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A Christian Approach: Three "Legs"

Standards for engaging culture.

Engaging Culture (6)

For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding and the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2.1-3 

Five disciplines
Culture, as we have seen, is the gift of God, and endowment of His common grace and a gesture of His love to the peoples of the world. But because people are sinful, we have not always made the best use of culture, such that many aspects of culture have become corrupted, degrading, dangerous, and even deadly. We cannot avoid culture, and as Christians we must use culture in ways that glorify God and bless our neighbors. We need a Christian approach to culture if we are to make the most of this great gift, in all its forms, for the glory and honor of God.

We have considered five specific ways in which Christians are called to engage culture in their service to God and their neighbors. Some culture they must repudiate as being of no value and offensive to God. Yet there are many good forms of culture, even within the culture of the unbelieving world, that Christians may appropriate for their service in God’s Kingdom. All their existing culture, as well as whatever they may appropriate, Christians are to redirect toward the needs and concerns of others. In the process, they will engage in transforming some cultural forms and innovating others, especially at the very basic and humble levels of everyday culture.

Such an engagement with culture requires standards, ways of thinking about, making, using, and judging culture to make sure that we engage culture in ways that are pleasing to God and beneficial to others.

Most of us are not going to become professional culture critics. Nevertheless, we must all assume some posture of judgment toward culture so that we are able to judge the culture of our lives with righteous judgment, as our Lord Jesus commands (Jn. 7.24). But even though our base for judging culture may not be an accredited lectern, an authoritative throne, or a respected periodical, but only, shall we say, a humble stool, we still need standards to help us.

Standards allow us to apply knowledge and wisdom, all the treasures of which are stored up in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Beauty, goodness, and truth
In His Word the Lord indicates three primary standards which can serve as sure legs for the humble stool on which we sit to judge the culture we must engage each day.

These three—beauty, goodness, and truth—are braced, as it were, by three additional guides for judging culture—the Scriptures, the heritage of Christian culture, and the work of God’s Spirit today. Here we will consider the three “legs” of our judgment seat, and we will finish our study by examining the “braces” which hold together our “judgment stool” for taking our seat to engage culture.

Beauty, goodness, and truth, contrary to what many suppose, are not criteria invented by Plato for discovering the good and reliable forms of the world. Scripture teaches these from the very beginning, and Scripture antedates the Greek philosophers by many centuries.

Beauty, goodness, and truth are nothing other than expressions of the character of God into time and creation, supremely, in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian artists—such as Albrecht Dürer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Gerard Manley Hopkins—looked to the creation, as well as to Jesus, to discover the patterns of beauty which would define their own art. Centuries of Christians have taken their understanding of goodness from the teaching of God’s Law and the example of Jesus Christ. And the Scriptures as a whole, which teach us primarily about Jesus (Jn. 5.39), have served as a sounding-board and filter for truth claims in every age.

Grow in the Lord
The basic questions we must ask concerning all our making and using of culture are three: Is whatever we would use beautiful? Is it good? Is it true? Put another way we might ask, “Is this God-like?” “Can this bring grace into my life and the lives of others?” “Is it enduring, reliable, honest, sincere, and proper?”

As Christians, our ideas about beauty, goodness, and truth derive from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more deeply we commune with Him, and the more we are transformed into His image and likeness, the more clearly we will be able to discern those cultural forms and practices which bring His grace to fulfillment and image Him to the world.

If we would have strong legs for our humble judgment stool, from which to discern and engage the culture of our lives, we can do no better than to improve our understanding of beauty, goodness, and truth. Study the Scriptures. Meditate on the life and work of Jesus Christ. Discover the many patterns of beauty at work in the books of Scripture and creation. Look to the long heritage of Christian culture to see how our forebears in the faith thought about and pursued these cultural standards. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18).

The more we improve our understanding of beauty, goodness, and truth—the three foundational cultural standards—the more reliable will be our efforts at judging and engaging culture in ways that please God and bless our neighbors. And improving our grasp of these standards depends on pursuing Jesus, to know, love, and serve Him in all our use of culture.

For reflection
1. Jesus is the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge. What can we learn from Him about beauty, goodness, and truth?

2. Why are all three of these “legs” essential for judging the culture of our lives with righteous judgment?

3. Beauty, goodness, and truth are not merely subjective standards; they exist objectively because they exist in Christ. Yet everyone, even non-Christians, have some idea of beauty, goodness, and truth. Why do you suppose this is so? How might we use this “common ground” to work for better culture in our communities?

Next steps—Preparation: Use the Scripture to create three lists of attributes, one each for beauty, goodness, and truth. How do you experience Jesus as beautiful, good, and true?

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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