Inherent in the missional church’s insistence upon incarnation and contextualization is the idea that no aspect of culture is inherently sinful, or at very least unredeemable. Missional proponents believe that there are very few aspects of human culture that are actually sinful in and of themselves; they might cite pornography or something similar as an example of inherently sinful cultural expression, but not much else. Most of culture is neutral and may be received with open arms. Some aspects of culture may be used sinfully or have harmful baggage surrounding them, but even then they can be redeemed by Christians who take them and use them for good.
Therefore, there is a two-fold relationship with culture that exists for a missional church: a missional church seeks to engage culture and influence it while at the same time allowing its message to be shaped by culture so that it will be intelligible to the culture. Gruder elaborates:
This shaping always moves in two directions. On the one hand, the church understands that under the power of God, the gospel shapes the culture of a society—its assumptions, its perspectives, its choices. The church knows this because the gospel is always doing that to the very culture that is its own. This gives an indication of God’s vision for the church’s transforming impact on its context. On the other hand, because the church is incarnational, it also knows that it will always be called to express the gospel within the terms, styles, and perspectives of its social context. It will be shaped by that context, just as it will constantly challenge and shape that context. The church lives in the confidence that this ought to be so, and that it is the nature of its calling for this to be so.1
Yet there does seem to be somewhat of a disconnect between the missional theologians and the missional practitioners on this point. The theologians seem to emphasize the fact that culture shapes the church (especially harkening back to the ways Christendom and the Enlightenment shaped the church in the West), and warn against being shaped by culture in ways that “might be comprising gospel truth.”2 Most practitioners, on the other hand, tend to minimize the possibility that any culture could shape the gospel harmfully, instead emphasizing the need for the church to engage the culture and redeem it for the gospel. For example, after acknowledging the possibility of sinful elements in culture, Driscoll nevertheless insists,
As we engage culture, we must watch films, listen to music, read books, watch television, shop at stores, and engage in other activities as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life if our Mars Hill. We do this so we can begin the transforming work of the gospel in our culture.3
Missional thinking has profoundly reshaped the debate about the relationship between various ministries of the church by subsuming them all under the missio Dei. Every one of the North American evangelical church’s various priorities must fit under the priority of “sentness” and thus must both engage and be shaped by the emerging culture of 21st century North America. Nothing escapes this emphasis, not even—or perhaps especially—the church’s worship.
Having laid this foundation of the core values of the missional church, we will turn next time (finally!) to how this all impacts worship.