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A modern Western worship team leading a contem...

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One of the great lies being unquestioningly embraced by many Christians today is the supposed neutrality of culture. The argument that culture is neutral is especially important for advocates of contemporary worship, because, if culture is neutral, then Christians may use the expressions of contemporary culture in their worship without question. Anything goes. Those who oppose contemporary worship usually consider some or even many instances of contemporary culture (at best) morally questionable or (at worst) evil.

The supposed neutrality of culture affects more than simply the way in which contemporary churches worship, of course. A supposed “cultural relevance” is wrapped into the ethos of contemporary churches at every turn. Movie clips pepper the sermons as “illustrations.” “Skits” provide some levity to the Sunday morning liturgy. The decision that culture is neutral and that (ergo) any particular cultural expression or mode of expression may be embraced by Christians manifests itself in such churches’ dress, manners, and even the speaking style of the preacher.

So is culture neutral? Jeremy Walker posed that question to two Presbyterian ministers and authors, Derek Thomas and Carl Trueman.* Without weighing into the particulars of the issues I mention above, they each provided their answer. Keep in mind that this “dual” interview happened “blind”–neither of them knew what the other was answering. Then look at the first three words in both responses.

[Derek Thomas]: Of course not! Culture is an expression of the collective sociological and artistic behavior of a fallen world.

[Carl Trueman]: Of course not. It’s a human construct and thus fallen. It is also rarely defined in many of the popular discussions I see of Christianity and culture. There it tends to be understood in terms of either pop culture or high culture. The net result is that it becomes something practically restricted to so some version of the arty-set (the kind of thing which fills the ‘Pseuds Corner’ of my favourite British magazine, Private Eye) or to young people.

Culture is better considered as the set of systems or behaviours which a society has for transmitting meaning and value. When thought of in those terms, neutrality is clearly not possible. It is also not possible to define it simply in terms of art or literature (whether elite or pop) either, which is very helpful for avoiding the kind of elitism or trendiness which Christian culture vultures often unconsciously propagate.