Don’t Try to Withstand the Cultural Tide Alone

I was born in 1981—the same year that the millennial generation began according to the “experts.” I will forever insist that I’m not a millennial, but that’s beside the point for my purposes here.

For over half a century, sociologists have theorized about generations, noting that people of certain ages share unique cultural experiences that cause them to view the world in much the same way as their peers. There’s danger in being too rigid with such theories, but overall, it makes perfect sense. No one lives in a cultural bubble. We experience the same wars and watch the same media.

Boomers share post-World War II optimism, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the Cold War. Gen Xers share the explosion of the television market and are the first generation where both parents most likely worked outside the home. Millennials, like my peers, share the rise of the internet and September 11. These shared experiences mean that we also share perspectives and habits.

Long before Karl Mannheim began theorizing about generations in 1952, the apostles made some similar observations in the New Testament. They realized that there is a shared way of viewing the world—a shared culture—and they also realized that the gospel has the power to liberate us from it. In the sociology of the New Testament, this shared way of thinking does not lead to life. It is dangerous, enslaving, deceiving, and godless. It’s also extremely popular.

In Ephesians 2:1-2 Paul reminds the church that they used to follow “the course of this world.” He goes on to describe what such a course looks like: living in the passions of our flesh and carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. This lifestyle, according to Paul, leads to death and wrath. In another place, Paul calls it “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).

The apostles John and James refer to it simply as “the world.” James warns that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Echoing the juxtapositions of Jesus, our Lord’s brother wants us to understand that you can’t be at peace with the way the world is and the ways of God. You must choose. Similarly, John warns the church to not love the world. By this he does not mean the people in the world, but the ways of the world. Christians must not live by the same values—”the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16).

So, what’s the alternative? We’re all shaped by our culture. It’s impossible for a human being to live in a bubble, cut off from the rest of humanity. To live in the world is to be influenced. When you really think about, these claims from the apostles seem a little farfetched. But are they really?

In Acts 2:40 the apostle Peter wraps up his Pentecost sermon by exhorting his hearers, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” For Peter the only way to escape this culture of death was through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Once forgiven, the believer receives the Holy Spirit. But then something else happens: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). As individuals are plucked out of the present evil age through Christ, they are immediately joined to a new community with a new culture—an alternative society called the church.

The community described in Acts 2:42-47 is unlike any community on earth. Here we see a supernatural community that is founded on the story of Christ’s love. This Spirit-filled community is devoted to growing in theological depth, loving relationships, joyful worship, and relentless witness. The church is a pilot plant for the coming kingdom of Christ. If the world wants to see what life looks like under Christ’s reign, they should be able to see it in the church right now.

God never calls his people to stand alone against the dehumanizing cultural tide. Our resistance is a team effort. To even attempt to go it alone is futile. By mercy, he saves us, gives us his Spirit, and places us in a community of mutual love and accountability. The only way to resist this crooked generation is by digging into the generation being saved through Christ.

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