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Christ followers instinctively created a haven where humankind could experience a piece of the divine while on earth. They believed that Christians were called to redeem all things, to restore the broken and to partner with God to hold back the evil resulting from the fall of mankind.
In the “Dark Ages”, after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was the monastic movement in Ireland that preserved the classic works of antiquity into the Middle Ages. Irish monks copied down vast amounts of Western philosophy, poetry, history, and commentary playing a key role in future scholarship and education throughout Europe.
Imagine being on a remote island and faithfully handcopying word after word from historic manuscripts, not even sure they would survive but doing so because you believed that history, theology and literature were the wellspring of culture.
By the late 1500s countless Christians had their own copy of the Bible as a result of Johannes Gutenberg creating the printing press in 1440. Gutenberg is still appropriately credited with creating one of the most significant cultural creations of the modern world. By 1452 he had published the Gutenberg Bible, the first book to be published in large quantities, paving the way for the Renaissance and Reformation.
Consider the Renaissance and the influence of Christians as seen in the creation of the most famous paintings, sculptures, and architecture in Western civilization. Michaelangelo Buonarroti’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn’s portrait and landscape paintings became the standard for art during their time and beyond. They brought precision and excellence to every detail of their art. In many of the great churches of England, which took decades to complete, one can see this commitment to detail on the back of sculptures. Although the artists realized these parts of the sculptures would never be visible to the public, they lavished just as much care on the back side of each creation as the front—something that wasn’t discovered until restoration efforts centuries later. Whether anyone would ever see their work or not, they were doing it to the glory of God.
Around the world, people recognize Johann Sebastian Bach’s contribution to musical composition. To this day he is known as the one of the most brilliant composers of all time. He composed for use in worship services his epic,
The Passion of St. Matthew,
which has been called “the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization.”
Even the radical skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche admitted upon hearing it, “One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.”
More recently, the Religious Societies movement of the early 18th century was spawned by revival throughout the church and the realization that embodying the Gospel in practical forms was the truest way to express belief in Christ and His love for humanity. During this movement, hospitals were formed and charities created that still exist today, providing humanitarian care and support to people in need. In the 19th century, Jean Henri Dunant founded the International Red Cross after being confronted with suffering and loss of life on a battlefield in Italy. When confronted with injustice and suffering, Christians responded with aid and compassion.
From the Puritan Reformers who founded Harvard College in 1636 to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833 – Christian influence is rooted in an understanding that Christians are “called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals.”
As I saw the Christian heritage of cultural engagement, I began to see a direction for future influence. You have heard it said, “Those who do not study history, are doomed to repeat it.”
In this case, Christians could use a review of their history in culture shaping, for by better understanding it, we just may have a chance to repeat it. Historically, Christian’s were known for their wide and significant contributions to culture. But somewhere along the line, Christianity’s positive influence on culture changed.
CULTURAL INFLUENCE LOST
For centuries, Christian growth took place in a slow, methodical process. The historic idea of a catechesis was based off of an intentional and deliberate process of growth that introduced a new believer to the life they aspire to live while on this earth. Conversion was not assumed to take place in a moment; both the mentor and the disciple saw it as a process that required serious and disciplined engagement over time. Although eternal salvation might be grasped in a moment, the lifestyle of winsome engagement could take a lifetime to achieve.
With this method, the Christian explanation for existence had always made the most sense to Kings and paupers alike. It was a “comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?”
It competed and won out against other stories explaining human existence and even intellectuals embraced it for it gave logical answers to the antagonizing questions of the human pursuit. Sadly, this way of thinking would be drastically changed by the “Enlightenment” and the Second Great Awakening.
In the 1500’s, the “Enlightenment” began a philosophical shift that would change everything. The basis for human existence began to shift away from God and toward humanity. Human reason, scientific research and individual achievement had no need for divine intervention. Innovation was in the air. Speed, volume, and progress would become the celebrated measures for success.
Speed would overtake intentionality, volume would surpass quality and progress would overrun tradition. This philosophy of human-driven cultural advancement characterizes the
view that would influence Christian thinking.
Large conversion movements like the First Great Awakening in England and the Second Great Awakening that spread throughout rural America in the early 1800’s introduced many people to Christ. Evangelistic camp meetings took place mostly on the frontier or in rural communities, having little effect on the educated intellectuals in the city. The great orators of this time used emotional preaching and proclaimed boldly the most dramatic points of the Christian story; “You are a sinner, and Christ’s death and resurrection can give you new life. If you get saved, you will have eternal life in Heaven.” They initiated special invitations to capture the most possible conversions from a given audience in a limited amount of time. They didn’t have the benefit of living among the people and modeling the life of a Christian over the course of years. Their demanding schedule of traveling by horseback from town to town gave them weeks, and sometimes just days, to convey the depth of the message of Jesus.
It’s easy to see that when forced to convey the most dramatic parts of the Christian story in a short period of time, parts of the story are easily overlooked. In the process, Christianity was losing its profound and life-giving answers to central questions no longer representing an entire life-system and worldview. It had become relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you would spend the afterlife.
As more evangelical Christians adopted this half-story explanation of the faith, their cultural influence began to fade.
