Connecting with Culture
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‘Wisdom is a muscle. If a personal trainer spends an hour showing me how to lift weights, and I listen carefully, and then go and tell others about it – that doesn’t make me a bodybuilder. In the same way, wisdom comes through practice, not just theory. You have to do it to be transformed.’
So says Dave Benson, Director of LICC’s newly-formed Centre for Culture & Discipleship – a role that this cheery Aussie has travelled halfway round the globe to take up. Formerly Director of Malyon Theological College’s Centre for Bridging Faith and Culture, Dave’s on a mission to help Christians bring shalom on their frontlines.
Summing up his job in one sentence, he says: ‘we want to form people who can understand, explain, and engage fruitfully with this post-Christendom moment we live in.’
What does that mean in practice? Well, Christians in the West may be ‘singing the song of the Lord in a foreign land’, but that doesn’t mean we should ball up like hedgehogs or throw stones at those who disagree with us. Instead, Dave explains, we need to go out onto our frontlines and create a culture that mirrors the Kingdom of heaven.
‘If we want to live fruitfully as Christians in a culture that doesn’t value the gospel, we need to be part of communities that look like what the Kingdom will look like, that invite others to take part in the story. That includes Sunday services and small groups, but it also works out in our offices, our streets, and our schools – we can all mould the culture around us to better reflect God’s character.’
But if you’re going to mould the culture around you, first you need to understand it. This is a big part of Dave’s role.
‘We want to help people ask questions like “what’s going on in our culture – particularly given everything seems to be changing so fast? What does it mean to follow Christ in this particular moment?”
‘And we want to do that by fostering a better conversation. To come back to the weightlifting analogy, we don’t want to just give you a pat answer. We want to create hospitable, safe places for questioning, where you’re not called out – spaces where we can be the community of Christ wrestling together with those big questions.’
At the same time, Dave will work with theological educators, helping them train church leaders with that same focus on what it means to follow Christ ‘out there’, in his world. As a former teacher and lecturer, it’s a task that’s close to his heart.
‘I want to be a servant to theological education in this country,’ he says. ‘Through these incredible institutions, we’re forming people who form disciples. It’s really important our trainees are equipped to help others see their frontlines through God’s eyes. So a key part of my job is working with colleges to break down the sacred-secular divide and encourage a focus on discipleship Monday to Saturday as well as on Sunday.’
From Christians on the frontline to theological colleges, it’s a pretty wide brief. But right across the board, Dave’s aiming to take everyone on the same journey – which he explains with a suspiciously familiar acronym…
‘Wisdom for the way of Christ emerges in a process of four steps. First off, we need to listen – to ask what’s happening in our contexts and why. Then we need to imagine those situations through a biblical lens – what does this issue or topic mean in light of the fact we were redeemed by Christ to be agents of restoration?
‘That imagination inspires us to create – to act in a way that brings shalom and helps those around us flourish. And then finally we communicate – asking where we can share the good news in the middle of this situation. What is the gospel amid Black Lives Matter protests, the refugee crisis, the pandemic?
‘So we Listen, Imagine, Create, and Communicate – or LICC!’
Dave’s passion for this process of listening and then engaging in a loving, godly way stems from his own personal experience. In 2011, he heard Australia’s then-Prime Minister state that although the Bible was important to society, religion should remain a private matter and should not have a presence in schools. That statement prompted Dave to begin work on a PhD at a secular university that would push for religion’s inclusion in the state school curriculum.
Not everyone was receptive to that idea, though.
‘In the middle of my thesis defence at the end of the first year, the non-Christian head of the panel rather bluntly asked: “why the **** should I care about what evangelicals think about education? Evangelicals always want to ride in and fix the world, but you’re not actually listening to what’s going on in this space.”
‘That haunted me. Why should my differently-believing neighbour care about what Christianity has to say to education? It challenged me to listen properly to what people were actually experiencing, what was actually going on – and then form my response.
‘Three years later, at my final thesis defence, the same person said they could now see that Christianity did have a valid role to play in education. That huge, positive shift was the result of me having listened properly before I tried to mould the culture I was in.’
Above all, Dave is optimistic about LICC’s growing mission. ‘Our focus on frontlines and whole-life discipleship, on equipping people to embody fruitfulness and give a taste of the Kingdom right where they are, is an idea whose time has come.
‘Whoever we are, wherever we are, God can work through us to change the cultures we’re in for the better.’