The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Culture is What We Make of the World

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The Church has been given two commissions, and both involve being "fruitful and multiplying." Genesis 1:28 states to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Similarly, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands His followers to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." These two commandments—one from the Old Testament and one from the New—should be viewed as two halves of the same whole. One does not negate the other, both work together in harmony, bringing God's will to bear "on earth as it is in heaven."

Yesterday, we began a discussion of the need for the Church to be "salt and light" through the ministry of cultural engagement. Far too often, when Christians think of the culture that surrounds them, they think in negative terms. In other words, the "culture" is something to be avoided, rather than something to be interacted with and engaged. The reasons for this are many, but suffice it to say that most times the "culture" is viewed as what happens "out there" in the big, bad world, where the pagans romp and play, i.e. the "real world" of sin and disobedience. This puritanical view of culture causes the Church to retreat when she should be advancing, to hide when she should be seeking.

The proper view of culture is given by Andy Crouch in his fantastic book, Culture Making. Crouch writes: "Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it's given to us and make something else."[1] Crouch's observation of "making something else" is very perceptive and serves as a large part of the thesis of the entire book. The two "great commissions" given to God's people are the very ways that we are to "make something else." Having and raising children, subduing the earth, and making disciples of all nations is the divine prescription for how to make something of the world. Work is a blessing, not a curse, especially when that work is fulfilling some aspect of the great commissions.

One of the primary ways that children and adults make sense of the world around them is by what others are saying and doing. This is the reason why pop culture is so influential and so pervasive. Movies, music, art, and video games are the new unifying factor of our modern culture. This is neither good nor bad, it is simply the way culture is shared. And this is precisely why it so important that Christians do not view culture as something to be avoided. The culture is where we can bring the Gospel to bear on every aspect of the human experience. The fact that the Church isn't doing this is made evident by the fact that the culture mostly finds the Church to be irrelevant. Just as God's attributes are made manifest by the creation (Rom. 1:20), so should God be made known to the world by His covenant people, the Church. And just as the Church is made up of individuals with different spiritual gifts for the common good (1 Corinthians 12), so the Church is meant to be the common good to the rest of society (Matt. 25:31-46).

In order to be the common good for the society, we need to first understand that the Gospel touches and informs everything. Since sin pervades every aspect of human life, the Gospel—the solution for sin—must also pervade every aspect of human life. The Church needs to be encouraging its people—and individual families should be training themselves and their children—to view their occupations, their work, as a God-ordained way of using their talents and abilities to influence the culture with the Gospel. Christians are just as guilty as non-Christians of viewing work as something we must do to earn money to do the other things that we really want to do. "The value of fulfilling work is no longer in the work itself. Finding meaning in work has been exchanged for working for money. Money buys material things that provide meaning." [2] This is an upside-down view of work, and completely misses the point of why God gifts each us in certain ways. We need Christian novelists, artists, musicians, carpenters, plumbers, and taxi-cab drivers, just as much as we need Christian doctors, lawyers, pastors, and businessmen.

In their forthcoming book, Born to Lie, Drs. David Goetsch & Archie Jones make this important observation about how the Fabians were able to influence Europe with their socialistic agenda:

Socialistic thinking has dominated in Europe—as well as in many quarters in America—since the late 19th century. Socialists throughout Europe dominated the universities, influenced the thinking of intellectuals, and encouraged the spread of socialism in every way possible. The Fabian Socialists of England were especially effective in bringing democratic socialism to that country. They also influenced socialist thought in America. The Fabians sought to bring about the acceptance and spread of socialism by gradual means, beginning with scholarly works on economic history, and using popular literature to influence public opinion. Working in tandem with other socialist groups, the Fabians played a key role in the establishment of the British welfare state. In the United States, socialism was prominent in the thinking of rationalistic New England and Northern reformers.  For example, the first “free” public schools were established by Unitarian socialists who wanted to use them as a vehicle for undermining Christianity, changing America’s cultural values, and promoting the acceptance of socialism. 19th and 20th century immigration, particularly from Germany, brought a wave of socialists and socialist intellectuals to America. In the process, classical, small-government liberalism was transformed into big-government democratic socialism.[3]

The Fabians understood that changing a culture was hard work, and required a two-tier influence—one at the academic level and another at the popular level. The Unitarians also knew that changing the culture meant changing the educational system, yet modern Christians still fail to understand these simple truths. God calls each of His children to a unique task and gifts them with certain talents for a reason. Cultural engagement will not—and cannot—happen as long as Christians remain on the outside looking in. God has entrusted His Church not only with the world itself, but with the Good News for that world, and He expects us to deliver it every way possible. The Gospel is to be lived as well as proclaimed.

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[1]  Andy Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 23.
[2]  Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 18.
David Goetsch & Archie Jones, Born to Lie (White Hall, WV: White Hall Press, 2009), 100.

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