“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Christians are often accused of being a naïve lot. We don’t know enough about the world because we haven’t experienced enough of it. How can we say this or that is really bad until we have walked those roads ourselves? Perhaps there is some good in the things we roundly condemn. We just haven’t encountered it because we are too clueless about it.
And…sometimes this criticism is totally valid. Christians tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to the world. Either we stay far, far away from it, cloistering ourselves off in our holy huddles to the point that we start to look weird and our witness suffers because of how truly out-of-touch with the world around us we are. Or, we embrace the world wholeheartedly, ceasing to meaningfully distinguish ourselves from the unbelievers around us because of how thoroughly enmeshed in the culture and its customs we have become.
As you might expect, neither of these two approaches is the best path for followers of Jesus to be taking. Our call is to be in the world, but not of it. We should be a part of our culture, but differentiated from it at every point. As Paul calls us to do here, we must be infants when it comes to what is evil, but mature in our thinking. In other words, far from separating ourselves off from culture, we should be committed students of it.
We should be up on the latest trends and fads. We should be conversant in the latest media and fashion movements. We should at least know the plots of the Oscar winners and the various music award recipients. We should be aware of the latest intellectual advancements and scientific discoveries. We should know who’s who when it comes to politics and what they’ve done most recently. We must know all of this because if we are going to share the Gospel with the people around us, we’ve got to be able to do it in a language they understand. If all we can speak is Christian-ese, in a culture that is no longer reasonably conversant in such (to them) an archaic tongue, we’ll never do much more than talk past each other.
Now, this doesn’t mean we fall into the trap that culture springs on those who get too close and go down with the ship. In fact, for all our learning about it, we are always looking through the lens of Christ and so stay unstained by it. This is the innocent part. Innocent, but never naïve. When we can find this balance, we will be able to impact culture rather than the other way around. As followers of the God who created culture in the first place, this is our aim.