Christian Culture Is the Cure
Posted on January 15, 2016
I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker or billboard, “Jesus is the answer.” Cynical agnostics sometimes respond: “What’s the question?” The answer is: it doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ is ultimately the answer to every question. And that answer is truer than even many Christians suppose. Jesus isn’t simply the answer to personal guilt or addiction or despair. He’s also the answer to a homosexualized Hollywood and activist courts and runaway inflation and Obamacare. We Christians must get over the idea that “public” life should, or can, be religiously neutral, or that God has one standard for the family and church and another standard for public life. Lesslie Newbigin wrote:
Christians can never seek refuge in a ghetto where their faith is not proclaimed as public truth for all. They can never agree that there is one law for themselves and another for the world. They can never admit that there are areas of human life where the writ of Christ does not run. They can never accept that there are orders of creation or powers or dominions that exist otherwise than to serve Christ.
Jesus Christ is Lord of all things, and his word is the authoritative truth for all aspects of creation. Our Western society is profoundly diseased. Jesus Christ is the only permanent cure. As it relates to society, Christian culture is the only cure. How? Let me tell you three foundational ways.
First, Christian culture reflects confident truth in an age of chaotic relativism. Relativism is the popular idea that there are no objective standards of right and wrong (when applied more widely to cultures, relativism becomes multiculturalism). There is no single truth or morality to which all of us are accountable; each of us gets to make up his own standard of right and wrong. Likely no thinker is more responsible for today’s relativism and Friedrich Nietzsche, the German existentialist. Nietzsche was painfully aware of the consequences of the loss of Christian culture in Europe. He knew that when you lose Christian truth, you lose Christian morality, and when you no longer have Christian morality, you need a substitute morality. He believed that the great figures among us, the “Supermen,” must create a morality. He called this the transvaluation of all values. Nietzsche considered this a sobering responsibility. He wasn’t lackadaisical about it.
Today’s relativists are lackadaisical. There’s nothing sobering about their relativism; they just want the freedom to live as they want without any accountability. Of course, there are no consistent relativists. All of them are hypocrites. They are cafeteria relativists: they are relativists when relativism suits them. The college sophomore that spews relativism in the dormitory nonetheless gets mad when somebody has the audacity to steal his iPhone. Relativism may be a creed, but it’s not a way of life. But too often, relativists try to make it a way of life, and this produces the moral chaos surrounding us: test-tube babies, same-sex “marriages,” the gradual acceptance of pedophilia, and the butchery of unborn children and, recently, the elderly.
Christian culture is the antithesis of relativism. Christianity declares that man must live by God’s loving, gracious revelation in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t reveal just a way of eternal salvation; it prescribes a way of life. This is what God’s moral law is all about. Christian culture doesn’t profess to do away with all sin, but it does profess to eliminate moral chaos. We know what’s right and wrong because the Bible tells us. And the Bible doesn’t tell us what’s right and wrong only in our families and in our churches. It also tells us what’s right and wrong in education and politics and technology and music and Hollywood and corporate America.
Christian culture is the antithesis of moral chaos; it is morally coherent. It recognizes the moral law of God revealed in his Word. This law does not save us (only Jesus Christ can do that by his redemptive work), but his revelatory Word speaks truth — truth to all of culture — in which all humans can place our confidence.
This truth does not allow (for example) politicians simply to devise laws from the fertility of their depraved imaginations. The great comfort of the Bible as it relates to public law is that it imposes restrictions on politics — on the people who have a monopoly on violence (Rom. 13:1–8). They’re not free to make up their own morality. They’re not free to fashion a just society. They’re not free to criminalize behavior that they don’t prefer and decriminalize behavior they do prefer. They are bound to enforce those aspects of the Bible that are appropriate to civil law. This understanding purges moral chaos from politics, just as obeying the Word of God purges moral chaos from all areas of life.
Second, Christian culture offers liberating redemption in a time of enslaving depravity. Sin enslaves. Paul makes this very clear in Romans chapter 7. Here he is talking about the individual. But earlier, in Romans chapter 1, he points out that sin enslaves entire societies and cultures. In Romans 7 he refers specifically to homosexuality and lesbianism, but the enslaving power of sin isn’t limited to these sexual sins (see 2 Tim. 2:26). Sin brings us into its tragic bondage.
Jesus came to deliver humanity from sin’s power, but not just as individuals. Jehovah makes clear to ancient Israel that if they place all their hope in him, if they love and obey him, he will grant them great cultural victory and liberty (Dt. 28:1–14). God doesn’t just save individuals; he saves cultures. All of us are sinners, and sin enslaves us, but Jesus’ death on the cross and his victorious resurrection liberate us from sin — if we trust in him alone. Sin enslaves cultures, too. Cultures stand under God’s judgment. But when cultures repent and turn back to God and his grace, he blesses them. He did this with ancient Nineveh after Jonah’s mighty preaching. In the old covenant era, both individuals and societies repented and turned to Jehovah. And here in the new covenant, both individuals and societies can repent and turned to his Son, Jesus Christ.
