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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

“In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige.” (C.S. Lewis)

What does a heart after Jesus look like? Simple. Find nothing to think of more interesting than Jesus’ prestige! Where the world and culture has become opposed to God, the fundamental problem is idolatry. We are prone to trample what is good because we too often “find nothing to think of more interesting than [our] own prestige.” Christians know better. Jesus is worth every heart, every praise, and every allegiance. But we know the god of “this world” is in total opposition to Jesus. How should that truth affect how we live in the world? The Bible teaches, “Do not love the world.” What does that mean? To answer that question, we will need to study the different uses of the Greek word for “world” in the Bible, especially as it is used in texts like James 1:26-27 and 1 John 2:15-17.

The Greek word is kosmos, a word found 104 times in John’s writings alone. The text we will focus on here is 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” These are serious words. Many Christians cite 1 John 2:15-17 to denounce popular culture. But does 1 John 2:15-17 really teach that all popular culture is bad? Or, for that matter, does it really teach that “the world” is all bad? Here it helps to see the different ways in which the biblical writers employed the term kosmos in their writings. We will look at four of them briefly in this post.

First, kosmos can mean “all of God’s creation.” This is the world, the universe, and everything in it. In John 1:10, Jesus is said to be the one who created the world, and the word used there is kosmos. So, we should ask the question — should we love or not love the world Jesus created? Of course, the answer is, yes, we should love God’s creation. God loves his creation, and we should certainly love it also. Thus, this first meaning of kosmos doesn’t seem to be the use John is employing in 1 John 2:15-17.

What other meanings are there? A second use is what Kittle defines as “the theater of human and earthly history.” This use of kosmos simply means the inhabited world, what we call the earth. We see this definition employed in Matthew 4:8, for example, where Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” World in Matthew 4:8 is again that word kosmos. In this verse, it is a neutral term — unless, of course, “their glory” refers not only to the kingdoms. Again, this use of kosmos does not seem to fit John’s use in 1 John 2:15-17.

So let’s consider a third use. This one is pretty important. Kittle defines this third use as “the theater of salvation history.” This is what we call the world of redemptive history. Here we find kosmos used in that famous verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So, should we despise the “world” that God so loves? The answer is clearly no. So what does John mean by world in 1 John 2:15-17?

Thankfully, there is a fourth use — or I’m not sure what we’d do! John employs kosmos in 1 John 2:15-17 in reference to the world which is in opposition to God. This is the kosmos which, according to Kittle, is lost in sin, wholly at odds with God, lost and depraved. We see this use employed in John 16:11 where Satan is described as the world ruler, the “prince of this world.” This is the world in which Christians are to avoid at all costs. As John Bunyan writes, “What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.” We see this meaning of kosmos similarly used in verses like 1 Corinthians 1:27, Hebrews 11:38, and in many places in John.

So why bring this up? It is important to know what Scripture says about the world when it comes to your interactions with the things of this world. Should we flee from culture, live in the mountains, and await the Lord’s return? Or, should we wisely live in the world, on mission for Christ, redeeming the culture, creating culture, and avoiding those things that are in hardened opposition to God? The second option seems more fitting for Christians. Why? Because God loves the world, even lost humanity in the fallen world. He created a beautiful world, and one in which humanity can also creatively create! Remember, the Father sent his Son in the world in order to save it, as John 3:16 and 12:47 teach. In other words, texts such as 1 John 2:15-17 and James 1:27 do teach that we should be in opposition toward the “world” whose prince is Satan and stand against his schemes — that world will pass away — but we should conversely love God’s creation, and its people in the same way God does as well.

What does this mean for culture, then? How does an understanding of what the Bible means by “world” in texts like 1 John 2:15-17 help us when it comes to popular culture? Well, let me give you a couple of things to think about. One, “world in opposition to God” is not simply another way to say “culture” or “popular culture.” It’s not that simple. There are things in culture that are in opposition to God. And there are things which please God. To dismiss culture in one broad stroke as to say that it’s all anti-God or polluted is to forget that there are some aspects of culture that are good, sometimes beautiful.

