Three “Legs” (Engaging Culture, Part 6)

For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea and foras many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attainingto 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

Five disciplines

We have considered five specific ways in which Christians are called to engage culture in their service to God and their neighbors.

Some culture they must repudiate as being of no value and offensive to God. Yet there are many good forms of culture, even within the culture of the unbelieving world, that Christians may appropriate for their service in God’s Kingdom. All their existing culture, as well as whatever they may appropriate, Christians are to redirect toward the needs and concerns of others. In the process, they will engage in transforming some cultural forms and innovating others, especially at the very basic and humble levels of everyday life.

All this cultural engagement suggests standards, ways of thinking about, making, using, and judging culture in order to make sure that we engage culture in ways that are pleasing to God and beneficial to others.

Most of us are not going to become professional culture critics. Nevertheless, we must all assume some posture of judgment toward culture so that we are able to “judge righteous judgment” as our Lord Jesus commands (Jn. 7.24). But even though our base for judging culture be not an accredited lectern or an authoritative throne, but only, shall we say, a humble stool, we still need standards to help us.

Standards suggest knowledge and wisdom, all the treasures of which are stored up in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Beauty, goodness, and truth

In His Word the Lord indicates three primary standards which can serve as sure legs for the humble stool on which we sit to judge the culture we must engage each day.

These three – beauty, goodness, and truth – are braced, as it were, by three additional guides for judging culture – the Scriptures, the heritage of Christian culture, and the work of God’s Spirit today. We will consider the three “legs” of our judgment seat in this installment, and finish our study by examining the “braces” which hold together our “judgment stool” for taking our seat to engage culture.

Beauty, goodness, and truth, contrary to what many suppose, are not criteria invented by Plato for discovering the good and reliable forms of the world. Scripture teaches these from the very beginning, and Scripture antedates the Greek philosophers by many centuries.

Beauty, goodness, and truth are nothing other than expressions of the character of God into time and creation, supremely, in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian artists – such as Albrecht Dürer and Gerard Manley Hopkins – looked to the creation, as well as to Jesus, to discover the patterns of beauty which would define their own art. Centuries of Christians have taken their understanding of goodness from the teaching of God’s Law and the example of Jesus Christ. And the Scriptures as a whole, which teach us primarily about Jesus (Jn. 5.39), have served as a sounding-board and filter for truth claims in every age.

Grow in the Lord

If we would have strong legs for our humble judgment stool, from which to discern and engage the culture of our lives, we can do no better than to improve our understanding of beauty, goodness, and truth. Study the Scriptures. Meditate on the life and work of Jesus Christ. Discover the many patterns of beauty at work in the books of Scripture and the creation. Look to the long heritage of Christian culture to see how our forebears in the faith thought about and pursued these cultural standards. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18).

The more we improve our understanding of beauty, goodness, and truth – the three foundational cultural standards – the more reliable will be our efforts at judging and engaging culture in ways that please God and bless our neighbors.

Next steps

Get with some friends to talk about beauty, goodness, and truth. Make some lists of things beautiful, good, and true. How can such “models” serve to improve your overall ability to judge and engage culture?

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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