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

Redeeming and Renewing Culture

We must do it.

Getting Around in Culture (4)

“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…” Matthew 5.13, 14

Lighting the way
Despite humankind’s rebellious and disastrous use of culture in those early days of the human race, God did not give up on this project, for which He has made and gifted human beings. He is a God of grace, after all, and His grace is, indeed, greater than all our sins.

And great enough to redeem and renew even the most broken and corrupt of cultures.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments God demonstrated the importance of culture and showed the way for His people to renew culture and its power for good. The many examples of culture, created and employed to the glory of God and the benefit of people, which we find throughout the Bible, are there, in part, to light the way for God’s people in every culture to work for the redemption of culture in all its forms.

Culture shapes us by defining and guiding things like taste, imagination, daily life, and community. When a culture is broken or in decline, Christians must not lay blame and condemn. We must, of course, repudiate all forms of culture that misuse the grace of God and do not honor Him. But our approach to culture also requires us take steps within our own power to improve the culture around us.

The people of God undertook such efforts from the earliest pages of Scripture. Let’s reflect on just a few of the early redemptive achievements which God’s people made in the area of culture.

The Law of God
Consider first the Law of God.

Here is a body of law, a code of civil statutes, unlike anything the ancient world had seen. The laws that governed pagan societies in the time of Moses and Joshua were based on power, opportunity, and crowd control—keeping people in their place under the rule of despots. While there is some overlap between the Law of God and the law codes of other ancient cultures—a fact explainable because of all people being made in the image of God—still, the commandments and statutes of ancient Israel are without parallel or precedent.

God’s Law encodes an approach to living together in society which is designed to preserve justice, promote neighbor-love, and maximize individual freedom and productivity. So different and marvelous is the Law of God in fact, that God told His people to expect that the surrounding nations, upon seeing this Law at work, would wonder and applaud the wisdom and greatness of this cultural achievement (Deut. 4.1-8).

Law is a convention common to all human societies, and the Law of God remains today the benchmark of justice and social order. Jesus taught that learning, obeying, and teaching the Law of God would lead to greatness in the Kingdom of God and bring the renewing power of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit into every aspect of life.

Ritual and the arts
We might also consider the way that the religion of ancient Israel was able to redeem religious ritual and the arts for the benefit of men and the glory of God.

Every society in those days offered sacrifices and conducted ceremonies for their gods. None was so clearly focused on purifying a people from sin and enhancing their relationship with God as that system of worship which God gave to Israel. Certain pagan religious practices encouraged cutting the body, fornication, and human sacrifice. The religion of Israel pointed beyond these to forms of worship the ennobled people even as they honored God.

What’s more, in the work of Bezalel and Oholiab, David and Asaph, and Solomon and Hiram, we see examples of the many ways that true religion can affect architecture and such arts as singing, sculpture, tapestry-making, and literary composition. Rather than fear that culture might corrupt true religion, God showed His people how to use culture to express their faith in ways that brought Him honor and glory. People who participated the beauty, goodness, and truth of the religious life of ancient Israel were more likely to use all their culture in ways that honored God and promoted love for neighbors.

The Bible
The creation of the Bible as a literary work of art is but another example of God’s determination to redeem culture and make it serve His purposes.

It is perhaps easy for us to lose sight of the fact that the Bible is a cultural artifact and that, as such, it has exerted tremendous influence and power over peoples and cultures from the very beginning. No single book, and no collection of books or authors, has had such a widespread effect for good on the course of human history as the Bible which God brought into being through His Spirit working in His people.

The Word of God is good and true, and it directs our thoughts and ways to that One Who is the most beautiful of all. Where believers have devoted themselves to the teaching of Scripture, cultural renewal has followed.

The Spirit of God
Finally, the pouring-out of God’s Spirit on Pentecost—a kind of reversing of the curse of Babel—launched a universal power for cultural transformation into the societies of men which has been bringing the blessings of culture to people for nearly 2,000 years. Under the direction and in the power of God’s Spirit, Christian people have redeemed culture in a wide range of areas and throughout the cultures of the world, acting as salt, light, and leaven to roll back cultural corruption and begin making all things new in Jesus Christ.

The example of our forebears—taught by God’s Word and filled and led by His Spirit—must shape our own approach to making and using culture in our day.

Corrupt cultures can be redeemed. New cultures can be created. Those who believe in God and embrace His Word have shown that we do not simply need to hold our noses and take a deep breath in the face of corrupt cultures. We can change culture. We can redeem culture. And it is the desire and plan of God that His people should do so.

For reflection
1. Give some examples of cultural artifacts used in the Bible to honor God and advance His purposes:

2. Give some examples of cultural institutions mentioned in the Bible which honored God and served His purposes:

3. Give some examples of cultural conventions mentioned in the Bible which honored God and served His purposes:

Next steps—Transformation: Think of the culture in which you are engaged week-in and week-out. Where can you see a need for cultural renewal and redemption?

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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