Should Christians assimilate with the culture?

During its first fifteen years, my software company only worked with domestic clients. In the late nineties, we landed Oxford University Press (a terrific feather in our cap), and a few years later, a French company approached us.

Actually, they approached two U.S. software companies. For the next six months, both companies passionately courted the French company, but in the end, they engaged us.  Our new partner explained to me why we were chosen.

He said that their old software solution was custom built with 1980’s features in mind, so it lacked many modern marketing offerings, and it had been repaired so many times they feared it would implode under the weight of its own patches.

When our rival visited Paris, they “oohed and aahed” over the French wine, they praised the functionality of the client’s software, and they complimented the French company for their marketing savvy. They panted after the French way of life.

When we visited Paris, we demonstrated our software’s answers to their problems. 

My new French friend said, “We were desperate for a solution to our difficulties. Your competitor tried to charm us into liking them, whereas your company simply showed us the answers we needed. We nicknamed your company, La Réalisation and your competitor, Les Amoureux.” He ended,

Why would we spend millions of dollars on someone so desperate for our affection?

Syncretism

More than any other prohibition in the Old and New Testaments, God warns against cultural assimilation—its practices and its idols. He repeatedly commands that we reject the thinking, answers, and gods of the nations around us.

His First Commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” He also required Israel to reject the customs of the occupants of the Promised Land and to abhor their practices. The narratives, psalms, and prophets constantly rebuke Israel for their frenzy for that worldly cultural absorption. Psalm 106 reprimands Israel because:

They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. (vss. 34-35)

Not only does God command us not to mix with the nations, he does so ten times more than he commands us not to commit adultery. In fact, he says that such assimilation is adultery:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Besides, It’s Just Stupid

It’s not that God wants us to live insignificant lives in inconsequential Christian ghettos. In hundreds of passages, he calls his people to be a blessing to the nations. We simply cannot be that blessing when we constantly curry their favor by begging for their blessings. God’s answers will never be blessings for others when we Christians embrace the false answers of the world.

Attraction is born of distinction and Vive la difference! Apple Corporation flourished when they offered something new; they weren’t your daddy’s IBM. When believers lust after this-world-solutions, we are crying, “Me too. Please like me. I can be cool too.”

 Besides, when we crave the world’s approval, we will be disdained:

What are you doing, O devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and adorn yourself with gold? Why enlarge your eyes with paint? You beautify yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life. (Jer. 4:30)

Stalking the world may land a date or two, but it will never seal the deal.

Sam

Do you feel like God demands the unreasonable?

After four years of trying to sell our old house, we finally moving into our new house last August. To prepare it for retreats, I’ve been immersed in chores: creating a new kitchen, installing new cabinets, making a desk, and rewiring about twenty light switches to link them to Alexa. All things I’ve done before: plumbing, carpentry, and wiring.

Now that the house-updates are done, I sense God calling me to write a book on Cultural Creep (how we adopt the world’s solutions while rejecting God’s answers), to talk with a friend about a difficult subject, and to coach a spiritual organization about how to communicate God’s word.

And I feel wholly and completely inadequate. How can I communicate the world’s influence without sounding like a crabby old man? How can I speak to my friend without sounding like a harsh jerk? How do I move from behavior-ism to gospel-ism when tips and techniques seems their default message?

I’m sleeping poorly because I think God is assigning me tasks that I’m ill-equipped to execute.

God Demands the Unreasonable Always

Everybody’s inner default is to fasten onto the familiar, to perform tasks we already know how to do. But the greatest triumphs of past spiritual leaders were always when they tackled the impossible:

  • God asked Abraham and Sarah to have a child when they were in their nineties;
  • God told Moses to find water for Israel in a rock in the desert with no oasis in sight;
  • God wouldn’t let Gideon battle Midian till he reduced his army from 32,000 to 300;
  • When God called St. Francis to rebuild the church, God meant an entire culture not a tiny chapel.

Why does God always draw us beyond the end of our resources? Not just to the edge of our strength, not merely a toe over the line of our aptitudes; he persistently pushes us past our natural abilities until we cry “Uncle!” (Or, “God help me!”)

Perhaps a better question is: Why don’t we cry “Uncle” or “God help me” in the everyday jobs we know so well? Why do we flock to assignments that don’t need God?

It’s Always About His Life in Us

Scripture repeatedly teaches a simple message with multiple metaphors, the most common is: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers work in vain.”

When I was preparing our new house for retreats, I didn’t pray much about my activities. I’ve performed them so many times before I could do them in my sleep. Well, as I sleep-walked my way through carpentry, I was training myself to build my house without the Lord. Literally.

So why should I be surprised when difficult assignments make me feel totally helpless? I’ve orientated myself through regular practice to work as an independent contractor.

When God told Moses to confront Pharaoh (the greatest leader of the greatest empire), he said, “Tell Pharaoh to give away his single greatest resource for constructing cities; and tell him make it snappy!” Moses asks God “How can I do this?” because it seemed impossible. God answered, “But I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12).

I think God orchestrates unreasonable and impossible tasks to re-orient us to accomplish even the tiniest tasks through him; not on our own, and not completely on his own. He likes to work his greatest miracles through us, his life in ours.

Whether we’re tackling a toilet or walking on water.

Sam