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

Appropriate the Best of Culture

Anywhere you find it.

Engaging Culture (2)

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7.22

A gift of common grace
We make a mistake as Christians if we hold the view that all non-Christian culture is worthless and should be avoided. This is simply not the case.

God has given gifts for making culture to every human being, and very often those who do not know Him make artifacts, establish institutions, or promote conventions that are very useful for human flourishing. The goodness and beauty of God finds its way even into the culture of those who do not believe in Him.

This, as we have seen, is the result of God’s common grace to all people. Believers must not despise such gifts, and we should not ignore or avoid them.

In his sermon to the religious leaders of the day, Stephen made the point that Moses had been schooled in the culture, language, and lore of the Egyptians. He understood court protocol, what was appropriate and what was not in approaching the Pharaoh. He was aware of the role that magicians and priests played as advisors to Pharaoh. One would have to reckon with those lackeys if he wanted to persuade the king of some controversial course of action.

I do not suggest that Moses enrolled in Pharaoh’s court school with the idea of gaining as much as he could for later service to God. Certainly, his parents may have had such an idea in mind. Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s court, so he could hardly avoid whatever was taught or practiced there.

Daniel and his three friends considered that they would be in a better position to serve God and His people if they took up the challenge of learning the ways of the Babylonian court. Paul studied Greek philosophy and Roman law to help him serve the community of God’s people more effectively. He could not have understood, as he pored over those books and studies, how the Lord Jesus would employ his secular learning for Kingdom purposes.

God’s gifts—to us!
The point is that all that is beautiful, good, and true in culture, coming as it does as a gift of God, is available for the people of God to use in furthering His Kingdom and glory.

We do not repudiate those unbelieving aspects of culture which are good and useful. Rather, we appropriate all such forms, learning as much as we can about them and considering ways they might be used for the glory of God.

A little reflection will show that we all do this every day. Christians did not invent the automobile. They do not maintain the Internet, ensure that your hot water heater is in good condition, deliver your mail, or create the programs you watch on television. We didn’t invent writing, build roads, set up legal systems, and much more. We recognize, nonetheless, that there is much good in these and other forms of culture, so we freely use them in pursuing our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God. The grace of God is both evident and furthered by such elements of culture, and we appropriate these as needed as we work to bring glory to God in all things. The gifts of common grace God spreads lavishly throughout the unbelieving world are gifts to use for serving Him.

Appropriating the good products of unbelieving culture is the second way that Christians engage the culture around them. What does this involve?

In the first place, we must be able to recognize good culture when we see it. We’ll talk more about this in the last two segments of this study. For now, as Paul counsels, whatever artifacts, institutions, or conventions of our contemporary culture give evidence of being true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of sincere praise, we should recognize the value such cultural forms and practices hold for bringing God’s goodness and love to others. All such cultural forms and practices fall within the universe of culture which Christians may engage with a view to appropriating them for the Kingdom of God (Phil. 4.8).

But since the gifts of culture often come with a downside, we must be selective in how we use them. Certain aspects of the cultural forms we use are not consistent with our calling. We must repudiate these, even as we engage other aspects of these forms for our own use.

Mastering good culture
The more we learn about such forms, the better able we will be to master their use with the best of our unbelieving contemporaries. We cannot make the most of these viable forms unless we carefully assess their value and potential use and strive for excellence in our use of them, whether in our work or simply as a matter of personal improvement.

We have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of Christ to guide us in evaluating the culture of our day. Whatever is good and useful for advancing the Kingdom of God we can appropriate—like the Roman roads and legal system of Paul’s day—to help us in fulfilling our calling. As long as we use such forms as unto the Lord, we can expect Him to bless our use and grant us grace to carry out our work.

There is much good to be found in the culture of our unbelieving age. Christians engage that culture wisely and well when we do so to appropriate whatever good cultural forms and practices may be available to us for the work of the Kingdom of God.

For reflection
1. “For now, as Paul counsels, whatever artifacts, institutions, or conventions of our contemporary culture give evidence of being true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of sincere praise…all such cultural forms and practices fall within the universe of culture which Christians may engage with a view to appropriating for the Kingdom of God (Phil. 4.8).” Give some examples of the kind of “good” culture from the unbelieving world which you use each day:

2. What would you say are the basic steps to take in mastering any form of culture? Why should Christians want to do this?

3. What are the most important things to keep in mind when we are appropriating unbelieving cultural forms and practices for the Kingdom and glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 10.31-11.1)?

Next steps--Preparation: What are some forms of unbelieving culture that you make use of every day? What are some of the downsides of these cultural forms? How do you protect yourself against those influences?

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.

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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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