Father Esequiel Sanchez is Rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He was one of 103 survivors of an Aeromexico plane crash outside Durango, Mexico, on July 31, 2018.
Father Sanchez suffered multiple fractures to his left arm, requiring surgery and the insertion of a metal plate. He said in response, “I’ve become the bionic padre.”
In his sermon last Sunday, Father Sanchez declared that the real miracle was not that everyone survived the plane crash, but that so many went back into the burning plane to rescue others.
A powerful metaphor
Survivors helping others survive is a powerful metaphor for the work of Christians in a post-Christian culture.
Jesus called his first disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, where they would confront the very authorities who executed him (Acts 1:8). They were to bring his message to “all Judea and Samaria,” where they would encounter Jews who opposed them and Samaritans who rejected them.
They were ultimately to go to “the end of the earth,” probably a reference to Rome, the capital of the pagan Empire. Along the way, they learned to relate their message to their culture so effectively that they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
How can we follow their example?
The “love and teach” circle
In the context of Western Christianity, we can think of culture as three circles.
The first can be called the “love and teach” circle. Here we find the biblical worldview with all its precepts and principles. In essence, we are to love our Lord and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39), and we are to teach the world to obey all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).
Of course, to teach the world to obey Jesus’ commands, we must first obey them ourselves.
The “reject and replace” circle
The second can be called the “reject and replace” circle. Here we find truth claims and practices we must reject if we are to live in the first circle. For instance, we cannot love God while agreeing with our culture that he is no longer relevant to our lives. We cannot love our neighbor and lust after his wife.
But it is not enough to reject unbiblical lies—we must replace them with biblical truth.
One of Jesus’ most frightening parables tells of a demon who leaves a person, then returns to find “the house swept and put in order” (Luke 11:25). The demon then “goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).
It is not enough to reject what is demonic and sinful—we must replace it with what is godly and redemptive.
As I noted recently, all temptations are illegitimate ways to meet legitimate needs. For example, lust is a sinful way to meet our need for personal intimacy. We must refuse it, of course, but then replace it with spiritual intimacy with our Lord and sexual intimacy with our spouse.
When we meet immorality and untruth in our culture, we must reject it and then replace it with biblical morality and perspective.
The “adapt and apply” circle
The third can be called the “adapt and apply” circle. Here we find precepts and practices in the world that we can adapt and apply in our service to God and neighbor.
For instance, technology is morally neutral. It can be used for great evil, but it can also be adapted to Christian purposes and used to spread the gospel around the world. Missionary doctors should adapt and apply the latest medical breakthroughs in treating their patients.
Christian business leaders should adapt and apply advances in their fields. Churches should consider all ministry and worship strategies that glorify Jesus and draw people to him.
The “serenity prayer” for today
Here’s the challenge: Satan wants us to adapt what we must reject and reject what we should adapt.
For instance, those in the church who have adapted their theology to the sexual revolution and LGBTQ agenda may think they are making their faith relevant to our changing world. In fact, they are abandoning the anchor we need in a storm that will otherwise shipwreck us.
Satan also wants us to reject what we should adapt for God’s purposes. Such cultural animosity keeps us from using what could reach others and fosters conflict with those who have become “all things to all people” to reach them for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Reinhold Niebuhr made famous the “serenity prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I would adapt his prayer for this article to say: “God, grant me the serenity to reject the things I must refuse, courage to adapt the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Wilberforce’s simple strategy
William Wilberforce was one of the finest examples of cultural engagement in Christian history. His work to end the slave trade and reform society continues to resonate today.
His strategy was simple: “There are four things that we ought to do with the Word of God—admit it as the Word of God, commit it to our hearts and minds, submit to it, and transmit it to the world.”
Admit, commit, submit, and transmit—will you do all four today?