Ralph McCoy

Worship Pastor

The Intersection of Theology & Culture

“The Christian gospel invites us to partake in shalom, to embody shalom, and to anticipate its full realization in the coming kingdom of God.” -David Dark

But what exactly does our Kingdom participation look like? Firmly planted in the midst of various societies and cultures, what is the follower of Jesus to do? Should we focus primarily on our life together, growing in holiness and knowledge of God? Or should we be primarily engaged in shaping our society towards a more just reality? Should we reject the culture’s attempts at justice as insufficient or should we celebrate any good act of human flourishing? What role does art, music, film, and literature play in this relationship between the divine and the human? How do all of our human creations interact with and inform our theology? Does our theology return the favor?

Two Sunday evenings a month, the Theology and Culture Learning Community has been engaging these questions, seeking to embody a communal, discerning, cruciform presence in our culture.

We call our time together a “learning community” because we really believe that authentic learning and the forging of deep relationship go together. To truly know something requires risk, curiosity, and willingness to change. Can you truly know something without it changing you?

In a similar way, while we often think of theological formation like building an impenetrable citadel, the witness of Scripture and the faith tradition before us reveals that healthy theology is an ongoing, millennia-long conversation with God, creation, and our fellow creatures. Rather than a citadel, we seek to view our theology more like a city whose edges are permeable, where earnest and honest questions are never silenced, and where a loving relationship with God and humans takes priority over closely-guarded ideas.

The main paradigm that we have been centering our conversations around is the idea of embedded versus deliberative theology. Embedded theology is the implicit, unspoken, unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and stories which inform and shape how we live out our theology day-to-day. Embedded theology is not inherently good or bad; it is simply unexamined. It can be as harmless as bowing your head to pray or as insidious as racism and nationalism. In response, we are seeking to move toward deliberative theology—the process of examining your embedded theology, engaging with others who might think or practice differently, and in the context of community discerning a faithful path forward.

“To truly know something requires risk, curiosity, and willingness to change. Can you truly know something without it changing you? “

This connects to culture because encountering our own culture, as well as intercultural experience, often acts as a revealer of our embedded theology. Whether this comes through art or story or relationship, engaging culture and context is necessary for theological formation. Further, a church which is severed from the world will become like a stagnant pond that is blind to its own embedded theology.

In the end, we are seeking to resist both the antagonism which has defined the American Church’s posture toward culture and a blind acculturation which fails to form a distinctive witness in the world. As a whole, this Learning Community has been one of the most engaging and connective interactions I’ve had with students here at Campus House. They have been hungry, eager, honest, humble, and curious… truly desiring to grow into more faithful followers of the Way of Jesus in their contexts. Our time together has given me a hopeful glimpse of students becoming a generous, communal, discerning, cruciform presence in our culture.