In the older evangelical (and fundamentalist influenced) mindset there was often a split between “culture” and “society” (albeit, not a conscious one). Culture was usually viewed with suspicion leading to separation or withdrawal. But society was viewed neutrally leading to capitulation. Let me explain.
Culture is often viewed by older Evangelicals as the field of values and worldview, of messages and meaning. Culture is where one must battle over a Christian worldview and Christian values. Culture is where the battle for the hearts and minds of the youth is won or lost. This understanding leads to a “Culture War” mentality based around key issues public prayer, the meaning of Christmas, marriage, abortion, evolution, global warming. This mindset often leads to suspicion and separation in regard to culture.
But society is usually viewed more neutrally as the structures and institutions of culture, but which are mostly benign in themselves, but could be used well or poorly depending on the people in charge of the institutions. The structures of society (politic systems, economic policy/practice, healthcare, military, police forces, prison systems) are either good or bad. This mindset lead to accommodation and capitulation about the ways in which these structures and systems of society are themselves possibility at odds with the kingdom of God.
In my class last week on “Church and Culture” I raised this distinction between culture and society in order to erase it because we are going to be talking about systems and structures of meaning production all of which fall under a broad understanding of culture understood as the the total human endeavor to live and make sense of this very living.
Have you seen this distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in your churches, church leaders, or church experiences?