A friend recently asked me how I function as an academic in a world in which most of the centers of power seemed to controlled by non-believers or are ideologically antithetical to Christian faith, a la James Davison Hunter, To Change the World
. Now I haven't read Hunter (although I began it), so I can't directly comment on his assessment of the situation in the West, his view of how Christians have traditionally engaged culture, or his remedy, so my comments shouldn't be seen as having intimate knowledge of or made as a response to To Change the World
My friend's question also reminded me of other discussions I've had with Christians over the years, both inside university settings and outside. These questions are sometimes framed in terms of "how can we [Christisn] get American culture back?" Or sometimes they are more analytical questions that revolve around H. Richard Niebuhr's various categories in Christ and Culture
What I'm struck by in many of those conversations is the way "culture" seems to be a thing that's separate from individuals and groups. And the way Christians seem to bear some responsibility in relationship to that external culture (flee from it, co-opt it, ignore it, transform it, and so forth). In many case there seems to be a presumption of opposition to some degree or another and this sense of opposition seems rooted in a kind of isolation that Christians seem to hold to.
By isolation, I mean a sense that there is something big, and dangerous, and menacing, or uncontrollable about culture and that requires Christians be on the defensive or offensive, or they have to engage in insurgency tactics, or they have to find ways to accomodate, assimilate, resonate, or something else.
What seems missing to me is a recognition of God's sovereignty and a focus on our being called into being as God's image bearers. The Niebuhrian Christ as Transformer of Culture comes closest to capturing this focus, but, as many critics of the approach have pointed out, this approach sometimes manifests itself by Christians taking the offensive against culture.
As I understand the implications of
long-term and major results are not the object to keep in mind; instead, we need to ask our we are to faithful and obedient in our daily lives. But as we ask this, we need to keep in mind the larger view of what it means to be created in the image of God--brought into being to create, to develop the world around us, to flourish, to live and work for shalom.
Will such a strategy transform culture? No doubt, at least in small, local ways it will, but for most of us we shouldn't see our task as some how in opposition to culture, we should see that culture is the God-ordained product of human activity. We are not outside, next to, or above culture. We are in it, we are shaped by it, but we also shape it. It's in God's hands how the history of humankind ultimately unfolds, but it's in our hands how we act each day as God's culture-forming image bearers.
May the work of our hands--all of it, in every detail--reflect God's glory through our obedience and faithfulness to his Word.