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

Transforming Culture

From the inside out.

Engaging Culture (4)

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3.3, 4

A work in progress
What matters most of all in the way Christians engage culture is making sure that we are doing so as God Himself would—to grow in Him, serve others, and glorify and honor Him in all things (1 Cor. 10.31). Our aim is not to conform to whatever cultural forms or practices seem to be in vogue; rather, we want to make and use culture to seek and advance the rule and honor of King Jesus.

Culture is a gift from God intended to bring honor to Him and benefit to human beings. Christians repudiate all forms of culture that fail these tests. They appropriate as much as they can from the culture around them, embracing God’s good gifts from whatever source that may be available. And they redirect their use of culture to serve others by giving freely of what God entrusts to them, sharing all their cultural possessions as needs arise which they can meet.

But the Christian engagement with culture goes beyond even this. Christians themselves are a work in progress. Under the teaching and shaping of the Holy Spirit, we are being increasingly transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). All our thoughts, affections, values, priorities, words, and deeds are a work zone of God’s Spirit, Who is at work within us to make us willing and able to do what is pleasing to God (Phil 2.13), and that exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever dare to ask or think (Eph. 3.20).

As we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, everything that makes up our lives will express that newness, and this includes all the culture we make and use. 

Culture as a work in progress
As we are being transformed, so too the culture we engage should be transformed as well, from something that merely satisfies our human needs to something that glorifies God and benefits others. This will require us to think about culture a little more carefully.

Peter charged the women believers of Asia Minor to pioneer in this by transforming the way the world thinks about beauty. In Peter’s day as in ours, feminine beauty was regarded as a physical thing, something to be observed and admired. And, also as in our day, women in the Roman Empire of the first century had perfected ways of enhancing their physical beauty to make a more pleasing, more attractive, and perhaps more enticing, presence in the world. The ladies of Peter’s day braided their hair, put on makeup, strapped on baubles and bangles and bright shiny beads, robed themselves appealingly, and dabbed on that world’s equivalent of Chanel No 5.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with paying attention to one’s physical appearance. Certain qualifications apply of course, such as modesty; but it is not a wrong use of culture to present an agreeable appearance to the world.

But if all we pay attention to is how we use culture to adorn our outward appearance, then we are not working to transform culture as we might 

A challenge to the ladies…and men
But Peter challenged the women of his day to take hold of the very idea of “beauty”—a very culturally specific notion, as Umberto Eco has shown (A History of Beauty)—and make it something altogether different from what the people of their day recognized as beautiful. He called on the women of the churches in Asia Minor to cultivate an inward, spiritual beauty that would show itself to the world in gentleness, kindness, softness, and unfailing patience and love.

Anyone who has known such a woman will readily agree that, though this woman may be outwardly beautiful, her inner beauty is by far the stronger of the two. And her inner beauty dictates the extent to which she emphasizes the importance of outward beauty. Christians can have an impact in the culture of human beauty by paying more attention to spiritual beauty and allowing that inward beauty to be expressed in appropriate forms.

The challenge to men, then and now, is to appreciate the inner beauty of a woman and to value this more than outward appearances.

But this is merely one example. Over the years Christians have transformed culture in more ways than we might imagine. In music, the arts, education, science, the workplace, civil government, and technology, Christians have appropriated existing cultural forms, or invented new ones, and, in the process of redirecting them to Kingdom uses, have transformed them altogether. And they have been able to do this because inwardly they were being transformed to serve others and honor the Lord in how they made and used culture.

This is a challenge which goes out to every believer, every day. In our conversation, table manners, approach to work, the ways we treat others, the language we use, the forms of entertainment we enjoy—all forms of culture—we must work from the inside out to transform what people experience so that we may show the world the hope we have in Jesus Christ and the power which is ours in His Kingdom of light and truth (1 Pet. 3.15).

Christians take up the challenge of transforming their culture every day. As we learn more about the character of the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit—that will transform our own lives, and thus transformed, we can transform every aspect of our engagement with culture.

For reflection
1. Do you agree that being inwardly transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ should affect the way we use all forms of culture? Explain.

2. Meditate on Romans 12.1, 2. Would you say that Christians today are transforming culture or conforming to it? Can you give some examples?

3. Meditate on Genesis 4.19-24. The children of Cain were among the first to use music and poetry. But David and other psalmists transformed those cultural forms. In what ways? 

Next steps—Transformation: In what ways has your use of culture changed since you became a Christian? Commit your daily use of culture to seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

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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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.

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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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