This is the Part One in a series on The Christian’s Role Culture, Politics and Government
“Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”
– Andrew Fletcher
Whoever tells the stories and writes the songs of a culture, shapes and directs that culture. Whoever creates and circulates the ideas of a culture, shapes and directs that culture.
The academy and the arts are the birthing centers and engines of culture. Ideas that emerge from the academic and artistic realms do not stay within their borders. Those ideas make their way out and spread throughout the society. Some ideas are good, some ideas are bad. As I’ve said before, ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims.
How do ideas shape reality and culture?
Below is a simple sequence…
Step 1: Academy – Ideas become theories about reality (past, present of future). Papers, books and programs are written, promoted and circulated in the academic realm.
Step 2: Arts (music, poetry, film, narrative) – Ideas are expressed in forms and mediums designed to bypass logic and reason, impacting and shaping the social imagination and emotions.
Step 3: Elites and Media – Ideas are then adopted, popularized and promoted by celebrities, cultural leaders, business leaders, and mass media outlets in various forms in an effort to ‘legitimize’ new ideas. Those ideas ‘take hold’ in the popular imagination and are adopted by a growing majority of people in a population.
Step 4: Politics – Politics is basically the last bastion of pure cultural power – for good or for ill. This is where popularized ideas are ensconced in legislation and become law. In other words, politicians and judges basically say, “Since this idea is what the majority of people want, let’s make it the law of the land.” (e.g. abolition of slavery, voting rights, civil rights, abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, etc)
Politicians are basically responding to cultural forces (ideas) that originally emerged in the academy or perhaps the arts. The process above usually occurs over decades or centuries.
Scroll right on the images below to get a visual idea of how how ideas shape culture works using an example of Darwinian Evolution…
Politics is downstream from culture.
Therefore, it is a mistake and waste of energy to attempt to influence or change culture at the political level. To put it another way, if you see pollution in a river, you must travel upstream to find the source of the pollution. If you are seeing bad laws being passed or politicians advocating for harmful ideas, by all means stand against them, campaign against them and vote against them. However, you must understand where those politicians got their bad ideas in the first place. You must go upstream!
I’m not saying Christians should abandon the political process or refrain from running for political office or cease advocating for just laws. I’m not saying that at all. On the contrary, Christians ought to exercise their civic duties and express their convictions and callings in the political realm.
However, we Christians must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we ought to engage in politics as we would other cultural enterprises like raising families, educating our children, caring for the needy or how we spend time and money – All for the glory of God and the good of all people created in His image. At the same time, Christians ought to go upstream in the culture to exercise their gifts, talents, and express their convictions and callings in the realms of the academy, arts and media.
Why? Because those realms are inhabited by human beings made in God’s image and we care about them. Can a Christian honestly claim to love God and love our neighbors while allowing bad ideas to harm our neighbors and distort God’s image or Word?
The answer is, No! Scripture is clear that God will hold us to account for our thoughts, words and actions. There is no excuse for Christian navel-gazing, indifference, apathy or retreat to a holy huddle. We are not a liberty to not care about the world God created or people made in His image. Not caring is not an option.
“Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” does not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)
At the same time, Christians should approach culture as Christians, not as politicians. We are engaged in a bigger enterprise of making disciples of the nations (societies) and calling them to obey God’s commands. That means, Christians have permission and good reason to reach and reside in the mission fields of the academy, arts and music, media, elite circles and yes, even politics. Those cultural realms are inhabited by human beings who need to know that God loves them too and sent his son to redeem them from sin.
God is the ultimate solution to the problems in the world, not politics or politicians. As ambassadors of the Kingdom of Christ, we accurately diagnose the problems and point to the only solution.
- As I demonstrated above, politics is downstream from culture where ideas are formed, shaped and promoted.
- Christians have a right and obligation to engage in ALL legitimate human enterprises, institutions and cultural realms for the glory of God and the good of ALL image-bearers.
- Christians ought to exercise their civic duties and express their convictions and callings in the political realm. Knowing politics nor politicians are the ultimate solution.
- Christians ought to travel upstream in the culture to exercise their gifts, talents, and express their convictions and callings in the realms of the academy, arts and media.
“There’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not cry, ‘Mine’!
– Abraham Kuyper
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Live in such a way that the light of Christ shines brightly in the time and place in which God put you. God made you and saved you for this time and place.
Next time we’ll go a little deeper…. The Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government