The Gospel + Culture

…The creation of the first man shows this; the subduing of the earth, that is, the whole of culture, is given to him, and can be given to him, only because he is created after God’s image; man can be ruler of the earth only because and in so far as he is a servant, a son of God…Culture, therefore, sinks into the background; man must first become again a son of God before he can be, in a genuine sense, a cultured being. Israel was not a people of art and science, but a people of religion; and Christ is exclusively a preacher of the gospel, the savior of the world, and founder of the kingdom of heaven. With this kingdom nothing can be compared; he who will enter into it must renounce all things; the cross is the condemnation of the world and the destruction of all sinful culture.

But it is wrong to educe from this pronouncement that the gospel must be at enmity with culture. For although the gospel limits itself to the proclaiming of the requirements and laws of the kingdom, it cannot be set free from the organic alliance in which it always appears in history and Scripture. For, in the first place, Christ does not stand at the commencement, but in the middle of history. He presupposes the work of the Father in creation and in providence, especially also in the guidance of Israel; yea, the gospel asserts that Christ is the same who as the Word made all things and was the life and the light of all men. As he was then in his earthly life neither a politician nor a social reformer, neither a man of science nor a man of art, but simply lived and worked as the Son of God and Servant of the Lord, and thus has only been a preacher and founder of the kingdom of heaven, he cannot have come to annihilate the work of the Father, or his own work in creation and providence, but rather to save it from the destruction which has been brought about by sin. According to his own word, he came not to judge the world, but to save it…

The gospel of Christ promises righteousness and peace and joy, and has fulfilled its promise if it gives these things. Christ did not portray for his disciples a beautiful future in this world, but prepared them for oppression and persecution. But, nevertheless, the kingdom of heaven, while a pearl of great price, is also a leaven which permeates the whole of the meal; godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life which now is, and that which is to come.

The gospel gives us a standard by which we can judge of phenomena and events; it is an absolute measure which enables us to determine the value of the present life; it is a guide to show us the way in the labyrinth of the present world; it raises us above time, and teaches us to view all things from the standpoint of eternity. Where could we find such a standard and guide if the everlasting gospel did not supply it?

But it is opposed to nothing that is pure and good and lovely. It condemns sin always and everywhere; but it cherishes marriage and the family, society and the state, nature and history, science and art. In spite of the many faults of its confessors, it has been in the course of the ages a rich benediction for all these institutions and accomplishments. The Christian nations are still the guardians of culture. And the word of Paul is still true that all is ours if we are Christ’s.

—Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation (1909), pp. 266-269.

One thought on “The Gospel + Culture

  1. Hi Brother,

    This is good stuff.

    I wonder how Bavinck might respond to the cultural phenomena of the 21st century? To what extent should the contemporary Christian expose himself to the ungodliness of cultural expressions in order to appreciate the good they have to offer? How many times must a Christian hear the name of our Lord taken in vain before he gives up on discovering the value of a particular form of art?

    What shall we endure in the name of cultural appreciation?

    Where is the line? How much adultery, fornication, violence and deceit can we wade through in order to find what is genuinely lovely? 60/40? 20/80? 10/90?

    I don’t have the answers. In fact, I think culture is very, very important. But I wonder how Bavinck might judge the direction of contemporary culture, and especially Hollywood. How do Christians contribute to and perpetuate the ungodliness of Hollywood (and the ruined lives of actors) by their insatiable appetite to be entertained?

    As I said, I don’t have the answers.

    “Ephraim mixes himself with the nations; Ephraim has become a cake not turned.” Hosea 7:8

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