culture

Against the World, for The Sake of the World

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Every culture possesses some inherent goodness. God ordered the world in such a way that people spontaneously make culture, and the very existence of music, art, food, housing and education represent a fundamental human good. Furthermore, God has enabled all people — Christian or not — to make good and valuable contributions in the cultural realm.

But we also recognize that every culture is corrupted and misdirected. Since the time of the first couples’ sin, all human beings sin, and our sin corrupts our cultural efforts. We are idolaters — people who worship things that ought not to be worshiped, such as sex, money and power — and the cultural realities we produce tend to be directed toward those idols rather than toward Christ.

So God structured the world so that it would be a cultural world, but we humans have misdirected our cultural realities. Every cultural context is structurally good, but directionally corrupt. For this reason, we must live firmly in the midst of our cultural contexts (structurally), all the while seeking to steer our cultural realities toward Christ rather than toward idols (directionally).

In order to help us think clearly about the cultural aspect of our mission, let me explain precisely what I mean by “structure” and “direction.” When God created the world, it was a “good” world both structurally and directionally. The way God designed the world (its structure) was good, and the way humanity used his world was good (it honored God and was directed toward him).

In speaking out against the world, we are doing the best possible thing for the world.

After the fall, the world remained structurally good but became directionally bad. The world is still good in its design (structure), but human beings use the world in ways that are oriented toward self-worship and the worship of things rather than God (direction). We live in a fallen world. Our tendency as humans is to worship things like sex, money and power, rather than worshiping God. And when we worship idols like this, it affects our social and cultural activities. Our activities are misdirected, being aimed toward idols rather than toward God.

As Christians, we want to speak out against this misdirection of God’s world. But in speaking out against the world, we are doing the best possible thing for the world.We are being against the world for the sake of the world.

Because of Christ’s redemption, we are new creatures. God has transformed us so that we live in an entirely different manner than we did before. That transformation affects all of the things we do, including our cultural activities. For this reason, our mission as Christians includes identifying the ways in which our cultures are corrupted and misdirected by sin, and then doing everything in our power to help bring healing and redirection to them.

We do this for two key reasons:

  1. We do this as a matter of obedience.
    If Christ is the creator of everything, then we must realize that his lordship is as wide as creation. Nothing in this universe escapes his lordship. And if his lordship is as wide as creation, then our obedience to his lordship must be as wide as culture. The call to be disciples of Christ is the call to bring absolutely every square inch of the fabric of our lives under his lordship.
  1. We do this also as a matter of witness.
    Every aspect of human life and culture is ripe for Christian witness. Every dimension of culture, whether it is art, science or politics, is an arena in which we can speak about Christ with our lips and reflect him with our lives. We thank God for the existence of culture and recognize whatever is good in it, while at the same time seeking to redirect whatever is not good toward Christ.

We realize that we will never “win” by transforming our culture in such a way that it glorifies Christ comprehensively or enduringly. God never promises victory until Christ returns and secures the victory for himself. But he does command us to obey him and bear witness to him by doing everything within our powers to direct our cultural activities toward Christ.

everysquareinch
This post is a modified excerpt of Dr. Ashford’s new book, Every Square Inch.
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image credit: FreeImages / Rich Goatly

 

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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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