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

Cultural Standards and End

We have to know this to use culture as God intends.

What is Culture For? (1)

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5.6 

Sound the alarm?
For at least a generation now, many Christians have expressed concern over the state of American culture. Words like “degraded”, “debased”, “decadent”, and even “harmful” fill the Christian blogosphere, and cries for “cultural renewal” resound from many quarters.

This, of course, is a good thing. These concerns and cries show that Christians understand the importance of culture and its power to affect us for good or ill. We should be encouraged that more believers are taking seriously the Bible’s call to bring all things into line with God’s will.

Human beings are made for culture. By our culture—the various artifacts we use each day, the institutions which organize our social lives, and the conventions of language, manners, and so forth that govern our being-in-the-world—by our culture we define, sustain, and enhance our lives. We are made in the image of God, and, since God is the Maker par excellence, we should expect that we also would make and use culture.

It’s not a question of whether Christians should be involved in culture. Culture, as we have seen, is inescapable. The question is not whether, but how. But beyond even that, the question is, “To what end should we engage the culture of our lives?” That is, “What is culture for?” Is it merely for us? For our own use, however we determine? Or is there a larger purpose for culture which gives culture its proper meaning and directs us in its proper use?

This is a question concerning the standards and end of culture. If we are to make the best use of culture—the use God intends in granting us the gifts of culture—we must know the purpose He intends. Then we will be in a better position to know how we should use culture for accomplishing our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God. 

Standards of culture
When Christians think about standards for culture, we look to the Bible for guidance, since the Scriptures are the Word of God which He has provided to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3.15-17).

Historically, Christians have been guided in their cultural activities by such standards as beauty, goodness, and truth. These, Scripture explains, are primary attributes of God. Culture is valid and useful to the extent it conforms to these standards. The pages of Christian history are filled with examples of cultural achievement to which we can look for understanding into what these standards look like as we pursue them in our cultural lives. 

Culture comes to us as a gift of God and the product of human thinking and making. Not all culture fulfills its God-given purpose, as we know. Culture becomes debased and even dangerous when it loses sight of God’s purpose for it and takes on a mind of its own. Hence, the growing Christian concern about the state of culture today. Once culture-makers and culture-users abandon God’s purpose for culture, standards such as beauty, goodness, and truth become arbitrary templates amenable to whatever seems right in anybody’s eyes.

But we can only be sure that such standards are reliable as we pursue them against the larger end of culture.

The end of culture
So it’s not enough just to have standards to guide us in our cultural endeavors and engagement. We must look beyond the standards of culture to the purpose or end of culture. The purpose of culture—all culture, in every age and category—is, as we have seen, the glory of God, expressed as love. God grants us culture that we might bring glory to Him by loving Him and our neighbor.

For the Christian, nothing matters but faith working through love in every area of life. God gives human beings culture because it can be useful for expressing His Presence and character, and in accomplishing His will. The purpose and end of culture is love. Thus, culture is properly used when it manifests and expresses the love of God. God is love, and those who make and use culture in His Name must do so in line with the requirements of love. Once we understand this, we can begin to make and use culture in ways that truly reflect God’s intentions, enable us to know His pleasure in every area of life, and define, sustain, and enhance our lives in the Kingdom of God.

I rather suspect, however, that most people who make and use culture—including those whose cultural activities we might regard as debased or decadent—can argue that they “love” what they’re doing, and they’re doing it out of love for themselves and others like them. Love is perhaps the most overused and debased word in our language.

So it’s not enough to say that “love” is the goal and purpose of culture. We need to make sure we know what we mean by that notion, and that we use culture in ways appropriate to serve as a valid means and end to love.

For reflection or discussion
1. Under each of the following headings, jot down some samples of culture in which you are presently involved: 

Artifacts (Things)                       Institutions                    Conventions


2. Why is it important that Christians become more self-conscious of and conscientious about their use of culture? What happens in culture when we are not?

3. What are your goals for this study? What do you hope to learn?

Next steps—Preparation: Make a list of all the cultural activities you have been involved in thus far today—the things you’ve used, conversations you’ve held, ways you’ve behaved in conformity to some cultural convention or other. Can you say that you have used these elements of culture consciously out of a motive of love, or to the end of love?

T. M. Moore

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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