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A Gospel Lens to Engaging Culture

no throwaway people

As those called to be in the world, but not of the world, it can be difficult to find a balance between engaging in and influencing our culture, and avoiding be negatively changed by the culture. A group of 15 Christian women have come together to approach cultural topics like film, media, racism, body image, and much more, in a new book entitled Beautifully Distinct.

Trillia Newbell, Director of Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, put this book together, and she joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to talk about how Christians can navigate conversations on important topics like faith, life, and culture.

Newbell acknowledge that engaging in a culture that so often turns from God is difficult, but it is what we are called to do. “So, we have a very hard call to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. […] This call to love also is what motivates our engagement in the world. We are to speak truth in love. So, we want to challenge where we see things that are unbiblical. We’re going to challenge them with our words, but we’re going to do it distinctly because it’s out of a love for others.”

Speaking out and challenging with love is key, Newbell urges, and we must often check ourselves to make sure love is at the center of our motivation, and not some other sinful urge or desire. “That means we have to challenge our hearts,” she continues, “challenge where we are biased, challenge where we are sinning against our neighbor, challenge where we are partial to those who are like us and where we sin in partiality.”

Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Trillia Newbell share more about how Christians can engage the culture in a “beautifully distinct” way.

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: A Gospel Lens to Engaging Culture

TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. A group of 15 Christian women have gotten together to write a refreshing new book where they discuss films, books, media, and biblical principles we can use to approach a variety of topics from body image to racism. We know we are called to be in the world, but not of the world, but finding that balance where we can influence the culture positively—rather than letting it negatively change us—can be quite a challenge in today’s world.

Trillia Newbell with The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has put together the book entitled Beautifully Distinct, designed to help Christians navigate conversations with friends on the important topics of faith, life, and culture. She joins us today. Trillia Newbell, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: Thanks for having me.

TRACI GRIGGS: So Trillia, why is it so important for us as Christians to stay engaged in the world, even in tough, complicated, and sticky parts of it?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: That’s a great question. We are called to be ministering in the world, ministers of reconciliation. We are to make disciples, and we can’t make disciples of all nations if we’re not a part of our communities and the world, and we are to be lights in the world. And so, it’s incredibly important for the mission of Christ and for the gospel to go forward that we are a part of our communities and engaging in the world and all of its fears. I think it’s a matter of gospel proclamation, both with our words and our lives.

TRACI GRIGGS: And it can be tempting at times, can’t it, to just say, “I’m just done with it. I’m just going to concentrate on my relationship with God.” It can be hard to stay in the world sometimes. We’ve got some tough things going on right now.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: That is probably my everyday temptation to completely want to withdraw and just throw my hands up, but that sort of hopelessness is not what God calls us to. We mourn with hope, right? So, we’re unique in the way that we think about engagement because we have the hope and we have the best news that everyone needs to hear, but absolutely. And I would say there are times when it’s appropriate, and it’s good to withdraw. Jesus withdrew to pray. What I’m thinking about when I’m talking about being in the world is not being consumed by the world or to engage endlessly. I think there are times when we need to rest and withdraw, to be refreshed, and to submit ourselves to the Lord. So, there’s a limit to it, and I think one that is healthy.

TRACI GRIGGS: So, what do you think is distinctive about the ways that we live and speak if we are doing so as Christians in our culture?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: Ultimately, it’s about love, right? So, we have a very hard call to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that includes loving enemies. That includes loving those who don’t love us back. This call to love also is what motivates our engagement in the world. We are to speak truth, for example, speak truth in love. So, we want to challenge where we see things that are unbiblical. So we’re going to challenge them with our words, but we’re going to do it distinctly because it’s out of a love for others. And so, that’s pretty unique I think.

TRACI GRIGGS: We probably all have seen times when we have tried to speak the truth in as much love as we can, but it still comes across as being very critical and possibly even cynical. How do we walk that line do you think?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: If it comes off being critical or cynical, then we need to ask ourselves, “Are we actually speaking the truth in a way that is cynical and critical?” Because we’re sinners, right? We’re all going to fail even in our attempts to love. No one’s going to love perfectly. And so, we can ask ourselves, “Are we sinning in our communication?” But there are going to be times when we’re going to say things in whatever we think is the most humble and loving and kind and gentle way. But then we are going to end up offending, not by our manner, but by the words, because it’s the truth. And sometimes the truth can sting. And so there, it’s not that people are actually against us; they’re against the Lord. And that can be true, but we just have to evaluate and ask the Lord to give us wisdom for how we speak and what we’re saying.

TRACI GRIGGS: Your book is interesting because it talks about a lot of cultural things such as films, books, media, that kind of thing. So basically, what you’re saying is we don’t necessarily have to just be focused on spiritual and religious issues when we are engaging with friends and coworkers. Talk a little bit about why you think that’s important.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: Yeah, well, I think it’s not focused on just engagement with people. It’s how we engage the world in general. So how we consume things, how we’re thinking through things. It matters because we are a part of the world. We’re going to go to movies; we’re going to go engage in culture and music. And I think we can; we can delight in the way that God has created people and created art. And there are just so many things. The book is pretty broad in that manner because we’re thinking about, not just talking to people and engaging with people, but engaging with the world around us and how we can be beautifully distinct as we do that.

