Culture and The Kingdom of God
This post is by Bruce Ashford (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). Ashford serves as Provost, Dean of Faculty, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, and as a Fellow for the Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ashford regularly blogs at Between The Times.
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The best kept secret in the Christian life is that everything we do matters to God. Some Christians have the idea that pastors and missionaries are doing “kingdom work,” but the rest of us are not. In this post, I’d like to show how every dimension of human life and culture—work and leisure, art and science, politics and economics, sports and competition, homemaking and education—is ripe with potential to honor God the King. In order to make this point, we must first recognize four biblical truths and learn to ask three practical questions.
The first biblical truth is that there is a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, Christ and Satan, and between truth and error (Col 1:13). This great struggle manifests itself in different ways in human history. In our current situation in the United States, one way this struggle manifests itself is in our society’s increasing rejection of Christian morality. Because of our beliefs on matters of life and death, and on human sexuality, we as Christians are often viewed as morally inferior and even morally reprehensible. There are many other examples; if we had the time and space to do so in this blog, we could demonstrate ways in which the arts and sciences, politics and economics, sports and competition, education and scholarship, and homemaking are corrupted and misdirected by the kingdom of darkness.
The second biblical truth is that God created the cultural realms we just mentioned, and has good intentions for those realms. It is God who ordered the world in such a manner that humans would create art and undertake scientific research. It is he who made us capable of politics, economics, homemaking, sports, and education. God’s desire is for us to undertake activities in these realms in a way that glorifies him (1 Cor 10:31). And yet, these realms have been hijacked by the kingdom of darkness. They have been corrupted and misdirected toward wrong ends.
The third biblical truth is that God has declared that his son Jesus is Lord over all of these realms. Sometimes Christians tend to think that Christ is Lord over our “churchly” lives but not over our “worldy” lives, as if our quiet times and church attendance matter to God but our social, cultural, and political lives do not. But this mistaken view neglects the Bible’s teaching that God has given Christ authority over everything in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18-20; Col 1:15-20). Christ is the creator of everything, then it makes sense that he is Lord over everything. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him.
The fourth biblical truth is that God desires for us to shape all of our words and deeds towards him. Obedience to him involves not only speaking about him with our lips but showing him with our lives, and our speaking and showing apply not only to our “churchly” activities but to all of our cultural or “worldly” activities. But how can we do this, practically speaking? In what way does my Christianity matter in things like art or politics, education or homemaking? Well, in addition to the fact that those are realms in which we can verbally speak about Christ and his gospel, they are also arenas where our actions can promote Christ and the gospel. I’ve found that three questions are helpful in discerning how to promote Christ in these realms of culture.
The first question is “What is God’s creational design for this realms of human life and culture?” This question is not always easy to answer, but we must answer it. Whether we are entrepreneurs, teachers, waiters, or scholars, we must figure out what God intended when he made humans able to do these things.
The second question is “How has this realms of human life and culture been corrupted and misdirected by human sin?” This question can be equally difficult. When we enter into any arena of human culture, we must do the hard work of figuring out how the “goings on” in that realm are corrupted and misdirected.
This brings us to the third question, which is “How can I help redirect this realm of life and culture toward Christ?” After having discerned God’s intentions for a particular realm, and then having come to understand the ways in which God’s intentions have been corrupted and misdirected, we work to conform our activities in that realm to Christ.
The best kept secret in the Christian life is that everything we do matters to God! We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries in order to please the King and do work on his behalf. We can be farmers, businessmen, homemakers, artists, or educators who shape our lives and cultural activities toward Christ, bringing those realms under his Lordship.