What does Christ and his gospel to do with culture? This question is not a new one. It was asked even in Jesus’ own day. Before he ascended back to the Father, Jesus’s disciples asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.6). The disciples understood that the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom he brings have cultural entailments.
The disciples had borne witness to the miracles of Jesus that opened up the portal barred by sin into a world free of sin and it distortive and corruptive power. Especially in Jesus’ own resurrection, it was clear that everything wrong with the world, everything wrong with culture, was coming untrue. The old seemed to pass away in an instant at the dawn of the eternal King’s resurrection light.
In Jesus’ resurrection, it was clear that everything wrong with the world, everything wrong with culture, was coming untrue.
So it is quite understandable that the disciples would expect the promised Davidic kingdom to be inaugurated in all of the glory foretold by the prophets of old, that Rome would be done away with and Israel would emerge as a political power. But their expectations of how Christ and his gospel intersect and impact culture are only partly correct—much like our own expectations.
In order to really understand how, or even if, Christ and his gospel relate to culture, the question must be raised: what is culture? For some, “culture” conjures up images of high society—symphonies and caviar that are accessible only to the extremely wealthy. For others, “culture” is associated with social fads—fashion and technology trends. Still others think of “culture” as idealogical—the values of a company or a church (think “workplace culture” of “discipleship culture”).
Culture is as broad and deep as our human existence encompassing everything from the arts to politics, from fashion to ideologies, from parenting to economics, from education to homemaking.
“Culture” seems to be a fluid term, one that is elusive to apprehend given its dynamic use. But perhaps that is so because culture is far broader than high society or social fads or ideologies. “Culture,” at least as it will be used here, encompasses all of these things. Culture is anything that emerges when God’s image bearers engage God’s world—both the creation itself and the creatures and image bearers who inhabit it. In this framework, culture is as broad and deep as our human existence encompassing everything from the arts to politics, from fashion to ideologies, from parenting to economics, from education to homemaking. Perhaps culture is hard to recognize because it is ever before us. It is the tapestry that is woven as we live as fathers and mother, as laborers and entrepreneurs, as neighbors and citizens, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
How then does Christ relate to the culture? What concern, if any, does his kingdom have for arts and politics, for homemaking and recreation, for commerce and technology? Perhaps surprisingly, to answer this questions demands a return to the beginning, to the creation of all things in Genesis 1 and 2.
At the center of the creation narrative lies Genesis 1.28 in which God instructs Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Though we are not inclined to understand this command as having implications beyond family and agriculture, this command is pregnant with an abundance of cultural implications.
The Divine blessing, “It is very good” echoes and lingers over every square inch of God’s creation.
God implanted in his creation the potential for the full array of human culture—architecture, economics, politics, technology and government. And God created man and woman “in his own image” (Genesis. 1.27) and commanded them to “fill the earth” (Genesis 1.28) and “put [them] in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2.15), not simply to be farmers but to bring out the potential of his world, to make culture that glorified God and blessed others. The Divine blessing, “It is very good” echoes and lingers over every square inch of God’s creation.
Even though God’s good world is soon after distorted and corrupted by sin, his good design for his image bearers to make culture in a way that loves God and neighbor remains. Indeed, Jesus came to reconcile all things to God whether on earth or in heaven (Colossians 1.20)—culture included—and to make all things new (Revelation 21.5)—again, culture included. With this in mind and returning to the original question of what does Christ and the gospel of his kingdom to do with culture, the answer is everything.
Jesus came to reconcile all things to God whether on earth or in heaven (Colossians 1.20)—culture included—and to make all things new (Revelation 21.5)—again, culture included.
So it is right that the disciples and the church today would long for renewal, for all of culture to be shaped and formed by the gospel of Jesus. The blessings that Jesus’ kingdom brings does indeed transcend the individual and flows to politics and family and every square inch of creation and every fiber of our human existence.
Therefore, in the evil and unrest and tension displayed in the events of Baton Rouge or suburban Minnesota or Dallas that have dominated the news cycle and broken the heart of the country’s collective humanity, the gospel appears as a light in the darkness, a rising morn defeating the night that too long lingered. The gospel brings blessings of restoration to the brokenness of relationships between God’s image bearers and righteousness to the injustices of government and flourishing to neighborhoods suppressed by economic corruption.
The gospel is not some mystic hope reserved for the future. It is the promise of a future that has already invaded the present. The gospel does not announce some limited and narrow benefit exclusively to individual hearts. It proclaims the coming renewal of all things lost and broken and undone by sin in King Jesus and demonstrates that renewal in the power of the Spirit. The gospel is not unconcerned with culture. It is for culture.
The gospel is not unconcerned with culture. It is for culture.
Though culture will only fully and forever be renewed at the future appearing of King Jesus, he calls and equips his church to enact and dramatize the future restoration of all things—even the future restoration of culture—in our present culture—in our lives as citizens in our community, workers in our occupation, fathers and mothers in our family and brothers and sisters in the church. This is the beautiful tension in which the Christian life hangs that is designed by God to keep us dependent and desperate until at last the tension resolves into eternal shalom when Christ makes creation and culture new.