I blog to learn. It’s really that simple. And so I love thought-provoking questions like this one. After reading the last post (“The Gospel + Culture”) our friend Tom asked:
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
Excellent question. And let me concur with you Tom—I don’t have any answers here either. Though I think that anyone struggling to see where worldliness is prevalent in contemporary culture will benefit greatly from the critical thinking and discernment modeled in the new book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway, 2008). There is never any excuse for Christians to be attracted to the sinful standards and practices of the world.
But I think Bavinck himself can help us because, while he was never exposed to a Super Bowl halftime show ‘malfunctions,’ or sleazy MTV videos, he was fully aware of depravity of the heart.
Notice back in the original quote how Bavinck balances an appreciation for culture, and a level of disdain for the sin in culture—“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.” From what I can guess by reading Bavinck, he hesitates to draw a fractional separation between the sin/righteousness of culture. This full black-and-white separation of sin/righteousness, sheep/goats, wheat/tares awaits the return of Christ. Hold this thought.
When I first read your question, Tom, I was reminded of Bavinck’s teaching on anthropology. This is what he writes:
…The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart. Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him. They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him. They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.
In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another. He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment. He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature. He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land. He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).
Science cannot explain this contradiction in man. It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness. It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall. But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed. Man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God. (Our Reasonable Faith, pp. 22-23)
In a similar way, it appears to me that culture is a similar enigma. On the one hand the gifts and powers God has built into athletes, artists, politicians, musicians, etc. far exceed the value a non-Christian can ascribe to them.
A non-Christian fan of Yo-Yo Ma watching his cello sing at a concert can be amazed at his musical gifting. A Christian fan can watch the same concert and be amazed at his divine gifting. The fan aware of divine grace is more capable of appreciating the arts, and actually raises the dignity of the cellist far higher than one unaware of God’s general grace active in the giving of his gift.
So there is a raising of culture on one hand but on the other hand, the Christian fan in the audience is also aware of the deep sin in each of our hearts that requires the intervention of a Savior—famous cellists included.
Culture is an enigma, being both simultaneously a great display of divine endowments and creativity only explained by being made in the image of God and also hellish in it’s filthy depravity.
There are clearly things that are sinful and to be avoided in this world. No question. But culture is an enigma and this makes me wonder if Bavinck would even view culture from a fractional perspective? Thoughts?