Weekly Blog - John Simkins - Cultural transformation?
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Posted on: 17th January 2023

Leeds Year of Culture 2023 is described as ‘The Spirit of Leeds 2023 - Culture shines - The City thrives’. And, requesting volunteers for this and that, there is the call ‘let your love for Leeds loose’. Leeds City Council describes the City as ‘a compassionate and caring city, with a strong economy’.

As Christians, we want to welcome and support these values, but what is meant by culture, and – lateral thinking – what is Christian culture? What does it mean for us to shine and thrive within our places and connections? What is it to let our love loose? Are there Christian distinctives?

A favourite author of mine is Lesslie Newbiggin – a cross-cultural missionary, key player in the World Council of Churches, and thoughtful theologian. In 1989 (SPCK) he published ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society’. Here’s a summary:

How does the gospel relate to a pluralist society? What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism? Should Christians encountering today’s pluralist society concentrate on evangelism or dialogue? How does the prevailing climate of opinion affect, or perhaps infect, Christians’ faith?

He refers to plausibility structures – patterns of belief and practice accepted within a given society that determine which beliefs are plausible to its members and which are not. Perhaps we might metaphor this as ‘spectacles’ through which life is viewed and which we expect others to use. Newbiggin makes the bold statement: It is no secret - - that the gospel gives rise to a new plausibility structure, a radically different vision of things from those that shape human cultures apart from the gospel.

Some of The Year of Culture’s aims are to: 

 Unlock opportunities for everyone to find enjoyment and live their best life through creative activity.

 Boost engagement in culture particularly among people who face barriers because of their experience or circumstances.

 Showcase cultural transformation.

 Play an active role in the city and region’s social, economic, and cultural recovery.

By being:

 Compassionate.

 Bold - - a positive difference to thousands of lives.

 Inventive - the rule book has gone; ripped up and thrown out in favour of fresh thinking, brave ideas and new ways of doing things.

 United - determined to let culture loose.

Much of this will find Christians saying “yes” - already loving and caring through action, initiative, community – and prayer and mission.

But what rule book has gone – been ripped up and thrown out? What are fresh thinking, brave ideas, new ways? Might we be a bit of salt and light and yeast - a Christ culture creatively helping to bring God’s kingdom into our places by word and deed and maybe challenge?

Here’s a challenge from the Apostle Paul:

Romans 12 verse 2 (NIV UK): Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

John Simkins, Otley Prayer Network

authorNetwork Leeds

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