“What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” [Lk 13:20-21]

Is the gospel really “counter-cultural”?  Is there a subversive, revolutionary, unruly aspect to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

There was in the first century. Think of how the acids of the gospel message went to work on slavery, power structures, violence, gender inequities, prejudice, religion, marital roles and relationships, and popular morality. The gospel contained explosive ideas back then. The early Christians hurled volatile notions of brotherhood, humility, love, forgiveness, and sacrifice across the battlements of a hardened and fortified culture.

And Christianity won. The culture changed. Values evolved. Attitudes altered. Habits transformed. Social structures realigned. In ways large and small, the world shifted.

And Christianity lost. For Satan learned that Christian ideas are often countered best not by resistance but by absorption. A little compromise here. A bit of accommodation there. Soften the firm. Cloud the clear. Nuance the straightforward. Let the explosive, bubbling, fermenting power of the gospel be muted and diverted by a selfish society and all its yammering ways.

Under such a strategy, it didn’t take long for the gospel to lose steam: for arenas to be exchanged for cathedrals, and taking up a cross to morph into merely wearing one, and personal convictions to be subsumed into “causes.”

Until, today, there is little practical force left to the gospel. We don’t expect the gospel to radically confront our culture. We don’t anticipate boiling, eruptive outbursts at the boundaries where culture and gospel meet.

I’m not talking about riots in the streets or heady confrontations between the agents of the church and the agents of the state. I’m talking about smaller boundaries, the ones that define Christian attitudes and worldly ones, Christian lifestyles and those of the world, what we want and what they do, how we think life works and their views on the “good life.”

Ultimately, a gospel that is counter-cultural is a gospel that subverts little things—attitudes, habits, ideas, relationships—at the level of the individual. The “culture wars” are fought one person at a time, one heart at a time.

I know, it’s easier to sign petitions and boycott products. But the real down-and-dirty fighting in this spiritual war goes on at a personal level. The battle-line boundaries aren’t in Washington or board rooms. They are defined by those points where each of us contacts our culture, where our attitudes and habits, ideas and relationships intersect theirs.