American culture is in crisis. Anyone looking around can see it. Even within the church, divisions, vitriol, and malfeasance are common on any number of issues, including race, sexual abuse, and politics. The culture’s response to the Supreme Court’s recent draft opinion leak (and, one could argue, the leak itself) is just the latest example in a long line of examples. Pregnancy resource centers across the country have been vandalized. Abortion proponents have targeted Supreme Court justices with “general threats of violence,” even sharing their home addresses online. And the Supreme Court building itself, shielded behind “eight-foot fencing” encircling the building, is under lockdown, “a scene reminiscent of what Washington, D.C. looked like after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.” The American moral conscience is in dire straits.
Recognizing that we’re at a crisis point, Christians might think it necessary to assume a frenetic pace in our efforts to change the culture around us—to legislate and advocate and strong-arm our way back to the ever-elusive “good ole’ days.” And certainly, we must be involved in legislation and advocacy efforts. But what if true culture change occurs in another way entirely? What if it begins not in the public square, but in our homes and churches?
The bulk of the effort to change the culture has often been focused “out there,” in the halls of power, to the exclusion of our most proximate jurisdiction—our homes and local congregations. Now, as the culture tips further in a direction that is opposite of a biblical worldview, the time is ripe for us to rethink our approach.
The book of Judges and culture change
In the second chapter of Judges, readers encounter an ominous passage that can help inform our thinking here. The book’s author writes, “After them (Joshua’s generation) another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10, CSB). This new generation that arose descended swiftly into what the Bible describes as evil, as they abandoned the Lord, worshiped idols, and followed the gods of their neighbors. Their rejection of the Lord set the tone for a dark period in Israel’s history.
The only explanation we get for Israel’s descent into evil living is that the new generation “did not know the Lord;” they didn’t know “the works he had done for Israel;” and “they did not do as their fathers did” (v. 17). The previous generation “had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.” They set out on a campaign to claim the land God had promised them, and succeeded. How could this new generation not know the works the Lord had done for them?
Implied in this passage, it seems, is a failure of one generation to pass the faith down to the next, a task Moses said was integral to “the command” God had ordered him to teach the Israelites (Deut. 6:1). “Listen Israel,” Moses said, “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children” (v. 6-7). I can’t help but wonder if Joshua’s generation was so focused on winning the “culture war” of their day (not to be reductive) that they neglected to repeat the words and commands of the Lord to their children. I wonder if they were so concerned with gaining ground “out there” that they were unwittingly ceding ground in their homes and in their hearts.
The family as the engine of culture change
As the culture “out there” slides down the slope of immorality, we might wonder how we’ll ever accomplish the change we’d like to see. Conventional wisdom says that change comes through elections and Supreme Court justice appointments. While these things are important, they suggest that culture change can be effected in the span of an election cycle. But what if culture change is actually a long game? And what if it occurs in the most upside-down way imaginable—by the simple, unremarkable, yet faithful act of passing the faith down to the next generation?
The most profound way of engaging and changing the culture is right under our noses. It consists of repeating the words of God diligently to the next generation, speaking them as we go about our day-to-day lives in the company of our loved ones (Deut. 6:7) and pleading with the Lord to apply them to our hearts. Here are two ways to prioritize the family in the long work of transforming culture.
- Raising and rearing physical children
I once heard an older friend—a woman who had raised a pair of now-grown children—say that, were she in the position to have children now, she’d refuse because “the world is just too dark.” While her intentions may have been driven by compassion, her thinking was nevertheless misguided. Even when the world is dark, as it is now (and as it has been for millennia), the act of raising and rearing children is an opportunity to pass the faith down to the next generation and send them out into the world as “arrows” of light (Ps. 127:4).
By passing the faith down to our children, we are actively and faithfully engaging the culture of tomorrow by engaging with our children today.
- Raising and rearing spiritual children
For Christians, we recognize that the family is not only a physical reality, but even more fundamentally it is a spiritual reality. The people of God are the family of God—the adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.
As the family of God, the entire body has the responsibility of raising and rearing its physical and spiritual children. We, collectively, bring up our children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4); our older women train our younger women (Titus 2:4); our spiritual fathers instruct their spiritual sons (2 Tim. 1:2), along with a million other acts of faithful discipleship. We engage the culture “out there,” first, by passing the faith down to a new generation of Christ followers who are spiritual sons and daughters, raising and rearing them, teaching them to “follow the whole instruction the Lord has commanded” (Deut. 5:33).
A slow work, a long and hidden obedience
Culture change is not a task quickly accomplished. And it’s not achieved by wielding power, but by God’s grace as he transforms hearts with the gospel. It is a long and slow work that advances much like the kingdom of God: sprouting in unlikely places, growing a mustard seed at a time (Matt. 13:31.) And ground zero for the work of culture change, and its firstfruits, is the physical and spiritual family, the home and the church.
But do we have the faith to prioritize the unseen territory of our homes and churches, even while the culture “out there” visibly runs amok? Do we have the patience and endurance to give ourselves to the task of raising physical and spiritual children “to know the Lord,” in the tedium of day-to-day life, while the moral conscience of the “out there” culture implodes? Do we have the humility to engage in unseen ways as an act of faith, praying that the next generation will arise and follow “the whole instruction of the Lord” (Deut. 4:33). If we never live to see the culture experience the fruit of our labor, will we still give ourselves to the task?
Cultural engagement belongs to the people of God. Only we have “the words of eternal life,” only we know the way to the person and shalom of God, which is through Christ. May we commit ourselves to the long work of culture change, and may we begin this work in our homes and local congregations.