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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Culture Defined

For blessing and unto blessing.

What Is Culture? (5)

“And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.” Deuteronomy 28.13

Blessed to bless
In Deuteronomy 28.1-14 God outlined the many blessings He promised to bestow on His people as they faithfully adhered to His Word. The list of blessings is filled with elements of cultural life: cities, farms, families, animal husbandry, baskets and kneading bowls, storehouses, and “plenty of goods” as well. The blessings of the LORD would come to the people in and through various aspects of their cultural life. And the use they made of that culture would bear witness to the fact that they were in covenant with the LORD: “Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you” (v. 10).

Culture has a powerful role in God’s work of filling the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Hab. 2.14). The gifts of culture God grants to us can flow His blessings to the world. To see a very dramatic illustration of culture’s power to bless and be a blessing, consider the scene in the film, The Miracle Worker, in which Helen Keller discovers language.

Anne Sullivan, newly graduated from Perkins School for the Deaf in New England, has been sent to Alabama to see if she can help Helen, a deaf, blind, and mute seven-year-old. Months of hard work bring little results, and Helen seems to become angrier and more frustrated by the day. Then one day, determined to make a breakthrough, Anne drags Helen to the pump outside their house, working Helen’s hand on the lever, then sticking it under the running water while finger-spelling “water” in her hand.

This is a struggle, but Anne persists. Gradually, Helen becomes calm and thoughtful. She begins to form the word “water” with great difficulty, as Anne keeps pumping and spelling. Then Helen has it. She has discovered language, and a world of blessing began opening to her.

So what is culture?
What then is this thing which has such power to bless human lives? I suppose there are many ways of defining culture, but what works for me is to regard culture as the artifacts, institutions, and conventions by which we define, sustain, and enrich our lives. Culture is a primary way that God lavishes His favor upon people; and it is also a primary way that people serve and bless one another.

Culture is artifacts—baskets, barns, pumps, clothing, tableware, homes, books, furnishings. All the everyday objects that define, sustain, and enhance our lives. Whereas animals do not require artifacts, human beings do. And God, in His wondrous and unfathomable grace, provides all the artifacts we use day by day.

Culture is also institutions—Perkins School for the Deaf, Helen’s family and the families of ancient Israel, markets, economies, business, schools, and more. Institutions of various kinds bring together people, artifacts, and conventions in ways that impact large numbers of people, very often for good.

And culture is conventions—finger spelling, palm writing, setting a table, haggling over a price, talking across the back fence with a neighbor, writing. Conventions are ways of doing things that take hold in a society and enable people get along. And, obviously, as with artifacts and institutions, conventions can be a means of blessing.

Three things more
Culture is not something we can ignore or avoid, or that we should use apart from the wisdom of God. This is because, as we have seen, culture is powerful. Culture can change people, circumstances, whole societies, even generations. God intends culture as a way His power for goodness can reach and bless the world. But culture is powerful not only for goodness, but for evil as well. Which is why Christians need an approach to making and using culture that lines up with God’s purpose in giving culture. We are called to overcome the evil of our world with good (Rom. 12.21), and culture is a powerful resource for doing so. We therefore need an approach to culture that allows us to use all our culture to bless both ourselves and our world.

Further, culture is unavoidable. It’s inescapable. We could not not use culture if we tried. We must not think of culture merely as something reserved for certain aspects of some people’s lives. Culture is “high” culture—symphonies, travel, haute couture, and more—but it is not only high culture. Culture is “refined” or “sophisticated” culture—using the right fork, formal dress, intellectual salons, speaking elegantly—but it is not only refined culture. Every human being makes use of culture, and all culture is valuable. We may not be as aware of the culture we use each day, but we use it, anyway. For the Christian, since we cannot avoid culture, and since God uses culture to meet our needs, we must receive it with gratitude and employ it for His Kingdom and glory. This means we need an approach to all culture that will enable us to use culture as unto the Lord.

Finally, and following on all we have said thus far, culture is indispensable. We not only cannot avoid culture, we absolutely require it to realize as much of our human and Kingdom potential as we can attain to in this life. Whatever you are doing this moment, you are immersed in culture, not just because you like it, but because you require it. And God knows this! He supplies us with the gifts of culture continuously, lavishly, and with increasing bounty. And He has His reasons for doing so, reasons which we who know Him must learn and employ if we are to fulfill our calling to His Kingdom and glory in every aspect of our lives (1 Thess. 2.12; 1 Cor. 10.31).

As in the case of ancient Israel, the way Christians make and use culture is important, not only for us but for the world. We are the covenant people of God, blessed by Him to bless the world He loves to bless (Gen. 12.1-3). And culture—all kinds of culture—rightly received and used, is a primary resource for our mission of blessing to the world.

For reflection
1. How can you see that culture is powerful, unavoidable, and indispensable?

2. How much of the culture you presently use is received with thanksgiving and employed for God’s glory?

3. How will you use the blessings of culture to bless the people in your life today?

Next steps—Transformation: Today, give thanks for the culture God provides for you, and consider new ways of using your culture to bless others. Make this a conscious effort in everything you do, giving thanks in all things to the Lord.

T. M. Moore

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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