Recognizing cultural trends
My younger son and I went to a movie recently. While we sat there waiting for the show, we were inundated with what seemed like a never-ending barrage of previews. Trailer after trailer did its best to convince us that their show was the next movie we should be anticipating. I don’t remember how many previews we saw – I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit double-digits – but I noticed a common thread among almost all of them:
Nearly every movie preview was about a person finding out they were part of a larger, hidden story. And this hidden story was something they had always suspected, but finding out it was real still turned their world upside-down.
Whether the plot line contained science-fiction, horror elements, super powers, magic, or whatever…it was all different wrapping for the same idea: There is something greater than you going on, and you have a vital part to play in it. Movies and entertainment have long been a mirror of inner thoughts and desires, and this theme of a great, adventurous story is resonating with many people.
Being aware of the culture tendencies around us can show us ways to reach others with the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Take a look at the cultural theme Paul noticed when he was Athens:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshipped God, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is the pseudo-intellectual trying to say?”
Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities” – because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection
They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”
From there, Paul went on to tell them about God’s plan for relationship with all of humanity. During his speech he even quoted one of the Greek’s philosophers, saying that on at least one point, their philosophers got something right.
Even though Paul was internally troubled by the idolatry in Athens, he didn’t blast them out of his frustration. Instead, Paul met them where they were with the gospel and let them decide what to do with it.
Many years later, Paul wrote some instructions to the believers in Colossae:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
The kind of wisdom Paul wants them to use is the same kind he did with the Athenians and that God does with us. There were elements of truth in the culture around them, and the Colossian believers could use these touch-points to know how they should answer each person.
Our current culture is resonating with the idea that there is a larger story going on, and that they could have an important part in that story. The thing is, they’re right. They’re even more right than they know. We just need to recognize these cultural trends and meet others where they are, with the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.