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

The Power of Culture

Renewed culture can change things.

Getting Around in Culture (3)

“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Genesis 11.7, 8

A name for themselves
The episode of the Tower of Babel demonstrates why it is so important that those who perceive the corruption in their culture do whatever they can to redeem and renew culture according to the purposes of God. God, it is clear, does not have unlimited patience with culture that has gone bad.

In this brief story we catch a glimpse of how powerful the effects of culture can be on the lives of those who participate in it.

The people of the earth had journeyed as one to a place in the land of Shinar. We do not know what their population was at this time, but it must have been small, compared to our day, since the flood was only a few generations past at this point. The people all shared the same culture and language, so it must have been easy for them to hang together as they migrated from the east looking for some place to settle.

In the plain of Shinar they determined to make their stand. There a consensus was reached that they should build a city and, in the middle of that city, a tower, apparently as a focus of their religious devotion. They would employ all their available cultural skills at this task, with the declared objective of making “a name for themselves” and to keep from being dispersed over all the earth.

The city and tower would provide the strong identity and the communal rituals and protocols that would give the people a sense of significance and purpose. The problem of course, was that these two powerful cultural achievements would serve to orient and lead the people in a direction completely contrary to the good purposes of God. Rather than seek to establish the name of God over all the earth, the people in the plain of Shinar would make a name for themselves in one familiar and convenient locale.

An intervention of grace
The Lord saw the trouble in this. If the people of the earth succeeded in this project, they would only go on to do other and more outlandish things to exalt their own prestige and power (v. 6). The results, over time, would ultimately be the same as those which occasioned the flood: Men would use their cultural forms, and the power those forms accrued, to flout the will of God and to oppress and enslave others for the sake of their own names and agendas.

Culture can be a powerful tool in the hands of the few for the corruption and oppression of the many.

So God determined to interrupt their designs and move the people of the earth back onto something that more resembled His agenda for them. He would bring this building project to an end, break up the monolithic social structure of Shinar, and disperse the peoples over all the earth, precisely as He planned.

And all He did to accomplish this dramatic change was to introduce the cultural convention of new languages.

The peoples’ ability to understand one another now hopelessly confused, they sought out those with whom they could communicate and began to migrate away from the plain of Shinar toward the far ends of the earth. Their project for making a name for themselves was abandoned, and the hubris with which they pursued this venture was appropriately chastened.

Despite their rebellion against God, His grace prevailed through the medium of a cultural innovation to offer humankind an opportunity to return to His appointed course.

The challenge to the believer
God used a transformation of culture to redeem and reform a cultural situation that was spiraling out of control. Culture can be a powerful resource for helping people move more deliberately toward fulfilling the divine purpose for their lives, but it may require being redeemed before it can serve that glorious end. For this reason, we must not take culture for granted, and we must not simply leave culture to the corroding and destructive effects of human sin, pride, and self-indulgence.

Rather, each of us needs to become more aware of the opportunities presented to us each day for bringing the beauty, goodness, and truth of God into the cultural arenas of our lives. Believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16), and He is working to make all things new (Rev. 22.5). As we learn to think and act with the mind of Christ in the cultural opportunities before us each day, we can expect to see some of that newness come to light, overcoming the hubris of people and declaring the excellencies of our God.

By what innovations in culture—in conversation, how we relate to others and do our work, in bringing more beauty into our world and practicing more of the goodness of God—might we as followers of Christ arrest the decay and decline in our culture and lead our society back to more wholesome and God-honoring cultural practices? We must not be content merely to criticize and condemn corrupt culture. Culture cannot save us. But because culture is a gift of God’s grace, the more we engage culture with God’s larger purposes in mind, the more culture can provide a backdrop and foundation for the saving grace of God to spread throughout a society. God can use culture to bring about conditions more in line with His ultimate purposes. He intends that we should be vessels of grace, both for the renewing of souls and the renewing of culture.

For reflection
1. What are some aspects of contemporary culture that you would point to as examples of the power of culture?

2. How does culture work on our minds, hearts, values, and lives? Can Christians simply sit by and watch the decay and decline of culture proceed apace?

3. The printing press is an example of a cultural change, introduced by Christians, that influenced the entire course of human history. Is it possible that small cultural changes in the lives of individuals, or even in local communities, could have such powerful effects? Explain:

Next steps--Transformation: Meditate on Romans 12.21, 2 Corinthians 10.3-5, and Revelation 22.5. What do you think it will take for you to become an agent of cultural change within your own sphere of influence?

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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