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A Christian Approach: Three "Braces"

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Engaging Culture (7)

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

A humble platform
We are considering the platform from which we must judge and engage the culture of our lives in ways that please God and bless our neighbor.

And we must judge and engage culture, so we need a reliable platform on which to operate.

We do not aspire to be professional or academic critics of culture. We seek not a university lectern nor an academic’s throne on which to sit in judgment on the culture around us. Our objective is not to pontificate but to discern. We will be satisfied with a humble stool of three legs—beauty, goodness, and truth. We will make it our goal to improve our understanding of these ideas, especially as they all come to focus in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is all beauty, goodness, and truth personified. The better we learn Him, as He reveals Himself in Scripture and His providential work of creation, the sounder will be our judgment concerning culture matters, and the more effective our engagement of culture will be for the glory of God and the blessing of others.

Seek beauty, goodness, and truth as these are epitomized in Jesus and scattered throughout the world of creation and various works of culture. Wherever the grace of God has been at work, these three legs of our humble platform can be observed.

Scripture, tradition, the Spirit
Three “braces” join the “legs” of our humble stool, to guide us in making the most of these primary criteria for judging culture. These are Scripture, the heritage of Christian culture, and the work of God’s Spirit in the world today.

We have spoken at length about Scripture in the previous installments in this series on a Christian approach to culture. We believe that studying God’s Word can greatly clarify our understanding of culture and cultural concepts and standards, especially if we can bring all our studies around to shed light on the picture of Jesus presented throughout the Bible.

Of the vast heritage of Christian culture, alas, the great majority of Christians remain largely ignorant. We may perhaps be familiar with a few of the names—Dante, Bach, Milton, Hopkins, Wilberforce, Kuyper, and so forth—and at least a few of the many good works of culture such people produced.

But, in the main, the heritage of Christian culture is terra incognita for most Christians, and that despite the fact that a substantial trove of that heritage is available to us yet today in books, artifacts, and venues which are, with the Internet, accessible to practically every believer.

We can learn much about beauty, goodness, truth, and our Lord Jesus Christ as the embodiment of these, by reading the works, studying the art and literature, and listening to the music of our Christian forebears. If we’re serious about engaging culture from a consistently Christian posture, we will make the time for such study. And the more time and attention we devote to this effort, the more fruitful will be our engagement with all the culture of our lives.

Yet most believers today seem to despise our cultural heritage. Consider the easy way we have, for the most part, tossed the heritage of Christian hymnody and liturgy into the trash can of history. Who reads The Divine Comedy anymore? Or discusses a Bach cantata or Hopkins’ remarkable “sprung rhythms” with his children? Who cares enough to study the remarkable Christian contributions to such areas of culture as mercy work, forms of government, science, technology, education, and the arts?

To become a student of the Christian cultural heritage is to open one’s soul to a wide variety of resources that can enrich our faith, enlarge our vision of Christ and His Kingdom, and bring greater beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives.

There is much to be learned in the heritage of Christian culture, and we do well to make the study of Christianity’s cultural heritage part of our own spiritual disciplines.

The Spirit at work today
Even today the Spirit of God is at work, showing us new insights to beauty, goodness, and truth through the work of Christian artists, poets, song writers, preachers, businessmen, philosophers, and more, as well as through some of the best works of culture makers beyond the pale of faith.

The books and journals are there; the websites beckon. Opportunities for learning abound on the Internet and elsewhere. God’s Spirit is working to give us reliable examples of culture in many fields, which can help improve our own ability to judge and engage the culture of our everyday lives. But we need to apply ourselves to the task of understanding how God’s Spirit is working in His people and elsewhere for cultural renewal today, or we’ll miss an important “brace” in our approach to engaging culture.

We can learn to appreciate beauty, treasure goodness, and stand for truth if we will study Scripture, investigate our Christian heritage, and learn from those in whom the Spirit of God is working today. The dying culture of our day is crying out for renewal, and Christians through the centuries have proven more than adequate for just such a task.

Will that be said of our generation of Christians as well?

For reflection
1. What are we missing by failing to be better students of culture?

2. Which aspects of our Christian cultural heritage would you be more interested in learning?

3. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this series on engaging culture?

Next steps—Transformation: Which of the three “braces” of your “culture stool” do you most need to bolster—Scripture, Christianity’s cultural heritage, or today’s Spirit-filled cultural voices? How might you begin to do this?

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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