On Approaching Culture

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 17.15-18 (ESV)

With these words from the Upper Room Discourse of John’s Gospel, Jesus (probably intentionally) set the stage for how His followers should interact with the world. Often characterized as a call for Christians to “be in the world, but not of the world,” these words (along with various New Testament statements by Paul and James) have been used as the basis for Christian cultural engagement.  That is to say, Scripture sets the parameters for how Christians should live in, participate in, and relate to the world in which we live.

Unsurprisingly, exactly what this engagement looks like has varied even among faithful followers of Jesus. In fact, over the years, various Christians have crafted and lived different interpretations of what Scripture communicates about the appropriate relationship with the world. Today, there are five basic approaches that Christians take:

Five Approaches to Culture

First is what we might call the Antagonistic Approach. In this view, the expectation is that followers of Jesus should generally oppose the world and its culture, norms, and practices. Think of the Amish or ultra-conservative Christians who eschew many modern practices and technology. For the sake of comparing all five views, I want to use the Harry Potter books. If for no other reason that the clarity of the example, since their release, Christians have had very clear reactions to these books (and the movies). So they make a solid test cast. For the antagonistic approach, since the Harry Potter books are not explicitly Christian, they are something in culture that should be personally avoided and perhaps even widely opposed.

A second option is the Accommodating Approach, where the expectation is that followers of Jesus should accept and welcome the world and its culture, norms, and practices. This is a more prevalent and often “Christian-lite” approach, although ancient Christians such as John Chrysostom reveal that there is nothing particularly new about this approach. The perspective on the Harry Potter books here is that they’re all good, something to be enjoyed and accepted and adopted without any thought to the contrary.

A third option is the Countercultural Approach, where followers of Jesus should forge alternative, Christ-centered options for cultural expression and practice. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is largely the approach taken by Christian bookstores and the Contemporary Christian Music movement. Here, rather than reading the Harry Potter books, you should instead read some Christian fantasy, perhaps The Lord of the Rings (for the fifteenth time) or the Chronicles of Narnia or something similar.

The fourth option is the Two Worlds Approach. Here, followers of Jesus live between two worlds (sometimes called Two Kingdoms), where sometimes we prioritize the culture of Christ and other times we prioritize the culture of this world. This is the historic view of the Reformation, as this approach was fostered by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their theological descendants. To continue our example, the first question for this view would be which world do the Harry Potter books belong to? If you’re going to use them for mere entertainment, they’re probably safe, since they belong to that world. But if the books are going to form your worldview, they have overstepped the boundaries of their world and should thus be returned to their proper place.

And finally, there is the Redemptive Approach. In this view, followers of Jesus should seek to redeem the world and reorient its culture, norms, and practices toward Christ and His Kingdom. Not everything is redeemable, of course. But many things are. In this approach, Harry Potter gets recast in various ways. Perhaps the books get celebrated for encouraging literacy or maybe parts of the story are mined for lessons about the battle between good and evil. In this view, culture is engaged for the purpose of finding and drawing out what is true and good and beautiful.

Which Approach?

Now, there are faithful Christians who attempt each of these approaches. And in my experience, there’s typically some overlap in approaches by individuals, families, and communities. (Here I should also not that the accommodating approach seems likely to be the kind of thinking that Jesus and James push back against in Scripture, so it’s probably best to not default to that approach.)

But personally, I lean toward attempting a redemptive approach to our world. A redemptive view takes seriously the reality that culture tends toward sinful brokenness and thus we should not be easy friends with the world. But it also focuses on the fact that our world consists of people made in the image of God who need redemption and whose cultural output is often worthy of redemption too. A redemptive approach understands that not everything is beneficial for the follower of Jesus, but that our world must be engaged and redeemed, nonetheless. This is why, for example, the church as pastor at often uses video clips to open messages. It’s why we spoof culture to make points. It’s why we have message series that use pop songs from the 90s as ways to think about the book of James.

There is much about culture that is not great and should be cautiously engaged by Christians, yes. But there’s also a lot that can be redeemed for the Kingdom of God, not ignored or feared or cast aside.


What about you: what are your thoughts on approaching culture? What boundaries or indicators to do you use?

Seizing Moments of Transition

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” — Col 3.23

Everyone experiences transitions from one thing to another. We put down the old (or have it wrenched from us) and pick up the things. No one can live a completely sedentary life (nor would that be good for us). Whether it involves our jobs, homes, cars, stages of life, churches, or geography, we all encounter moments of transition.

