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The Sanctificationist Approach to Culture

This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series

"Christ the Sanctifier of Behavior"

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What is clear from this exploration is that each of the three primary post-Christendom approaches to culture have strengths and weaknesses when compared to the NT’s understanding of culture as behavior. The separatist approach rightly recognizes the fundamental antithesis between belief and unbelief, but it fails to also recognize commonality that exists due to common grace and the fact that even unbelievers sometimes “borrow” a biblical worldview. The transformationalist approach rightly recognizes the reality of common grace on the cultures of unbelievers and the need for Christians to express their values in every sphere of life, but they do so to the neglect of any real antithesis in the cultures themselves. Perhaps the two-kingdom approach is closest to the NT perspective, with its balance of both antithesis and commonality, but it fails to emphasize that a Christian’s involvement in the culture should manifest his Christian values and actually has evangelistic impact.1

Understanding culture as behavior provides a fourth alternative that combines the strengths of each view and protects against their respective weakness. This view, which could be called the sanctificationist approach to culture,2 simply seeks to apply what the Bible has to say about behavior to every area of the Christian’s life. A Christian is to be holy in all of his conduct; the Holy Spirit uses the Bible to progressively sanctify that conduct each day. A Christian does not have to overly concern himself with how to interact with the behavior of others; he simply lives out his Christian life according to the precepts found in scripture. When the behavior of unbelievers reflects those same precepts, he will resemble the unbeliever’s culture; when it does not, separation must take place. Nevertheless, in either case, the believer’s good conduct among the unbelievers will shine forth as a beacon of truth to draw them to redemption in Jesus Christ. And when they are redeemed, their culture will change. Perhaps the best NT posture for Christians who are in the world but not of the world is found in 1 Peter 1:17-18: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds (ἔργον), conduct yourselves (ἀναστράφητε) with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways (ἀναστροφῆς) inherited from your forefathers.”

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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.

  1. Some two-kingdoms advocates do stress the need for Christian values to influence every aspect of the Christian life, even in the public sphere: “This two-kingdoms doctrine strongly affirms that God has made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations” (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, 14–15). []
  2. This view could rightly be called the transformationalist approach, as long as the transformation means complete change of behavior. Yet since transformation has come to mean little more than adaptation rather than fundamental change, a new term is needed. []