A Theology of Cultural Engagement (Creation)

This post is a part of the series I’m doing on A Theology of Cultural Engagement. Today’s post will focus on the role of creation in cultural integration.

Christians have long been known to condemn culture when it does not reflect their beliefs and values system.

Jerry Falwell didn’t like Teletubbies, Terry Jones didn’t like the Quran, and Pat Robertson doesn’t like gay marriage. Sure these are extreme examples of Christian leaders who many Christians don’t appreciate, but these are the stories making national news.

There is a fundamental flaw to this approach of condemning the culture: nothing changes.

Most people refer to culture simply as the air we breathe. Culture is just the reality of the world around us.

As is most often the case, condemning a piece of culture only ends up bringing it more exposure and value, while making the condemner newsworthy enough to look foolish. Truly, “the only way to change culture is to create more of it” (Andy Crouch). Culture is not changed by reversing trends, it is changed by creating something new.

Don’t like what you see in the world today? Create something better.

I love the picture Gabe Lyons paints on the creation of culture: “The next Christians are fast at work creating good culture. In doing so, they aren’t just reconstructing what’s broken; they are adding on a new dimension in the places they’ve been called to—restoring the truth, goodness, and beauty that’s been lost.”

Creation of culture which reflects who God is shows itself by truth-telling, goodness, and beauty.

Michelangelo said that when it comes to culture we “critique by creating.”

It is next to impossible to know which creation will change the world as we know it. But ultimately God’s people have an opportunity to shape the culture in ways they rarely have before.

(Next post: Cross-bearing)

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    While I think you are right that the best form of critiquing is creating, I would be hesitant to say that is the only form. I think there are times when we should speak against something. But at the same time we are speaking against, if we are not living lives of that support our critique as well as living creatively, then that critique will not get far.

    I will pay much more attention to Shane Claiborne as he critiques the church status quo because he is actively trying to create a different model. His critique is not minimized, but enhanced by the creativity, even if it is not a result that I would personally try to undertake.

    There are many other similar examples.

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      My only pushback to that Adam is I would say that Shane’s “creation” for how he’s chosen to live “church” has been far more powerful than any critique of the church he’s given. So while many people will still critique and condemn, it is their creation which lives to tell a more powerful story.

  • http://theycallmepastorbryan.com theycallmepastorbryan

    I want to be careful in how I state this, but there are places where avoiding saying “No” to culture is entirely appropriate. I think of Karl Barth’s “To Hitler, God says NO!” kind of statement. It was absolutely needed, it wouldn’t have been enough to just try to cultivate another way, but to loudly insist that the way of Hitler’s Reich was a NO.

    Now, creating plays a role, particularly as the church offers an alternate reality. But I fear too often we turn to culture creating because we don’t want to go through the social awkwardness of pushing against a cultural value. But to devalue the “no” to culture is also to devalue one of the prophetic roles. Often times, the prophetic role is called to present God’s no to certain ways of a culture, and it’s only after loudly stating that “No!” (often to ridicule – think of how many times the Prophets are hated by the people of Israel) that the prophets can present an imagination for a different way of being.

    So yes, we critique by creating, and it’s not enough to just say no, but we also need to be wary of not saying it. There are times when there is calls to Christianity to say just that thing.

    • http://www.manofdepravity.com Tyler

      I’d say you were careful, all well put and developed. I guess I look at someone like Hitler or something like the Nazi party as more of an extreme example.

      I get the sense from the comments so far that I’ve said critique has no place, but I don’t mean that. I only mean that in most instances critique only brings more notoriety to what is being slammed.

      Take the crazy church in Topeka, Kansas that pickets funerals. Do they deserve critique? Absolutely. Has it done much good in stopping them? Nope. Have they become famous now? Sadly, yes.

      That clarify a little?

      • http://theycallmepastorbryan.com theycallmepastorbryan

        In essence, yeah I agree with you. But to take for instance Westboro Baptist, I think the prophetic call would be to say loudly and emphatically that God says no to much of what they do.

        Here’s what I appreciate about the creating approach: it’s a much needed fix for a time when we are known more for what we’re against than anything else. I’m merely pointing out that the critiquing through creating without a statement that there are things we are against in our culture is dangerous. I hate to throw out comparisons to liberal protestantism from the early 1900’s because usually it’s overdone. But in a sense the failure on it’s behalf was that it lost any sense of Christ saying no to culture, and sold itself out to just working through progress. That’s what I’m hoping we can guard against.

        For me a prophetic critique of culture involves both the calling out that which is wrong (saying no) and presenting a prophetic imagination of the future (of which creating plays a large role). I’m borrowing heavily off of Bruegemann’s The Prophetic Imagination, as I think what he presents is pretty accurate.

  • http://visiodeicommunity.org David Zook

    Good post Tyler. It reminds me something a lot people who solve problems for a living say: if you are going to identify a problem, then you better bring a solution. Being critical without providing a compelling alternative never advances the cause.

    The institutional, conservative church has lagged behind in this area because we leave our imaginations at the door. I think there is plenty of room to use our imaginations to provide compelling alternatives that will shape culture while being rooted in belief.

    A couple of examples come to mind, but I will leave everyone with one: U2. There music is fresh, their lyrics are profound and often point to God, Jesus, or an aspect of the Gospel. I have been to two of their concerts and have yet to hear a cuss word tumble out of any of their mouths. They hire a chaplain for every tour and study the Scriptures regularly … and they are considered one of the greatest rock-in-roll bands ever. They have come up with a compelling alternative.

    What if more rock-in-roll bands had an ethos like U2. How would that change the industry? How would that shape culture? I would imagine that it would move the needle considerably over to our favor.

    • http://visiodeicommunity.org David Zook

      Sorry for the typos. One I saw under U2: should read “Their”, not “there”