Culture Friday – Communicating in a hostile culture


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 22nd day of July, 2022. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next up on The World and Everything in It: Culture Friday with John Stonestreet of the Colson Center and WORLD Opinions managing editor Andrew Walker.

But a little different format this time.

BROWN: Yeah!

You know this has been a very busy travel summer and this week was no exception. I was at a conference and had the chance to get together with John and Andrew—this time face to face—instead of screen to screen.

So, because of the schedule, it worked out that we needed to record this week’s Culture Friday right there in the conference center and we found a quiet place to talk. Let’s listen now to that conversation.

MYRNA BROWN: Well, it’s not every day, we get both of you at once, and also in person. So I want to make the most of this time with you. This week, we talked about communicating in a hostile culture. I’d like for you to talk about using storytelling as a weapon in this fight, who wants to go first?

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Well, Myrna, I will go first. And it is great to know that you actually exist in real life and are not just you know, pixelated, on the screen, as we so often do these weekly conversations. It is a very difficult thing to communicate truth, if all we had to deal with was the fact that people are fallen in their own rationality they don’t actually have, we don’t always have the ability to connect our actions and consequences and cause and effect and what we see in the world around us with the Creator that’s behind all of those things. But when you talk about a culture, like ours, which in many ways, pretty committed to denying moral realities, and even objective reality, such as biology, then you know, these are very big gaps. And one of the gaps that’s created is that certain stories are elevated, and other stories are not. One of the things that we’ve heard this week are stories of people who, you know, if you didn’t look for them, you would not know that they existed, in fact, they’re not supposed to exist, they’ re not supposed to be, for example, people in our culture who regret certain lifestyle decisions, or people who transitioning against their bodies into a new “identity.” People who’ve regret decisions they made for “their reproductive health.” So we cover up these stories, we pretend they don’t exist. And we often use these made up words in order to hide their stories. And that is a powerful thing for Christians to do, which is to uphold the stories and tell them.

ANDREW WALKER, GUEST: I think the fact that story speaks so powerfully to us as human beings and not just as Christians, is the fact that when we look at how God has communicated his truth to us, he didn’t give us our truth in the form of pure propositional truths. Like there’s not a book that says, here’s 88 truths that you need to live your life by. Now, obviously, there are truths that we live our lives by, according to scripture. But I think I remember a statistic, saying something to the effect that 85% of Scripture actually comes to us in narrative form. And I think that that is, that has to say something true to our nature, in the fact that when God creates the plan of redemption, that plan isn’t just again, facts. It’s not just, it’s not just propositional, it’s also narrative. And so, all of us as human beings, again, not just as Christians, we kind of find our identity. In terms of reference points and chapters, I mean, you notice the proclivity, oftentimes, people define their lives by so called chapters and seasons. And I think that’s actually speaking to something that’s not simply kind of an evolutionary quirk, brought about by blind forces. But it’s a reality given to us by God, that God who doesn’t have a beginning and end – because He is God – He has created creatures who mark time, who mark beginning and end by narrative and by story.

BROWN: Well, a lot of discussion this week on using truthful language, I think that’s how it was termed instead of false constructs like biological male, transgender woman, transgender, this and that. Why do you think that resonated with so many,

WALKER: I think the conversation around the language that we use, it speaks to the reality that language is attempting to name reality. And if we find ourselves playing by the word games and word constructs of a culture that doesn’t believe in our understanding of truth, we’re now playing to according to their rules. And so you have language that we see in the culture now, of sis-gender. You know, I hear Christians use the term cisgender. And I immediately stop and say, Okay, no, you really shouldn’t use the term cisgender because even though you don’t identify as a transgender person, you have now been brought up and drafted into the transgender revolution because you’re playing according to the language games that they think is true of reality, because again language, we are moral realists, as Christians, we believe that reality must conform, sorry, language must conform to reality as it truly is not something that is simply just an emotive response to our feelings about the world. And so we need to be very, very vigilant about the language that we use, and understand that if we’re not being culturally discerning, we can, even with good intentions of trying to love our neighbor, get swept up, and to a real firestorm of moral relativism.

