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Culture Enhances Us

All right culture, that is.

What Is Culture? (4)

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. Genesis 41.14

Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. Daniel 1.18-20

Clean face, new clothes, new knowledge
In the Lerner and Lowe play and film, My Fair Lady, the prideful Henry Higgins, philologist, wagers that he can turn the street urchin Eliza Doolittle into a lady just by changing the way she speaks. Her language was keeping her “in her place”, Higgins insisted, and her life—and his ego—could be considerably enhanced by her receiving lessons from him.

The story is familiar. Eliza resists having to learn a new way of life—new clothes, new company, new disciplines, new mannerisms, and above all a new way of speaking. Higgins persists and, after an initial embarrassing setback, perseveres in making a lady out of Eliza.

The result is that the cultural transformation of his student not only brightens Eliza’s prospects, but it also enhances Higgins’ life by exposing his egoism and bringing to him a woman to love and who will love him.

That’s what culture does. All culture, not just “high” culture. Culture affects us and, if we’re careful, it enhances our lives. Culture can drag us down, corrupt us, ruin our prospects, leave us disappointed and defeated, or just turn us into snobs. But the right culture, carefully understood and embraced, can greatly enhance our lives, no matter our calling or lifestyle.

Joseph was probably pumped for meeting Pharaoh, what with his shave, shower, and new duds. Culture at work to prepare him to step into culture and enhance his gifts and service. And Daniel and his friends, after some serious instruction in Babylonian language and lore, were advanced to responsible roles in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, roles that allowed them to serve God faithfully and well.

In each case, making use of the artifacts, institutions, and conventions of culture enhanced the lives of Joseph, Daniel, and Daniel’s friends so that they were able to be of more service to God and their neighbors.

Culture—right culture, rightly learned, at whatever level of cultural life—enhances our lives, especially in three ways.

Enlarging our humanity
Culture can enlarge our experience of being human. We can know more wonder, gain fuller understanding, increase our efficiency, become more discerning, discover wholesome diversions, and be better overall companions and colleagues by making good cultural choices throughout our lives. Exposure to right culture can help us discover shortcomings in our own lives, present examples to aspire to, and prepare us for making improvements in who we are and what we do.

It’s why we go to school, after all. All those years of study, discipline, learning, and the like can fill out our worldview, clarify our calling in life, prepare us with new skills, and help to know a richer, fuller life overall. Schooling—an institution of our culture—can enhance our lives.

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We who believe in Jesus are being transformed into His image and likeness. God is infinitely beautiful, infinitely wise, and infinitely capable. As we receive gifts of culture from His generous hand and put them to good use in our lives, it stands to reason that we will realize more of the fullness of His image and likeness in all aspects of our lives.

Serving others
Culture can also enhance our ability to serve others. The skills and tools we acquire, our overall outlook toward others, and the way we relate to people, as neighbors rather than enemies, can all be greatly improved and enhanced by culture. If we engage in cultural life with a view to serving others with what we learn, acquire, and practice, we will be more likely to be channels of God’s grace to the people in our lives (2 Cor. 4.15).

By learning wholesome, God-honoring culture we can carry on meaningful conversations, show hospitality, give generously, share forms of art, enjoy shared experiences, and otherwise serve the people in our lives in everything we do, even to how we take our meals with them (1 Cor. 10.31).

We do not acquire cultural practices, forms, and tastes simply to consume them on ourselves. But the more adept we become at learning and using culture, the better we will be able to serve the people around us.

To know the Lord of culture
The most important way that culture enhances our lives is by pointing us to, connecting us with, and helping us to abide in our Lord Jesus Christ. Got a Bible? Read and study it! Know some hymns? Sing to the Lord, Who inhabits the praises of His people. Read good Christian books. Participate in study groups. Worship faithfully and attentively. Take the Lord’s Supper as He intends. Engage in Christian and Kingdom conversations. Learn about all of life from the One Who made it, sustains it, rules it, and judges it for His glory and our good. Use all aspects of your cultural life for His honor and glory.

All the good gifts of culture come to us from our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in heaven. We can learn to use culture through Him, by looking to Jesus and modeling our lives in culture after His. And then we can return glory and honor and praise to Him, and thus be greatly strengthened in our relationship with Him, if we use all our culture to know, love, and serve Him.

Culture can enhance our lives. If we want a richer, fuller, more fruitful life now, look to culture to connect you more firmly with Jesus. He will use whatever culture He gives you for growth and service in His Name.

For reflection
1. What forms of culture have you used already this day? How do these enhance your life? For example: your toothbrush? The electricity in your home? Your Bible?

2. What cultural forms do you find most useful for enhancing your relationship with Jesus?

3. What cultural forms, as you experience them in others, attract you to those people, say, for conversation?

Next Steps—Transformation: Today, thank God for every cultural form you use that enhances your life in some way. Be specific. Thank Him for the gift of culture, the cultural forms in your life, and the specific ways your life is enhanced by these forms.

Following Jesus
What does it mean to follow Jesus? How does following Him affect our lives? Our course, “Disciples Making Disciples”, can help you bring your life and culture more into line with the Kingdom and glory of God. Click here to learn more and to register for this free self-study course.

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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