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It is a deep pleasure for me to be a sojourner with you in this course and in the Kingdom. I use the term “sojourner” deliberately: while I am the professor of this course, I am also one who is learning what it means to be faithful to Jesus, our redeemer and Lord. So, yes, there is a distinction between instructor and student, professor and class; but insofar as we are parts of the Body of Christ, we are in this together.

The overarching question for this course is: “How does Scripture inform the Christian worldview such that the integration of faith and reason impacts culture?” Here we see some key terms forming the foundations of this question: (1) Scripture; (2) Christian worldview; (3) faith; (4) reason; (5) integration; (6) culture. I think we could analyze this question in (at least) two main parts: (A) the relationship between Scripture and theology (Christian worldview); and (B) the impact of what we might call faithful reason on culture. The first part is theoretical; the second part is practical. The first part is about Christian beliefs; and the second part looks at how these beliefs make a difference to our lives and the world around us. This course is about both.

So, what is the relationship between Christianity and society? Between the Church and the world? Another way of looking at this set of questions is to consider how the gospel – the foundation and core expression of our faith – impacts and informs our view of culture – the environment in which faith is lived.

There are three views that one could take when it comes to the relationship between gospel and culture:
(1)  The Isolation View: Gospel and culture are distinct, non-overlapping categories of life and the world, operating in isolation. The gospel guides the Christian as she delicately and deliberates navigates this world’s terrain; and it guards the Christian from traversing on unwelcomed territory. The culture is inherently evil, whereas the gospel is good news. The culture seeks to infiltrate the Church’s camp, and it is the job of the vigilant Christian to ward off culture’s imperiling effects. The eternal truths of the gospel must be safeguarded, generation after generation, from the clutches of culture, for the sake of the Church’s purity and God’s glory.
(2)  The Accommodation View: The gospel is always embedded in culture: they are inseparable and indistinguishable. Accordingly, it is the Christian’s duty to accommodate the gospel to the ethos of culture in order to “become all things to all people.” So, if in a theologically liberal culture, for example, the bodily resurrection of Christ is disbelieved, we creatively cater to the culture and theologize a metaphorical resurrection. Because gospel and culture are inseparable, Christians must be “wise as serpents,” and speak a compelling narrative within their cultural context.
(3)  The Transformation View: The gospel transforms culture. Christians recognize that the gospel and culture are inseparable, but not indistinguishable. The gospel is not detached from culture (thus it is like the Accommodation View [AV]); but neither is it defined by it (unlike AV). The gospel consists in eternal truths (thus it is like the Isolation View [IV]); but these truths are apprehended within and applied to various cultural contexts (unlike IV). The call of the Christian is to live faithfully to the Christ of the gospel, seeking to serve through its transformative power a culture-inhabiting world.

There is truth to be found in (1) and (2). For (1): The gospel does acts as a guide in our journeying through this world; of course, it’s good news; and certainly we are called to safeguard the gospel and the Christian tradition (Ju. 3). But, the gospel is meant to impact the culture, not to operate in isolation from it. The gospel – which is the good news of the Kingdom of God – is meant to leaven its environment – culture (Mt. 13.33).

For (2): Yes, the gospel is embedded in culture. CQ: What is “the” gospel as abstracted from culture? Yes, there are timeless, literally eternal, truths in which the gospel consists; but think of the core of the gospel message – e.g., the cross’ being a Roman instrument of death: the gospel is embedded in culture both in its presentation and its continual expression. However, the gospel should not be accommodated, i.e., distorted, watered down, etc.; rather, Paul in 1 Co. 9 is talking about how he has become “all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel – not that the gospel has become all things to all people.

What, then, is the biblical warrant for the Transformation View? There are three helpful passages here:
(1)  Romans 1.16 (cf. 8, 15): “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” – and this gospel-wrought salvation is the groundwork of the whole epistle of Romans.
(2)  Acts 20.24-27 (cf. v. 28): “24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock[, overseers, and] care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
(3)  Rev. 14.6: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

In other words, theological conservatives would say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, leave ‘em.” Theological liberals would say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” The Transformation View would say: “Beat ‘em.”

To tie things up regarding the question of Christian versus secular music: When it comes carefully analyzing and critically evaluating any artifact – i.e., any humanly produced item of culture – it is, first of all, crucially important to think theologically. (Of course, it is important to think theologically when it comes to analyzing anything whatsoever – but, of course, I would make that claim: I’m a theologian after all!) To think theologically means (inter alia) we must have a firm grasp of the doctrine of Creation – that Yahweh has created all things good; and a firm grasp of the doctrine of the Fall – that he has allowed humanity to turn away from his goodness; as well as a firm grasp of the biblical notion of Redemption – that he has provided a way of salvation and that he continues to work in and with creation to reconcile and restore all things and people to a state of flourishing and fullness, i.e., of shalom.

In addition to framing the analysis of culture through a theological lens, the Accommodation View suggests that we need carefully consider the following aspects of this or that culture piece – what I call the three Is of Christian theological cultural analysis:

(1) The intention of the artist – e.g., Is it to edify and glorify? Or to dehumanize and invert the created order? [CQ: Why didn’t I say “humanize” as a contrast to “edify”? Because if something is Christian, i.e., of the Kingdom of God, it will by virtue of this fact be something that humanizes: to be aligned with the purposes of God is to be in a fully human mode of existence, just as Christ is the preeminently human (and divine) one “[who] is the image of the invisible God” (cf. Col. 1.15).] (2) The inherent value of the artifact – e.g., Is it true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (cf. Ph. 4.8)? Or false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, perverted, or otherwise degrading? Here is where we consider aspects such as: lyrics, aesthetic excellence, appropriateness, form & function, etc.
(3) The impact of its application – e.g., Does it contribute to human and social flourishing? Or to destructive ways of thinking and being?

We need both our theological framework and cultural analytic framework in place when considering whether some artifact ought to be considered Christian or not, Kingdom-conducing or not. We will talk more about this in a subsequent lecture as we discuss the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom, a relationship which is not one of identity. (In fact, we will be doing much more of this dual-analysis throughout the rest of this course.) But briefly put, a helpful question to ask when analyzing culture is: Does it advance or enhance the Kingdom?

So what are we to make of the nomenclature of “Christian music” and “secular music”, or those of film, or clothing companies, or NGOs? The answer: think theologically and analyze culturally with the three Is. And this illustration sums up the OQ of this course quite well; recall: “How does Scripture inform the Christian worldview such that the integration of faith and reason impacts culture?” We have used Scripture (Col. 1, Ph. 4, etc.) to ground a Christian worldview of Transformation, Theological Thinking, and Cultural Analysis – and thereby sought to integrate faith and reason – for the sake of impacting culture. If all of that seemed a bit too far, don’t worry: we many weeks to reflect on and engage the one OQ that I pray will shape our lives and thought.

2 Responses

  1. Thea Brescia

    Very enjoyable and informative article. Love the part about “The Transformation View: the gospel transforms culture.” Several years ago , when I first heard that the Gospel can transform people- including me , I was totally over joyed. And to read here of the gigantic power in the Gospel to transform culture, bowls me over with gratitude and optimissim . =D

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