Therefore, we need wisdom — and here are some practical helps. First, when it comes to moral legalism and license (which we discussed in part 2), think about this: don’t focus so much on what you must not do. Rather, focus on what you get to do when you are following Christ! It is a joyous privilege to follow Christ! Remember, a heart after Jesus is key to understanding what the Christian life is all about (see part 3). Consider your freedom to find joy in Jesus a greater freedom than your freedom to enjoy a movie — even if you do both at the same time! As one who enjoys watching movies, listening to music, watching TV, playing video games, and using social media, this is something I must take to task on a daily basis.

Second, God does give us real beauty and good things in the world, even from non-Christians. Still, even if some elements of popular culture are good, they must never become our gods (see part 4). Proverbs 24:13 and 25:16 are helpful here: honey is sweet, but if you eat too much of it you will get sick and vomit.

And third, for all of these things, we need to be asking the question about whether we should/can accept it, whether we must reject it, and whether we can redeem it. Or, as Bruce Ashford says, “we must consider how we, as Christians, can live faithfully, critically, and redemptively in the world in which we find ourselves.”

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“How should an artist begin to do his work as an artist? I would insist that he begin his work as an artist by setting out to make a work of art.” (Francis Schaeffer, 1912-1984)

Do you have God-given talents? Use them! I remember talking with Drew Maust, who is with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a while back on Bible translation. I asked him why do YOU do Bible translation, of all things? He is a gifted linguist, a sharp mind, and a follower of Jesus. What that basically comes down to is what he said to me in response: “This is what I was made for.” God as our Creator made us uniquely creative in many ways. In culture, we have culture-makers. Artists are culture-makers. Musicians are culture-makers. Scientists are culture-makers. Authors are culture-makers. Theologians are culture-makers. And the list goes on and on.

Because God made you, you are made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The ways in which you bear the image of God are where you, as a person, create, reason, live in community, work, and rule in ways that point to the Creator. God is the best gift-giver. He is the best culture-creator. He does the best work. He is in perfect community with himself within the Trinity. In every way, God is big “C” Creator. As for people, we are uniquely gifted as little “c” under-creators. This is evident in what is said in Genesis 1-2, for example, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” One Old Testament scholar, John Sailhamer, believes the mandate of Genesis 2:15 is simply, “Worship and obey,” which sounds very similar to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

In view of the present subject, Genesis 2:15 then links worship and obedience with what we were created to actually do, and that isn’t completely lost in the Fall. Indeed the Fall was terrible, and we continue to see its pervasive effects on community, culture, the arts, the sciences, everyday life, and everything else. Without Christ as our Savior, we would be without hope and without God in the world. However, the Fall did not destroy the image of God that we carry. It effaced it, damaged it. But it is still there; and, therefore, every human being can still create, work, live in community, and make culture that points to the Creator who made us. The Fall distorts, damages, and hinders culture-making. And as fallen creatures, much of what is made in culture is in opposition to God; but I must make this point: Genesis 3:1-7 does not completely destroy Genesis 2:15 and the rest. And our imperfection even now does not either. This isn’t a question of whether the world is lost and unreconciled to God. Instead, it’s a question of whether human beings, as God’s image-bearers, can point to their Creator.

With that said, Christians are uniquely being restored by God’s re-creative work in total salvation. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) What we need to learn is to hold this verse, and the pre-Fall verses as well, in view of a Romans 7 humility. And in that, we should discerningly and faithfully determine in what ways we as Christians can be culture-creators who point the world to the Creator. Every human being is uniquely gifted and bears the image of God. Yes. And Christians are regenerate image-bearers, and uniquely gifted. As Christians, then, we should be engaged in the best culture-making! We should, in whatever we do as God’s regenerate image bearers, point the world to the Creator! Why? Because God cares about culture: the arts, the sciences, the academy, politics, “everyday” theology, community. He cares about high culture and popular culture alike, because they are part of the world God has made.

You may be incredibly gifted musically. Use your gifts! You may be imaginative with a gift for writing. Use your gifts! You may have a sharp brain, being gifted to work through complex issues and interpreting meaning in arguments. Use your gifts! Work on your gifts. Learn to use them even better. Do what you were made to do (like Drew Maust) to the best of your ability as God’s image bearers. Create culture, including popular culture, in a way that is creative, reasonable, workable, and that foreshadows our community together as a re-created people in Christ on a new heavens and earth.

