More from my interview with Mathew Block, in which a question about Christians refusing to attend to music, movies, books, or the like unless they are explicitly Christian, leads to a digression on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.
CL: In some branches of Christianity you find people warning about the worldliness of the culture around us. To counter it, they’ve set up a Christian sub-culture where they only listen to Christian music, read Christian fiction, and watch Christian movies. What is the problem with approach?
As Lutherans, we have the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. We know God works in the spiritual realm of the Church through the Gospel, but we also believe that God is ruling the secular realm too—that He reigns whether people know it or not. We see that in the laws that He has put into effect. We often speak out natural law and morality, but there are also aesthetic laws God has set up: laws that govern what makes something good and beautiful. God is working in culture. He works in vocation to give His gifts to the world even through those who do not know Him.
Lutherans can therefore have a more positive view of culture than some other churches and theological traditions do. We don’t have to take over the culture or win the culture for Christ; Christ is already the King. We can see His hand at work in culture. For that reason, even something ‘secular’ can speak to Christians when we see it with the eyes of faith.
That doesn’t mean that everything in the culture is to be accepted by Christians. Part of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms is that God rules His secular world by means of the moral law. Things that violate the moral law—pornography or the glamorization of adultery for example—are not things that Christians should accept. But at the same time, there are good things in culture. For example, many of the novels of the western world end in marriage. We see God’s law manifesting itself whether readers or even the authors are necessarily aware of it.
The problem with the Christian sub-culture is that it doesn’t actually solve the cultural problem. You can create your own culture but it’s still a culture. And so you’re still going to have the same temptations of the world even in your supposedly Christian sub-culture. They’re not immune from the temptations of the world.
Christian sub-cultures can also be caustic to faith because they turns Christianity into a cultural religion. Many of the world’s religions are cultural religions, but Christianity is not. It’s not for one little sub-culture; it’s for every tribe, every tongue, every nation under heaven [Revelation 5:9]. But when you have a Christian sub-culture, you can easily start turning that little culture into an idol.
Also, because culture works by law, you can easily end up with a religion of just law. That’s the case with most churches that go in this direction, from the Amish to Protestant Fundamentalists. They’re not immune from the temptations of the world. What’s worse, they sometimes identify this sub-culture with the Kingdom of God. But it’s not the Kingdom of God—that comes from the Gospel, from Christ. The result of living in a Christian sub-culture, as a result, can be real spiritual confusion.