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Culture: Love it, Leave it, or Leaven it?

Is culture a good thing, a bad thing, or a ministry opportunity? How should the Christian relate to the surrounding culture? Should we love it, leave it, or leaven it?

Some say we should love it. We are redeemed and have our ticket to glory. We should enjoy culture while we live, but not try to change it for the better. We ought to deliver others from the darkness of the world and nothing more. Culture is viewed as evil or indifferent, and soon to be destroyed. This is the fundamentalist answer.

Others say that God rules over all things but in different ways. In the Church, which is his kingdom, he rules by his Word and Spirit and in the culture, he rules by natural law. The Christian lives in two different worlds with two different sets of rules. So, fully participate in culture, but don’t expect it to be Christian or to share your values or worldview. On this view, we shouldn’t try to reclaim or redeem the culture to honor Christ or Christian values. They are simply two separate kingdoms, one spiritual and one earthly. This is the Two Kingdom Theology* answer.

Some say we should leave it. Culture is bad and it will erode genuine Christian convictions. This is the answer of fundamentalism. We should retreat from culture and build our own sub-culture that respects Christian values. Because participation in non-Christian culture is dangerous we should fall back to our own mini-culture until God calls us home. This is the Amish solution to the cultural dilemma.

I say we should leaven it. We are culture-builders by virtue of our creation. We were made in the image of God, in part, to create culture. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) We are to rule the earth and have dominion over it for the glory of God. This is the cultural mandate. All men are culture builders. In Genesis 4 we read of men working the fields and flocks, creating music, smelting bronze, etc. In other words, building culture. We build culture either for the glory of God or for our own glory.

In the Cultural Mandate, we were to subdue the earth for the glory of God. In the Great Commission, we are to subdue the earth for the glory of God. Both as created and redeemed, we are to build culture for the glory of God. We are to leaven the culture. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to live within the culture in such a way that others see our good works and glorify God. We are to redeem the culture! Abraham Kuyper once famously wrote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

What does that mean for you? “In the vocation that you're called to, you're called to be God's witness, God's emissary as he claims this whole world for himself.” (Mark Gignilliat) As a mother, baker, banker, lawyer, politician, teacher, musician, writer, artist, preacher, grandparent, neighbor or friend, you are to live in the joy of the Lord before the eyes of the watching world. We are to vote our Christian conscience, protest legal injustice and moral confusion, prophetically rebuke the culture from the Word of God, and to live before our neighbors and distinctive and joyful Christians.

Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58) One day the kingdom will triumph over all opposition. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25) So let us commit to being the light of the world. “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.”

*Two Kingdom Theology contends “that Christians should view themselves as citizens of two distinct kingdoms (the church and the world), and that efforts to transform society on the basis of Christian principles are wrongheaded.” William B. Evans

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