ORLANDO — If the Gospel is to be relevant for a rapidly changing society Christians must re-examine their doctrine that functions like culture is too soiled to redeem, author Andy Crouch says.
Speaking before hundreds gathered at the Association of Biblical Higher Education's annual meeting held Feb. 20-22, author Andy Crouch, whose most recent book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology In Its Proper Place, exhorted those in attendance that if their theology does not extend to redeem culture it is woefully inadequate.
The theme of the conferences was "leveraging cultural insight for adaptive change" patterned after the sons of Issachar who, as it's explained in 1 Chronicles 12:32, had an understanding of the times.
He showed a picture of an image of hands in yellow rubber gloves along with the words "Deliver us from culture," noting how quickly American culture has changed. In previous decades culture-shaping institutions were oriented toward the Gospel and left a distinctly Christian mark on society, he noted.
"In less than a generation those institutions were handed over initially to a very different kind of Christian" Crouch said, mentioning hospitals and the YMCA, "and eventually to people who did not feel it was necessary to keep that faith perspective in those institutions."
Yet it is mistaken for a Christian to regard "culture" as synonymous with "evil," he said. Praying that God "deliver us from evil," a line from the Lord's prayer, is quite different from praying "deliver us from culture."
"I wonder, do we really mean that? Deliver us from culture? Because culture is a pretty big subject."
To pray to be delivered from culture, he continued, is the opposite of what Jesus asked for in John 17 when He prayed: "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."
The church has thrived most when Christians are embedded in cultures that were not their own, he went on to say, and they need not fear getting dirty. The biblical stories of Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, and all of the Israelite exiles illustrate this, he said, as they had to learn how to be faithful to God without their familiar support structures.
When Christians stop thinking culturally, they cease thinking biblically, he said, and that thinking is distinct from the thinking about how churches might strategically use something within culture for their own purposes in the church separate from the world.
"The more biblical we become, the more we will be sent into culture into exactly where Jesus prayed," Crouch said.
Crouch stressed that the outlook a follower of Jesus takes when engaging culture must be grounded in the entire great story of Scripture — from Creation to the Fall to the restoration of all things. And if your doctrine of creation extends only to nature but not culture it is too small, he said.
"The promise of the Bible is that we're going to see the restoration of all things," he emphasized, "including the salvation of persons whom God loves and their soul and body. But not stopping with the restoration of the soul and body but the restoration of the whole broken cosmos that is waiting for the revealing of the new breed of the sons and daughters of God."
"What is at stake is how good of a [Gospel] story we have to tell."
The author argued that in the Creation story a progression exists where God moves from pronouncing what He made as "good" to "very good" after He made human being in His image.
That "very good" marks an important shift because now God's image bearers who, like God, carry creativity are unleashed to co-labor with God in His ongoing work, he said, and when they take dominion over the Earth, their cultural activity included, that world will flourish.
It's so sad that Christians have become associated with a very thin piece of the doctrine of Creation. Of course we believe that God created everything that is. But we're not known [for that] and we're not prepared."
Meanwhile, Scripture speaks about cultural and social definitions of sin in addition to an individual's ability to do wrong, specifically idolatry and injustice.
Idolatry is the creating of cultural goods that work to replace God, and it is especially evident today in technology, Crouch said, projecting the icon for the tech giant Apple — a small apple with a bite taken out of one side — on a screen behind him, noting how closely it represents "forbidden fruit."
We need a deeper understanding of the Fall that doesn't just get us to sin, but to negative God-substitutes. And those substitutes, because they do not work, lead us then to create systems that exploit other people to give us what the Bible didn't give us."
"What idolatry leads to are systems of exploitation in which we try to grab and grasp from other human being and from God's created world the good things that we have been promised."
Injustice, then, occurs as humans pursue things God never meant us to have in ways not to be pursued. We exploit humans in durable, oppressive systems in which a few do get to feel like God while the rest suffer, he said.
The ABHE conference, attended mostly by small Bible school and seminary presidents and top officials, concluded Feb. 22.