A Call for Christian Students to Embrace Counterculturalism

What is culture?

Well, you can find a lot of different definitions. The word culture covers a lot. But at the end of the day, it’s what we value. Culture involves the arts but it also involves social norms and moral expectations. 

Then there’s counterculture. This is when part of the population values something different than the mainstream culture. 

Now, neither culture nor counterculture is inherently good or bad in itself. It’s all based on what we value. So being countercultural isn’t worth it for its own sake. But when we notice that our culture is valuing things we don’t individually value anymore, we may be in a position to be countercultural.

When the mainstream takes a wrong turn and we find ourselves in the minority, we need to hold onto our convictions. The choice is thrust upon us: will we move with the mainstream or break off and hold our ground?

Let’s call this a countercultural moment. It’s a moment of great importance. Our decision will impact our lives and the lives of others.

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How do Christian students live counterculturally? What values do we need to hold to in the midst of our changing culture?

Being Countercultural Together

Just as a culture isn’t something individual but applies to a group of people, so too countercultures are communities. There is a time to stand alone on principle but partnering with others to steadily practice your values is encouraged.

There are many great examples of countercultural communities. In the midst of a society that disregarded the vulnerable, the Clapham Sect campaigned for the abolition of slavery and social reforms. The Clapham Sect included people like William Wilberforce and Hannah More. Their values differed from the indifference towards poverty and suffering that marked the larger culture at the time.

The Clapham Sect embraced its countercultural moment and instituted many reforms, including the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. However, they did much more. They actually changed the wider culture. You see, countercultural communities sometimes grow to change the mainstream culture. In fact, most cultural movements start as countercultures until, over time, the counterculture’s values win more people over and become mainstream. 

This poses a question to Christian students today: what types of values should we seek to encourage in our culture today? What is our countercultural moment?

While there are numerous answers to that question we could come up with, here are three specific ideas:

The Pace of Life

Our culture is incredibly fast-paced. We value efficiency, sometimes to the detriment of effectiveness. 

We want everything now. This cultural value is evident in the expectations we have for Amazon deliveries, Google search results loading, and our own careers and relationships.

What if we modeled a slower pace of life? What if we held onto the countercultural value of effectiveness, opting to take our time to do quality work rather than rushing from one thing to the next? 

Relationships v.s. Followers 

Our culture is also deeply involved in social media. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. But it has given us the appearance of being connected with many people, while we lose the motivation to build deeper, more vulnerable relationships.

In this case, a countercultural movement may look like valuing vulnerability over personal branding. It may look like incorporating more transparency into our relationships to build trust.

Rejecting Assumed Answers

We’ve talked about this before. Assumed answers are life decisions that our culture takes for granted. For example, we expect almost everyone to attend college, even though it’s not the path that some people need to take.

Our culture clearly lays out a path from cradle to career. And for many people that works. I’m not suggesting that the pathway itself is always the problem. But many people accept that this is what they should do, without examining what God has specifically set before them and equipped them to do.

Live Your Values

As our culture continues to shift and change, it’s always good to be intentional and think critically about these shifts. Think about what you value and how you can live out those values with a like-minded community. 

Now is our countercultural moment. How will you respond?

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