Reflection > Thurs Week 1

What is culture? Especially in the west?

Bolger went over the history of the study of culture – and not ‘culture’ as in art and operas, but everyday structures of society. He put it as “the water we swim in”. Apparently this field of study wasn’t picked up until the late 1970s in England, and came to the US a decade later in the late 1980s.

But this new field of study didn’t translate into western missiology. We weren’t using these studies of our culture to guide outreach to our culture. Studying those you want to reach is common sense and widely used in overseas mission work, but it didn’t start to happen in the US until the late 1990s.

So what are these studies of western culture finding out? As Christendom is on the decline (see tuesday’s post), the culture is finding replacements for church. Sports is a huge pull in the US, club culture in the UK sees 60% of 18-25 year-olds on a weekly basis. Rock concerts become pilgrimages for fans to hear favorite artists. Lyrics carry meaning on current issues that the church isn’t addressing. If people are going to church, it’s becoming a surface activity with their core spiritual needs met in another realm.

We talked about marketing’s reaction to our culture, and how corporations tap into fads and trends and boost sales. They focus on the urban areas and then turn around and market the ‘cool’ factor to the suburbs.

Now that culture studies are growing and future church leaders are being trained to see these things, I’m wondering how the church will approach it. Only time will tell, but Bolger keeps saying you shouldn’t have to leave your own culture to hear the gospel. So besides showing up a few decades late and out of breath from the struggle to even get there, what does that mean for the church?

Will it follow the marketing model of starting with in urban areas and fanning out to suburbs? Or will it be unique and new in each type of location?

I walked out of class excited as that question bounced around my head. Before I came here, the head pastor at Bidwell Pres in Chico asked me why I was going to seminary. I told him to “help the church communicate.” He challenged me, “Can’t you do that now?”
I said I thought there was more to uncover, more to learn from a place like Fuller. I didn’t know how to put my gut feeling into words. But with this fire in my belly, I don’t want to be stuck cranking out a tired weekly bulletin wondering if there’s more I could do with design to serve and reach so many peers who don’t know about Jesus and the community of the church.

I have no idea what that translates into down the road for me, and I don’t think I need to yet. But hearing stuff like this, and asking these questions, are reasons I’m here.


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