Polishing the Brass On A Sinking Ship

by Matthew Honeycutt

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.-Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 5:14-16

Why polish the brass on a sinking ship? This has been the question of some Christians in the last century regarding the restoration and even preservation of human culture. Is culture worth saving? To them, culture is something that is non-salvageable and therefore totally lost. This leads many believers to the false conclusion that they should do nothing except wait for Jesus’s return.

Since the Enlightenment, ethical norms that were accepted for centuries based on the Christian worldview have deteriorated more each decade. F. Leroy Forlines reflects passionately on this moral decline in the opening pages of his Quest for Truth: Theology for a Postmodern Age. Albert Mohler also reflects on the moral decline in his work, The Gathering Storm, which addresses the growing issue of secularism in American culture.

In America, cultural norms have significantly changed for the worse especially in the last sixty years. The rise of a new militant attitude that purposefully aligns itself against the Christian worldview is depicted in the areas of gender, sexuality, marriage, the family, and the value of every life. This new moral norm is not new nor is it normative. God designed us to live in such a way that brings him glory. The moral ethos of our time is more about self-glorification and human-centeredness than it is about the Triune God who entered human history and who alone binds our conscience through His word.

Modern cultural norms have had negative impacts on humanity. These effects can be readily seen in the emergence of a rebellious spirit of popular culture, the decline of modern art, and the insatiable appetite for entertainment. As one writer said, “We are entertaining ourselves to death”. However, all is not lost as modern culture can be redeemed and must be restored and reclaimed for the glory of God.

Mankind and culture were created perfectly in the imago Dei. Modern culture has since shifted away from God’s original plan through rebelliousness against God’s mandate for dominion and culture. However, culture must and can be redeemed. Even though both believers and unbelievers have been endowed by their creator with common grace to expand on God’s structure by creating culture, it is ultimately the church that has the responsibility to redeem culture for the common good. This common good can be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit living within God’s people, those redeemed in Christ.

The Responsibility for Christianity to Redeem Culture through Christ

As the recipients of special grace, Christians are called to cultivate the landscape of common grace.[1] All Christians in Christ have the responsibility to redeem culture for the common good of mankind’s soul. Reflecting upon Kuyperian thought, Bacote states, “…the best society will result from a responsible and faithful stewardship of common grace.”[2] This is one aspect of Jesus’ stated second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

Christianity has Separated Itself in the Past and Not Redeemed Culture

Regardless of Jesus’s command, Christianity in the last century has managed to retreat from culture at the expense of men’s and women’s souls. Due to conservative fundamentalists losing influence over culture, culture has since been abandoned for a fixed hope on the soon appearing of Jesus Christ. The focus drifted away from engaging culture and society with the gospel to focus more on individual conversions. This is important. However, this mantra has poisoned the minds of believers into thinking there is nothing worth saving in this world other than individuals.

If culture is abandoned, then many souls will naturally succumb to it as humanity is intimately linked to culture. Many will fall prey to neglect as Christian influence is diminished in society. With the loss of culture to the world comes the loss of souls. The more influence a corrupt, anti-Christian culture exerts, the more impact it can make on leading people spiritually astray.

Christianity must Engage Itself in the Present and Future to Redeem Culture

No matter how debased culture can become, there is no separation between Christianity and culture. Culture must be redeemed for the common good of all. Pinson makes an important observation, as all Christians “need to be in the world but not of the world, actively engaging the culture with the countercultural gospel of the kingdom.”[4] It is the gospel that changes societies by changing the individual lives that makeup societies. One by one, as individuals are saved by faith in Christ and witness is multiplied, culture can be regained. God’s structure is established already, but the direction can be changed and must be changed by all who call upon the name of Christ.

Conclusion

Mankind has been made and continues to be made in the imago Dei. This was God’s gracious plan for humanity. However, sin and death have entered into God’s very good creation and destroyed the relationship mankind once had with God. This original sin entered God’s perfect creation through Adam and Eve’s rebellion. The Fall is evident all around us, especially in the moral and cultural ethos and pathos of this moment.

Ever since the fall, Adam and Eve’s progeny has continued the tradition of rebellion as seen in modern culture. Mankind has rebelled against God’s dominion mandate as outlined in the first chapters of Genesis. Mankind has rebelled in his work, leisure, and procreation. Work is sacrificed at the expense of leisure or vice versa. Some see work as a means to an end, while others see work as their god. In procreativity, homosexuals have sought unnatural sexual perversions that have contradicted God’s original design of one man and one woman to be fruitful and multiply. This was the rebellion against God’s mandate for dominion.

In addition, pop culture has reared a selfish society bent on finding pleasure in the here and now. It has sought to break ties with the traditional past and has also rebelled against God’s created order. Modern art is proof that society has degraded in this selfish fashion.

Even though Christianity has tried to distance itself from the current cultural climate, all is not lost. What is needed is a Christian worldview. Without a Christian worldview, humanity will see hopelessness and despair. Now, more than ever, Christians need to be redeeming culture as God originally mandated in Genesis. Christians can be the example to take back dominion by redeeming work and leisure, by upholding the traditional view of marriage, and by preaching the gospel to a lost and dying world.

Creation can be redeemed and God is calling all Christians to take part in this endeavor in what he started long ago, to create culture. To see culture move in the right direction Christians will need to get involved by spreading the gospel of Christ to create a counter-cultural change. Only then can culture be redeemed for the glory of God and the common good of all mankind.


[1] Bacote, Vincent. The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 106.

[2] Ibid. The phrase “common grace” is original with Abraham Kuyper, “the Christian prime minister of the Netherlands in the early twentieth century.” (Pinson, Sexuality, Gender, and the Church, 11). Kuyper believed God bestows “common grace” on all mankind, whether believers or unbelievers as all are made in the imago Dei. “Special grace” is God’s salvific grace given to believers by faith in Christ. See also, Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899). Also, Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, et al., trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman, et al., vol. 1, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015).

[3] Matt 22:37-40. See also Lev 19:18; Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8.

[4] J. Matthew Pinson, “The Church and the New Cultural Landscape” in Sexuality, Gender, and the Church: A Christian Response in the New Cultural Landscape (Nashville: Welch College Press, 2016), 13.

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