Date: August 31, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Kameron Slater
CHRIST AND CULTURE
Thesis for this study: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of life through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.
Main Question: What is the relationship between Christ and culture?
Definitions of “Culture” and “The World”
- CULTURE: the sum total of everything human beings have created. This means that culture includes things like language, political structures, foods, TV shows, the internet, highways, and more, not merely items we typically consider “cultural” such as works of art.
- THE WORLD: “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God” (Worldliness, edited by C.J. Mahaney, p. 26).
For the purpose of this study, the terms will be used interchangeably: culture/the world is a set of ideas or though processes that shape everyday life.
Four Views of Christ and Culture
God uses our cultural creations in His work, and we use it in our sin (ie the Tower of Babel, the Tabernacle/Temple, etc). Culture is neither wholly good or wholly bad. The things that make up culture are tools of expression: they can be good or bad depending on what is being expressed. If we are expressing worship towards God, true things about His creation, or true things about our nature – that we are made in His image but fallen and sinful – then cultural creations are praiseworthy. If cultural creations express disbelief in God of false things about Him or His creation, then they are not. In fact, the Bible reflects a wide range of views towards “the world” of fallen human culture, depending on what sort of culture we are encountering. Here are a four basic orientations towards culture:
- Christ Against Culture– condemn culture (John 12:25, 15:18-19, 16:33, 17:14; 1 John 2:15-17; Revelation 18:4-5, 8)
To the extent that there is sin and evil in the world around us, we as Christians must condemn it and separate ourselves from it without hesitation or qualification. The Bible makes clear that there is implacable hostility between followers of Christ and the world that rejected him. We see this message preached consistently by the Apostle John. John invokes “the world” – by which he means the entire regime of fallen and sinful humanity at enmity with God – and calls for Christians to separate themselves from it. To the extent that we face a culture that expresses hostility to God and His Gospel, the Bible calls on us to separate ourselves from it.
Throughout church history some Christians have taken this stance of opposition and condemnation towards the world and culture around them. Much of the earliest Christian church adopted this view under persecution from the Roman Empire and we saw a similar attitude among Fundamentalists last century. We can also say that this is surely—and understandably— the view of Christians who have lived under hostile regimes in any age, such as ancient Rome or contemporary China or Central Asia.
But equally, we can see that it is not the only way Christians should view or interact with the world. It is appropriate when faced with clear evil and wickedness; but we do not always face that. God made the world, “and he saw that it was very good.” Although creation is fallen, it still retains a shadowy reflection of God’s goodness and glory. Not all things in the world are wholly and entirely wicked, and Christians would be wrong to treat all things as if they were. We would be unwise to respond to our circumstances in 21st Century America in exactly the same way that Christians responded to the ancient Roman Empire. The Romans murdered Christians; Americans do not. As with any other topic of study, it is important to consider the whole message of Scripture, not just the view of a selection of verses (not that John is wrong, he just outlines one perspective among several).
Christ of Culture– copy and consume culture
Some Christians have reacted against the Christ against culture view by taking the opposite view. They have argued that human culture is the primary means through which God reveals Himself and the primary means through which we serve Him. They would argue that we cannot learn about God except through human cultural artifacts, like books, talking, and reading; and that we cannot serve God except through human cultural artifacts, like Godly families, societies, and nations. These Christians see no tension between Christ and the world; rather, they believe the Christian message is that God becomes wholly immanent in the world through our culture. It is therefore our duty to build an increasingly Godly culture until we have literally built heaven on earth.
The Bible does not support this stance towards culture. Don Carson rightly notes that Christians who take this view of the world usually do so by distorting or ignoring large parts of the Bible. It is true that God’s creation was originally good, and indeed He does reveal Himself through all of creation; but the “Christ of culture” view overlooks the Fall. This present creation is twisted and ruined, marred by sin.
- Christ Above Culture– critique culture (Genesis 1:31; Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 2:17; Jeremiah 29:7; Romans 13:1-7)
Some Christians recognize the truth of “Christ Against Culture”, yet they see it is not always the only way to respond to our circumstances. It is true that this creation was originally good; that culture is inescapable; that we can use cultural creations as tools for learning about God and teaching one another. The Bible recognizes that our citizenship in heaven does not wholly preclude our earthly or worldly commitments. Heaven takes priority, but that does not mean the world always deserves reflexive condemnation. Christ is above culture, and sometimes our commitments seem to be held in paradox. And so we live in tension, recognizing that this world was created good; that God has blessed us with the ability to work and shape this creation in good ways; that we have legitimate obligations to this world – despite that this world is fallen and destined to perish in judgment; that our work will never “save the world,” and that at every moment we must be on guard to watch for the evil and wickedness present in the world.
- Christ Transforming Culture– cultivate and create culture (Genesis 2:15; Ecclesiastes 3:22, 5:19, 9:10; Exodus 31:3)
The Bible encourages us to actively participate in creating and cultivating good culture that reflects God’s glory. The most direct way we can create culture to the glory of God is in ways that build up His people in the church. We sign hymns: God used poets and musicians to create those hymns. We read devotionals, works of theology, and encouraging biographies: God used writers, teachers, and historians to create those books. More broadly, Christians – and non-believers — have created works of culture that express true things about God, the nature of His creation, about human beings, and about good and evil. What are those true things that we should seek to discern in our surrounding cultures, praise when we find them, and cultivate in our own work? That’s what we’ll be looking at the rest of the semester in this study.
Eleven Biblical Theses on Culture
- God created the world good (Gen 1:31). This means that the existence of the physical world glorifies God.
- Part of God’s initial charge to humanity was to create and cultivate culture (Gen. 1:26-28; Gen. 2:15).
- Because culture is an expression of human thoughts and desires, no human culture is exempt from the effects of sin (Gen 6:5, 8:21).
- Therefore, all cultures are corrupted by sin.
- Christians are responsible for how we consume culture (Phil 4:8).
- There are some expressions of culture that Christians must abstain from and separate from (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
- There are some expressions of culture that Christians should critique and engage intellectually (Acts 17:28).
- Because cultural items communicate worldviews, Christians must exercise relentless discernment (1 Thess. 5:21).
- The gospel relativizes all cultural distinctions that otherwise separate people (Gal. 3:28).
- Unlike those who hope in man’s ability to transform this world, Christians understand that only God’s radical, re-creative act on the last day will finally transform this world (Rev. 21:5-22:1).
- Because we are commanded to make the most of our time (Eph 5:16), we as Christians must be wary of becoming infatuated with this-worldly things and must devote ourselves to those things that have eternal import.
- Read through 1 John and Romans 13. (Monday- 1 John 1; Tuesday- 1 John 2; Wednesday- 1 John 3; Thursday- 1 John 4; Friday- 1 John 5; Saturday- Romans 13
- Reflect on Jesus and His sovereignty over all things, including culture.
- Ask yourself: What are the attributes of God’s character revealed in Scripture? Is there any sin you need to repent of?
RESOURCES AND FURTHER READING
**Lesson adapted from Lesson 1 of Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s “Apologetics and Worldview” Core Seminar**