How Does American Culture Influence Christianity?

Donald Miller

It’s a broad topic that deserves a book, of course, but just asking the question has value.

How is our understanding of Christianity influenced by our culture?

I’ll choose only one area to start, and that’s our culture’s preoccupation with the self and success. I mean this as one topic because the kind of success we are talking about is really about self glory.

America loves a winner. All cultures do, but we love them especially and I’d even say more.

I remember spending time in Peru, where the pace is slow, even uncomfortably slow. I daily watched farmers walk into their fields from their tiny huts and asked our hiking guide what the values of the culture were. I asked because nobody was really bent on success in the American sense. They weren’t trying to build small businesses and seemed content on being, well, largely anonymous.

*Photo by McKay Savage, Creative Commons

My guide told me the values of the culture were faith and family. And if those are your values, you definitely don’t need a lot of money or a lot of Twitter followers. You just need to stay close to the earth to learn how God does things, and close to your family to nurture your heart.

I believe we praise winners a little too much in America. We are nearly obsessed with them. We turn a blind eye to the moral failings of our sports figures as long as they are, well, winning. It’s more of a failure not to score points than it is to cheat on your spouse.

But these aren’t the values of our faith. To be sure, there’s an element of Christianity that desires growth. We are told to go and spread the Gospel, so our ambitions to do so are in fact noble. But to use Jesus for our own glory, that is to use the message of the Gospel to create “Donald Miller International Ministries” is, at its core, a hijacking of the faith.

The question, then, is what are our motives? Are we content being anonymous in the spreading of the Gospel?

Here are some questions that might serve as a personal filter:

1. If I die and nobody knows my name, but more people know about Jesus, am I truly okay with that?

2. Do I believe God wants me to succeed, or does God want more people to know Jesus?

3. How much effort do I spend planning a performance on a stage in front of strangers vs in smaller groups, contributing to a healthy community with Jesus at the head?

4. Do those closest to me see the same person as those once or twice removed, those who I blog for, write for, lead worship for or preach sermons for?

5. Am I truly willing to be vulnerable about my faults, even if it costs me a bit of my platform?

In the end, success is neutral. Success isn’t a bad thing, but in our success, it helps to realize our culture will lead us astray. If self glory is darkness, then what is light? Light may be a quiet life, interacting intimately with people with whom we’ve built trust. A person doing that in America is, indeed, countercultural.

As we write, blog, sing and preach, let’s begin to “tithe” some of our time as a way of guarding against motives that might prove distracting. All earthly success will be buried with us in our graves, and nobody will be reunited with God because they knew us. But if they know Jesus, well that’s another story. And it’s a better one. We can be heroic in our subplots, but the hero of the story is the only one who can rescue a fallen world.

-Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at creatingyourlifeplan.com and grow their business at storybrand.com. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.