TRACI GRIGGS: The book even talks about a beautifully distinct approach to what we eat.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: It’s fun. I had a great time thinking through who can contribute to the book. And so Kelly Needham wrote a chapter on food. And one of its focuses is on just the gift of food. We are inundated with cultural rules and what we can and cannot do, how we should do things. And in a lot of ways it’s rooted in worldliness. There are some things that are helpful and will be helpful for us as we try to steward the bodies that God has given us. But we have to really be on guard when we’re thinking about these things because it could be that we are engaging food in a worthy way, whether it’s how we deny ourselves of food or how much we partake in food. So, it’s not something we think about a lot, unless we’re thinking about it in terms of diets like what’s the latest fad diet that we can jump on. I was really glad that she was willing to tackle that topic, so that we can engage food in a more beautiful way.

TRACI GRIGGS: Talk a little bit more about what you mean by being beautifully distinct in the way we engage with say books, or media, or films.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: When we are thinking about media or films, we don’t want to be passive. And so often we are. I can think of how many times I’ve flipped on something and passively just allow it to feed my soul. And that’s what it does; it feeds us, even if we don’t realize it. Whatever the message is we’re taking it in, and it can alter the way that we think about the Lord, or we think about other people, or it can even make us discontent. I remember watching a romantic comedy, and I was shocked by how discontent I became after watching it. This isn’t a legalistic call to end all things media—that’s not it—it’s about engaging it wisely, right? So instead of passively just consuming, we do have to be on guard. Okay, what messages are we believing that will affect our hearts, affect our view of God and our neighbor? And so, that’s one way we can engage by actually thinking about what we are consuming. And that also might mean denying ourselves the things that seem okay in the world, but it’s not beneficial for our souls in the long run.

TRACI GRIGGS: Talk a little bit about how your book addresses some of these difficult issues, such as immigration and racism.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: In the end, we’re talking about loving our neighbor as ourselves. So, how do we engage on these topics with His view of loving our neighbor as ourselves? And when we see people as God sees people—He’s made them in the image of God—they are made to reflect Him. And He’s given every person walking on this earth, whether they are Christian or not, He’s given them value because they are people. And so, we are called to love and engage in what’s going to be absolutely best for our neighbor. And that’s what we’re thinking about through those things. That means we have to challenge our hearts, challenge where we are biased, challenge where we are sinning against our neighbor, challenge where we are partial to those who are like us and where we sin in partiality. So, we have to really evaluate and think and pray through how are some of the ways that we view our neighbor hindering our love for our neighbor.

TRACI GRIGGS: And once we’ve come to some conclusions on that, and we feel like we need to speak out, talk a little bit about that balance between listening, the humility that you mentioned earlier, and how we speak out on these topics.

TRILLIA NEWBELL: We want to be real clear. I think what I’ve noticed, especially on social media, as of late, people don’t understand terms. So, you can be talking about one thing, and people are thinking you talking about another. Being really clear about what you’re talking about is helpful. I think that will help guide and help in that area of humility and help the hearer hear. And then I think when we are engaging, I think we have to be careful not to make broad sweeping assumptions about people. There’s a lot of ways that we can communicate in a way that is marked by humility and grace and love, even when it can be hard to hear. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is just how the tongue is like a flame. Our words matter, and they can do great harm. When in doubt, pray before you speak, be slow to speak, or don’t say anything. I think those things, especially for those who represent Jesus, are really important.

TRACI GRIGGS: Any particular things specifically to communicating via social media?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: One of the questions you want to ask yourself is would you say this in this way if that person was standing right in front of you. I really think that will help the way we communicate. But another thing is to remember that everyone you’re engaging with on social media is an actual person, unless they’re a bot; there are bots. But if we assume people, then that means we are called to love them. That is our Christian calling. And it is a hard one, but it is one that we must do. God says, “If we don’t love others, we don’t know Him.” That’s what 1 John says. So, we are called to this difficult task of loving people. When we engage, we need to see that there’s someone behind that keyboard. And also, I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt and extend grace. That’s a very hard thing to do in social media, especially because you have access to a lot of people you don’t know; you don’t actually know them. And so, we can do great harm to each other, and I see it constantly on social media, things that I don’t think we do. I mean, I walk around in my neighborhood, and I’m not being yelled at. So, why do we do that on social media? It’s very bizarre. I just think we need to think, “Would I do this? Would I say these things in this manner if that person was standing right in front of me?”

TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you. That’s a very good point. Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Trillia, where can our listeners go to get a copy of the book, Beautifully Distinct?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: The best place is to go to The Good Book Company or to Amazon.

TRACI GRIGGS: Well, Trillia Newbell with The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

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