 1 shaper of worldview is education. Secular humanism is the dominant worldview in education, politics and the media. Most Christian parents attended public schools and they send their children to public schools. Chances are that they and their children’s worldview is going to be secular humanism.
Luke 6:40 says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (NIV). Our children spend 14,000 hours in school. We’re not going to overcome that by a few minutes a week at home. There’s no such thing as a neutral education, and we have to understand the implications.
#3–Observe the Culture
Third, we need to learn how to analyze our culture critically. As we look at what the culture says and what the culture does, we must analyze it piece by piece; then we will discover the foundations upon which the people of our culture build their actions and attitudes.
As we analyze our culture from a biblical perspective, we’ll realize that we still have things we need to be rid of and that this will put us at odds with many in the Christian community. Studies show that less than 10 percent of Christians are actually operating from a biblical worldview, so when we begin to operate this way, the first place we’ll feel isolated is in church. Irony of ironies. When we become committed to biblical truth in the midst of a church community that hasn’t gone through those first two steps, we begin to see incredible biblical illiteracy and, therefore, few people who have a biblical worldview. They can’t analyze the culture because they are completely immersed in it.
#4–Bridging the Gap With Our Culture
We’re not here to heap condemnation on our culture but to speak truth to it and love it. That can be a hard balance to strike. We need to speak truth, but not in a way that’s hurtful, demeaning and disrespectful to those around us. That would be like screaming at the fish, “Why are you wet?!”
As the Apostle Peter says, we must always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. But we must do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). There’s a way to be winsome without tickling ears or compromising.
Not long after I had come to faith, as a college student living off campus, I had an experience with two guys who came to my door wanting to talk to me about the Lord. At first, I was like, “Man, that’s awesome. You guys are going door to door talking to people.” But then I realized something was not quite right, though I wasn’t sure what it was. After they left I researched the literature they had given me.
When they came back, I was ready, and I hammered them. “I know who you are. I know what you represent, and I know what you believe. Here’s where you’re wrong, here’s what the Bible says.” I let them have it, up one side and down the other. The next day I couldn’t wait to tell my Christian friends what happened. I told them how I blasted these guys. After most of my friends left, one of them said, “Voddie, do you think they’re going to come back?” I said, “No way.” He smiled, stood up and walked away. I knew exactly why he asked me that. I had spoken the truth, but not in love. I was proud of the fact that I had demeaned these guys. I won the argument, but not the men. I pray I will never forget that.
We may offend someone in an evangelistic conversation and think, “Hey, I did what I was supposed to.” Maybe. But were you winsome? God may put us in conversations with people who, having been accosted by Christians before, have already made up their minds about us. We can dismantle their conclusions. But we won’t be able to do this unless we take the time to hear them out.
Sharing ‘Our Story': A Warning
In learning how to communicate effectively, we’ve gotten into shaky territory. Our culture is mired in relativism, so we understand that many believe that what’s true for me is not necessarily true for you; experience trumps everything. Because of this, we’ve emphasized the importance of sharing our story: “When you talk to people, don’t just give them information,” we say. “Give them your story, because that’s what resonates with them.”
On the one hand, that’s true. But on the other hand, because they’ve bought into relativism, they hear our story and say, “Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so glad you found something that works for you.” And that’s the end of “our story.”
Unbelievers are legitimately happy for us because we’ve found something that works for us, but they don’t make the connection that they need to put their trust in Christ, as we have. Our story is rooted in biblical truth, and theirs is rooted in personal experience.
I sit down with students on college campuses and ask questions like this: “Your source of authority is yourself, but think about who you were four years ago, before you came to college. Would you trust that person today?” They say no. “Now, think about who you will be four years from now. Do you think that you’ll trust that person then?” Well, probably not, they say. “But you trust him now?”
That’s what happens when we are our own source of authority–and the danger that we fall into when we become enamored with our own story. Prayerfully, I’ll be better tomorrow than I am today, but when I trust in myself, and when my experience is my sole source of authority, I trust a moving target because I’m not going to be the same person tomorrow that I am today. We have to help people who are mired in relativism to understand that.
