By Ben Swift
‘God is remaking the world… by the act of redemptive new creation through which humans are once more to reflect God into his world and the world back, in worship to God.’ (N.T.Wright)
It is true that we humans are drawn to specific aspects of what we label as culture and that throughout history we have sought to play a part in the evolution and enhancement of culture. It is also true that as the years roll on in one’s life, changes in culture become not only evident but form a part of a person’s history and perceived identity.
We all have stand out memories of bold personalities who have had obvious impacts on the culture of our time. Who could forget the influence of Michael Jackson as he stunned the world with his debut performance of Billy Jean, dressed in a never seen before, single fingerless glove that helped revolutionize fashion in the Western World? Then came Boy George with his provocative pushing of gender boundaries as he fronted the pop band ‘Culture Club’.
It’s often through the influence of larger than life characters that aspects of culture are questioned and reshaped. And culture does change. In my lifetime I have seen the culture of workers heading to the local pub for a beer or ten after work being replaced with an obsession with working out at the gym and driving under the influence of protein shakes rather than alcohol.
If human beings have the ability to affect change in culture then how do those who identify themselves as Christ’s image bearers go about influencing the shaping of culture? Is this even a part of life with which we should be concerned with?
Consider the following passages of Scripture:
‘For those who identify with their old nature set their minds on the things of the old nature, but those who identify with the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Having one’s mind controlled by the old nature is death, but having one’s mind controlled by the Spirit is life and shalom [peace].’ (Romans 8:5-6)
‘In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of this world. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.’ (Romans 12:2)
Following in the footsteps of reformer John Calvin, we who seek to influence culture as the image bearers of Christ must recognise that the chief purpose of humanity is to glorify God. Richard Kroner suggests, “Since faith is the ultimate and all-embracing power in the human soul, nothing whatever can remain untouched by it. Therefore religion has the power of integrating man’s culture through his faith, because it rises above all culture, it being no part of culture as such, but the mystical experience of apprehending God.” (Van Til)
It is clear that we are called to be like yeast, allowing God to work through us to penetrate and influence the cultural bread of our day, as the world continues to conform its culture to one that sits apart from the Creator. Let us not forget that God is also the creator of all beauty and the culture that we seek should recognise and reflect all that is truly beautiful in creation. Consider the following passage written by Neil Cullen McKinlay:
‘What is beauty? Beauty is whatever is pleasing to the eye of the triune God who made the heavens and the earth and all therein. For it is written, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). As a frame encases and enhances a painting, so God’s morals surround beauty. Beauty glows because it is pregnant to God’s Moral Law. To be truly appreciated the inherent moral dimensions and parameters of beauty must also be beheld. Bald is beautiful only because God has numbered the very hairs of our head.”
If the Church, the Body of Christ, is to be an agent of cultural influence that bears the image of God, the question needs to be asked: “Is the Church influencing culture or is the Church being influenced by the culture in which it sits?”
Few of us, Christian or not, are ignorant to the debates happening within the Church that highlight the pressures of worldly culture. One thing remains clear though. The Church, if it is to truly serve and reflect God, must not conform to the world. It must seek to know, through the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit, what to accept and what to renounce. The new creation that God is working through His little human reflectors, must not be in denial of our humanness but rather embrace and reaffirm our purpose as intended by the one who knows us deeply, the Word behind all of creation.
N.T. Wright suggests, “The resurrection of Jesus enables us to see how it is that living as a Christian is not simply a matter of learning a way of life that is in tune with a different world and thus completely out of tune with the present one. It is a matter of glimpsing that in God’s new creation, of which Jesus’ resurrection is the start, all that was good in the original creation is reaffirmed. All that has corrupted and defaced it – including many things which are woven so tightly into the fabric of the world as we know it that we can’t imagine being without them – will be done away.”
The world and the Church, when it comes to culture, are often heading in different directions. But that should come as no surprise. It’s when this isn’t happening that the alarm bells should sound. We, as Christ’s image bearers, need to embrace the divinely inspired concept of culture and all that is truly beautiful. We must ensure we provide the salt that the world needs to live as renewed human beings, carrying the hope and anticipation of a renewed culture, in a renewed creation with the triune God.