Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Age of Cultural Christianity

Written by: on March 16, 2017

Two years into my doctoral program and the inescapable relational conversation is staring me in the face. Thatcher’s book God, Sex, and Gender dives into the sensitive sex talk, much similar to the one you will be engaging shortly. Yes, my cohort finally gets a chance to share our conviction on sexuality with clear, theological and cultural relevance. Let me start by stating that this was a great book for conversation and relevance but never for acceptance as truth.

Ministry leaders have a responsibility to teach sound doctrine with cultural relevance, which means codependence on contextualization and the Bible. My essay this semester, which will become a chapter in my dissertation, focuses on Biblical Christianity and Cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity refers to people who subscribe to the Bible as the only source for developing a relationship with God while Cultural Christianity refers to individuals who identify themselves with the Christian faith without following all the biblical principles. In other words, they have the right to choose which biblical principles are applicable to them.

In reading Thatcher’s work, I often wondered if he was a Cultural Christian because the writing sometimes contradicted Biblical Christianity. He writes that he is “a Christian, an Anglican” (162, Kindle), “male, straight, and a grandparent” (162, Kindle). However, he writes that it can be “shown historically that the body of Christ is doubly queer. It contains male and female parts. Moreover, it was never straightforwardly male in the first place” (727-728, Kindle). The author suggests that he would provide an argument from both sides, but I often find his references to be weak or looked for loopholes to prove his theories. The fact that Thatcher had to write he was “straight” gives us an indication of how he would like us to accept him. As Biblical Christians, we have an obligation to ensure that our engagement with people outside our sexual preferences has feelings like the average person.

Culturally, the people in my birth country are not accepting of gays so some of these people or either publicly humiliated or physically abused. My educational influences and denominational tribe do not embrace the same equality for men and women in ministry (only 3.21% lead a congregation). Doctrinally, I am black and white with no gray area. Yes, I draw a line in the sand based on biblical principles and instructions. Thatcher states that “The churches have long taught, and millions of Christians continue to think, that the Bible condemns homosexual practice” (p. 157). I could be mistaken but didn’t God destroy a perverted people because of such practices? The author continues to document his findings to support same-sex relationships by implying that while sexuality could lead to the conception of children, it does not “consist solely of erotic desire” (261, Kindle). He continued with the idea that we “discover our sexuality in relationship to others” (271, Kindle). This ideology would support those who believe in the same-sex relationship. If we were to accept these ideologies, where is the room for conception? Weren’t we conceived as a result of heterosexual relationships?

Clearly, I object to gay practices and regard them as sin; I also object to transgender practices and sex before marriage or sex with someone other than your spouse while being married. However, I also object to lies, killing, alcoholics, prostitution, stealing and regard these practices as sin. I also object to some of the weak theories in this book in regards to sexuality. However, in reading this book as researched my essay for this semester, I embrace a challenge. The doctoral program at George Fox has been teaching each cohort to be both global leaders and thinkers. As a global thinker, I was challenged to think outside the realms of my biblical convictions (right or wrong) to embrace the existence of a new culture. I do not embrace the practices of this new culture; I embrace the reality of this culture…Cultural Christians.

When I think about denominational tribes (Assemblies of God, Methodist, Anglican, Catholics, .etc.), it is not awkward to have a conversation with someone from a different tribe. However, many Christians like myself would find it awkward talking to gays in a dark alley, but this is no different from being frowned upon for being caught talking to prostitutes in the same lobby. Unfortunately, our concern would be about how others would perceive the interaction. Biblical Christians are not condemning the person, although misguided with how we perceive the people who sin.

We have seen people leave one tribe for another because they believe the former was wrong. As a church, we embrace people who subscribe to our conviction and sentence all others to hell. What unifies a murderer and a gay individual…sin. What separates a man from a woman…their sexual organs (among other things). We can never separate people from people, except when they behave differently. My life is governed by the Bible, and those theological practices form my Biblical Christianity. However, I realize that some people believe they are also Christians but behave differently from me. Rather than dismissing them as sinners (which they are) and lose the possibility of a biblical conversion, I must consider the possibility of Cultural Christianity. Yes, these Cultural Christians often sing in the choir and even preach from the pulpit.

