by Trevin Wax
Yesterday, I wrote a brief review of Bruce Ashford’s new book, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians. Today, I’ve invited Bruce to the blog to answer a few questions about Christians and cultural engagement. Bruce is Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture.
Trevin Wax: You want Christians to understand that all of life matters to God, and that every Christian can serve powerfully as a representative of Christ, even if he or she is not an international missionary or a pastor. Why do you think so many Christians believe the only way to really please God is by “going into the ministry?”
Bruce Ashford: One reason is they’ve been told by pastors and ministry leaders that if they really want to please God, they’ll be pastors or international church planters. And, of course God is pleased with pastors and church planters, but he’s also pleased with businessmen, artists, politicians, scientists, athletes, and homemakers who shape their callings toward Christ.
Another reason is that Christianity has always been plagued by sub-Christian ideas imported from the Greeks, ideas that denigrate the physical world in general and the body in particular. Christians influenced by these sub-Christian antipathies will have a difficult time living out the Christian life, precisely because the Christian life is profoundly and thoroughly cultural.
Trevin Wax: How do you define “culture” and what are common Christian postures toward the culture we live in?
Bruce Ashford: Laying aside more scholarly and expansive definitions of culture for the moment, we can define culture as “what is produced when human beings interact with God’s good creation, making something out of what God has made by bringing out creation’s hidden potentials.” When we interact in this manner we cultivate the ground (agriculture), produce artifacts (houses, clothing, cars), build institutions (governments, businesses, schools), and form worldviews (theism, atheism, pantheism).
Some Christians have viewed culture as something inherently bad, equating it, I suppose, with biblical language about the “spirit of the age.” These Christians will tend to hide from culture, viewing the church as a sort of bomb shelter, or to attack “the culture” relentlessly, as if the church were an Ultimate Fighter®. Other Christians have viewed their cultural contexts as neutral or, perhaps, comprehensively good. These Christians tend to build churches that are institutional chameleons, if you will. Their churches change colors as the cultural context changes colors. Neither of these options is faithful…
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