The emphasis on heavenly pursuits overshadowed the idea of living a life that offered common grace and promoted cultural influence. And as personal decisions for Christ became the short-term measure of success, the church added shallow converts who were unable to see the cultural implications of their faith. If being a Christ-follower is only about getting a free pass to heaven and trying to bring everyone else with them, it will alienate Christians from the broader dialogue about life, justice and the here and now.
When you refer to "social sector" in 'The Seven Channels of Cultural Influence' section of this paper, what exactly are you refering to?
Ted, good question to clarify. Other people define these channels in different ways. But the way I differentiate the social sector from the others is that it is made up of organizations advancing social good exclusively as non-profits (NGO's) or foundations. These are usually organizations committed to community development, fighting injustice, defending the defenseless and helping those who can't help themselves. Their measurement isn't profit, but lives touched. This is a bit of a generalization, but hopefully it helps clarify it a bit more.
It helps. Thank you, Gabe.
In your quick spread over the 2nd Great Awakening, you say," They ( the preachers) initiated special invitations to capture the most possible conversions from a given audience in a limited time." May I ask, did 'they' or did the Spirit of God choose to convict and convert those hearers in such a manner, and in such numbers?
You continue that when the evangelists moved on shortly there after this resulted in a learning vaccum (my term) among the newly saved, yet spiritually ignorant Or at best inexperienced not knowing much about the love of Jesus that just gave them eternal life.. Thus, if I follow your meaning, these babes in Christ who lacked " ...the depth of the message of Jesus." , were left behind to fend in the Faith on their own, and were powerless to effect any real cultural change in their environs. Is this a bridge point you wish to use to bring forward about gay intolerance in the " Old Guard Church" today?
I may have missed in my glossing over Un Christian, so I ask during your three years of research, did you compile any audio and video interviews with any Christian former gay and lesbian groups such as Exodus International?
Perhaps you would like to read this Orthodox Christian treasure--a real how-to
in terms of changing ourselves---if we want to have any hope of changing the world
"Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives"
Hey Gabe, I think this is background for the message you delievered at CAT East back in October. You had a diagram of the seven cultural areas. Do you have that somewhere for download.
There is no "Cultural Mandate" in Genesis. Considering there is no New Testament basis for domionism I suppose it is the best Abraham Kuyper (Francis Shaffer, Chuck Colson, etc) could do. It says that we humans have dominion over animals ie the natural world. Not over each other.
People have dominion over each other via business, government, etc in the Babylonian system.
Jesus came to Inaugurate His Kingdom not fix up Babylon! We are ambassadors here and we do serve here ie widows poor and orphans those outcast by society. I am not for a Kumbaya--My-Lord Christianity but there is another option then the 2 stories you give as options here.
Lets think about it. Jesus is our example.
He did not try to change laws or overthrow the oppressive roman empire. Yet the Kingdom He started (like a mustard seed) continues to grow. Rome fell. Now if He thought that His time was better spent discipling others then what makes us think we could do it better that the master?
Why paint the walls on the Devils castle when our King had no place to lay His head?
I'm just curious, are you a member of a local church? If so, which one?
The thing that seems to be missing in most current discussions about influencing culture is some awareness of how important development and tradition is in the creation of great art, science, polity, community, and most everything that has lasting influence. The Catholic Church understands tradition and how important it is in church polity and doctrine, but it is also important in every other area of human life.
The renaissance was not inherently about innovation. Renaissance artists looked back over two millennia to the Greeks. They took everything of great value in history to build their art and science. J. S. Bach worked in a tradition of music and added innovations that became the core of western standard practice. The Irish monks were preserving the best literary works of their predecessors, not throwing out tradition.
Christian musicians, who have destroyed the best choirs and church music and substituted loud noise, are talking about influencing culture. Most of what is going on seems to be kids who grew up in Evangelical churches and always wished they could be like everybody else who now have made church into a reflection of pop culture.
There are times when breaking with tradition takes courage and intelligence. We live in the reverse situation. If there is to be development of a great Christian culture, it will require intelligent understanding of the best culture of the past and the courage to buck the trends of mediocre invention.
Gabe can you answer my questions concerning your organization and its cause:
Do you agree and support the LGBT and its cause?
Do you agree and support the Planed Parenthood organization and its cause?
Do you agree that the church is a local assembly of baptized believers organized to carry out the commission to evangelize, to teach, and to administer the ordinances of believer’s baptism and the Lord’s table, and how does your cultural mandate accomplish this?
What is your degree in?
Although Jesus did not try to overthrow the Roman Empire, he did question and break with cultural tradition/ideology that was a product of worldliness and not from God. I think his anger at the moneychangers in the temple and his consistant treatment of women as equal inheritors as God's children both speak volumes about how we too must question and actively struggle against the dynamisism of sin in the world.
Business and government, when used correctly, are not about dominating people. It's about serving them, protecting them, and providing services which outside of a larger framework could not occur on the same meaningful scale. Of course, when in the wrong hands the power that comes from both business and government is Babylonian and worldly, so why not take it back and lead by serving and conduct business in a Gospel-centric way?
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