Abandoning or Transforming Culture: Do we have a choice? Notes from Jerram Barrs

7 days ago Jerram Barrs came to speak here at the Grove. I sat down and enjoyed a lovely conversation with him over lunch. I greatly appreciated the time he took to answer every question deliberately. He spoke on three occasions; I made it to two of them. The most invigorating lecture/talk however was entitled Abandoning or Transforming Culture: Do we have a choice?

After outlining the various ideas of Christ and Culture, he laid down an argument for culture transformation. Three Principles and three "how to" guidelines for each.

1.) Affirmation - activities of culture is to respond to the Creation Mandate (reaffirmed in the Noahic Covenant) and the fact that mankind is made in the image of God (Psalm 8)

  • Appreciation - delight what is good in culture (Philippians 4:8). John Calvin, "It is not blasphmey of the Holy Spirit that Pagans speak good and give good gifts."
  • Incarnation - incarnate the gospel in every culture, adopt whatever you can from, and of, every culture. This is to live as fully human as you can. Love the culture and love the people of that culture.
  • Bridges into Culture [Common Grace] - recognize all kinds of truth, justice, and beauty to communicate the gospel of Christ.

2.) Sober Realism of Reality

  • Nonidentification - there is no such things as a Christian culture. What grows from transformed hearts are the firstfruits of what is yet to come.
  • Christian Identity - in relationship to Christ and place in the kingdom of God
  • called to humility and to challenge the culture we live in and within ourselves - transformation occurs by bringing Scripture to bear on reality and life. To do this read scripture and whenever you find a passage you do not like or want to reinterpret, you are dealing with sin, or you have given in too much to the culture you live in

3.) Solemn Warning - culture expresses the religious elements of the human heart. In the words of TS Eliot, "Culture is the incarnation of her religion."

  • count the cost - there are things that are off limits
  • cultural embodiment - encourage new believers to put on and live in the cutlure
  • the transformation of Culture - salt and light in every aspect you can and your work

---- [Robbie's thoughts] ----

A lot of what Barrs said would throw Christendom in an uproar. Which is sad. How can I incarnate the Gospel? By admiring the creation around me to start. Look and enjoy the arts, music and movies. Incorporate the creativity of the community in which I live into my life. (I am drawing the line at The Scream.) Hang outs such as coffee houses, java cafes, internet cafes, some small restaurants, and many others are excellent examples to start. At the Crazy Mocha this summer the art on display was by those who lived in the community. Why can't the church do that? Why can't I do that?


Anonymous said...


I fail to see how it is incarnating the Gospel by "admiring the creation around me" as you say.

Doesn't incarnation imply that something is being brought to or into creation? God the Son came into this world having been incarnated by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.

How is hanging out at coffee houses or displaying local art pieces in the church incarnation?

Incarnation calls us to "flesh out" to bring, to live God's salvation out into the world.

BTW. Congratulations with your engagement. Many blessed years!

Robbie said...

Great Question,
Who are ya?

Great point as well, you are absolutely right about what incarnation means. Incarnation is an "in word", everyone is using it. Enn's book inspiration and incarnation to missional theoriets in the Shaping of Things to Come.

I understand incarnational living as simply living out the gospel. Bringing the good news into creation not only by word (preaching and evangelism) but also by deed.

Your second question deals with my personality and how I should do this. How can I bring the good news into the world by my lifestyle? Looking at Christ's "missionary methods" or Pauls (see Roland Allen's book for starters). We see an example of going to the places of need and the marketplace of the city/towns. For luther it was the church door, in Athens it was the Acropolis (Acts 17).

How the church can do this is through admiration of the local culture, revealing that a particular congregation is in that particular place in time and history, tied to that region in very unessential mannerisms. One often overloooked example of this is the language preachers use... Christian jargon for a Christian audience vs. not in a very non Christian environment.

Thank you for your congratulations!

Anonymous said...


Who am I? Just a fellow web surfer. Ran across your blog entry cruising the web.

It seems to me the Incarnation of Christ in particular speaks about God coming to us, "breaking into" our humanity, culture etc. The Uncreated sanctifying the created order by His taking on the flesh. The primary motivation for the Incarnation, so the Scriptures tell us, is God's love - not admiration.

The Church as His Body lives out and brings forth God's Life into this world through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are called and empowered to be His Love in this world.

Robbie said...

Incarnation is not simply breaking into our realm and living a human life (which for Jesus Christ of Nazareth it certainly was and is.) It is also living out an ideal, personifying a worldview, an idealogy and communicating that through words and deeds.

While I have a few hesitations about the book, "the Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st century Church" touches upon this and explains incarnational ministry in detail. Another book to refer to would be Mark Driscoll's The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out, numerous others could be mentioned, btu those are two excellent ones to refer to.

to admire one's culture is a fulfillment of our calling, as is incarnating the gospel in our lives. Admiration is, as Barrs put, one of the first steps to Transform culture.

While God's love for us brought Christ to become Human, that is not the motivation for us necessarily - Carl Trueman over at reformation 21 has a wonderful article on why God calls us to do things differently than what Christ does and did. (he is the King of kings and we are his servants). In that context you are absolutely right- we are empowered to be His love, because we are sons of God. (Matt. 5:9)