Kingdom values have helped bring radical transformation in society precisely when Christians understood their calling to be salt and light in the public square.
We need the confidence that we have something worthy to say and the courage to say it.
Why don’t Evangelical Christians create much culture?
One of the several reasons, I’d argue, regards how we envision our faith.
The story of faith I inherited usually started with human sin and finished with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. These are key Christian doctrines, of course. But are they the whole of the biblical story?
To understand salvation as forgiveness for personal sins is certainly at the heart of the Gospel. But if we stay there, we can unintentionally encourage an individualistic, dualistic form of Christianity. This view – the view so many of us grew up with – tends to attend to the human heart, seldom to human society. It thrives on Sundays but had little to say about Mondays. It has much to say about marriage and family but not much about work, the economy, social issues, the wider society. When it tries to speak to those who do not believe, those efforts usually take place in our turf and on our terms: evangelistic sermons, apologetic talks, training for personal evangelism.
The books, songs and art we produce are usually aimed at convinced Christians. This kind of preaching is effective in reaching people willing to enter our social location and accept our discourse, but we do not have much of a language for those who do not come to hear us. In sum, we accept a privatized role speaking to individual issues in a secularized society.
But a good-ol’ return to the Scriptures shows that the biblical story is wider. It starts with creation and proceeds to Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and future renewal of all things. It gives us a cultural mandate, besides the great commission; it teaches us to seek the welfare of the city, not just of our Christian tribe; it portrays Jesus healing bodies besides saving souls and God’s new creation as a garden-city where the original garden with the tree of life is enriched by the best of human culture.
Jon Tyson and Heather Grizzle write in A Creative Minority,
… many Christians have been taught only half the story – that we were born sinners and our focus should be on getting ourselves and others to heaven…. However, if we live out the fullness of God’s story, we recognize that we are made in God’s image, and our purpose is to join God in the renewal of all things. Every person is dignity and every job matters because it is part of God’s good creation. A Creative Minority has an alternative vision of faith and work that encompasses everyone’s life, not just some sort of Christian elite class.1
To be a creative minority is a social role larger than the role many Evangelicals are accustomed to. It means, for instance, envisioning the “church” not just the gathered church but also the scattered church, made by the contributions not just of the clergy but of the whole people of God in all areas of human life. As Miroslav Volf writes in A Public Faith,
The Christian faith malfunctions when it is practiced as a mystical religion in which ascent is followed by a barren rather than creative return, a return that has no positive purpose for the world. The ascent is the receptive moment… The return is the creative moment.”2
Such creative return requires the confidence that we have something worthy to say and the courage to say it. At the same time, we are called to give “a reason for the hope” that is in us “with “gentleness and respect.”3 We do so not out of a pursuit of power but to humbly serve the common good. In the words of painter Makoto Mujimura, “Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.”4
1. Jon Tyson and Heather Grizzle, A Creative Minority: Influencing Culture Through Redemptive Participation (2016), 27, 29.
2. Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos Press, 2017), 7-8.
3. 1 Peter 3:15
4. Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life (Grand Rapids, IVPress, 2017), 40.