Jesus was countercultural but not counter culture. Yes, His teachings flipped the script on all mankind valued – rich is poor, strong is weak, greatest is least, up is down and down is up. His lifestyle conflicted with everything society held dear – rejecting popularity, power and prosperity. He chose homelessness, loved enemies, defended the oppressed, marched undaunted toward persecution, remained silent when accused, and forgave His murderers. No one has ever spoken or lived more counterculturally. Yet no one has ever shown more care and concern for the people He encountered.
Jesus’ words and actions, if conveyed literally and imitated fearlessly, would be considered just as radical in America today as they were in Israel then. However, studies show our society sees most Christians and churches not as countercultural but counter culture. Scripture calls us to be transformed in our thinking but not conformed in our behaviors. Yet the majority of believers are far less radical in their lifestyles and more vocal in their personal opinions than Jesus, who did and said only what He heard from the Father. It’s become difficult to distinguish Christian neighbors and coworkers from the rest of the crowd, at least not in ways that intrigue or endear.
In a culture increasingly demanding conformance to its ideals – tolerance and acceptance of each individual’s unmitigated pursuit of happiness – we have an unprecedented opportunity to contrast that myopic, self-centered world view with the enduring hope of Christ-centered living. Imagine the shock and awe of watching millions of countercultural revolutionaries walk away from popularity, power and prosperity. How would the public perception of Christians change if we practiced what Jesus modeled – understanding without convergence and compassion without condemnation? The Gospel will offend, but being offensive or defensive will never awaken America from its collective conscience coma. It’s illogical to counter culture by imposing our moral standards, which many of us don’t live by, on people who don’t believe in the God who set those standards. What would be more effective is praying, caring and sharing so counterculturally that it illuminated the shallowness of living for the dot (here and now) and not the line (eternity).
Disciples obey the commands of Jesus, most of which go against nearly every fiber of our being and every principle of secular humanism. To diagnose issues and prescribe solutions for helping churches and Christians become more countercultural and less counter culture, we first need to look at how Jesus obliterated established norms and instructs His disciples to do likewise…
- Loving those who hate you means serving them, expecting nothing in return
- The poor are so dear to Jesus that He often associated our eternal life with helping them
- Those suffering for the cause of Christ should be considered fortunate and revered
- Humility and mercy are far more valuable currencies in God’s economy than spirituality
- Heaven isn’t reserved for “mature” believers, but for those with the faith of a child
- Servants are at the top of the social structure in the Lord’s eyes
- Love for our heavenly Father should make feelings for our family pale by comparison
- Confessing weaknesses is actually a sign of strength in Kingdom terms
- Willingness to leave everything to follow Jesus means gaining back all that and so much more
- Jesus is in hot pursuit of “sinners”, not the self-proclaimed “righteous”
- God is a loving Father, but as any good Father He demands loyalty and obedience
- Wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing; if idolized it becomes a curse
Biblical shouldn’t be radical. However, taking those principles seriously would be culture shock for a post-Christian America that long ago passed the Age of Commerce, Age of Affluence, Age of Intellect, and has entered the Age of Decadence.
Life doesn’t work without Jesus. As countercultural and irrational as His words and example may appear, the alternative eventually leads to hopelessness and chaos…
- Preserving the freedom of one group to defy God’s commands unavoidably decimates the rights of other groups
- Pretending there is no life after death is convenient and comfortable until disaster strikes
- Teaching kids they are cosmic accidents produces exactly the response we would expect and now observe
- Believing mankind is inherently good leads to disappointment when sinful human nature inevitably prevails
- Ascribing the illogical ability to invent truth ends in disillusionment when ill-conceived fallacies prove one day to be untrue
- Authenticity is impossible apart from our intended identity as children of God, so being “my authentic self” expediently evolves to mimic transitory cultural norms
- Identity crises tempt youth to portray façades on social media and escape reality via VR and avatars
- Trust in human wisdom requires cognitive dissonance when science must be ignored to justify immorality (e.g. gender designations by doctors, heartbeats of unborn infants)
- Tolerance, secular society’s highest virtue, is necessarily intolerant of those who don’t share its progressive views
- Advertisers pitch seemingly altruistic messages linking possessions to personal empowerment when money is their only true motive
- Politicians know the path to ultimate power lies in defining everyone as an oppressor or oppressed to regulate the first and rescue the latter
- Government positions itself as savior, directing attention from the Savior, by “generously” offering healing and funding to create dependence
Those who are Fatherless lack a trustworthy guide, drawing wrong conclusions because they process information through a filter based on bad assumptions – that there is no God or that He is not good. Sands shift with no firm foundation, not knowing where they came from or where they’re going. Only Christians know the end of our story because we’ve read the last chapter of the Book.
Are We More Countercultural or Counter Culture?
Against that backdrop, are churches and Christians conforming to conventional culture or to biblical counterculturalism? In other words, are we influencing culture more than we’re influenced by it? The answer lies in our responses to questions like the following…
- Are we rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s or politicizing to the point of polarizing?
- Do we engage in serving the poor in ways that actually alleviate and don’t perpetuate poverty, realizing how closely Jesus identifies with them, as if we were serving Him?
- How much do we donate to help millions of persecuted brothers and sisters overseas?
- Are we building disciples or churches? In other words, do we equip and send (for Prayer, Care and Share) or attract and retain (through Invite, Involve and Invest)?
- Are our church growth strategies designed to produce childlike faith in adults or to leverage children as a means to engage adults in churchdom?
- Do we produce and cherish the fruits of the Spirit or check spiritual boxes?
- Are we deceived, like most churchgoers today, into thinking most people are good by nature or do we deal with sin in the church head-on while treating non-Christians suffering under that delusion compassionately as “lost sheep”?
- Do repentance, surrender, obedience, sanctification and dying to self frequently enter the vernacular or is God’s grace less expensive than that?
- Is the key to “winning” the culture war seen as an air attack with Christians scaling the 7 mountains (e.g. education, government) or a ground attack of love and compassion?
- Do we spend most of our time around other “good”, like-minded people or do we urgently seek out and invest in those who don’t know the Lord?
- Do we teach that God isn’t just one trait, but a loving Father who encapsulates perfectly the unconditional love yet demanding justice we had expected of our imperfect dads?
- Is wealth seen as a valuable asset and prosperity as a blessing or are those viewed with caution as shiny lures that hide hooks if accumulated and used with selfish motives?
Countercultural but not counter culture means awakening society to the truth of Jesus by our humility, love, evangelism and service – not our accusations and expectations. Non-believers will recognize their sin and need for forgiveness when we shine the bright light of Christ’s righteousness. Churches and Christians dim that light, revealing our hypocrisy and not His holiness, when we compromise to look more like the world and less like Jesus. Yet being different does not mean being distant.
It’s Your Turn…
In our next post, we’ll explore practical ideas for striking that delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture. Please share your thoughts to start that conversation…