Communicating and Shaping Culture by Drilling and Detonating

In my last post, one of the observations I made was about the arts communicating and shaping culture.

At its core, the gospel is about transformation. Which is why I believe worship, in all its various musical, visual and artistic expressions will play a critical role in the gospel’s penetrating society and bringing change and ultimately redemption.

I’ve been reading Timothy Keller’s Centre Church in which he makes an important point about the need for contextualisation. Imagine, he says, that you need to remove a boulder. The key is to drill a shaft deep into the centre of the boulder, then sink some explosives into the shaft before detonating the explosives. if all you do is drill into the boulder, the boulder will remain. If you just plant explosives outside the boulder, you might shear off some of the surface but the boulder will remain in tact.

And so Keller says this:

To successfully reach people in a culture, we must both enter sympathetically and respectfully (similar to drilling) and then confront the culture where it contradicts biblical truth (similar to blasting)

In the context of worship then, I believe our expression must be culturally cutting edge and undeniably attractive. We can’t continue doing things the way we’ve always done them, hoping that the truth in our message will somehow detonate the prevailing culture. Churches like to take the moral high ground, standing on truth alone and at all costs, even at the risk of alienating itself from culture and inevitably the very people it seeks to reach.

Instead my challenge to the church is to, through its music and artistic expressions, sympathetically and respectfully enter culture, to understand, embrace, welcome and even attract before it seeks to confront. Culturally informed, contextualised and, at the same time, penetrating worship may well be that key.

How Do We Have Great Faith?

Someone gave me a bookmark once which had a little sample of mustard seeds laminated onto it. I was surprised how tiny the mustard seeds were.

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”.

Really? How can an extremely tiny amount of faith (mustard seed-size) cause such a tremendous result (moving mountains)?

I am currently reading Tim Keller’s new book Center Church and he makes this observation about faith and salvation (which I think is equally applicable to whatever circumstances we might be facing):

It is not the quality of the faith itself that saves us; it is what Jesus has done for us. It is easy to assume that being “saved by faith” means that God will now love us because of the depth of our repentance and faith. But that is to once again subtly make ourselves our own Savior rather than Jesus. It is not the amount of our faith but the object of our faith that saves us. 

Imagine two people boarding an airplane. One person has almost no faith in the plane and the crew and is filled with fears and doubts. The other has great confidence in the plane and the crew. They both enter the plane, fly to a destination, and get off the plane safely. One person had a hundred times more faith in the plane than the other did, but they were equally safe. It wasn’t the amount of their faith but the object of their faith (the plane and crew) that kept them from suffering harm and arriving safely at their destination.

After I read that, it clicked.

We can have the smallest amount of faith, as long as we act on it (in this example, get onto the plane). When we do that, the result is entirely up to God because it is not the volume of our faith, but the Person in whom we place our faith that matters.

That’s why even a tiny amount of faith in God can cause mountains to move.

Recently, I was asked to organise the Global Day of Worship here in Perth. Of course, Wendy Yapp encouraged me to do it, but all I knew was that it was important that worshippers throughout the city join together to form a stream for unity. To be honest, I was daunted by the task of organising the event. I just like to worship together with other people, and I could happily just slip in and be part of someone else’s event. But to actually organise something myself – well, that made me feel so, uh, responsible.

And to be honest, I didn’t have much faith. I said to the team when we met up recently that I’d be happy if even a handful of people showed up. I was sharply and rightly rebuked! My teammates said I should expect the auditorium to be filled and that in fact, I should expect it to overflow until people would have to be turned away or might have to worship from outside. And the troops rallied around to try to make this vision into reality.

Now, just a couple of weeks later, all sorts of things are happening with promoting the event that I could not even have planned for or dreamt about. A Christian bookstore, a Christian radio station and some well connected network leaders are all on board to promote the event. Other Christians in the city have come alongside me to offer their help. It’s just been an amazing journey.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus said that the mustard seed might be the smallest of seeds, but when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants (Mt 13:31,32).

How you start may not always be how you end up. If we place our faith in God, no matter how much (or little) our faith, God is able to produce the results. It’s all about Him, not about us!