Wednesday, February 20, 2008


In John Stott's commentary to The Sermon on the Mount, he speaks to the need for "Christian counterculture." The way of Jesus is not that of the fallen world. Stott's book was written in the late 1970s, when the idea of counterculture had some salience (even if it also had some pejorative connotations).

But do we have any sense of "Christian counterculture" today? One wonders. The pressures of conformity are massive, given mass and niche media. Biblical illiteracy is high; biblical behavior is low. Christians are far too much like everyone else when they should be different.

What is required to be a Christian counterculture? Here is a short list to provoke thought and action.

1. Biblical knowledge (Psalm 119).
2. Spiritual disciplines: prayer and fasting in particular. See John Piper, A Hunger for God.
3. The restoration of the doctrine of calling. See Os Guinness, The Call.
4. Media awareness: how they often deaden us to biblical priorities for purity and spiritual power.
5. The courage to go against the crowd for Christ (Luke 16:15).
6. Accountability and community.
7. Careful, studied biblical preaching (1 Peter 4:11).
8. Repentance concerning materialism and consumerism. See Francis Schaeffer's sermon "Ash Heap Lives" in No Little People.
9. A greater concern for the world Christian movement, not just what Christians in America are doing. See P. Jenkins, The Next Christendom.
10. More sensitivity to the realities of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). See Gary Kinnaman, Winning Your Spiritual Battles.

We must be against the world, for the world, under the Lordship of Christ (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2). Otherwise, the salt has lost is savor.


Peter Malik said...

AMEN! This has been on my heart recently as well... we had this modular course, wherein two of our guest speakers were po-mo proponents of this emerging church movement. All the teaching of Jesus was grossly filtered through their touchy-feely postmodern lenses and I think this is becoming gravely popular in North America. It's not that popular in Europe yet; but frankly, I am not optimistic in that regard. Any ideas as to what are the main issues that cause the emergent imitate the world rather than bt countercultural?

Jeff S. said...

Sometimes I think people see "countercultural" as someone who runs 10 feet outside the herd of sheep and yells, "look over here!" Yet, they continue on with the flock and are merely seeking attention. It's those that change the course of the flock's trajectory that are truly countercultural.

Mike Wright said...

Excellent words, Dr. Groothuis. The tragedy is that the Christian community in this country has become dependant on the media's definition of "counterculture." Therefore, rather than truth as the defining factor, we judge by appearance, shock-value, musical tastes, and disrespect for authority. When the right balance of those is struck, it somehow earns the label "countercultural."

Doug Groothuis said...


Right: it is a counterfeit counterculture!

Roger Koskela said...

I find it surprising that a Christian seminary professor would omit Christ’s standard for discipleship (“that you LOVE one another”) from even a “short” list of countercultural “measures”. Biblical knowledge + $2 will only buy a cup of coffee unless it translates into action. The “countercultural” aspects of Christ’s ministry, to my understanding, bring to mind things like, “love your enemy”, working to eliminate the injustice of poverty in the world and the immorality of American greed and accumulation, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, etc., etc. “By THIS shall men know that you are mine,” he said (according to my weak paraphrase). Further, Christ’s “countercultural” teachings were usually directed at the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees and Scribes who had their “bible” virtually memorized and who boasted how “good” they lived), not particularly at the peasantry who were his followers, though they didn’t “get” his message either. We need more action, tendered with love, as followers of Christ and less talk about what is right and what is wrong.

BJ the Tornado said...

I agree with all your points Dr. G, but I also find sympathy with Roger Koskela's point:

They will know we are Christians by are love.

The acts that I have witnessed in my life as the most starkly counter-cultural and most starkly Christian against the backdrop of this broken world are the times when a Christian has reached out in an example of extreme love for their neighbor (often a neighbor who hates them or outright attacks them).

It is the shocking love of Christ and His Church that sets him and us most apart from the falleness of this world.

I would also note that perhaps Christians should be countercultural in the political arena as well.... it seems far too many Christians follow along the same lines as the rest of the nation, whatever their political persuasion (be it right (like you, Dr. G) or left or a mix of in-between), in their behavoir, attitude, and discourse on politics.

Perhaps we can be countercultural there as well...?

Anonymous said...

Re: "We need more action, tendered with love, as followers of Christ and less talk about what is right and what is wrong."

We need both. We need to incarnate both Christ's love and his righteousness.

Daniel said...

I like what an anonymous Scottish preacher once said:

You say I am not with it?
My friend, I do not doubt it.
But when I see what I'm not with
I'd rather be without it.

I got that out of D.A. Carson's critique of the emergent church movement. Who, in my opinion, need to take the act of being countercultural far more to heart.

Bill Burns said...

Well, Roger, if we just add in another Francis Schaeffer title, the little appendix to "The Church at the End of the 20th Century," also available as a standalone booklet "The Mark of a Christian," you've got your "Love one another" teaching covered pretty well.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear Professor Groothuis,

I like a lot of what you write. But there are some topics that you address, such as "Counterculture?", that when you write about them, your exhortation rings hollow for me because I know that you are a staunch "Equal Rights" egalitarian feminist.

To me, being a biblical complementarian is counter-cultural. Being an egalitarian seems to be overly conforming to the world, contra Romans 12:2.

Just an observation. I don't want to derail the thread to an off-topic conversation about the complementarian-egalitarian divide. Because I do believe that Christians should embrace what you've suggested for being counter-cultural.


Doug Groothuis said...

1. I assign Schaeffer's "The Mark of the Christian" in apologetics. The love command is presupposed in what I wrote, but I whould have included it.

2. I am an egaltiarian because of Scripture not culture. What "Truth" said committed two fallacies:

1. Guilt by association.
2. Poisening the well

If you want biblical, theological, logical arguments for egalitarianism, read R. Groothuis's books.

Doug Groothuis said...


Doug Groothuis said...

"Truth" is banned from the blog. He or she objects when I expose two simple fallacies, and then commits more fallacies of ad hominem. No rational response is given, merely vapid, hyperventating effusions.

Offensive Christian said...


How can one not agree with your position? It seems to be common knowledge amongst Christians that we are sliding into sameness with our culture. I am particularly concerned with your 9th point. I agree with those concerned about American culture and the lost surrounding us at home but I am hopeful that we will become more aware of the persecuted church worldwide. This awareness should lead us to act.

As an aside, I don't see where you're post precludes serving the needy and the lost. Roger seems to think that biblical knowledge operates in a vacuum. I for one hope and pray that it doesn't. Orthodoxy feeds orthopraxy. If you don't have a solid understanding of biblical principles, then you can not effectively serve the poor. What appears to the human mind to be service could actually hinder if it is contrary to God's word.

The knowledge of the word seems to me to be a direct driver to its application and a life of service. If the study doesn't lead to that conclusion was probably not deep enough.


Tom said...


I'm not sure anyone here really disagreed with Doug's suggestions. The point that a couple folks raised was that one might have expected that, given the New Testament record of Jesus' teaching and the early church, the primary way Christians can be countercultural is by being loving in a way that goes well beyond what unbelievers would expect.

I daresay that while we shouldn't worry if being true to the Gospel requires us to do things that the rest of the world disparages, we shouldn't think that being disparaged is a necessary sign of our doing the right thing. We are called to be true to the loving nature of Jesus, whether that is accepted by the world or not is wholly beside the point.