Does that mean that you, as Christians, must make culture in a way that points the world to their Creator? Yes! Does that mean that you, for example, as a musician must only write hymns? No, although hymns are nice. Does that mean that you, for example, as an artist, must paint nativity scenes? No, that’s not it. What it means is that you were put here in the world as an image-bearer of God; now, as one who knows and follows Jesus, do what you were created to do. As a created being made by the Creator of all things, point to him in whatever you do.

In our next post, we will turn to consider what it means to live in the world while not becoming polluted by those things in the world which are in opposition to God. It will require some exegesis, so come ready!

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“Let’s just be honest and admit right up front that the Bible pulls no punches and leaves no room for a public relations effort to clean up the dust storm.” (Al Mohler)

One objection to the previous post is that the Bible contains history. Real history. It doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet. In the Bible real people commit heinous sins. There is crime, racial prejudice, sexual immorality, lies, and the list goes on. And so someone might object,

“Isn’t it better to watch movies or listen to songs that are more in touch with reality, that show what the Bible actually teaches about human depravity, or the redemptive qualities of authentic heroes in movies? Aren’t these more worthwhile examples of art and culture?”

Maybe. It kind of depends.

Indeed there are movies, songs, TV shows not made by Christians that are genuine works of art, portraying redemptive themes in plots, characters, stories, and lyrics. They contain heroic characters that point to God. Honestly, such examples are few and far between; but they do exist. But let me say this: the Bible is better! It is true, the Bible does not gloss over sin in its overall message of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. And without human history depicting the realness of the fall, we wouldn’t get a complete picture of the importance of each part of the story.

Nevertheless, the Bible, in the wisdom of God, protects us from temptations to sin in ways that most uninspired movies or songs probably won’t. When David commits adultery with Bathsheba, I don’t know of anyone who is tempted to lust as a result. When I read and learn from other parts of the Bible, it’s the same thing. Simply put, God’s Word will not tempt you to sin. It is a greater revelation of truth than anything you will find in popular culture. It teaches you. And it protects you.

Does that mean you should completely disengage from popular culture? I don’t think so. That is certainly not what I’m saying. Instead I’m saying that your heart for Jesus is more important than your love for entertainment. Your time spent in the Word is safer and more valuable than trying to learn all you know about God, man and salvation from popular culture.

In the next post, we will briefly discuss culture-creating.

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In this post, we will consider examples of what extreme moral legalism is not. This will serve as a corrector/balancer to our distaste for rules. Andy Crouch recently wrote, “Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives . . . Beware of world changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.” This quote comes from a book titled, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, and it is a reminder that culture making is complicated by our war with sin.

The Christian life is following Jesus. And there are some clear boundaries. There are components of culture that are in direct and explicit opposition to God. These are dangers in which we must guard our hearts against. There are also neutral (and possibly good) components of culture, which, because we struggle with sin, can distract us from the way, become idols in our hearts, and open the door to making other idols. In other words, we can be incredibly efficient idol-makers. Therefore, we must guard our hearts and look to Jesus.

Let me give you a clear example of what moral legalism is not. This one isn’t clearly connected to popular culture, but it will serve our purposes. In 1986, a talented basketball player named Len Bias was selected second overall in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. By all accounts, Bias was a special athlete. An All-American his senior year in college for the University of Maryland, some sports writers consider Bias “to be one of the greatest players ever not to play at the professional level” (Wikipedia). In fact, just yesterday on Mike and Mike I heard Stuart Scott say that LeBron James is the best athlete in the NBA since Len Bias. However, as you read above, Bias never played a game in the NBA. Sadly, on June 19, 1986, Bias died from a cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose, just two days after he was drafted.

I suppose we could say the same about other stars whose lives were cut short by drug use: Elvis, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, River Phoenix. Further, though we know that not every drug addict dies of an overdose, we see how devastating drug addiction can be. Why bring up drug addiction in a series of posts on the Christian life and popular culture? Because you just don’t toy around with cocaine. You know this. This is what moral legalism is not! There are many clear boundaries over which we must not cross. It is not legalism to say that there are certain components of popular culture that we must reject, that we must avoid, and that we must not do or be entertained with.

In part 3, I wrote, “Scripture calls on us to guard our hearts, and this is a serious task!” Guarding your heart means rejecting some things outright. You need to guard your heart (from obvious dangers). You need to guard your heart from components of popular culture that are in direct opposition to God, such as pornography. That isn’t that difficult to understand. In practice, it can be hard. However, you know your heart and what tempts you to come off the narrow way.