While many transitions result in joy, not all are. Some transitions are sad, uncomfortable, or even depressing. Changing jobs, for instance, could indicate a step forward in a person’s career; it could also represent a changing career field that is now fraught with uncertainty. Other transitions are bittersweet; you are excited to move forward with a new opportunity, but recognize that somethings (and perhaps some people) will be left behind.

In fact, even the best transitions are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loss. Right now, as we transition from life and work at Rooftop Church to life and work at our church plant, Arise, my wife and I are reflecting on the bittersweet-nature of this transition. We are extremely excited for what stands ahead of us; but we also see some coming changes and know that things will not ever be quite the same moving forward.

But even in their discomfort or bittersweet-ness, moments of transition can stretch us, helping us grow and learn. It’s critical, therefore, that we seize the opportunities afforded us by these transitions.

Carpe Diem

How do we make the most of every opportunity? How do we seize moments of transition and use them to help us grow into the people God has made us to be? I don’t have any hard and fast answers. But I do have five practices that I have used in times of transition that may be beneficial for you as you tackle the changes ahead of you.

Begin with Prayer. Begin each day—or each moment, if necessary—in prayer to God. He will bring you grounding and peace amidst what may be a tumultuous time. Consistently communing with the Almighty through prayer, Scripture, and devotional reflection will help you begin each day with the most important part of your journey in mind.

Keep a Journal. Write down what you are thinking and experiencing. Journaling functions both as a means of processing what is going on in the moment and as a way to remember those experiences later on. Personally, some of the most valuable time I spent in moments of transition have turned out to be the reflective journaling that I have undertaken. Journaling helps process and it helps you remember for the future the lessons you learn through the transition.

Form Positive Habits. Use the transition to foster positive habits. This can be general lifestyle changes—eating better, exercising more, not spending as much time on your phone—or changes specific to your  situation—for instance, beginning each week at your new job with an evaluation of your weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. One of the families at our church, for example, uses the new school year as a time to take a close look at their calendar and family goals, adjusting things as necessary. This is also the thinking behind New Year’s Resolutions (which might serve as a reminder that all of these suggestions only help if you put them into practice).

Push Yourself. Moments of change and new experiences may be hard. But they may also be the perfect opportunity to test your limits. Muscle only builds when you push it to the limit and stretch the bounds of what you can do. Do not use the newness of things as an excuse to take things easy—aim high and capitalize on the new as an opportunity to become even better. Transition is tough–but that toughness is accompanied by the chance to do things otherwise.

Learn What You Can. Not every transition is to something complete unknown; but most of the time, transitions involve something beyond the realm of our experience. It’s useful, then, to use times of transition to learn. If you are in a new city, go exploring. If you have a new job, see what new skills or competencies you can acquire. If you find yourself experiencing new (or long-dormant) emotions, devote some time to prayer and self-reflection. Do not simply try to conform your new to your old; rather, lean into the discomfort of your transition and learn what it has to teach you.

Transition can be hard. But as we adapt to our new environments and situations, do not forget all the good that can result. As Sons and Daughters of the King, after all, we belong to the one who will says that He will make “all things new” during the final transition of creation into its restored state (Rev 21:5). Whatever our anxieties and insecurities, we can celebrate new things in our life in the light of the One who made all things and will make all things new.

“Give Us Grace to Hold You…”

Another prayer from The Oxford Book of Prayer, this time from Fr. Gilbert Shaw:

Lord, give us grace to hold you

when all is weariness and fear

and sin abounds within, without

when love itself is tested by the doubt…

that love is false, or dead within the soul,

when every act brings new confusion, new distress,

new opportunities, new misunderstandings,

and every thought new accusation.

Lord, give us grace that we may know

that in the darkness pressing round

it is the mist of sin that hides your face,

that you are there

and you do know we love you still

and our dependence and endurance in your will

is still our gift of love.

Bede Prays for Rescue

I’m reading through the “deliverance” section of The Oxford Book of Prayer this week and came across this prayer by the Venerable Bede. Join Bede and I in praying this for our world:

O God that art the only hope of the world,

The only refuge for unhappy men,

Abiding in the faithfulness of heaven.

Give me strong succor in this testing place.

O King, project thy man from utter ruin

Lest the weak faith surrender to the tyranny,

Facing innumerable blow alone.

Remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow,

And life as fleeting as the flower of grass.

But may the enteral mercy which hath shone

From time of old

Rescue they servant from the jaws of the lion.

Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of flesh,

Strike down the dragon with that two-edged sword,

Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds

And beat down strongholds, with our Captain God.

