“Redeeming the Culture”
This last week I was out evangelizing with quite a few others from our church and I came to the door of the jr-high pastor of one of the local Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven types of churches. I was with two teenagers. The man’s wife answered the door-bell and she seemed happy we were there once she knew we were out preaching the gospel (not JWs). She said her husband was the jr-high pastor at that particular church, which I know well. A first thought for me was what does a jr. high pastor do all day, but I refrained from asking that question, although I was really curious. I considered the oiling of the skateboard wheels and the proper wrinkling of the urban chic t-shirts. But I digress. I talked to her for awhile about the gospel to find out what they believed the gospel was. I had about finished with her thinking, which wasn’t quite developed enough for me to conclude, when her husband arrived. I spotted her husband before she did. As much as people stereotype fundamentalists, evangelicals might be easier to identify in their desperate desire to blend. Information: stop trying so hard. You blend like a Chinese tourist at Dollywood. Next.
The wife had to leave, so jr. high man and I talked first about the gospel. I was a little surprised to hear that he was a Calvinist. The senior pastor is a Dallas graduate. He didn’t disagree with most of what I said there on the basics, although I’m hard pressed to have even an LDS contradict me up to a certain point. It’s become all how you define the terms. Maybe that’s always been it. A big one is: Who is Jesus? A lot of different viewpoints there all under the banner of Jesus. But I moved on to worship. I kinda see that as the next thing. In a certain sense, I see the gospel and worship categorically as the same (see John 4:23-24). My question is: do you worship God in your church? Just because worship is happening doesn’t mean that it is actually happening. What people think is worship relates to Who they think God is. I already knew that at this church the worship was a matter of one’s taste. Those were almost the exact words I heard from their senior pastor when I had a previous conversation with him. I will say that talking to the jr. high pastor was a little like talking to a jr. higher. The arguments were similar to jr. high ones. I made a note that he needed to get out of the jr. high department a little more—pooled ignorance was happening.
Jr. high guy asked what music was appropriate for worship. I’m fine answering that question, and I knew it was a trap to offer the name of a particular style, but I did name some I did not believe were acceptable to God for worship, namely rap, hip-hop, grunge, and rock, among others. Upon listing those, his eyes lit up and he fired off a derogatory question as an answer: “So you’re saying that God can’t take rap music and redeem it for his worship?” The answer to that question is, of course, “N0,” but that is not how you answer. The key word in his question, I believe, was “redeem.” How he used that word says a lot about his view of the world and his understanding of God, of Christ, of worship, and of the Incarnation.
I believe this man’s concept of “redeeming the culture” is quite popular today. It is also new. It is not a historic understanding of either “redemption” or “culture.” The phraseology is an invention, designed to justify worldliness. What is most diabolical is that the phrase, “redeeming the culture,” is used to categorize a wicked activity into some sort of sanctified one. You should be able to conclude what damage this would do to the cause of biblical discernment.
Earlier I said the man carried on a jr. high type of approach. What did I mean? He used questions as a form of mockery. For instance, he asked, “So you’re saying that individual notes are evil or something?” He also leaned on the time-honored, “So any kind of song that is upbeat, I guess, is wrong then?” Who said anything about “individual notes being evil” or “upbeat songs being wrong”? No one. And he asked them with a kind of accusatory and incredulous tone, as if he was shocked.
To get the right idea of what God will redeem, we should consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we can glorify God with our body. The body itself is not evil, despite what the Gnostics might say. It is how one uses the body. Paul explains that in Romans 6 when he says that the body can either be used for righteousness or unrighteousness depending upon what it serves. Letters and notes are about the same. They can be either used for evil or for good. Cloth is the same way. The material that turns into immodest clothing is not itself evil. What is evil is what the cloth is turned into, how it is used. Letters can be turned into foul language. Paint can become wicked or profane art. Notes can be formed into godless, pagan music, just like they can be made into sacred music.
However, someone can’t take pornography and redeem it for God. I explained this obvious point to jr. high man. I illustrated it by asking if naked women on the streets of a Marine base could be redeemed by handing out tracts. The Marines would show more interest. More tracts would be taken. The contents of the tracts was holy. Does the message justify the medium? Of course, he said no. The beauty of the illustration is that it makes it simple even for a jr. higher.
At a root level, this wrong idea about redemption relates to a perversion of Christ’s incarnation. It is very much a Gnostic understanding of the Incarnation. The logic of it goes like the following. Jesus became a man. Men are sinful. Jesus became a man so that He could relate with sinners. This takes His condescension right into the sewer. Jesus was a man, but He was a sinless, righteous man. He was tempted like men were, but without sin. Jesus didn’t relate to men. There was nothing wrong about the body. A body isn’t wrong. Jesus took a body. That wasn’t wrong. Jesus wasn’t redeeming the thing of having a body. He didn’t take a body to relate with what sinful men do with their bodies. He took on a body to die for us. That’s how Jesus redeemed. Jesus didn’t take a body to be like men; He took a body so that men could be like Him. These “redeeming the culture” people turn this right around. We Christians are not to take on the characteristics of the world, become like the world. That isn’t incarnational. We should be turning the world upside down, not the world turning us upside down.
To go a little further, we can also see an attack on the atonement in this idea. Jesus redeemed by dying in His body, and shedding real, physical blood in His body. He did not redeem the whole thing of sinful men having sinful bodies by taking a body Himself. This borders on a moral example theory of atonement, as if Jesus showed to sinful men how to have a body through his moral example in and with His body.
Here’s what the “redeeming the culture” people take out of this. If Jesus could take a body to do His work, then we can take rock music to do our worship. Just like Jesus accomplished what He did with a body, we can accomplish what we need to with modern art. This is incarnational to them, redeeming like Jesus redeemed. We redeem these things, making good use of them, sanctifying them, like Jesus made good use of a body.
What should be sad to anyone reading this, and really anyone period, is how that this brand of so-called Christianity destroys scriptural concepts and just about makes it impossible to follow Jesus for these people. The people of their churches think that their feelings, that are really orchestrated by sensual passions, are actually love. They are convinced of it. They are told that it is true, and in so doing, they are deceived. And now the most conservative of evangelicals and most fundamentalists would say that we can’t judge that to be wrong. Sure we can. Those feelings are not love. They are not love for God. Ironically, they are love for self, fooling someone into thinking they are love for God. Rather than redeem anything, they have taken something already redeemed, love, and have perverted it as a result. And God requires His own to love Him. You can see what this does to Christianity.
Professing Christians should just stop using the “redeeming the culture” language. They have it all wrong. They’re just excusing their love for the world and their desire to fit in with the world. You don’t take a profane or sinful activity and “redeem it.” The letters can be used for God. The notes can be used for God. A body can be used for God. But a wrong use of letters, notes, a body, or cloth is not redeemable. Whether any of those will be used for God will depend on what to which they are yielded. If they are yielded to God based upon biblical principles, therefore, acceptable to God, then culture is being redeemed. And only then is culture being redeemed.
Culture is a way of life. If one’s way of life smacks of this world system, the spirit of this age, it is not redeemed. Only a way of life surrendered to the way of God will God redeem.