The reason the United States today is enslaved to debt and consumerism and drugs and pornography and entertainment and video games and government welfare programs is that it has turned away from the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. But if, under the convicting declaration of God’s Word, our society repents and turns to the Triune God, he promises to liberate us and to restore us to a place of great glory (see Jer. 4:1–2). The United States is declining on the world’s stage because it is declining in its trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, just as England did, just as the Netherlands did. If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed (Jn. 8:36) — free not just as individuals, but also free as a nation.
Finally, Christian culture inspires joyous hope amid an environment of cynical despair. One of the most reliable indexes of a culture’s condition is its view of the future. Christianity has a bright view of the future, in spite of present difficulties, because the Bible tells us that God is working out his benevolent purposes in history and that his kingdom will gradually expand despite Satanic opposition. Today, our culture is postmodern. Earlier in the Western world, Christian culture was first eclipsed by the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was also optimistic, yet it put its confidence not in God, but in man’s ability to reason and to create the good, but increasingly godless, society. The Enlightenment social optimism has, of course, been a magnificent disappointment. In its wake has come our postmodernism, which has turned away from both Christian optimism and Enlightenment optimism to despair. There are no objective standards. There’s nothing to keep us from falling into barbarism. Therefore, we should simply try to enjoy ourselves while we can — if we can. It’s a despairing philosophy. That despair is seen particularly in a great deal of our popular music. The wildly popular Lady Gaga sings in “Princess Die”:
Bleach out all the dark
I’ll swallow each peroxide shot, volumes I know
Will love and save me from myself
Maybe I’ll just clean the [expletive] off of these fancy shoes
I’ll be a Princess Die and die with you
Wish that I was strong
Wish that I was wrong
Wish that I could cope, but I took pills and left a note
Suicide has been a theme of musicians for generations, but the despair and darkness of contemporary popular music, of much of postmodern art, is a reflection of the biblical aphorism: “[H]e who fails to find me [God and his wisdom] injures himself; all who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36).
In radical contrast, Christian culture inspires great hope for the future. History is not an endless, repetitive cycle of rises and falls. It’s a God-governed odyssey moving from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation. God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ is not static. Although it suffers from diabolical attack, and sometimes, it seems, is almost overthrown, it marches on to its destined victory (1 Cor. 15:20–28). Christian culture is optimistic culture, not because it has confidence in its own society, but because it has confidence in the God whom it loves and obeys.
The eschatology of a Christian culture is an eschatology of optimism. Eschatology is one’s view of the future. Christians who embrace pessimistic eschatologies, who believe that culture is destined to get increasingly worse, are, in this way, at least, thinking more like pagans than Christians. Almost all civilizations at the time of Christ believed in a cyclical view of history: history is destined to go up and down and up and back down again. A truly Christian eschatology sees God at work gradually redeeming all of culture by the power of his Spirit and in spite of fierce, frantic Satanic opposition.
Secularization, a turning away from the Triune God and his word, has infected our culture with a deep spiritual disease. Jesus Christ and his way of doing culture is the only cure. Christian culture is the cure for relativistic chaos. Christian culture is the cure for enslaving depravity. And Christian culture is a cure for postmodern despair. This is why the Center for Cultural Leadership and our allies and I are devoting our lives to Christian culture. (I pray that you will join us.)
A Seductive Illusion
A final word: an understandable and rational response to this pervasive secular (as well as pagan) disease is to quarantine ourselves in our families and, at most, in our churches. The attitude is: even though our society may become more secular, we can become more Christian. A large number of ministries are committed to restoring the family and reviving the church. I support them, and I pray that they’re successful. However, if they neglect the cultural component about which I’ve spoken today — and if they think they can sustain a robust Christianity over time in an evil culture — I believe this view to be not only theologically mistaken, but also dangerously delusional. The church should indeed impact society, but society has a way of impacting the church. The sociologist Peter Berger popularized the idea of “plausibility structures”: what counts as legitimate and illegitimate, real and unreal in a culture. When secularists create a comprehensive plausibility structure, it means that Christian truth is not so much persecuted, as it is simply meaningless. It doesn’t matter if the church stands up for biblical marriage if the wider culture defines marriage in a radically different way. Trying to restore biblical marriage would be akin to trying to restore the 18th century French monarchy. People wouldn’t fight you; they’d simply look at you as nutty. That’s why we cannot afford to fix just one thing: We cannot afford to fix the family and the church but not the culture. These institutions are all interrelated, and each affects — and infects — the other. What our children and grandchildren consider normal will be shaped not only by what they hear and see in family and church but also in the surrounding culture. Abandoning the culture to Satan and secularists is to allow them a hand in deciding what is normal for our children and grandchildren. Only God gets to decide what’s normal.
If you believe in Jesus Christ and in the Bible, I ask you humbly but passionately: join me in the task of working wherever God has placed you to create Christian culture — by the power of the Spirit, restore Christian truth, whether in automobile repair or software architecture or primary education or as the executive in the board room or in the farming fields or in the statehouse.
Christian culture is the cure to our modern spiritual disease, and there simply is no other.