Appropriate (Engaging Culture, Part 2)

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7.22

A gift of common grace

We make a mistake as Christians if we hold the view that all non-Christian culture is worthless and should be avoided. This is simply not the case.

God has given gifts for making culture to every human being, and very often those who do not know Him are capable of making artifacts, establishing institutions, or promoting conventions that actually are very useful for human flourishing.

This is a measure of God’s common grace to all people. Believers must not despise such gifts, and we must not ignore or avoid them.

In his sermon to the religious leaders of the day, Stephen made the point that Moses had been schooled in the culture, language, and lore of the Egyptians. He understood court protocol, what was appropriate and what was not in approaching the Pharaoh. He was well aware of the role that magicians and priests played as advisors to Pharaoh. One would have to reckon with these lackeys if he wanted to persuade the king of some particular course of action.

I do not suggest that Moses enrolled in Pharaoh’s court school with the idea of gaining as much as he could for later service to God. Certainly his parents may have had such an idea in mind. Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s court, so he could hardly avoid whatever was taught or practiced there.

Daniel and his three friends might have envisioned themselves as being in a better position to serve God and His people if they took up the challenge of learning the ways of the Babylonian court. Paul must have studied Greek philosophy and Roman law in order to serve the community of God’s people more effectively. He could not have understood, as he pored over those books and studies, how the Lord Jesus would employ his secular learning for Kingdom purposes.

God’s gifts – to us!

The point is that all good cultural forms and practices, coming as they do from the hand of God, are available for the people of God to use in furthering His Kingdom and glory.

We do not repudiate those unbelieving aspects of culture which are good and useful. Rather, we appropriate all such forms, learning as much as we can about them and considering ways they might be put to use for the glory of God.

Appropriating the good products of unbelieving culture is the second way that Christians engage the culture around them. What does this involve?

First, we have to be able to recognize good culture when we see it. We’ll talk more about this in the last two segments of this series. For now, as Paul counsels, whatever artifacts, institutions, or conventions of our contemporary culture give evidence of being true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of sincere praise, we should consider such cultural forms and practices and recognize the value they hold for bringing God’s goodness to others. All such cultural forms and practices fall within the universe of culture which Christians may engage with a view to appropriating them for the Kingdom of God (Phil. 4.8).

Mastering good culture

We must learn as much as we can about such forms, so that we are able to master their use with the best of our unbelieving contemporaries. We cannot make the most of these viable forms unless we strive for excellence in our own use of them, whether in our work or simply as a matter of personal improvement.

Christians did not invent writing, for example, or the forms of poetry and literature. Nor did we invent computers, the Internet, or organized sports. It is clear, however, that such conventions and forms are available to us for the work of the Kingdom. But if we do not take the time to learn these cultural forms and practices, and to master their use, whatever we do with them in the Kingdom will be less than honoring to God and beneficial to others.

There is much good to be found in the culture of our unbelieving age. Christians engage that culture wisely and well when we do so in order to appropriate good cultural forms and practices for the work of the Kingdom of God.

Next steps

What are some forms of unbelieving culture that you make use of every day? Would you describe yourself as seeking to appropriate those forms for the Kingdom of God? Talk with some Christian friends about this. How can you help one another learn and make use of the culture of the unbelieving world in ways that honor God and bless your neighbors?

Additional Resources

Download this week’s study, Engaging Culture.

Sign up for ViewPoint Leaders Training and start your own ViewPoint discussion group.

Want to go a little deeper with culture? Order T. M.’s book, Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars from our online store.

Men, download our free brief paper, “Men of the Church: A Solemn Warning,” by clicking here.

Except as indicated, Scripture 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 Essex Junction, VT.
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