We hear more and more talk about advancing God’s kingdom. That’s a good thing because it’s a major theme in Scripture far too neglected in the contemporary church. We’re also having more conversations about culture making which is also a good thing because we’re created to create culture. These two dynamics – kingdom advance and culture making – go together. Let me explain.
Part of the good news is that in salvation we’ve been delivered from Satan’s kingdom and reign into a completely new kingdom and reign: the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). We are kingdom citizens submitted to a new king called to advance His kingdom in the midst of earthly kingdoms.
The Lord Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Lk. 11:2). When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven His eternal, unshakable, spiritual kingdom is advancing in the earth. It is being brought to bear in the world. When we give a cup of water in Jesus’ Name we are doing kingdom work. To give something in Jesus’ Name is connected to His reality and gospel and opens up conversations about Him because of who we are and what we’re doing. That’s the kingdom advance part.
What about the culture making part? To be created in the image of God means that we image forth God’s character in a number of ways. For example, we can be kind to others because God is kind and when we’re kind we’re imaging forth the reality of His kindness. Now, God is the Creator and He has called us to be creators as well. For example, God told Adam and Eve to cultivate the garden. That is creative activity in terms of agricultural technique and in the production of more bounty and beauty. We can’t create something out of nothing as God can but when we create something new out of existing material we are still imaging forth God’s Creatorship in our God-given creativity. That’s part of what it means to subdue the earth as God commanded: to discover the rich resources God has hidden in His creation and develop them for the good of others and His glory.
When we cultivate or create appropriate things in appropriate ways we are creating for God’s glory and the good of others. In the words of Andy Crouch, we are creating cultural goods: we are culture making. When we write poetry, compose music, write computer code, coach baseball, develop more efficient methods in our place of employment, make investments, produce a crop, deliver packages, etc., we are either cultivating or creating a cultural good. When we do so in the Name of Christ we are creating, in the words of Darrow Miller, kingdom culture. Paul says that we are to glorify God in whatever we do whether we eat, drink, go to work, iron the clothes, or enjoy the sunrise with a loved one. If we are living in light of God’s reality for God’s glory we are living as kingdom citizens and preserving, cultivating, or creating kingdom advance or kingdom culture. We are to create culture that reveals the reality of God. That’s just another way of saying we are to glorify God in all that we do; we are to reflect His reality and attributes.
So, how do kingdom advance and culture making go together? In our homes, work-places, neighborhoods, communities, and indeed in all our spheres of influence we are to reveal God in different ways. We reveal Him by speaking the truth. We reveal Him by being concerned for others. We reveal Him by putting His character on display. We reveal Him by putting His beauty on display.
Think about that one – putting God’s beauty on display. We know that suffering, pain, and sin is the result of the fall. If there is natural disaster, war, crime, arguing, or anything evil it is the result of the fall and brought about by the influence of Satan or our own sinful desires (under the sovereign control of God to be sure). If there is ugliness of any kind it is the result of the fall. On the other hand, if there is healing, goodness, and righteousness it comes from God. If there is natural serenity, peace, goodwill, reconciliation, or anything good it flows in some sense from God’s goodness. If there is beauty of any kind it flows from the reality of God. He is beautiful and He is the source of all beauty.
I know a lady who loves to brighten our sanctuary with flowers. She blesses others with them as well. Sometimes people take little notice of those things. But I wanted her to know something one day. When I see the flowers she has placed in the sanctuary here’s what I think. God is the one who has given each one of us our particular gifts and talents. When this woman puts the flowers out before everyone arrives Sunday morning, she is worshipping God and serving us by using her gift. She is also revealing God in that. Moreover, she is revealing God’s reality by enhancing the beauty of the sanctuary with the beauty of flowers and in so doing she is putting God’s beauty – God’s glory – on display. She is creating a culture of beauty that reveals God. She is advancing His kingdom by doing His will on earth as it is in heaven. She is lavishing the blessings of Jesus on the rest of us. She is a kingdom citizen doing kingdom work that glorifies the King. She is fulfilling the purpose for which she was created: to create kingdom culture. That’s what I think about when I see those flowers every Sunday.
The next time you fulfill the purpose for which you were created (and hopefully that’s more and more everyday in all you do), think of it that way; you are creating kingdom culture. And indeed, that’s why you were created (Eph. 2:10).
For more written and audio resources, visit www.pbcsc.org.
