Talk 1:  A Dangerous Song

Many years ago, four teenagers – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were very intelligent and impressive young men, were displaced from their home and deported to Babylon.  They were not imprisoned but entered Nebuchadnezzar’s training college in the royal court for three years, to be educated in the best of Babylonian learning, language and literature.  What a shock it must have been to be displaced from the culture of Judah to live in the capital city of the supreme empire of the world, with all its majesty and seductive pleasures.

The intention of their education was clear – to re-make these influential young men into sons of Babylon.  Every trace of their Israelite heritage, faith, identity and culture were to be obliterated through their participation in Babylonian culture, which was idolatrous at its heart.

No wonder the Israelites cried out as they sat by the rivers of Babylon. “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”  (Psalm 137: 4).

“How do we live for Jerusalem, the city of God, in Babylon, the City of Man?”  [1]

We are called by Christ to live faithfully in our times, for this is the pathway trodden by our Saviour.  Christian schools are to be living and breathing communities who sing from a different song-sheet.  Our cultures are to embody the troubling alternative to the culture of the dominant Empire.  Peter Hitchens, brother of well-known atheist Chris Hitchens, when asked on the TV show Q&A what was the most dangerous idea in history, stated boldly that it was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Ours is a dangerous song, for it calls not for retreat but that we be actively engaged in the saving and sovereign rule of the King.

Daniel does a dangerous thing.  He remains faithful to Yahweh and the Torah, whilst serving well in the Empire.  He lives by a radical set of promises that His God is bringing into reality, a new way of life.  So, the questions come to us, “How do we raise up young men and women to sing about the new world that Jesus has brought into being?”  “How do we struggle to maintain our commitment to the teachings of God’s Word in a culture that rejects them?”  The answers to these complex questions around the relationship of the Gospel to human culture must be anchored in both belief and practice.  “There is good and bad in every culture and there are developments continually going on in every culture, either in line with the purpose of God revealed in Christ for all human beings, or else out of line. [2]

Culture has been defined as “the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential predicaments that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives.” [3]  Put simply, it is the way human societies order their community lives.

From birth, we know that children are enculturated into a way of being in the world.  ‘Enculturation’ is the process by which a person learns the content of a culture and assimilates its practices, beliefs, norms and values.  Children learn about life firstly in their family.  As they grow older, they are influenced by cultural factors, such as their peers, social media and their school.  It is not just a matter of how an individual acts, but seeing behaviour as sharing in the life of an ordered community.

How shall I live?” should be answered by a more fundamental question, “What kind of a community do I want to share in?

Therefore, we are called to neither simply affirm or reject our culture.  We are to “cherish human culture as an area in which we live under God’s grace … but we are called to remember … that … human culture was shown on … Good Friday to be in … rebellion against the grace of God.” [4]

In Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come near and as teachers, we will either radically recognise this truth or continue to face the wrong direction and pursue that which is opposed to the Kingdom of God.  Daniel’s young life had been shaped by the truth about Yahweh and His relationship with His chosen people, Israel, so he was not seduced by the education that was idolatrous at its heart.

We must enter with our students into the exploration of what it means to be human in a culture where language is detached from meaning, truth is detached from reality and thinking is shaped by desires and appetites.  Therefore, incoherence is now seen as normal.  The Christian formation of our students require that we give them the cultural tools to challenge their culture’s dominant narratives.  If we are to convey the God-Story of Jesus Christ with fidelity, we need to embody the cruciform-shaped way of life patterned on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, demonstrating a new humanity characterised by faith, hope and love.

Missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, gives us clarity for our true mission to our students.

If the gospel is to be understood … if it is to be received as something which communicates the truth about the real human situation, if it is, as we say, ‘to make sense’, it has to be communicated in the language of those to whom it is addressed and it has to be clothed in symbols which are meaningful to them. 

And since the gospel does not come as a disembodied message, but as the message of a community which claims to live by it and which invites others to adhere to it, the community’s life must be so ordered that “it makes sense” to those who are so invited.  It must, as we say, “come alive”.  Those to whom it is addressed must be able to say, “Yes, I see”. [5]

May the Lord richly bless you as you take every opportunity to be equipped for this new day.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. Matthew 5: 16


Grace and Peace
The TEC Team


[1] Reference to Augustine’s Theme in ‘The City of God’ written in 426 AD.

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, (Washington, USA: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 197.

[3] Daniel Bel, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, (New York, USA:  Basic Books, 1978), XV.

[4] Ibid., 195.

[5] Ibid., 141.