Is it possible, or even worthwhile, for Christians to reach a consensus on impacting culture—from the performing arts, to music, to literature? Well, there are probably as many answers to that question as there are Christians. But theologian T. M. Moore, in his compelling new book Culture Matters, explains why it is so important that Christians reach a cultural consensus: "All culture," he says, "is a gift from God. The challenge to us is in learning how to take what is good in contemporary culture, reclaim and retool it, and put it to work in a Christian framework for forming [a] new culture."
Sadly, Moore goes on, "No consensus exists among the followers of Christ concerning how to approach and make use of the artifacts, institutions, and conventions of culture in a decidedly Christian manner, and this in spite of the fact that we are called to do all things unto the glory of God."
As T. M. points out, this lack of consensus keeps the Church from effectively engaging and transforming culture.
T. M., who serves as dean of our Centurions program and is a long-time advisor to me, holds out hope that Christians can actually reach a cultural consensus. He suggests "some general principles around which" we can all agree. And he shows how Christians throughout history have transformed culture: from Augustine with his great book City of God, to the Celtic Christians with their artistic endeavors to the glory of God, to the twentieth-century poet Czeslaw Milosz.
The more recent examples T. M. provides are especially valuable. A Christian poet like Milosz shows how Christians can take an art form that many now consider obscure and irrelevant and infuse it with new meaning and life. This is exactly the kind of example we need to show us how culture can serve as "a powerful prophetic voice," as T. M. puts it. At the same time, Milosz shows us what it means to be "an artist, and not a preacher": a crucial lesson for any Christian artist to learn.
And Milosz—as well as other talented Christian poets, painters, musicians—shows us that we do not have to be mere second-class imitators of culture; we can be first-class and transform it.
How do we do this? Our task is two-fold. First, we must participate in culture at the same time that we are engaged in a biblically based critique of culture. For too long, Christians have ignored the arts and have, thus, failed to realize that culture and the arts can be conduits of God's truth, grace, and beauty.
Second, as the body of Christ, we need to support those among us who exercise their God-given artistic gifts. When we join together "for creative engagement in culture matters," T. M. argues, we can "create a greater sense of unity in the body of Christ," as well as increase our impact on culture.
As T. M. writes, "If we can agree on some common objectives . . . then we can begin to consider, as individual believers and responsible communities, what the best steps [are] for each of us to take . . ." In that effort to transform culture—as opposed to being transformed by it—I can foresee this deeply insightful little book being an indispensable guide.
From BreakPoint®, January 23, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship