Theology 101

Should Christians Even Try to Influence Culture?

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A significant part of the calling of God’s people is to reweave shalom. What does that look like in the world today?

The cultural mandate calls Christians to embrace their responsibility to create and influence culture through their vocational calling. Christians should, as Henry Blackaby says, “watch to see where God is at work and join him.”

When Christians work to serve the common good, they generate influence. This begs the question: should Christians even try to influence culture?

Different Ways Christians Have (or Haven’t) Attempted to Influence Culture

For centuries, Christians have struggled to articulate an effective biblical position regarding the church’s interaction with culture.

Some Christians encourage opposition, total separation, and hostility toward culture. They advocate creating separate, pure communities – cultures – of Christians. Tertullian, Tolstoy, Menno Simons, and Jacque Ellul are exponents of this position. The Amish, Mennonites, and Anabaptists have roots in this oppositional stance.

Other Christians advocate the complete opposite approach. They attempt to bring Christianity and culture together, regardless their differences. Liberation theologies are recent examples.

Still other Christians, as Donald Bloesch explains, attempt “to correlate  the fundamental questions of the culture with the answer of Christian revelation.” Thomas Aquinas is one prominent example of this view. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are, too.

In his book Freedom for Obedience, Bloesch mentions another group of Christians who believe Christians belong “to two realms (the spiritual and temporal) and must live in the tension of fulfilling responsibilities to both.” Martin Luther adopted this view. He reasoned that a person experiences Christ through simultaneous interaction between both realms.

Finally, a fifth group of Christians believe Jesus Christ transforms culture. Bloesch writes that proponents of this view include conversionists, who attempt “to convert the values and goals of secular culture into the service of the kingdom of God.” Augustine, Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Abraham Kuyper, and Francis Schaeffer are chief advocates of this view.

Influencing Culture Is at the Heart of the Cultural Mandate

The Reformed tradition has historically embraced this latter view. It believes creation is inherently good. Because creation is good, culture is not to be despised. It should be celebrated and cultivated because it is part of God’s design for humanity.

Christians should actively transform culture without giving it undue prominence. Take seriously the overall biblical story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Celebrate the goodness of culture and creation, but also recognize their fallenness. Take into account the effects of sin on creation, but also recognize God’s desire to restore it by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the church’s ministry.

In her article “Use Your Creativity to Change the Culture,” Whitney Hopler declares,

If you want to make a powerful and lasting impact on the culture, you’ve got to do more than just consume it, critique it, condemn it, or copy it. The only way to truly change the culture is to create something new for it – something that will inspire people enough to reshape their world.

Should Christians try to influence culture? Yes. The Bible calls Christians to engage, redeem, and restore culture. This is at the very heart of the cultural mandate.

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