Culture Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Culture

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The rich biblical concept of culture reveals how God has appointed humans to develop all aspects of the created world with care and imagination. Culture not only includes the things we make and grow using the raw materials of creation, but also all the ways in which we live together and relate to each other in society, family, and marriage.

In Scripture

The Story of Creation: Genesis 1 and 2: In the creation story in Genesis, God creates humans in the divine image. This means, in part, that they are given the task of caring for and developing the creation, for its own flourishing and for the welfare of all its creatures. Two immediate evidences of the human culture-making mandate are that Adam tills the soil of the garden for useful produce, or agriculture, and names the animals, thus developing an intimate knowledge of the created world necessary for its cultural development. God also pays attention to the culture of human community by bringing Adam and Eve together in a one-flesh bond we call marriage.

After the Fall: In the fall, humans attempt to wrest their culture-making authority from God, seeking autonomy. As a result, human culture-making does not end, but it is threatened with pain, difficulty, and evil. Cain and Abel, children of the first family, are each involved in a cultural activity (agriculture and animal husbandry), which leads to deadly conflict over which one's cultural sacrifice God mysteriously accepts. Even as wickedness increases, more and more culture emerges as well, with musical instruments and song, weaponry, and tools (Gen. 4).

In Israel's faith and life: It's fascinating to see how various kinds of cultural activities become deeply interwoven into Israel's worship. The tabernacle, and later the temple, are beautiful architectural works, filled with all kinds of materials, colors, and detailed artifacts. Specifically, the Lord tells Moses to set apart Bezalel and Oholiab, whom God has "filled with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft" (Ex. 31: 1-6). Here God blesses not only what might be called ordinary cultural work, but fine art and its artisans as well. God takes delight in human culture-making, and includes it in the worship of his people.

In Israel's wisdom literature, we also find evidence of God's blessing and guidance of human culture. The proverbs portray what it means to live wisely, that is, with skill and knowledge of how things work in the world. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but this literature proceeds to uncover the various ways by which we can live wisely and well as cultured people. It provides cultural wisdom on the ways of parents and children, husbands and wives; the relationships between neighbors and between workers and their employers.

Culture Redeemed The Bible teaches us that God not only intends to redeem individuals in Christ, but human culture as well. God promises a future in a new heaven and a new earth. Redemption embraces all God has made, and all God intended for his culture-making creatures. In John's stunning vision in Revelation, this is pictured as the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." But all the works of human culture are not left behind; they are included in the heavenly city. "The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it . . ." (Rev. 21:24).

Points to Ponder

Christians today must understand that an important aspect of their sanctification is pointing to the kingdom of God through their participation in human culture. Christ calls artists and architects, parents and children, builders and business people, educators and scientists, courts of law and halls of legislature, to honor him by developing the creation in ways that display and preserve its beauty and form and honor the Creator.

Human culture is deformed in many ways, but one of the most pervasive is the power of money. In agriculture, for example, instead of working with the land and tending the resources, farmers are tempted to make the land into a production facility, pounding chemicals into exhausted soil in order to increase gains. The same holds true for most aspects of culture, from art to politics, from sport to media. Culture isn't just about maximizing profits, but developing potential, finding beauty, and caring for the God-given resources that make culture possible.

Andy Crouch "Culture is all of these things: painting (whether finger painting or the Sistine Chapel), omelets, chairs, snow angels. It is what human beings make of the world. It always bears the stamp of our creativity, our God-given desire to make something more than we are given."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.