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FIRST-PERSON: Missional culture engagement

VICKSBURG, Miss. (BP) — The struggle to engage culture is more important in Mississippi than ever as the Human Rights Campaign has recently launched an aggressive homosexual marriage PR campaign of television commercials to run throughout the state. Amid this campaign, there is a subtle debate within Baptist life about the most Christ-honoring way to deal with the current “culture wars.”

As a pastor, I have seen at least two camps emerge within Baptist life. Each group is protecting important biblical principles as they engage the culture. However both seem ineffective in important ways.

One group is focused on winning the culture war merely through political activism and reclaiming a moral majority. These Baptists maintain a clear and vocal position in the culture that is unwavering about the sin of homosexuality. To have moral clarity is always important, but in some cases this group can become focused on cultural nostalgia rather than winning lost souls to faith in Christ. A focus on morality that is divorced from the Gospel is ineffective. Gospel-less engagement can be perceived as unloving, unsympathetic and unwelcoming to those living in sin. With this approach, biblical marriage is defended but souls are not necessarily won to Jesus.

Another group has acknowledged the cultural slide into sin but believes the fight to maintain a biblical view of marriage and sexuality within the culture is hopeless — and ultimately distracting from our main focus of winning people to Jesus. To continue pressing the sexuality issue is a stumbling block to the lost and a hindrance to effective evangelism, this group believes.

Neither of these approaches is biblical. Christian cultural engagement must involve both prophetic truth-telling and warm Gospel proclamation. It is not an either/or proposition. If we engage the culture in a way that speaks with biblical clarity along with a Christ-like love for souls, then the present cultural crisis can become a great opportunity for Gospel witness. We should not feel pressure to choose between challenging the culture’s morality and doing evangelism. Both should come together in missional culture engagement.

The societal pressure to normalize homosexual marriage is an opportunity to explain why biblical marriage is important. Such explanation is often missing from the current culture wars. Rather than merely drawing a line in the sand and firing shots at LGBT advocates, we should explain why biblical marriage matters. We can talk to homosexuals and those arguing for homosexual marriage about how marriage portrays the Gospel. Biblical marriage is after all God’s greatest picture of Himself and His love for the church.

Biblical marriage is also valuable because it illustrates the type of unity present within the Trinity; it is the mechanism for populating the earth; and it is God’s way of providing man with a helper and life partner. Biblical marriage is all these things and so much more.

In order for us to move from simply fighting a culture war to missional culture engagement, we must reject both simplistic anti-gay rhetoric and the temptation to ignore the conflict over homosexuality all together. It is only when we defend a biblical view of marriage by pointing to the Gospel that we are faithful and effective in fulfilling our missional purpose.

This cultural crisis is an opportunity. Are we ready to embrace it for the glory of God and the sake of the Gospel?