culture

3 Principles for Living the Christian Mission in Every Sphere of Culture

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How can we think and act “Christianly” in the various dimensions of human society and culture? We interact with culture every day. We interact with the arts as we listen to music on the morning commute. We interact with science as we eat genetically modified food or peruse our smartphones. We interact with the public square when we head to the ballot box or share our political views on social media.

If God is the Creator of man, the one who gives man the ability to create human culture, then he also has the right to be glorified in those same dimensions. No realm of creation or culture may be excluded. This is Abraham Kuyper’s point when he writes,

The Son [of God] is not to be excluded from anything. You cannot point to any natural realm or star or comet or even descend into the depth of the earth, but it is related to Christ, not in some unimportant tangential way, but directly. [1]

If all things are created by Christ, and indeed subsist in him, then the ministry of the Word to the world includes the application of the Word to all areas of life. “Faith seeking understanding” applies not only to the study of Scripture but also to the study of creation and human culture.

It is incumbent upon believers, first of all, to bring all of their cultural endeavors under submission to the lordship of Christ. As believers, we live in cultural contexts that are twisted and distorted by sin. Remember, behind every human culture are foundational worldviews, and behind every worldview are various religions and philosophies. The more a culture’s underlying worldview-religion-philosophy amalgamation departs from a Christian worldview, the more distorted, fragmented and adverse to the gospel that culture will be.

We must critically engage with culture rather than passively consuming it or withdrawing from it.

Our sinful hearts overflow with disobedience, resulting in a degradation of the cultural activity for which God created us. Sin and its consequences are felt not only in individual human hearts but in art, science, education and politics. Religion is heartfelt, therefore, it radiates outward into the totality of a person’s life. Therefore, faithful Christians seek to be a redemptive influence in those same dimensions. To have such influence, we must critically engage with culture rather than passively consuming it, on the one hand, or withdrawing from it, on the other.

But how can we get a handle on how to bring our cultural endeavors under submission to Christ’s Lordship? Our cultural endeavors encompass pretty much the totality of our lives and they take place in spheres of culture that are twisted and distorted by sin. The task seems overwhelming.

To live out this cultural aspect of our mission, we should ask three questions every time we find ourselves in a particular sphere of culture:

  1. What is God’s creational design for a particular sphere of culture?
  2. How has this sphere of culture been corrupted and misdirected by sin?
  3. How can I redirect my activities in this realm toward Christ so that my activities are in accord with God’s design and are honoring to Christ?

Although these questions are easy to ask, they are not usually easy to answer. We must pray for God to empower us and give us wisdom, and we must work hard to discern how to apply God’s redemptive word to the cultural realities around us.

In the Christian life, no room exists for cultural indifference.

Another way of looking at the cultural aspect of the Christian mission is to say that if God’s people really want to critically engage culture, they must learn to do two practices:[2]

  • Read Culture. We must learn to read the culture, to understand our socio-cultural context and its attendant works of philosophy, art, science, and popular culture.
  • Write Culture. But we must also learn to write culture, to create and construct works of culture within those same arenas.

The church should encourage her younger members to take their studies and vocations seriously, and her more established members to take their professions seriously, realizing that such things are a calling from God and hold forth potential for his glory. The founders of Harvard College understood this. In a pamphlet published in 1643, they set forth their mission statement:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well [that] the maine end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, Jn. 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. [3]

The whole world is the sphere of God’s sovereignty and, therefore, the whole world is the sphere of the church’s activity to glorify him. In the Christian life, no room exists for cultural indifference.

This post is a modified excerpt from the new FREE ebook, A Pocket Guide to Christianity and CultureGet it for free by signing up below.

[1] Abraham Kuyper, You Can Do Greater Things Than Christ, trans. Jan H. Boer (Jos, Nigeria: Institute of Church and Society, 1991), 74. This is the translation of a section from the first volume of Kuyper’s Pro Rege, of Het Koningschap van Christus (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1911).

[2] Vanhoozer, “What is Everyday Theology?” 18.

[3] “New England’s First Fruits,” quoted in Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, The Puritans (New York: American Book, 1938), 702.

 

 

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Bruce Ashford

Bruce Riley Ashford is a Professor of Theology & Culture at Southeastern Seminary. He is the author or co-author of six books, including The Gospel of Our King (Baker, 2019), Letters to an American Christian (B&H, 2018), One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (B&H, 2015), and Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (Lexham, 2015).

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