The Consequence of Choice: Culture As Precursor to the Gospel
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SubjectChristianity and culture
Culture has become a buzzword, but it has also come to occupy an important place in in how we see and understand the world around us. Culture is increasingly being referenced within the church as we wrestle to explain the challenges of our current time and apply biblical solutions to those problems. Yet, in a brief survey of what has been written about culture, Evangelical authors often import a version of the academic definition of culture as “shared beliefs and values” from the secular academic sphere. What is missing is a biblically functional definition of culture with which to frame the relationship between Scripture and what culture describes about our everyday lives. This thesis presents a biblical definition of culture as a consequence of choice, providing a framework to harmonize the existing conversations about culture, and offering a perspective on God’s purpose for culture as a precursor to the gospel. Chapter 1 describes culture is a consequence of choice. What we describe as culture is the cumulative effect of mankind’s ability to choose based on what individuals envision a more desirable world to be. A survey of books on culture reveals four broadly representative categories of approaches to culture, which are historical, culture as worldview, culture in Christian living, and theological. Culture as a consequence of choice emerges in each of these books, but more as a passing observation. What is not present is a framework for choice that opens the possibility of integrating our view of culture with Scripture. Chapter 2 describes how our ability to choose is a reflection of God’s freedom of inclination expressed in mankind made in his Triune image and begins by identifying the mechanism of choice as envision to actualize. Choice is identified between Christ and the Father, and then extended into the nature of God through the doctrine of freedom of inclination. Together, these place the origin of culture in God before creation, meaning creation itself is a consequence of choice. This pre-creation view of culture is developed in the rest of the thesis. Chapter 3 shows how the pattern of choosing among the members of the Trinity moves from non-order to order in the pattern of creation. That pattern is transferred to man in the garden before the fall. With the entry of sin and shame into the world, the vision of God at the center of creation is replaced by a vision centered on man. As a consequence of his choice, mankind’s view of God and himself was darkened. This introduced disorder into creation, affecting mankind’s ability to fulfill the purpose for which God created him. Chapter 4 develops how the gospel centers on the person of Christ as the complete image of God and the means by which God created the world. We are held accountable for not recognizing God’s glory in the world, particularly in Christ, who is the fullest actualization of the nature of God. Christ’s work of salvation moves from disorder to reorder in conjunction with the work of moving creation from non-order to order. The fullest expression of that new reality is uniquely seen in the church, which expresses the unity of the Trinity. Thus, our ability to envision, and then actualize a new life in Christ is the means by which saving faith sustains us in hope of a new spiritual reality. Chapter 5 summarizes how culture is the consequence of our choices to bring order from non-order, and how the gospel moves the world from disorder to reorder. These movements can be overlaid, with non-order to order as the horizontal axis and disorder to reorder as the vertical axis. This creates a framework with four quadrants for broadly categorizing various cultures encountered in the New Testament and in the church today. A further benefit of this cultural framework is identifying the regressive effect of sin on culture and identifying representative strategies for overcoming it. The example of Paul’s tentmaking in Corinth is discussed as an explicitly counter-cultural choice to maintain his freedom in preaching the gospel. The effects of economic hardship, and the opportunities of bivocational ministry are discussed in light of current trends and research. Mankind, as those created in the image of God, have an innate familiarity with culture’s movement from non-order to order. Believers have the added dimension of seeing the movement from disorder to reorder in response to the gospel. In this way, culture as a consequence of choice is a precursor to the gospel.