Christianity and Culture
Within the scope of a broad definition of culture the first two chapters of Genesis provide a foundation for God's view of culture as contained in what is called the cultural mandate. This mandate is centered in the concepts of creativity and stewardship.
Chapters 31--39 of Exodus provide a unique perspective of culture and God's involvement with it. On one hand the work of man was blessed through the artistry of Bezalel, Oholiab, and other skilled artisans as they cooperated to build the tabernacle. On the other hand, the work of man was cursed in the building of the golden calf during Moses' absence. This contrast serves to suggest that intent is one of the more important guidelines for judging culture.
David's skill as a musician (1 Sam. 16:14--23) demonstrates another way in which man's cultural expression is recognized in a positive light. A later chapter (18) shows that the same skill can be perceived in a negative light. The difference is in the audience, King Saul; not in the artistic expression, David's musicianship. The intent of Saul made the difference in how David's artistry was received.
The building of the temple (1 Kings 5--8) exemplifies the extent to which man can glorify God through his culture. Just as in the tabernacle, the temple contained the consummate results of man's achievements in dedication to God, and those results were not just utilitarian; they were resplendent with beauty.
The first chapter of Daniel tells of four young men transported to a culture other than their own by a conquering nation, Babylonia. Their circumstances and reactions demonstrate several things.
Much of New Testament literature (John's writings in particular) emphasizes the tension between the world and the Christian. An understanding of this term is a key element in the development of a theology of culture. The following points serve to summarize:
His interaction exhibits an ability to communicate with a diversity of the population (from those in the marketplace to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers) and an understanding of the culture, including its literature and art.
Contemporary illustrations of the tension between Christianity and culture, as seen in the permeation of entertainment, highlight opportunities to practice discernment.
Music, television, and movies are so much a part of the lives of contemporary Americans, Christians as well as non-Christians, that the subtle nature of their place and influence in our lives too often goes unnoticed. As a result, they provide the most obvious testing grounds for discernment.
The most powerful conduits of cultural influence are usually without Christian influence; this must change. If not, we will continue to see the dominance of secularism and its attendant ideas.
Beyond these illustrations, the Christian is challenged to utilize the process of discernment to the extent that all aspects of his life, as well as the culture around him, are affected.