According to Newser, “A Miami-Dade judge approved a settlement in which [a young girl’s] biological mother, her mother's lesbian lover, and the man whose sperm made it all possible will all sign her birth certificate as parents. ‘We're creating entirely new concepts of families,’ says the dad's lawyer.”
Here’s my first question: what right does anyone have to “[create] entirely new concepts of families?” Family is something God ordained, created, and defined. We can’t create new concepts without rejecting Him. Of course, that’s our culture; when God is removed from our thinking, anything goes and we shouldn’t be surprised.
My second question is what do we do about these developments? The church has to realize we can’t win this battle with legislation. We are increasingly in the minority opinion. Only changed hearts and minds (repentance) will keep people from “creating entirely new concepts of” anything and everything. And that’s the real battle line: the battle for hearts and minds through the message of the cross. If God is not real, then we have no right to define family for anyone but ourselves. The battle front is not debate over definitions but debate over whether God is real.
One more thing: “The settlement follows a two-year paternity battle. Gay stylist Massimiliano Gerina agreed to provide sperm for his lesbian friends, Maria Italiano and Cher Filippazzo in a handshake agreement. But whereas they saw him as merely a donor, he saw himself as a father for the child.” Think about the brutal selfishness here. The women don’t care how their “family” will affect the social and emotional well being of this child. All they want is the experience of having a child – it’s about them. The man has no regard for the child either. Good luck explaining to her that while the court has ruled the three of them a family, they are not a happy family nor are they together as a family. Where’s the love? It’s certainly not on display in a two-year paternity battle. It seems the only love in this situation is the love of self. And that’s another result of getting rid of God; there is no such thing as love for others – it’s about me; what I want is ultimate. In the end, we become gods – and rather poor ones at that, wouldn’t you say?
Sometime back a survey from the Barna Group yielded six reasons young people leave the church. One of those reasons is that churches seem overprotective. Young people have “unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews” while being “prodigious [consumers] of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”
We need to keep some things in mind. Because young people have unprecedented access to ideas and are voracious consumers of pop culture, if they are not given to analyzing those ideas, they are necessarily shaped by those ideas. No idea or trend in pop culture is neutral. Ideas and trends are rooted in worldviews. Of course, that reality is why parents must be diligent in giving their children a biblical worldview so that they may have the discernment they need when confronted by the larger culture. On the one hand, parents must protect their children until they are ready to engage the culture. But that protection does not consist of merely warning them of and keeping them from dangerous, cultural situations. Children must be trained to understand and operate in those situations.
Young people also feel that “Christians demonize everything outside of church.” We have to be honest and discerning here. There are things that should be demonized in the sense they are contrary to God and destructive on many levels. For example, it’s hard to see any redeeming value to a co-ed dorm given the fact that God created men and women to be attracted to one another, men’s sex drives are peaking during those years, dorms are filled with persons with differing moral positions, sex in that context is expected and even encouraged, and temptation is a very real and powerful thing. The gift of sex is reserved for marriage. We pray for God to deliver us from temptation. Part of His answer is His command not to put ourselves in tempting situations. A co-ed dorm certainly qualifies as ongoing tempting situation.
And yet we shouldn’t run to the extreme as parents often do and demonize sex. We should teach our young people the beauty, wonder, joy, and purposes of sex and motivate them to maximize their joy in this tremendous gift God has given us. Yes, that will require comparing the world’s presentation of it with God’s. Such a comparison should make them hungry, but also willing to wait for the finest dinner and all that entails rather than blunt that dinner with McDonalds on the way.
Teens also say their “church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful.” Here are some serious questions: how analytical are you? What is the worldview being presented in a particular movie, piece of music, or video game? Do you take it all in without that analytical eye? Are you engrossed in things that God hates? And, how much time are you giving to these things? Or, do you have a knowledge of and love for God that sees certain movies, musical pieces, and video games as gifts from Him? And, because they are gifts from Him you discern which ones please Him and which ones don’t; you engage them all through the lens of Scripture; you keep them in their proper place in terms of time; and you love the giver more than the gift?
So yes, parents must shield untrained children in the early years and give increasing freedom as they get older and mature into young adults who are equipped to navigate the treacherous waters of our culture. Parents do need to demonstrate how faith in Christ does in fact connect to the fallen culture in which God has placed us for its good. It’s not merely about making it through to adulthood unscathed. It’s about engaging our culture, preserving what is good in our culture, and creating new and better cultural goods for everyone. On the one hand, young people should give their parents and churches a break if they seem to be or are indeed overprotective. On the other hand, parents and churches must recognize that we can’t win a war hunkered down in our foxholes. We have to train at the base, go on maneuvers, and then march into battle armed with the best equipment in the world: Christ, His truth, and the creativity He’s given us to bring His culture (kingdom) to bear in this world.
