This Sunday, I’ll be starting a new series at our church entitled, “Every Square Inch: Blessing the World through Culture Reading and Vocation”. In this series I’ll be preaching from the book of life, a book that’s declaring eternal truth, every day, all around us. In spite of this constant revelation, the reality is that our hearts and minds are so fragmented that we usually don’t hear what God is saying to us through culture. We’re grown up believing that God’s truth is found in the Bible, and then there’s the rest of life which is neutral at best, or so filled with lust, greed, duplicity, oppression, and competition, that the best thing we can do is stare at the ground and muddle through ’til next Sunday, when we can once again be reminded that there’s a better world coming as soon as we die.
This mind set is, to put it as tactfully as possible, rubbish. It’s rooted in the Gnostic dualism, but has nothing to do with authentic faith. It was Abraham Kuyper who said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, “This is mine. This belongs to me” – Abraham Kuyper. The cultures we’ve created in this world exist because of longings inside us – longings for beauty, intimacy, triumph, justice, celebration, and hope. The question we need to ask is “Where did these longings come from” because these longings set us apart from the animal kingdom. Having food and shelter, it seems that we’re not content to simply sit around eating, sleeping, and copulating so as to propagate the species. Instead, we create art and political systems, we teach, invent games and play them, games where there’s a winner and a loser.
The misguided will simply label all this as “the world” and get on with another round of Bible study to shore up their spiritual immunities in order that they might remain unstained. What’s wrong with this picture is that it fails to take into account the reality that all these cultural creations have come into existence precisely because we’re created in God’s image. Instead of vilifying or tolerating culture, we should be celebrating culture, always asking the question, “What does this ____ (movie, sport, song, painting, profession, city council meeting) tell us about God’s character?” What happens when we embark on this paradigm shift?
All of life becomes a source of revelation. This brings integration to our lives, so that we go through each day looking to the wisdom of God’s spirit to guide us into all truth. Of course, this requires discernment, and the lens of scripture will need to inform our ‘culture reading’. Of course culture reading is open to misinterpretation. This, though, is true of Bible study as well.
We become part of world, rather than isolated. For too long, the church has functioned almost wholly in a paradigm that views culture as an adversary. Surely there are adversarial components and we, whose primary citizenship belongs to kingdom of Christ, are called to critique oppression, injustice, and the systems that further them. But it’s also true that, if we take a cue from Paul, we’re called to look for signs of grace in every piece of culture, even when wandering a hillside filled with idols. We’ll see that which disturbs and distresses, and we’ll also see that which points to eternity. I’m envisioning Christians who have permission to live fully in the culture, as those who will carry the light of Christ into every corner of the city.
We become bridge builders. Again, taking our cue from Paul in Acts 16, we realize that Paul had a knack for beginning his message by finding a common starting point. “Men of Athens, I observe that you are religious in every way”. This is a far cry from the all too common starting points of our day: “You’re a heartbeat from hell. Accept Jesus as your savior.” Or, “Your sinful lifestyle is destroying America – stop it, and become a Christian”, or “God loves you but hates everything you do.” These absurd opening lines only give fuel to the fires of gospel rejection that permeate American culture. How about reframing the gospel as good news that fulfills our deepest longings? If we take that approach, then it doesn’t take long to realize that film, art, music, sport, and many professions, give voice to those longings.
It’s high time we learn how to become readers of culture. So, for the next several weeks, I’ll be preaching from the Bible AND the book of culture, as we consider sport, art, teaching, surgery, business, a film, and a mid-life career change to show how our culture and longings point to what is true in the gospel.
What do you think? Will preaching from the text of life, and using the Bible to bring clarity to it work? What are the good elements in this? What are the dangers? I welcome your thoughts.
These sermons will be available as vodcasts sometime later this winter, and when they are, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, the audio will, as always, be available for download through itunes, and our website.