Every year at this time, a sad thing happens.
Thousands of supposedly Christian students go off to university and begin the process of forsaking their faith.
I’ve seen it all too often. The pull of the university culture – which promises freedom, excitement, and adventure – draws the wide-eyed undergraduate away from the faith of their upbringing.
Culture is powerful. Like a rip at Byron Bay, it can easily carry us along – often without us realising.
And so we Christians need to be ready. We need to think clearly about the surrounding culture so that our faith doesn’t get shipwrecked.
And the following 6 points will help us do that.
Let’s begin by asking “what is culture?”
1) “Culture” happens whenever we purposefully rearrange the ‘raw material’ of the universe, to express meaning
Just like a gardener purposefully rearranges the earth to make a garden.
Here are some examples:
- Music takes the raw material of sound, and rearranges it to express meaning, beauty, and truth;
- Stories and Theatre take the raw material of human experience and fashion it into narratives, that express various meanings.
So is culture good or bad?
As it turns out, it’s both:
2) Every culture has both good and bad elements in it
Good elements because of God’s common grace. Bad elements because of human sin.
The communist country I was born into had law and order, a hospital system, free education, and guaranteed work. The Atheists who ran the country weren’t as bad as their false worldview should have made them. God was gracious.
And yet, it was oppressive and corrupt. People didn’t trust each other. All thanks to human sin.
Theologian Tim Keller writes:
Every human culture is an extremely complex mixture of brilliant truth, marred half-truths, and overt resistance to the truth. Every culture will have some idolatrous discourse with it. And yet, every culture will have some witness to God’s truth in it. 
But we don’t just live in a culture. We’re also influenced by it – often in unexpected ways:
3) Our culture influences us consciously and subconsciously
Culture influences our underlying desires, often bypassing our conscious reasoning.
I’ve felt this influence in different ways, but especially through digital technology.
You see, when I signed up to Facebook, Zuckerberg didn’t call up and try to convince me to spend hours online, discussing issues, seeing what people were up to, and neglecting ‘real’ relationships.
But before I knew it, I was doing exactly that. I became more interested in life online, than life ‘offline’.
Subconsciously – without me even realising it – my immersion in Facebook had shifted my desires: the more time I spent ‘doing’ Facebook, the more I changed. I had – without rational thought – bought into Facebook’s vision of the ‘online life’, which was more interesting and exciting than the real world.
Facebook was covertly shaping me. (I’ve since taken steps to mitigate Facebook’s shaping of my life, including removing FB from my mobile phone.)
Theologian James K.A. Smith puts it this way:
I’m covertly conscripted into a way of life because I have been formed by cultural practices…These practices are loaded with their own…vision of the good life, and by our immersion in them we are – albeit unwittingly – being taught what and how to love.‘  [Emphasis added]
Culture is everywhere. Culture contains both good and bad. Culture shapes us.
So what do we do about culture, and it’s power? How do we relate to culture as Christians?
We’ll answer that question next week, in part 2 of this series.
 Tim Keller, CenterChurch: Doing Balanced Gospel Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 109.
 James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 45-46.