Recently a Christian educator was talking about the FCC outlawing loud television commercials. He has denounced overreaching and intrusive government and has called for a reduction of government regulation. Yet, he’s in favor of the FCC decision. Why? He explained, “While I’m against government regulation, I’m in favor of this regulation because I can’t stand loud commercials.” In other words, his positions on public policy are not rooted in objective truth – they are not rooted in principle – but in preference. As a result, he is arbitrary and inconsistent: something that Christians must desperately fight against if God is real otherwise we live as if God is not real (because He is not arbitrary or inconsistent).
Christians talk a lot about America unraveling. Part of that conversation centers on getting rid of things we don’t like and bringing back things we do like. Let’s get rid of objectionable material on television and let’s display the ten commandments in our schools; let’s get rid of alcohol sales on Sunday and let’s have only Christian prayers at public events; and the list goes on. But if all we’re about is getting what we want then we’re no different from all the other people who simply fight for what they want. We are just one lobbying group in the midst of many others. But Christians must be different. Why?
First, it’s not about getting what we want; it’s about doing what God wants. Since the dawn of the New Covenant and God’s global kingdom among the nations, nowhere are we told to impose Christian values on others through the power of the state. Rather, we are told to leave people to their own liberty of conscience while seeking to persuade them of the gospel.
Second, if we build our nation on what we want, then we are ruled by the same thing all others are ruled by – our personal preferences and not principles rooted in God’s absolute truth. It’s not merely that we like limited government better than big government because we value freedom, peace, and economic prosperity. We do. But we argue for limited government because that concept is rooted in biblical principles applied to civil society. We build our lives and nation on those principles because God is supreme. When we lobby for something else, we reject God, invite misery, and become just another self-centered group of barking dogs.
Third, seemingly little things (banning loud commercials) are rooted in big ideas (centralized government control of the people). A big controlling government can thrive when people see it as a means to get what they want whether corporate or private welfare, forced moral behavior, or banning loud commercials. Further, a controlling government relies on scare tactics to keep the people voting for big government. Those tactics might include the threat of terrorism, economic collapse, global warming, nuclear war, pushing women into back-alley abortions and economic oppression, outbreak of disease, etc. People identify government as the answer to all their problems, perceived threats, or selfish desires. They don’t think about the big picture, God, or others. But for us the question should be whether we believe in liberty or tyranny.
In the founding days of our nation, our first constitution – the Articles of Confederation – was set aside in favor of the Constitution we have now. There was much debate over this move. The Federalists were in favor of a larger, controlling, more centralized government while the Anti-Federalists favored a limited government and freedom for the people.
Ryan McMaken points out something instructive for us:
At the Virginia ratification debates of 1788, Patrick Henry denied that the propaganda of the Federalists was based on anything but scare tactics, and defied the Federalists to provide convincing evidence that the Articles of Confederation had not provided what the colonists had fought for in the Revolution. Indeed, Henry contended, to adopt the new Constitution would be akin to a Revolution greater than the one just finished . . . The real reason behind scrapping the old constitution, Henry suspected, was really that of garnering more power for those who had already tasted the perks of consolidated government. They hid this behind a façade of "economic prosperity," but Patrick Henry contended that such things were not the business of governments: "You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and prosperous people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the end of your government."
Ideas have consequences, particularly ideas rooted in self-centeredness. Ultimately, Patrick Henry and the Anti-Federalists lost, and our liberties have been eroded ever since; only now, like rising flood waters over saturated ground, the erosion is occurring at a much stronger and faster rate taking huge swaths of earth with it.
Liberty is rooted in the gospel, and the erosion of liberty points to the erosion of gospel influence in the land. We forget that liberty and justice for all, not just our particular lobby or constituency group, is what God wants us to uphold. We fall into the trap of lobbying for some legislation not because it would be better for everyone but because it would be better for us.
It’s not about what we want – it’s about our mission – to advance God’s kingdom through gospel influence. Rather than the FCC banning loud commercials, let’s tell people why the FCC ought to be eliminated: because Satan is the author of tyranny and Christ is the author of freedom.
About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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