ERLC National Conference 2016 Wrap-Up: Christians Encouraged to Engage the Culture In a Gospel-Focused Manner

Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, speaks as a panelist during a breakout session on race and cultural engagement Aug. 26 at the ERLC National Conference. Photo by Rocket Republic
Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, speaks as a panelist during a breakout session on race and cultural engagement Aug. 26 at the ERLC National Conference. Photo by Rocket Republic

Speakers and panelists sought to help Christians understand how they can engage the culture in a Gospel-focused manner during the second day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored conference Aug. 26.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2016 National Conference featured pastors, academics and authors providing guidance to the audience — which consisted of more than 900 registrants — regarding not only what biblically based cultural engagement is but how to avoid being a captive of cultural Christianity.

Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler said the Bible Belt has “churches that are filled with unregenerate [people] in a culture where any type of conservatism is just lumped in to being a Christian.”

In the Bible Belt, pastors will often have to help “really moral church folk understand that they’re non-Christians,” he told attendees.

Many of those who grew up in a church but were converted to Christ as adults in The Village Church, where Chandler is lead teaching pastor, say they have a “long list of behaviors” but “never heard the Gospel,” he said. “So we have to in the Bible Belt deconstruct the idea that Jesus is about good people.”

Speaking on the parable of the lost sheep, coin and son in Luke 15, Chandler said, “The mission of God is to seek and save the lost — not moral betterment. That’s what happens when we are saved, right? We are going to be transformed from the inside out.

“Well, the Bible Belt is so twisted around this idea,” he said, adding he has been overwhelmed that “the basic Gospel message has been completely lost on a full generation.”

The reality for a Christian that “all of life is repentance” needs to be understood in the church, Chandler said.

“If people in the Bible Belt don’t know that what it means to be a Christian is for the rest of their life they’re to be repentant in their life, then every little struggle they have will be hidden in the darkness because they will believe that they did that when they got saved,” he said. “I just can’t tell you the sheer volume of people I know who are enslaved to sin and feel like they can’t tell anyone about it, because they got saved 15 years ago.”

Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, challenged audience members to consider whether they — and the American church — are “on a quest for control,” particularly of culture, freelance writer Kara Bettis wrote in a report for the ERLC.

Human beings are uniquely given authority — the capacity for meaningful action — and vulnerability — exposure to meaningful risk, but control itself is a testament to true motivations, he said.

“You know someone is addicted to control [if] when their control begins to slip they become violent,” Crouch said, Bettis reported. “What our culture has perceived of us Christians is they see us losing control of culture and they see the rage with which we react to that loss of control.”

Crouch proposed an alternative approach — true leadership and leaders who “just show up and are honest about their limits, honest about our limits and call us to live a life of risk.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Tom Strode