Cultural Discernment

We must not allow the world to press us into its mold.

A primer on culture (7) 

We can’t escape culture, and we can't do without it. Nor should we want to do either. Culture consists of all the things and ways we define, sustain, and enrich our lives. It is inherent in being human to make and use culture.

But that doesn’t mean all culture should be used – especially not by those whose primary interests revolve around the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

While everyone has standards that guide his or her cultural choices and decisions, Christians will be rather more particular. Three standards and three guidelines must shape the Christian’s approach to discerning which culture he can use and which he must decline.

Three standards must undergird all our cultural choices – beauty, goodness, and truth: Whatever contributes to these is valid for Christians in making and using culture. Each of the standards is grounded in the being and attributes of God, in Whom we may hope to discern true beauty, real goodness, and lasting truth. Whatever in culture does not comport with or express the character of God should be avoided. The better we know Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father, the clearer we will be concerning the true nature of these three standards.

But how can we grow in understanding and using these standards to guide our lives in culture? How, that is, can we discern beauty, goodness, and truth, especially in a day like ours when everyone reserves the right to define such standards according to his or her own tastes?

Here we turn to three guidelines to shape our understanding of culture – the Scriptures, Christian history and tradition, and the work of the Spirit in our own day.

If we want to know what true beauty, goodness, and truth are like, we must consult, first, the Word of God, then the writings and works of our Christian forebears, and, finally, the various ways God is working in and through His people today for making and using culture according to the requirements of His Kingdom.

Christians must not rely merely on their own tastes, or whatever is fashionable for the moment, in making the cultural decisions and choices that shape and express their lives in Christ each day. We can know beauty, goodness, and truth, but we’ll have to work at it. By searching the Scriptures and growing in our relationship with God; by turning to the work and example of Christian culture-makers from the past; and by learning from one another and Christian leaders today, Christians can expect to make a statement in and through culture that will reinforce and illustrate their claim that the Kingdom of God has come.

Making such a statement in our use of culture must be a primary concern of every follower of Jesus Christ. We are not of the world, and we must not allow the world to press us into its mold. We serve a King Who is making all things new, and that newness must come to expression in every aspect of our lives as His followers.

Including our use of culture.

Related texts: Romans 12.1, 2; Colossians 3.23, 24; Revelation 22.5

A conversation starter: "What standards do you use in making decisions about culture?"

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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 Essex Junction, VT. 

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