~Venerable Bede

Six Quick Suggestions for Surviving Social Distancing

As more and more of our world is shutting down and embracing social distancing, some of us are wondering how we’re going to make it through the next several weeks with our sanity intact. I don’t have the answers, but I do have six suggestions that I hope are helpful.

1. Limit your time on social media. There’s only so much good that constantly scrolling your social media accounts is going to do you. More likely than not, what people are saying is going to make you depressed, anxious, angry, sad, or some combination of those emotions. Avoid that by limiting your time on social media. Relatedly… Continue reading

What I Read in 2019

I know that I’m a couple weeks late to the party with my list of what I read in 2019, but my reading list from this past year is below.  Before that, however, couple of notes.

First, you’ll see that there are many churchworld books included in this list, be they instructional-type books or commentaries. This is one benefit of my work in vocational ministry: I get to read deeply and widely on theological and scriptural topics.

Second, one of my goals for 2019 was to read more fiction, so I categorized those reading separately. In recent years, I had found myself reading only a couple works of fiction a year, so my 2019 reading in this area stands as a significant improvement, one that I hope to continue in 2020.

Third, note a couple of special categories: books followed by a [re-read] designation are books that I’d read before but re-read for whatever reason. Additionally, books followed by an * (and also hyperlinked) are what I view as the best-of-the-best, reading that really stood out. I won’t choose a “top book” or anything like that, but if I did, I would come from these selections.

Finally, as a big proponent of holding oneself accountable for goals, I note that I aimed to read 150 books in 2019. This list contains 165. And so, without further ado, what I read in 2019 (presented in chronological order by category): Continue reading

On Beginning

Everyone experiences new things. By nature of who we are and the world in which we live, no one lives a completely sedentary life. From new jobs to new cars, from getting married to buying a house, from having kids to moving across town, we all encounter newness.

While many new experiences are joyful occasions, not all are. Sometimes new things are sad, uncomfortable, or even depressing. A new job, for instance, could indicate a step forward in a person’s career; it could also represent a changing career field that is now fraught with uncertainty. Likewise, a woman who has been married for fifty years experiences many new things after the death of her husband, few of which will bring her any joy.

Even when an experience is new and exciting, it can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loss. My first semester of college, for example, was a wonderful time, full of adventure, excitement, and opportunity. But it was still difficult to transition from the comfortability of home and the routines of high school that I knew so well. Yet even in their discomfort, new things can stretch us, helping us grow and learn not only about them but also about ourselves. Continue reading

The Personal Nature of Grief

“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” — Proverbs 25:20 (ESV)

Grief is miserable. Suffering and loss are perhaps the lowest points of human existence. Nothing compares to the emptiness felt inside after the death of a loved one; nothing can prepare you for the sting of loss.

Yet far too often we act as if saying something like “he’s in a better place now” or “a least she died peacefully” makes the loss less real, painful, or devastating. Even worse is when we expect those who have suffered loss to put on a tough face and “be strong for the kids” or “think positively about what happened.”

Now, I want to be clear about what I’ve just said. There’s nothing wrong with feeling or thinking in any of the ways mentioned above, especially if you’re the one doing the grieving. What’s unhelpful and uncaring is allowing your own perspective on grief to overwhelm the experience of the those who are doing the grieving. Continue reading

The Next Chapter: Rooftop Church

I am excited to announce that I am joining the staff at Rooftop Church as Pastor of Church-Planting, effective today!

Rooftop on a Sunday morning

Rooftop is a non-denominational, Bible-centered church committed to “making followers of Christ who make followers of Christ who make followers of Christ….” Located in Affton (a community in the St. Louis County metro area), Rooftop is a vibrant, growing church that’s devoted to reaching St. Louis with the Gospel. One unique thing about Rooftop is their commitment to “mere Christianity,” a big-tent approach to faith that focuses on essentials and living as disciples rather than dividing over nuanced doctrinal points.

Friends and regular readers of Pursuing Veritas will be familiar with our ministry at The Rock Church of Saint Louis the past three-and-a-half years, as well as our two year “church search” before that.[1] Hayley and I have learned so much over the past several years of ministry, life, and education. We have grown and benefited from so many friendships and experiences.

After many years of praying, discussing, and inquiring into church-planting, this Rooftop position came to our attention right as we were facing some uncertainty about our future plans. We firmly believe that God has whispered into our lives for such a time as this, and we are extremely excited to start this new chapter of our lives and faith journeys.

I am honored and humbled to be beginning this vocational work for the Kingdom, and I look forward to all that God will be doing in and through Rooftop in the future. And I look forward to sharing here about our experiences and adventures during this journey.

Best and Blessings, Jacob Prahlow Continue reading