A Theology of CultureJanuary 9, 2023 ● 20 min
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Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Culture is where humanity shapes nature according to a worldview. Humans are to develop creation for the glory of God, since they bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8). All cultural activity should be performed for the glory of God under the Lordship of Christ. As Abraham Kuyper said:
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!”
Francis Schaeffer further emphasized that all legitimate activities are spiritual.
True spirituality covers all of reality. There are things the Bible tells us as absolutes which are sinful- which do not conform to the character of God. But aside from these things the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. It is not only that true spirituality covers all of life, but it covers all parts of the spectrum of life equally. In this sense there is nothing concerning reality that is not spiritual.
We find three biblical themes for cultural engagement under the Lordship of Christ.
I. Separation/antithesis: Against the world, for the world, under God. Recognize the radical fallenness of the world and its systems (Psalm 1; 1 John 2:15-17).
When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship. When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving, but if someone stops he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point.” Blaise Pascal, Pensées.
A. Paul at Athens: One transcendent creator; no idols; resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:16-43)
B. Danger: legalistic separatism
C. Don’t compromise with the squalor of popular culture: “Game of Thrones,” etc. Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture.
D. Bearing witness philosophically against postmodernism. See Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay (IVP, 2000)
1. Defend a biblical view of truth
2. Revealed/authoritative—not constructed or contingent all the way down
3. Objective—not merely subjective
4. Absolute—not relative, conventional
5. Universal—not provincial, parochial
6. Antithetical—not synthetic, irresponsibly eclectic, ad hoc
II. Conservation/common grace: “He Shines through all that’s fair”
A. Matthew 5:45: Sun shines and rain falls on just and unjust
B. Be discerning and relentless scavengers for common grace; philosophical detection of truth and rationality outside the fold; put back material where it belongs (James Orr)
C. Plunder the Egyptians but don’t worship their idols (Augustine)
D. Dangers: accommodating the worldly (James 1:27; 1 John 2:15-17)
E. Common grace: The American system of government. See Douglas Groothuis, Fire in the Streets
1. Separation of powers: sin and reform
2. Representational and constitutional government: ordered liberty under law
3. Five radiant freedoms of the first amendment: law giving room for religion and the preaching of grace in Christ
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
III. Transformation: “Crown him with many crowns,” crown rights of King Jesus: Psalm 2; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 10:3-5
A. Permeate society and claim as much as possible for Christ and his Kingdom.
B. Danger: triumphalism, zeal without knowledge
C. The “humble prophet,” neither dogmatist, nor relativist; regaining a resonate, prophetic and intelligent voice in the public square
1. Knows, exegetes the culture (I Chron. 12:32; Tribe of Issachar)
2. Knows, exegetes the truths of Scripture (Psa. 119; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)
3. Knows, exegetes herself before the “audit of eternity” (Soren Kierkegaard); ministers unto the Lord.
4. Has fire in her bones, love in her heart, and keeps a cool head (Jeremiah 20:9).
D. Challenge to scholars to develop a public voice
1. Move beyond self-imposed boundaries, ghettos, subcultures
2. Publishing: books, articles, op-ed, letters to editor, public forums, tracts, podcasts, YouTube channels
3. Aspire to be “public intellectuals” with a biblical, logical, and vibrant theology of culture and passion for truth.
On the Theology of Culture:
1. Andy Crouch, Culture Making
2. Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life
3. Mars Hill Audio (with Ken Myers). Marshillaudio.org. Recorded conversations on culture from a biblical viewpoint.
4. Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christian and Popular Culture.
5. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who i
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