Our lives can be shaped powerfully by the narratives around us – the accounts of reality which view events and circumstances through a particular lens, often with a certain goal or agenda in mind. Significant secular ones include the idea that we can be whatever we want to be – our identity isn’t fixed by social constructs such as gender. Another is that metropolitan elites control the country and those who hold political or commercial power cannot be trusted. We could include the broader cultural ideologies of consumerism, individualism and capitalism in this list of grand ideas that shape our thinking.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to positive cultural engagement. This must begin with assessing where we ourselves are adopting these narratives uncritically, and going on to evaluate them in a constructive way. There are some elements of truth behind each one, otherwise they wouldn’t be persuasive. But from a biblical perspective, most dominant cultural narratives hinge on false assumptions and include significant omissions or distortions, which can make them dangerous in the battle for people’s hearts and minds.
One of our favourite verses in the Jubilee Centre is Romans 12:2, ‘Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world,’ which could be paraphrased as, ‘Refuse to allow the dominant cultural narratives to have the last word in your heart and life.’ But that is only half the story; Paul goes on to say, ‘But be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ – or perhaps ‘immerse yourself in God’s great story so that it captures your heart, fills your imagination and drives your life forward.’
At our Forming a Christian Mind Conference in November, Dr Chris Wright challenged participants by saying they shouldn’t be asking, ‘How does the Bible apply to my life?’ but, ‘How does my life fit into the Bible, and the great – yet unfinished – story which it tells?’
As the New Year unfolds, I want to suggest three ways for followers of Jesus to participate more deliberately in God’s great narrative.
First, expose the subtle ways we accept the false messages coming from our cultural narratives (Col 2:20-21, 2 Cor 10:5). This is difficult to do alone, as such a stance of cultural defiance is best worked out in fellowship with other Christians who want to resist conformity to the pattern of this world. So why not take this up in a small group at your church?
Second, delight yourself in the biblical story afresh. Embrace the one true narrative of how God is redeeming his rebellious and broken creation in Christ and calling the Church to participate in restoring all things to his good, pleasing and perfect ways. Let your goal be to align your priorities with what God is doing (John 5:19), for your life is not about you – it finds its real meaning in relation to God’s story.
Finally, cultivate your imagination of what God’s kingdom might look like in the specifics of your neighbourhood, workplace or sphere of influence. And then use that as faith’s fuel to pray for and seek God’s agenda and strategy in your context. What priorities, values and attitudes can you champion that will be a sign of the justice and righteousness of the age to come?
No matter what this world’s narratives are currently saying, the Christian message is one of unshakeable hope. Although the biblical drama in which we are living is still unfolding, let’s play our part in it with faith
and confidence in 2019, for we know how the story eventually ends: evil does not prevail, justice is fulfilled and love has the last word.