When Engaging Becomes Reflecting

One of the great tasks of evangelical Christianity over the last few decades has been to engage the culture with the Gospel. Tragically, many evangelicals have overstepped mere engagement and have begun to reflect popular culture. The result is that there is little difference displayed by evangelicals from the world. It is often hard to tell the two apart.

Take, for example, the CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association). Amy Welborn, a Catholic writer, has this take on the status of pop evangelicalism via a recent visit to the CBA convention:

The pop evangelical engagement with pop culture is always an interesting topic, and you never see it so blatantly displayed as you do at CBA. The motivation, I know, is to discern what people are concerned about from pop culture trends and then show them how to meet those needs via Christianity. That’s a good motivation. When I taught high school, it’s what I did, in essence – listen to the kids and show them how their deepest questions and fears were not new at all, and were answered by the truth God has revealed to us.

But it’s obvious something has gone haywire in the pop evangelical take on this. What it is, I think, is the failure to hold up what secular pop culture reveals about human needs to any kind of judgment. My sense is that this has happened because of the evangelical emphasis on church growth and the CBA concern for profit and sales. If self-help and personal happiness concerns have taken root in American culture, the pop evangelical response is to simply baptize those concerns without really questioning them. If Americans want to diet, we’ll just give them Christian diet books.

Welborn’s entire post is worth reading, and should serve as a reminder to evangelicals just how out-of-hand this trend has become. Evangelicals following this formula are no longer a guiding light to the culture outside—they have instead become a vivid reflection of it. Engagement, after all, should result in confrontation, not absorption. If we are to do reflecting, let us reflect the scandal of the cross above the scandal of the world.

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