There is now an assumption amongst Christians that the prevailing culture is either the enemy : So we fight against it and talk of eroding rights and standards as with the BA discrimination case yesterday. Or the alternative is that we make our modern culture the primary reference point and reinterpret our theology in the light of this, getting shaped by and submerged in culture: Like Steve Chalke appears to have done with his developing views on homosexuality.
Neither extreme is appropriate or necessary, but a polarisation amongst believers has occurred. Since words like ‘contextualisation’ and ‘ecumenicalism’ entered our vocabulary 40 years ago we have begun to move in opposing directions which now see us split down pretty well defined lines of evangelical and liberal. Strangely enough, the Evangelicals amongst us often find ourselves in closer accord with the Orthodox(again, as with the Coptic Christian and BA),than with the liberal.
The scriptures don’t require a leaning in either direction, nor do they ask for a delicate ‘Anglican’ balancing act. Culture is not the enemy – God invented it. In Genesis 1.26-28 we see men and women created in the image of God, male and female, carrying His imprint and ideas out into the world, leading, stewarding, filling out and spreading.
So by the time of Genesis 4 Cain is building a city, presumably inhabited by others, and at that the time the most concentrated crowd of people on the planet. Alongside this emerging city culture are those who live in tents and raise livestock. There are musicians, toolmakers, young and older generations, lovers, murderers and worshippers! All these differing cultures, preferences and worldviews are already developed by Genesis 4.
So God designed culture and released it like a seed in us – but it is a culture spoiled by the contamination of sin. All cultures that flowed out of Eden show something of the spark of God’s creativity but were tainted. Some were totally opposed – nothing in a culture of violence which leads to murder reflects the heart or image of God for example.
What does this foundation mean for us today as 21st Century believers?
All the competing worldviews around us stand in need of redemption through the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course we walk sensitively and wisely through the cultural assumptions of our generation, our desire is to build bridges to biblical truth and reach lost people, not repel them with inflammatory dogma!
Ultimately our role is to contrast the emptiness of life and any culture which is outside the original mandate given by God to fill the earth with men and women bearing His image.
Just as in Cain’s day, even the best aspects of worldly culture only manage to point dimly towards the greater biblical worldview. Our purpose with the gospel then is to create a contrast, to cause an appetite of desire in those who are submerged – by laying a new foundation of a kingdom culture with our lives and community. In the end, looking and sounding like people who have been with Jesus in itself exposes the lies and bankrupt assumptions of the ideas behind our generation.
We don’t need a court case that fights for external dress codes or religious rights, any more than we just begin aping local ideas and customs. We model an inside out reality of changed hearts which releases a different kind of fragrance to religious rights or cultural submission – a fragrance which stirs a hunger deep in the hearts of Cain’s lost descendants for the image of God to be discovered and restored in them.