And we must judge and engage culture, so we need a reliable platform on which to operate.
We do not all aspire to be professional or academic critics of culture. We seek not a university lectern or an academic’s throne on which to sit in judgment on the culture around us. We will be satisfied with a humble stool of three legs – beauty, goodness, and truth. We will make it our goal to improve our understanding of these ideas, especially as they all come to focus in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is all beauty, goodness, and truth personified. The better we learn Him, as He reveals Himself in Scripture and His providential work of creation, the sounder will be our judgment concerning culture matters, and the more effective our engagement of culture will be for the glory of God and the blessing of others.
Scripture, tradition, the Spirit
Three “braces” join the “legs” of our humble stool, to guide us in making the most of these primary criteria for judging culture. These are Scripture, the heritage of Christian culture, and the work of God’s Spirit in the world today.
We have perhaps already said enough about Scripture. We do believe that studying God’s Word can greatly clarify our understanding of culture and cultural concepts and standards, especially if we can bring all our studies around to shed light on the picture of Jesus presented throughout the Bible.
Of the vast heritage of Christian culture, alas, the great majority of Christians remain largely ignorant. We may perhaps be familiar with a few of the names – Dante, Bach, Milton, Hopkins, Wilberforce, Kuyper, King, and so forth – and at least a few of the many good works of culture such people produced.
But, in the main, the heritage of Christian culture is terra incognita for most Christians, and that in spite of the fact that a substantial trove of that heritage is available to us yet today in books, artifacts, and venues which are, with the Internet, accessible to practically every believer.
We can learn much about beauty, goodness, truth, and our Lord Jesus Christ as the embodiment of these, by reading the works, studying the art and literature, and listening to the music of our Christian forebears. If we’re serious about engaging culture from a consistently Christian posture, we will make the time for such study.
Instead, most believers today seem to despise our cultural heritage. Consider the easy way we have, for the most part, tossed the heritage of Christian hymnody and liturgy into the trash can of history. Who reads The Divine Comedy anymore? Or discusses a Bach cantata or Hopkins’ remarkable “sprung rhythms” with his children?
There is much, much of beauty, goodness, and truth to be learned here, and we do well to make the study of Christianity’s cultural heritage part of our own spiritual disciplines.
The Spirit at work today
Even today the Spirit of God is at work, showing us new insights to beauty, goodness, and truth through the work of Christian artists, poets, song writers, preachers, businessmen, philosophers, and more.
The books and journals are there; the websites beckon. God’s Spirit is working to give us reliable examples of culture in many fields, which can help us in improving our own ability to judge and engage the culture of our everyday lives. But we need to apply ourselves to the task of understanding how God’s Spirit is working in His people for cultural renewal today, or we’ll miss an important “brace” in our approach to engaging culture.
We can learn to appreciate beauty, treasure goodness, and stand for truth if we will study Scripture, appreciate our Christian heritage, and learn from those in whom the Spirit of God is working today. The dying culture of our day is crying out for renewal, and Christians through the centuries have proven more than adequate for just such a task. Will that be said of our generation of Christians as well?
Which of the three “braces” of your “culture stool” do you most need to bolster – Scripture, Christianity’s cultural heritage, or today’s Spirit-filled cultural voices? Ask some Christian friends for advice in how to improve these areas.
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.