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What does it mean to be “culturally affirming”?

I was recently directed to a blog post that rejoiced in the fact that certain segments of conservative evangelicalism were becoming more “culturally affirming.” The specific incident the author cited involved an institution changing its philosophy of music from a more conservative to a more progressive one.

So this got me thinking: what did this author mean by “culturally affirming”?

Well, what is culture? Very simply, culture is the behavior of a people. It is what a group of people do in common. It is habits, customs, arts, and traditions. (For a far more thorough development of this understanding of culture, see this post and this article.)

If culture is human behavior, then Christians must recognize certain biblical realities:

  1. Behavior always results from beliefs and values.
  2. Behavior is always moral or immoral.
  3. The behavior that embodies unbelief is corrupt.
  4. Christian behavior must be holy.

So what, then, does it mean to be “culturally affirming”? What does it mean to affirm behaviors? Which behaviors? Which culture? Did this author mean that the group he has in mind didn’t affirm any behavior before they changed? Or is it that they didn’t affirm the kinds of behaviors he deems worthy?

Do conservative Christians affirm culture? Of course. Conservative Christians affirm all sorts of behaviors that embody and express truth, virtue, and beauty.

Do conservative Christians reject some culture? Of course. Biblical holiness requires discernment and determination concerning which behaviors reflect God’s character and which behaviors do not.

It seems to me that what this author was expressing was not affirmation of culture–all conservative Christians affirm culture.

What this author rejoiced in was people that have chosen to affirm the neutrality (or even goodness) of all culture; they have chosen to affirm, almost uncritically, behaviors (in this case, musical behaviors) that many conservative Christians believe embody values inconsistent with Christian holiness.

It sounds very pious to be an advocate of “cultural affirmation,” but the issue is not whether we will be “culturally affirming” or not. Everyone affirms culture.

The issue is what kinds of behaviors we will affirm. Will we be holy in all our culture as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15), or will we affirm all ways of living inherited from our forefathers (1 Peter 1:18), ignoring those that embody immoral values?

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.