Saturday, April 7, 2012

Redeeming culture

During tomorrow's message I'm going to be mentioning a documentary about the Amish which PBS aired back in February. Who of us living in the midst of our frenetically-paced society filled with technological distractions doesn't admire the discipline of the Amish to retain an unhurried way of life marked by a deep sense of community? We have some much needed lessons to learn from them.

On the other hand, while watching the documentary I was struck by how in their pursuit to retain their non-technological lifestyle, they are denying the creational commission God gave us in Genesis 1:26-28 to harness the earth (all its resources) for our maximal blessing and God's greater glory. In one segment we see two Amish men shovel snow off a very long driveway. There is dignity in such work, but there is also dignity in the inventiveness God gave man to create labor-saving machines like snow-blowers (which have led me into spontaneous worship on more than one occasion).

Of course, too much accommodation to 'progress' and technology can lead to man-centered pride and the creation of a self-determining society which lives only for comfort and discards God. How, then, are we to maintain a balance between living out our commission to be on the forefront of creating culture while not allowing the culture we create to become our god? Using Calvin and Luther as models, theologian Michael Horton wisely says this:

"The Reformers avoided two tendencies: on the hand, to confuse the two kingdoms [the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man] (Rome's mistake) and, on the other hand, to divorce the two kingdoms and reject any Christian involvement in the kingdom of culture (the Anabaptist [Amish] mistake). Instead, they insisted that Christians should be involved in the world. They should neither seek to escape it, like the monks, whose lives were often more 'worldly' than the world, nor seek to rule it, like the popes, whose own houses were not in order.

Every believer is a 'priest' before God, and each person (believer and unbeliever) has been given a vocation of calling, by virtue of creation, to participate some way in culture. We are social beings, created to enjoy each other's company, whether Christian or non-Christian. Redemption does not change our participation in culture; rather, it changes us and therefore, the character of our involvement.

Separation from the world is not physical, according to the Reformers; rather, it is a matter of divorcing our dependence on the things of this world; its vanity and rejection or perversion of things heavenly. Luther and Calvin said that the calling of the public official was one of the noblest, inasmuch as it serves society well."

- Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, p. 180.

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