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Christ and Culture

What is the relationship between Christ and culture?  This is a question that has generated a lot of debate over the years.  Several recent books will certainly continue this debate.  But I wonder if it is possible to simplify this whole discussion.

I was prompted to write about this after reading James K. A. Smith’s review of D. A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited.  Smith isn’t wild about Carson’s proposal.  He feels that Carson’s proposal is too narrow because it only speaks of the salvation of individual humans.  Specifically, God created individuals, individuals sinned, Christ redeems individuals, and individuals spend eternity with God.

While everything Carson is saying is true, it does feel incomplete.  As Smith says, God gave these individual humans a cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28.  This cultural mandate makes it the responsibility of every human to take care of God’s creation and develop a God-honoring culture.  Needless to say, our care-taking and culture-making roles have been impacted by sin.  But redemption found in Jesus Christ not only saves our souls, but enables us to fulfill our care-taking and culture-making roles now and for eternity.

So when all of this is put together, here is what I think is a brief theology of church and culture:

  1. God gave humans a cultural mandate to take care of God’s creation and to develop God-honoring culture.
  2. Human sin has prevented us from accurately fulfilling this cultural mandate.
  3. Redemption found in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to accurately fulfill the cultural mandate now and in eternity.

On this brief theology, both Carson and Smith are correct.  Carson is correct to emphasize the “redemptive-mandate” of helping people experience redemption through faith in Jesus Christ.  This is our first priority because it is impossible to be the people God wants us to be without redemption!  However, Smith is also correct in noting that this redemption is not simply about “getting to heaven.”  Rather, our redemption has tremendous implications for the present, primarily of which is fulfilling the redemptive and cultural mandates!!

It is erroneous to pit these two mandates against one another, but I have no problem placing them in their proper order: in a fallen world the redemptive mandate takes priority because it makes fulfilling the cultural mandate possible.

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