Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The redemption of creation/culture conversation

For the last six weeks or so, I have been inundated with information and conversation about the restoration and redemption of culture/creation. It began with my Church and the World class at RTS. Then came a series that my church, Perimeter Church, has done. And then it seemed like every other blog post I was reading and conversation I was having had to do with this topic.

I think a lot of the discussion is very healthy. I think it is very beneficial to understand the world in the creation/fall/redemption/consummation framework. And I do believe all of creation including our cities and our jobs and everything else is going to be completely restored when Jesus comes back. We should not view the world as a sinking ship where our role is just to save as many souls as possible before it all burns. So I do agree that it is helpful to have these conversations and understand these ideas.

However, the problem is when there is an over-emphasis on the restoration of creation to the neglect of the glory of God shown in the salvation of the elect through the work of Christ on the cross. I like what Greg Gilbert said in an article over at 9Marks.
"Time after time, in book after book coming off of Christian presses, the highest excitement and joy is being ignited by something other than the sin-bearing work of Christ on the cross, and the most fervent appeals are for people to join God in doing this or that, rather than to repent and believe. In the process, the story of the gospel is made to be (deliberately or not) rather cross-less. That's one dangerous problem.

Another problem is not so much the shunting of the cross out of the center, as the remaking of it into something other than the substitutionary, wrath-bearing death of the Savior in the place of sinners for their sins. Thus Jesus’ death is often said to be the result of human evil or greed or power-lust or culture-making or any number of other things coming to their lowest, worst, most concentrated point and killing Jesus, who then conquers that worst-of-all-evils through his resurrection.

Don Carson hit on this in a blog-post some time ago when he wrote that,
'In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible's story-line something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin's damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will come as the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.'
Carson calls this presentation of the Bible’s narrative 'painfully reductionistic,' and he’s right. There is no understanding here (explicit understanding, anyway) that sin is an offense against God rather than just an unfortunate circumstance humans have brought on themselves. There’s no sense of Jesus standing in the place of sinners to take the punishment that rightly should fall upon them. And for that matter, there’s no sense that there’s any punishment involved at all---just consequences. No divine wrath, just bad results. In other words, such a presentation of the gospel essentially leaves out of the meaning of the cross exactly what the Bible makes central to it: A) that Jesus was dying in the place of his people, and B) that on the cross he endured punishment for their sin (not just the results of it—the punishment for it), meted out by God the Father in his righteous wrath."
Does anyone else feel like this is a topic being talked about a lot lately? What are your thoughts?

(HT:Justin Taylor)


  1. Engaging, changing, and redeeming culture all sound great...but the sermons and blog posts usually stop right before they tell you what exactly that's supposed to look like.

    I just read a blog post that was entitled something along the lines of "6 Ways to Engage Culture." I was hopeful for specifics, until I saw the ways were "prayerfully," "creatively," and other such uselessness.

    I'm still kind of lost in this whole thing.

    But I do think you'd find Don Carson's book ("Christ and Culture Revisted") informative, especially since you recently read the Niebuhr he's responding to. I'd love to hear your thoughts, if you do read it.

  2. Anonymous1:50 AM

    Good to be thinking through this discussion rather than just accepting the latest theological trend. I think a great exercise is to read through the Gospels paying particular attention to what Jesus did. When I did this I was amazed that Jesus almost always engaged the culture/society while he shared the good news. While feeding the hungry he shared the good news. While healing the sick the shared the good news. As believers we often opt for one or the other: sharing the gospel or engaging society/culture. Jesus was able to do both without compromising either.

    Another thought related to engaging the culture is not separating the sacred and secular. Too often believers view the sacred as being a pastor or missionary and their own job just as an occupation. But it seems that God wants believers to live out their faith by doing their jobs with excellence and for his glory whether it be shaping young minds as a teacher or designing beautiful buildings as an architect.

    If we as believers try to redeem culture apart from seeing lives restored to God through Christ we are attempting the impossible. There won't be transformation of culture and society until individuals are transformed by the gospel. And/but we as believers should not separate ourselves from the world/culture but engage it as new creations.