How does Christianity relate to culture? In some ways, this is a perennial question that each Christian generation must ask themselves. Niebuhr probably laid the foundation for how Christians in the West view and address the question (I say West because I don’t know how Christians in the East see the problem). As I study the Early Church, I see a definite and purposeful attempt to create a Christian culture (cf. Frances Young’s book, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture). But as I’ve also studied Church History as a whole, there is a progressive movement towards a more inward individual spirituality which is against the idea of a Christian culture. Now, as I begin reading the Pietists for my Modern Church History Class, the problem becomes one of sincerity. Culture, it is thought, is blind habit, but Christianity is an inward religion of the heart; i.e., one has to really mean it. Now, it would be impossible to read Jesus, or even the Old Testament and not come away with this same conclusion: God does not want mere ritual (cf. Ps. 51, Matt. 5-7).
In some ways, this came up in my Sunday School group a couple of weeks ago, mainly revolving around the issue of raising children in a Christian home when (as good ole Baptists) one believes that they are not Christians. Should the parents teach them to pray if you know that they really wouldn’t “mean it.” More so, if one wouldn’t teach them how to pray (i.e., conforming to the Christian culture), then why should one teach them Christian morals? Can (or should) one separate the spiritual life of Christianity (prayer, reading the Bible, going to Church, etc…) from the objective morals that the previous activities should encourage?
As I’ve thought about this issue, I find it difficult to separate the two spheres. Yet, if I were to raise my children (whenever they come) as Christians, how can I also communicate to them the need to be sincere about their belief? How can you make someone love God? Indeed, if that last question seems absurd (as it is), then would not the entire Pietist (or Evangelical) project be asinine? Does our attempt to create sincerity in every “believer” in its own way create a new culture of over self-analyzed and anxious Christians?