Sermon Illustrations on Christ and Culture


Six Factors Impacting our Understanding of Christ and Culture

We have the same biblical texts that earlier generations of Christians thought their way through, of course, but our reflections are shaped by six unique factors.

(1) Especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, discussion of these matters cannot ignore the programmatic analysis of H. Richard Niebuhr. I shall return to him in a moment.

(2) We live at a time when diverse voices are clamoring for the right to dictate what the relationships between Christ and culture ought to be.

(3) Owing to modern communication technology and to immigration patterns that have made many megalopolises around the world into extraordinary centers of multiculturalism, debates rage regarding what is “cultural” in “multicultural.”

(4) This in turn has precipitated debates over the relative merits of one culture over another, or, alternatively put, over whether one ever has the right to affirm the superiority of one culture over another. That in turn, of course, feeds into debates over religious claims, since religions, too, under the definition of “culture” already given, are necessarily forms of cultural expression. What gives a religion, any religion, the right to claim its own superiority or even uniqueness?

(5) In much of the Western world, though not, by and large, elsewhere, confessional Christianity is in serious decline. That means the inherited status quo in most Western countries cannot continue unquestioned. We are forced to think through, yet again, what the relationship between Christ and culture ought to be.

(6) The actual history of tensions between church and state varies enormously from state to state in the Western world and beyond, making it difficult to make generalizations, or even discuss examples, without numerous caveats. For instance, the now-proverbial “wall of separation” between church and state colors all debates in the United States, yet there is no similar wall, though there are similar freedoms, in the United Kingdom. In France, the “laïcité française” is in part a function of a deeply rooted historical anticlericalism that finds no parallel, until very recently, in, say, the Scandinavian countries or the United States.

D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, Eerdmans, 2002.

What do We Mean by “Culture?”

Not very long ago, “culture” commonly referred to what is now meant by “high culture.” For instance, we might have said, “She has such a cultured voice.” If a person read Shakespeare, Goethe, Gore Vidal, Voltaire, and Flaubert, and listened to Bach and Mozart while reading a slender volume of poetry, all the while drinking a mild Chardonnay, he was cultured; if he read cheap whodunits, Asterix, and Eric Ambler — or, better yet, did not read at all — while drinking a beer or a Coke, all the while listening to ska or heavy metal and paying attention to the X-Box screen with the latest violent video game, he was uncultured.

But this understanding of “culture” must, sooner or later, be challenged by those who think of “high” culture as a species of elitism, as something intrinsically arrogant or condescending. For them, the opposite of “high culture” is not “low culture” but “popular culture,” with its distinct appeal to democratic values.

But even the appeal to “popular culture” is not very helpful for our purposes, because it appeals to only one part of “culture”: presumably there are various forms of “unpopular culture” out there too. Today, “culture” has become a fairly plastic concept that means something like “the set of values broadly shared by some subset of the human population.”

That’s not bad, but doubtless the definition could be improved by a bit of tightening. Probably the most important seminal definition, arising from the fields of intellectual history and cultural anthropology, is that of A. L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn:

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand as conditioning elements of further action.

D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, Eerdmans, 2002.



The Way we Answer the Door is the Way we Deal with the World

The Rule of Benedict is a document that has ordered the life of Benedictine monks for 1500 years. That remarkable document, written by Saint Benedict of Nursia, instructs the monks in how they are to live their daily lives together in community. One of the things that Benedict describes is a particular role, the “porter” of the monastery. 

The porter is the one who opens the door to the monastery when someone knocks. Not much of a role, you say? Ah, but there is so much to it, so much entailed, and so much communicated in how one opens a door. Roman Catholic nun and author Joan Chittister goes so far as to say, “The way we answer doors is the way we deal with the world.” 

In the Rule of Benedict, the porter is given very specific instructions. He is to sleep near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks. Then, as soon as anyone knocks, likely a poor person because they often sought refuge in monasteries, the porter is to reply, “

…Your blessing, please.” That’s before he even knows who is on the other side of the door. Before the porter knows who that person is or why he or she is there, he is to praise God for that person’s presence and to ask for the person’s blessing.

Scott Bowerman, Source Material from Martin B. Copenhaver, “Who’s That Knocking On My Door?” in Journal for Preachers,




Perhaps the most intense place to experience drifting is commonly known as the EAC, the East Australian Current. If you’ve ever seen the Disney Pixar film Finding Nemo, you’ve been exposed to the EAC, which runs from the Great Barrier Reef down the coastline of Australia. While not quite as fast as it is described in Finding Nemo, it is nevertheless powerful enough to move entire populations of marine life from one part of the ocean to another. At over sixty-two miles wide and almost a mile deep, it is a force to be reckoned with. 

The culture we live in, the people we surround ourselves with, and the circumstances that come in life can act like the EAC in the course of our lives. The question to ask is, will we go with the flow? Or are we strong enough to rise above the current and continue pursuing faith in Christ?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

No Native Country

The Gospel as such has no native country. He who goes out humbly with Christ in the world of all races will perpetually discover the multiple, but constant, relevance of what he takes. It takes a whole world to understand a whole Christ. . . . Those who take are not vulgarly universalizing their own culture: they are conveying that by the apprehension of which both they and their hearers learn. If the claims of the Gospel are valid it could not be otherwise.

Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, Oxford University Press.

The Upside-Down, Strangely Beautiful Kingdom

The kingdom of God turns the Darwinist narrative of the survival of the fittest upside down (Acts 17:6–7). When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run.

The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a “ministry project.” He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ.… The first step to cultural influence is not to contextualize to the present, but to contextualize to the future, and the future is awfully strange, even to us.

Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, p. 82.

What We Preach

A strong church once inscribed these words on an archway leading to the churchyard. Over time, two things happened: the church lost its passion for Jesus and His gospel, and ivy began to grow on the archway. The growth of the ivy, covering the message, showed the spiritual decline. Originally it said strongly, “we preach Christ crucified.”

But as the ivy grew, one could only read “we preach Christ”, and the church would preach about Jesus as a great man, but never his crucifixion (and resurrection). The ivy kept growing, and one could soon only read, “we preach.” 

The church also had even lost Jesus in the message, preaching religious platitudes and social graces. Finally, one could only read “we”, and the church also just became another social gathering place, all about “we” and not about God.

David Guzik, Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.


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