The “Rich Young Ruler” was a Cultural Christian (like many of the people in those days). He was ready to brag about his religiosity until Jesus told him to do something different, which made him leave sorrowful. The greatest takeaway from this book is the idea of thinking theologically about sexuality and sex, which is critical in our global landscape. We cannot escape the perversion and the lack of identity that accompanies a person’s sexuality. We should also never forget that a question is only answered when a questioned is asked. Thatcher reminds me of the 5-year-old that brings up a subject in public when you tried so desperately to ignore…until now.

About the Author

Garfield Harvey

Garfield O. Harvey devotes himself to studies in cultural intelligence (CQ), global leadership and cultural anthropology. During his doctoral studies at George Fox University, he developed CQ Worship to help ministry leaders manage the tension of leading corporate worship with cultural intelligence. His research on worship brings a fresh perspective that suggests corporate worship begins the moment a church engages a community.

6 responses to “The Age of Cultural Christianity”

  1. One of the best parts of being in a cohort is reading all the different approaches to our various texts. I find your Biblical vs. Cultural Christian as truly unique.
    Do cultural Christians get to go to heaven when they die?
    Can a cultural Christian be part of Jesus’ kingdom now?
    Does God love one more than the other?
    Just a few clarifying questions.

    • Garfield Harvey says:

      Thanks for the feedback and hope these will suffice as answers.

      Do cultural Christians get to go to heaven when they die?
      Cultural Christians are divided into two categories:
      1. Those people who intentionally choose not to follow ALL biblical principles; sometimes they feel those beliefs are too rigid
      2. Those individuals who are ignorant to the interpretations of biblical principles; sometimes they inherited cultural practices.

      If people choose not to follow ALL principles with an understanding of it, their ticket is punched to hell (as harsh as it sounds).

      Can a cultural Christian be part of Jesus’ kingdom now?
      Some people are cultural Christians because of ignorance, so they fall into the same category as the religious people. These could be new converts who are a babe in Christ or young Christians. Yes, they could be a part of Jesus’ kingdom once they don’t deliberately choose to reject principles found in the Bible.

      Does God love one more than the other?
      God loves His people equally but only those who surrender to Him totally will experience Him in His fullness. God doesn’t hate sinners, but He rejects sin. It is the principles that direct our eternal path.


  2. Pablo Morales says:

    Garfield, your convictions are clear in this blog. I share many of your convictions as well. I often say that we are called to hate sin but love the sinner. As I reflect on your distinction between the Cultural Christian (or nominal Christian) and the Biblical Christian, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, who said that upon his return, many people will come to him excited to see Him because they performed miracles in His name. Yet Jesus will tell them, “I never knew you evil doers.” A person can go through the movements of religiosity while at the same time embrace a cultural lifestyle that calls evil good. The day will come when there will be no ambiguity and the distinction will be made clear by Christ himself.

    • Garfield Harvey says:

      Thanks for the feedback and I do want to make one clarification. In recent years, they’ve redefined nominal (or so-called) Christians much different from cultural Christians. Nominals are now defined as those who are merely church goers, who probably have never repented. Cultural Christians are those who claim to have accepted Christ as their savior but continue to look for loopholes in the Bible. For example, a nominal Christian could go to a club, drink alcohol and get drunk but suggest that’s an appropriate lifestyle because they never accepted Christ. A cultural Christian could object to going to the club but may drink as much alcohol until they get a buzz (as close as possible to the edge) and say, “drink but don’t get drunk.” Hence, if they “accidentally” get drunk, they’ll call it a mistake and that they overestimated their limit in oppose to a sin problem.

  3. Phil Goldsberry says:

    This post, and its information, will appear in your dissertation!!!! Don’t leave it out.
    I am not -phobic on the sexuality dialogue. I am concerned when we allow the “culture” to be the final word of truth that allows us to question original intent.
    Everyone one of us have a soul that needs redeemed. What happens when we move the needle closer to the carnal nature than the spiritual one? Isn’t the result humanistic?


    • Garfield Harvey says:

      Thanks for the feedback and the humanistic component. I’m actually going to tie that into my dissertation with cultural Christianity. I believe this was the missing element of my research. This is the benefit of a cohort, we glean invaluable information from each other.

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