A Theology for Hipsters: A Theology of Culture (Part 3)

The Bible repeatedly corrects Christian behavior by contrasting the life of the Christian with the world, and by giving direct commands to abstain from the world, to not love the world, to hate the world, to live differently and indeed separated from the world. 1 John serves as a prime example of these commands. The apostle writes:

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.  16 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.  17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 4:4   4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

1 John 5:4-5   4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-  our faith.  5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:19  19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

There are countless other verses we could turn to which point out the sinfulness of the world. This is God’s Word calling us to rebellion against this world’s value system. But a problem arises when we immediately assume that the world, and everything in the world, is equally to “worldliness.” As we have seen above culture is all around us. Drinking coffee in a Moroccan café requires me to be “in culture,” and so does everything else we do. There is, simply put, no escaping culture. Furthermore, Jesus does not ask us to escape it, but to dwell in it.

In John 17 Jesus, praying to the Father, asserts the Christian role in this sinful world:

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-19)

Jesus even states that “As” (in the same way) He was sent into the world, so He has sent us into the world (v.18). Therefore, we are called to be imitators of Jesus. His Incarnational model is our example. Jesus came and got dirty; he came and “engaged” his culture. In fact Jesus was so engaged in His context that the Pharisees accused him of being a drunkard, glutton, and friend of sinners. It’s important, then, that we understand there is a real distinction between culture and worldliness, even while culture can be worldly. Culture, then, is morally neutral and can contain both good and bad. This point must be kept firm before our eyes or we will veer off the road into either liberalism (all culture is good) or legalism (all culture is bad).[1]

If it’s true that culture contains both good and bad elements then we must be discerning. Christians must engage culture with thoughtfulness, with Scripture in hand, and with care. So how do Christians engage culture? What is the relationship between Christ and culture? That’s our next discussion.

[1] Max Weber famously distinguished between “church” and “sect,” by stating that a “church” sets itself up as part of the culture, but a “sect” sets itself up against culture. See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Other Writings. USA: Penguin, 2002.

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