Scripture: Genesis 1:26–31; 2:8–19
This discussion material is taken from Chapter XI of The Bible and the Life of the Christian. This chapter represents a fine effort to furnish us with a Biblical, Christian perspective with respect to the most important subject of man’s cultural activity. By culture “mankind’s intentional, free, controlling labor of giving form” to things in God’s creation in accordance with the fact that such things have been placed under man’s dominion.
1–God commands his creature to master creation culturally!
Culture is not self-expression primarily, or the carrying out of a program devised by man. God gave to man a cultural mandate and the fulfillment of this task is man’s life work. It is true that man is incurably cultural, but this is not due to his greatness but to God’s power and mercy, for the pattern of the Covenant is the basic configuration of his religious life. God’s mandate gives man the right to work in stewardship with God’s creation to serve God’s design for that creation.
Questions for discussion: Why do so many relegate “culture” to the areas of music, art, literature, etc.? Is it really necessary to view culture as something essentially religious? Does it make any difference so far as the cultural quality of a certain act or program is concerned if it is self-consciously Christian? Why is it possible for Christians to profit from all cultural activity?
2–What is the significance of the Fall for culture?
“Before the Fall there was a manly, self-conscious, discriminating kind of knowledge, so that Adam names the animals according to their nature, and acquires insight into his own incompleteness. His great ability appears from his power to give form to language. Moreover, he is addressed by God and has knowledge of the future from the Probationary Command. Language enables him to convey his culture to others, and to prophesy.” The Fall did not change the structure of creation, but it did commit man to a cultural activity which degrades and distorts so that its ultimate effect is disaster. Our Lord therefore teaches us to see in the pre-flood world the pattern of that which will also happen at the end of our Age (Matt. 24:36–44).
Questions for discussion: What is the effect of disease, decay and disaster upon the cultural effort of mankind? How can we explain the tremendous cultural successes of peoples that are altogether opposed to the Kingdom of God? Does the witness of the Church serve to restrain evil in the world? Does a Christian necessarily reflect a higher level of cultural achievement? Why are Christians often quite indifferent to cultural improvement?
3–What is the positive function of cultural activity? Culture opens up the resources of creation so that the God-ordained consummation of all things may be reached. God’s purposes are not frustrated by sin. Those who advocate and practice withdrawal from cultural effort really deny the office of believer. Those who look for the absolute minimum of so-caned necessary effort have no appreciation for the wisdom of God’s ordinances. The many who regard prayer, meditation, Christian mercy as higher concerns than one’s God-given daily activity forget that the fe-creation is a restoration and completion of the creation. There is a “Christian culture” in the sense that those who serve Jesus Christ in every area of human effort and vocation thus demonstrate that “small beginning” of the new obedience.
Questions for discussion: Can you imagine any area of human activity which falls outside the term culture? Does culture fall within or without the dimensions of divine judgment and the final catastrophe? Are all men equally responsible for every type of cultural work? Is it sinful not to enjoy good music or any other such representation of cultural activity? Is the enjoyment of culture a personal and individual matter, or is it a basic human responsibility? Do our Christian schools sometimes seem to fall prey to the common distinction between ordinary work as less than cultural and the extraordinary as typically and properly cultural?