The reality of all this has changed the way I tell my story. The high points I emphasize are not just the experiential areas. I talk about who I was, and how I was a person who believed in and relied on myself. When I came to faith in Christ, I came to faith in Someone eternal, unchangeable, immovable–that becomes my story. Not just, “I had an experience that makes me feel better.” No, I came to faith in the God of the universe. He’s not going anywhere. He’s my Rock. And even though I grow and change, He won’t.
Speaking the Language of the Cross
We have to be wise in understanding our culture when we tell our stories. Are we here to win an argument or to win the man? If we’re here to win the man, we’d better get to know him. I think many of us, when we have a conversation with people, look right through them: “I’m not listening to what you’re saying. I’m waiting for the next opening, so that I can get in my prepared line.”
When we analyze our culture, we understand our culture. The beautiful thing is that because we were all created by Christ and for Christ, none of us will ever be satisfied until we come to Christ. We just have to help people understand where the flaws are in the culture and that the answer is always Jesus. We have to understand the language that the culture is speaking so that we can communicate.
I don’t mean we can’t use “religious” language. I reject that wholeheartedly. Parents who have their little girls in ballet don’t go to the ballet teacher and say, “Why do you say plié? Come on, let’s use some more contemporary language.” No, they make the child learn the language. And parents don’t go to the baseball coach and say, “Why do you refer to the player on first base, second base, third base? Let’s just talk about ‘the guy over there.'” They make their child learn the language of the sport. I refuse to respect the language of Zion less than I respect the language of ballet or baseball. People need to know what atonement is. Do I need to define that and explain it? You’d better believe I do, because I’m not giving up that word. I’m not giving up salvation either, and I’m not even giving up propitiation. When we begin to give up those words, we’ll begin to compromise their meanings. Our job is not to replace the language of Scripture, but to understand it and the person well enough to communicate it in a way he or she will understand.
Presenting the Gospel
Before I share the Gospel with you, I want to know you first, so I’m going to ask questions about who you are. When I hear an accent, I may ask what part of the country you’re from. People answer that question by telling me how they grew up, their family background, and their religious background–if they grew up going to church and if they’re still going to church. All from, “Hey, what accent is that I hear?”
Using questions is an effective approach to evangelism, because people love to talk about themselves more than anything else. People have a philosophy of life, and they want to tell it. If someone is not a Christ-follower, his or her philosophy of life will have holes, so I’m going to pay attention and find those holes.
When a person tells me he believes that all roads lead to God, I say, “That’s interesting. My mother was a Buddhist, and Buddhists don’t believe in a god. Worshiping the God of the Bible is absolutely not the same as worshiping Buddha, because God is a theistic being, an intelligent, necessary Sustainer of the universe. So, I’m wondering how you’ve come to the conclusion that we all worship the same God when, in my mother’s case, she didn’t believe in a god at all.”
That person has to acknowledge a hole in his life philosophy.
Almost every time I speak at a college campus, students ask me this question: “Why Christianity? With so many religions, how can you possibly say that yours is right?”
I use this illustration: A policeman comes on the scene of an accident and sees the skid marks, two cars, the carnage and three witnesses standing around. He talks to witness No. 1, who is the person in the car behind the accident and gets one story. He talks to witness No. 2, who was actually standing on the street and saw the accident. He talks to witness No. 3, who had another vantage point. All three witnesses tell a different story. The policeman has two choices: He can compare the witnesses’ stories against what he sees to try to determine what happened, or he can say that with all these different perspectives, there must not have been an accident.
This helps students start to see the need to explore. I say, let’s examine each religion and, based on where the evidence leads us, see what fits the evidence best. Let’s not just give up. Would your science professor let you do that? Let’s not give up. Let’s search.
Our goal is not just to point out where the culture is wrong. Our goal is to help others–believers and unbelievers–to “dry off” from the culture they’ve been immersed in” and show them how to develop a biblical worldview.