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The Church, Christians, and Culture: Conclusion

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series

"Citizens and Exiles"

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Over the past several weeks, I have presented a brief sketch of a conservative Christian posture toward culture more faithful to Scripture than much of what constitutes the prevailing evangelical perspective. Despite caricatures by opponents, and extreme abuses by some, this philosophy provides a basis for a rather robust philosophy of cultural engagement, which could be summarized as follows:

  1. God has established two kingdoms. The first is his sovereign rule over all things mediated through human institutions that he has ordained. The second is a redemptive kingdom of his people ruled by means of his Word. A union of these two kingdoms will not take place until the Messianic King comes again.
  2. Christians are citizens of both of these kingdoms. As citizens of the universal kingdom, they should live holy lives, demonstrate kindness toward all people, and apply what it means to be a Christian in whatever cultural sphere God has called them. As citizens of the redemptive kingdom, Christians should proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, working toward gathering more into that citizenship.
  3. Churches have a unique and focused spiritual mission of making disciples, which includes equipping them to live Christianly in their roles as citizens of this world. But churches as churches should not directly involve themselves formally in social, cultural, or political affairs and should not frame any discussion of cultural engagement in eschatological or soteriological terms.

This philosophy, I believe, is more faithful to Scripture in that it protects the unique mission of the church to make disciples and avoid triumphalistic “kingdom” motivation so characteristic of evangelical discussions of Christianity and culture today. Expanding the Great Commission to include more than simply making disciples almost always results in failure to fulfill the mission Christ gave to his church. Furthermore, most permutations of evangelical desire to “transform culture” are little more than claims that cultural forms are mostly neutral and adaptation of the world’s cultural forms, resulting in worldiness. As Andy Crouch has astutely observed, “The rise of interest in cultural transformation has been accompanied by a rise in cultural transformation of a different sort—the transformation of the church into the culture’s image.”[1]

Therefore, I would propose that the better philosophy of cultural engagement is what I described in By the Waters of Babylon as a “Sanctificationist” view of Christianity and culture, that is, a philosophy of culture firmly planted in the doctrine of sanctification rather than the millennial kingdom and in the church’s mission to make disciples rather than redeeming culture.[2] In other words, a biblical philosophy of culture does not understand a church’s role toward culture to be in terms of cultural redemption, the missio Dei, “work for the kingdom,” the “cultural mandate,” or any missiological or eschatological motivation. Rather, we should view the church’s exclusive mission as one of evangelization and discipling Christians to live sanctified lives in whatever cultural sphere God has called them. This is the extent of the church’s so-called “responsibility” toward culture, and anything more than this threatens to sideline the church’s central mission.

[1] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 189.

[2] Scott Aniol, By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2015), 115–16.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.