STONESTREET: Andrew, I think that’s exactly right. I think it was GK Chesterton, who said if words aren’t worth fighting for what on earth would be. And because words are at the base of how we understand and perceive reality. The postmodernist almost got this right. Post modernists said that language essentially creates reality. And that language refers to other language and other language and eventually we have reality. It’s not human language that creates reality. It’s God’s language that creates reality. This is what we see in John 1, there’s an ontological description of reality, which begins with the word which is why human words, because we’re made in His image, are so absolutely, critically important. Now, what’s happened now is that the post modern use of language has now evolved into this critical theory use of language, and where there’s this real mood and culture where we immediately, based on labels, language we put on groups, identify some people as the good guys and some people as the bad guys. So people don’t often realize, to Andrew’s point, that when we get drafted into using the language, we’re actually being drafted into taking sides. Here are the good guys, here are the bad guys. And that’s a real problem. Now, this is also, I think, wise warning for us as we try to communicate across worldview lines, because it gives you a very effective place to start in a conversation, which is a question that I was taught years ago, I think every Christian should have it in their back pocket whenever they’re having a conversation. And that is, “well what do you mean by that?” In other words, fight for the definition of words, I remember once being on a plane with this lady, and she’s like, “well what do you do?” And I said, “well I worked for this Christian organization.” And she looked back and said, “well, I’m an atheist, prove me wrong.” This was the beginning of a three hour conversation, right? And she started by saying, “prove to me that God exists.” Now I went to a seminary, like I paid a lot of money to know the answer to that question. But I’d learned this, this tactic, and I said, “well, what do you mean by God?” And she goes on to describe, you know, this grumpy old man who can’t wait to strike you dead with a lightning bolt. And I’m like, “you’re describing Zeus, I don’t believe in Zeus.” And the meaning of words means so much. You think about words in our culture, like love, justice, freedom, equality and inclusion. These are words that are thrown around. I just heard this phrase last night, and I thought was so good. “They’re not just conversation stoppers, they’re thought stoppers.” They stop people from thinking, “what do these words mean?” And I think God has been so gracious to gift us with that, the minds that we can understand the language that’s at the root of reality that points us ultimately to Him. And we can ask these questions and hopefully, continue to point people to the truth. We do live in a time where language is tyrannical. It just controls our lives. And I think that’s an effective way to fight back.

BROWN: Well, John, thank you, because you just helped tee up this next question. You did that on purpose. Yeah, talking about talking across worldviews. And we saw that this week in the general session. You know, we saw two people on practically different planets almost coming together on one stage telling a story of collaboration to benefit the welfare of children to benefit children. Andrew, I’d like for you to just in general terms, you know, talk about what you saw, what you make of that, what did you make of that and the ramifications of that kind of collaborating?

WALKER: Yeah, so this week, I was able to be an observer in a conversation between a conservative attorney and a very liberal medical doctor, who has been on the front lines of some of the gender revolution in our society, who is now more or less acting as a whistleblower, because this individual is understanding the coerciveness of the gender ideology at the root of the transgender revolution, and how this is not bringing about the resolution and healing of young children that the medicine was purported to be about, but it’s really about conformity to ideology for ideology’s sake. And so again, you can find unlikely allies in the culture, when I think everyone is animated out of a concern for truth seeking. I know we have different conceptions of what the truth is in our culture, but just by virtue of common grace, and the fact that even people who aren’t Christians can still have some grasp of the truth. We’re going to find ourselves in some weird conversations. I’m thinking right now about individuals like JK Rowling over in the UK who is not a Christian, but who is making very obvious truthful statements and observations about basic male/female biology. And that’s getting her in a lot of trouble. And so again, she’s no friend of Christians as far as kind of our orthodox belief around the image of God. But because of common grace, she understands these truths of our embodiment. And so we want to come to her defense and to say, we don’t think that she’s animated out of animus, I hope that she wouldn’t think that we’re animated out of animus, what we’re animated by is a concern for truth seeking, and truth seeking in service to human flourishing. That’s what truth ultimately ought to be about.

BROWN: Well, we talked about some heavy subjects this week, and I’m so thankful that I got to meet you all in person, and you all are amazing, and great thinkers, and you’re also funny. So thank you so much, John and Andrew.

That’s John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center, and WORLD Opinions managing editor Andrew Walker!


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