[I must apologize for the delay, but we have finally arrived at the fifth and final post in our series]
Internal renewal leads to external engagement. Beginning with internal renewal—a re-emphasis on our identity as a covenant community and the gracious use of church discipline—we turn to external engagement. This began in the last post, as we examined what it means to be confessional, and imagined what could come from the intentional use of the confessions in reaching out to both Christians and non-Christians. And now, we turn to cultural engagement.
What does it look like to bring reformation to our cultural engagement? The answer is a return to the foundations guiding such engagement: a commitment to a Christian worldview firmly rooted in, and authorized by, Scripture, and a renewed emphasis upon the good news of the Kingdom of God.
From political ideologies to national or ethnic identities, youth-driven movements to (pop)cultural trends, any number of issues and/or ideas can reshape our worldview, mutating it into something that vaguely resembles Christianity, but is fundamentally warped. As Abraham Kuyper so winsomely wrote, our worldview is only Christian in so far as it views and engages the world in “the light that the Holy Spirit kindles on the candelabra of Scripture.”
As Christians, we recognize that with the fall, all spheres of life and every facet of human nature has been marred by our sinful rebellion. Scripture is that which allows us to see ourselves, and the world, aright; a light that leads us out of darkness into light, and a lens that brings clarity to the blurriness. Apart from this light, and this lens, we are apt to be led down dangerous paths with serious implications (mission creep, compromise) for our witness and engagement. With its all-encompassing scope, Scripture provides the foundation for approaching all of life with a consistent system, as well as an authoritative guide for living in grateful obedience to God for his glory and our neighbor’s good.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
If Scripture is, in one sense, the beginning, the kingdom of God is the end, or that toward which our cultural engagement is oriented. We must draw on all of Scripture to see the full beauty, truth, and goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God for fueling our work in the world. And this good news, explains Andrew Sandlin, is that:
The gospel is calculated to redeem not just individuals but all human life and culture and creation…In Jesus Christ [God] has dealt and is dealing decisively with the problem of sin and gradually reinstalling His righteousness in the earth. The gospel is that everything wrong in this world, God is setting right.
God in Christ not only redeems us, forgiving us of our sin and restoring us to a right relationship with him, but also, by the Spirit, renews us in our ability to fulfill our calling to serve God, unfolding the latent potential of creation (culture-making) for his glory and proper human flourishing. Therefore, every fiber of our being and sphere of life—church, state, family, vocation, education, etc.—must be reoriented towards the kingdom of God; the righteous reign of Christ over all things.
Such an understanding of the gospel guards against the danger of evangelicalism, which tends to narrowly focus on individual salvation and “going to heaven,” ignoring the cosmic scope of God’s purpose in redemption—to lead all of creation to its climax in the new heaven and new earth—and our work within it. As a result, evangelicalism wrongly creates distinctions between the sacred and the secular, stunting cultural transformation and flourishing.
However, for healthy cultural engagement, we must also remember, as Craig Bartholomew points out:
The kingdom is exciting because of the King, and without a living relationship with the King religion will be about many things but will lack that missional vision of the kingdom, passionately concerned with spreading the fragrance of the King throughout the creation that is rightly his.
The kingdom of God has broken into our world in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and begins its expansion through the regenerating work of the Spirit in bringing men and women of all peoples to faith and obedience under his reign. Our work toward seeing the lordship of Christ extended over all areas of life must begin with being in living relationship with the King.
This, then, guards from the other danger (most often associated with Protestant liberalism) which overemphasizes cultural engagement, forgetting that it is citizens of the kingdom—those who have been born again, and trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Word and Spirit—who need to be culturally engaged. Additionally, anchoring ourselves in Christ serves to prevent us from straying into false teaching and theology that may hinder our witness (i.e. liberation theology, dominionism, social gospel, etc.).
Finally, we should remember the sure hope accompanying our mission (outlined by the Cultural Mandate and Great Commission). We can engage joyfully and confidently, knowing that our Lord and Savior is with us, the Spirit renews and empowers us for the task at hand, and the work will one day be completed. As J.H. Bavinck declares in his book, From the Beginning to the End:
We ruptured the kingdom and have brought dissonance into the world order…[Yet] God will not surrender this terrible world to the powers of decay at work in it, but that great day in which he himself will gather up his world into a harmonious symphony of adoration has begun.
When it comes down to it, bringing reformation to our cultural engagement rests in returning to two foundational aspects of our faith: a Christian worldview rooted in Scripture and a robust gospel of the kingdom emphasizing the cosmic scope of God’s redemptive, restorative work in Christ. If we ground ourselves here, we may faithfully, fruitfully, and joyfully engage in witnessing to, and working for, the advancement of the kingdom of God in all the earth.
Abraham Kuyper, “The Blurring of the Boundaries,” in Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 400.
P. Andrew Sandlin, “Reclaiming Culture is Gospel Ministry,” in Jubilee 15 (Fall 2015), 4.
Craig Bartholomew, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 32.
J.H. Bavinck, Between the Beginning and the End (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 45-46.