What do we mean when we talk about “culture”? In Culture Making, Andy Crouch defines culture this way: “Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it is given to us and make something else.”
All of us make something of the world. And our contributions actually communicate quite a bit about what’s important to us. What we make of the world either gives people a surprising vision of the Kingdom of God or reinforces their spiritual numbness as citizens of the dominion of darkness. This is the essence of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now that we are citizens of a better Kingdom that is breaking into the world, Jesus invites us to participate with him in what he is “making of the world” via the Kingdom of God.
During a flight to Denver, a man named Ben and I talked for a couple of hours. He shared how he used to be a Christian but now isn’t sure how to categorize his spirituality. As the conversation continued, we began to speak about the role of the Christian church in the world today.
“I think Christianity is primarily characterized by fear. Churches are shrinking away from culture out of fear.” Ben stated.
I replied, “That’s a fair assessment. That’s certainly not how it should be.”
Then I began to share good news about Jesus with him. What followed was one of the most mutually encouraging Jesus-driven conversations I’ve ever experienced. I introduced Jesus as the restorer of culture.
A Robust Redemption
Jesus is our atonement. Jesus is our substitute, our propitiatory sacrifice, and our expiation. Jesus is our example. Jesus is our ransom. Jesus is our reconciliation. Jesus is our redemption. Jesus is our triumph and victor. Yes, he is all these things. But Jesus is also the restorer of culture.
What makes the atonement so beautiful is that, like a well-cut diamond, there are so many angles from which we can view its brilliance. But without that last facet, virtually all of our understanding of the atonement can become individualized. Jesus is not merely redeeming us; he is redeeming all things.
As Mouw points out in When the Kings Come Marching In, there is more to the atonement. The redemptive ministry of Jesus is bigger and extends into culture.
I believe Jesus is good news for children who are victims of violence. Jesus speaks a word to citizens who live under murderous, corrupt governments. Jesus offers hope to those in sexual slavery. And his message is more than just, “Repent. Believe. Be baptized.” Jesus also says to them, “I am your restorer. This is not the way things are supposed to be, but my Kingdom is here and my Kingdom is coming.”
Ultimately, we will proclaim an atonement that covers our perception of the scope of sin. So if we believe that sin is only individual, we will preach redemption that covers only the individual. However, as we begin to see that sin also reaches into every area of creation, we uncover the need for an atonement that is larger in scope. And thankfully the atonement is big enough to cover both individual and systemic sin.
What Ought to Be
Genesis 1:28 gives a command that scholars have dubbed “The Creational Mandate” or “The Cultural Mandate.” God says, “Adam and Eve, check out the good creation I’ve made! Now go cultivate, subdue, tame, innovate, and make.” To play off Crouch’s understanding, God is saying, “Go make something of the world that reflects my sovereign rule over it.” When sin soiled the good that God made (Gen. 3), things were fractured. Perfect culture became distorted culture.
But God is the ultimate creative maker. He has made us in his image so that we also would also creatively “make” in such a way that points people to his invisible rule. He has redeemed the fallen world in order to help us flourish once again. What we make of the world should inevitably point to a picture of this human flourishing.
We believe that Jesus will return again to set up his Kingdom here on earth (Rev. 11:15). At that point God will abolish sin, injustice, pain, oppression, and disease. As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we are to use our talents, skills, and passions to give people a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like. We live now in the reality of what will be. That means we have the joyful opportunity to join God in the renewal of all things. Each one of us has an opportunity to help the world taste the Kingdom by being a “restorer” and introducing people to Jesus and his ways.
If this seems strange or foreign to you, here’s the essential building block for this conversation: God’s Kingdom is what ought to be. The brokenness of our world is what ought not to be. Jesus’s ministry as prophet, priest, and king is about nothing less than initiating – and eventually consummating – what ought to be.
Participating in Restoring Culture
The world is messy. There is division, destruction, hatred, greed, slander, debauchery, and plenty of other types brokenness. It is all around us. How does understanding God’s desire for culture translate practically? Here are a few points for consideration and action.
1. What is? Like a fish in water, it can be difficult to consciously observe the water we swim in. Yet Jesus and his disciples seemed to be good at observing people, places, and patterns that everyone else was gazing right past. In the community you inhabit, what are the norms of life? What’s good and enjoyable? What’s broken or perverted?
2. What ought to be? Disciples of Jesus are driven by a vision of a different kingdom. We know how God created things to be, how they were before the first sin. So ask the Spirit for some creative imagination and ponder: “What would this community look like if the Kingdom of God broke in? If Jesus was ruling here, what would be different?”
3. How can I participate? What do you sense the Spirit asking you (and/or your church community) to create? Who or what is he asking you to confront? What specific actions and strategies will you enact to see the Kingdom of God break in?
Wherever you happen to find yourself right now, the surrounding culture is a landscape ravaged and twisted by sin, yet still bearing glimmers of Eden. And God is inviting you to participate with him in the renewal and restoration of all things. Under the leadership of Jesus, he invites you to make his invisible Kingdom visible. By the power of the Spirit, he invites you to abandon fear and imagine what ought to be and then pray, innovate, confront, create, redeem, and restore.
Sean Post resides with His wife and son in Maple Valley, WA. He serves as Academic Dean for Adelphia Bible School – a one-year Bible and mission immersion experience for young adults. Sean is also a leadership coach, doctoral student, book-lover, and a has-been basketballer. Twitter: @Sean_Post