Christians Creating Culture

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2019 7 Nov

It’s not uncommon to hear Christians talk about cultural engagement. Our understanding of such a dynamic usually resides in the arena of what are called culture wars. There’s something harmful in the culture, and we go to work to combat it. Abortion would be a good example; we war against it, as well we should. At the same time, we should also recognize that cultural engagement is not only about what we’re against.

The question of how we believers should relate to culture, the culture in which God has placed us – for a reason – is not new. In his seminal work Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr highlighted five possibilities. The first he called “Christ against Culture,” illustrated in the abortion issue above. Generally speaking, in this view, Christians live in opposition to culture. The second view is “Christ of Culture.” Here, Christians submit their understanding of Christ to the values and attitudes of culture. Third is “Christ above Culture,” a view in which both the Lord and culture are taken seriously. However, a compartmentalization routinely takes place. Faith is often divorced from everyday life. Niebuhr called the fourth view “Christ and Culture in Paradox.” Here, the kingdom and the culture exist along side one another, and Christians seek to be faithful to their respective roles. One must submit to both without sinning against God. Fifth, “Christ is the Transformer of Culture.” Here, cultural realities, goods, and structures can be restored or redeemed by Christ. All areas of life are submitted to Christ and transformed for His glory.

Certainly, one may see truth in each of these positions. And surely, we all agree that Christ is indeed the transformer of culture, as He transforms persons who then play their part in the dominion mandate (subdue the earth), the cultural mandate (salt and light), and the Great Commission (make disciples). And yet, culture is not static. It’s not static when we transform it. Neither is it static when we add to it. Yes, we’re born into an existing culture, but it’s an ever-changing culture, not just through transformation, but through the creation of new culture.

God has called us to be culture engagers and culture transformers, but He’s also called us to be culture makers. Building on work by Ken Meyers, Andy Crouch unfolded this concept in his book — cleverly entitled – Culture Making. Cultural goods that are bad should be eliminated or transformed. Those that are good should be preserved. But Christians should also strive to create new cultural goods that glorify God and benefit others for the sake of the gospel. We image forth God in that endeavor, as we do in others. We put His creatorship on display. Cultivation yes, but also creativity is part of the dominion mandate. Creativity is also part of the cultural mandate and even the Great Commission. In one sense, new creatures in Christ are new cultural goods just as new objects, new methods, and new modes are new cultural goods as well.

It’s good to help a man who’s been beaten and left on the side of the road as did the Good Samaritan. It’s also good to build hospitals as certain Christians have done. And it’s good to serve in the name of Christ in those hospitals. These are seminal thoughts as we seek to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.

Dr. Dean and Christi Johnson invite you to learn more about God, His world, and yourself. Listen to their podcast, True Worldview, and find other helpful resources there as well.