That’s not all. In Andy Crouch’s warning above, he makes the point that culture-makers have to learn “the true meaning of sin.” The problem is: sin is not always obvious. In our weaknesses, we have a tendency to distort the truth. The remedy to our weakness, in part, is to remember that we are not superhuman! We need to be careful not to think too highly of our ability to resist temptations that we leave our hearts open to disease from worldly cancers.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

In the next post we will address an objection to these cautions.

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“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'” (Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920)

Dr. Bruce Ashford argues that the Christian has a daily life mission in the world. He writes, “As I see it, we as Christians should live faithfully, critically, and redemptively in the midst of the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves.” In this post I want to apply that statement to the questions we have already asked about popular culture, and I will begin to illustrate it toward the end.

The terms need to be defined before moving on. What does it mean to live faithfully in the world? In these posts, we take faithfully to refer to a heart attitude toward pleasing God by submitting to his rules. What then does it mean to live critically in the world? We apply the term critically in these posts as intelligently discerning whether a given example of popular culture should be accepted or rejected. And, what is meant by living redemptively in the world? In these posts, we take this to mean that Christians should consider how they can live in the world in such a way as to foreshadow God’s restoration of creation and culture in the new heavens and earth.

In these posts there will be no grand aspirations to wrestle our topic into a Rick Flair figure four™. However, we should be able to lay the groundwork for conversing with culture in real life. We will begin here with a series of questions, with the first question taking up the remainder of this post.

The first question is: which is more dangerous: legalism or license? Speaking on the danger of sexual immorality Paul counsels: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). These words are timely today as well.

This first question concerning legalism and license is a sticky issue, in part, because of confusion over the terms. Because of this, we need to define these terms carefully in order to answer the question.

First, what is meant here by legalism? For the purpose of our discussion, what I mean by legalism is strictly in reference to morality. Therefore it will appear here as moral legalism from this point forward. What is moral legalism then? This will serve to indicate an extreme position where one rules that given questionable components of popular culture are dangerous and should therefore be avoided at all costs. This becomes especially unhealthy when used to bind the consciences of others. We will discuss what moral legalism is not later on (in order to [hopefully] avoid being indifferent about questionable components of pop culture).

Second, what is meant here by license? No, we are not talking about your driver’s license! Here we are talking about an extreme heart attitude toward boundaries where one might believe one has a warrant to imbibe anything and everything in the world in the name of Christian liberty.

I don’t like either extreme. However, I would argue that license to an extreme is more dangerous than moral legalism. The majority of Christians I know (at least at this stage of life) already have well-developed allergies toward moral legalism’s extremes. They find it to be joy robbing and erroneous.

With that in mind, the majority of Christians bounce around somewhere in between these two extremes. It’s an uneasy relationship. In the next post we will develop a middle road with principles gleaned from the Bible. What we will end up with serves to answer the most important question for the Christian life: what does a heart after Jesus look like? The answer to that question helps form what exactly it means to live according to Dr. Ashford’s statement above.

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“If Facebook were a country, it would be the THIRD LARGEST country in the world, BIGGER than the US and Indonesia.” (Wikipedia)

Movies, TV, radio, music, books, art, video games, and social media. These compose what we call popular culture. There is high culture and popular culture. Culture is everywhere. We are in it. It is around us. We make culture. And in many ways we are culture. As for popular culture, we have recent examples such as YouTube videos, Justin Beibermania, Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, Twilight drama, Facebook, and Jackson Pollock. Pop culture is everywhere. In a series of posts I want to address the following questions: What are we as Christians to do about popular culture? And, what does the Bible have to say about conversing with popular culture?

This post series will begin by addressing the Christian life with some cautions and mandates. After these posts are complete, we will apply what we have said toward two major contributors to popular culture: books and social media. In the meantime, get ready to learn! We won’t fully answer our questions in these posts. So let that be a mandate for you to continue working through in your life what to do about popular culture. Feel welcome to post questions in the comment sections or to bring them up in conversation with your friends.

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss. I hope you are eager to jump into this series of posts where we will learn, at least in part, what it means to live Christianly in the world context in which we live.

If you’re interested, click here to watch a YouTube video on the social media revolution of 2010.

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