The Stories of Battles and Glories

I love history. No, let me restate that. I love history. Viewing the dusty, blood-drenched battlegrounds of the ancients through the eyes of generals and soldiers makes me feel like I’m actually there in the middle of a war. Viewing the large king-of-the-hill game that has been played out throughout the entire scope of history is fascinating. There are so many nations that have at one point in time dominated the entire world and each of them had one weak spot, one chink in their armor, that led to their own downfall. But I haven’t always felt this way.

In high school I felt the same way about history as everyone else felt about math. American politics have never made sense to me, and to be honest they still don’t. War tactics and battle plans never intrigued me, and for some reason I could never keep Grant and Lee straight. I distinctly remember almost every history class trying to keep my heavy eyes from closing in sleep even though I sat in spit zone. My history teacher’s were great, I just never applied myself.

But it’s funny how when I actually started taking my faith seriously that my dull, black and white portrait of history became drenched in vibrant color. When I entered Bible college I had only been reading my Bible faithfully for a little over a year. For the first time in my life I faced questions that I didn’t have answers to. Who was Assyria? What were the war tactics used by Joshua in the Canaanite conquest? How were Jesus’ predictions of the destruction of the temple fulfilled? I had a very limited understanding of the history of the Jews and how Jesus played into all of that. Up until this point in my life I had viewed the Bible as a purely religious text, and my life definitely reflected the heartless religiosity that Jesus often spoke against.

However, Bible college thrust me right in the middle of history and forced me to view the Bible in the context of history. And to be honest, I hated it. The core of Eternity’s curriculum is built around five Foundations classes that briefly trace history and philosophy starting with establishing worldview and ending with contemporary crises. During my first two semesters, the Foundations classes were my least favorite, and I struggled twice a week to make it through another class that focuses on history, the one subject I couldn’t stand.

But then something happened. God made the Bible come alive by viewing it through history. Foundations taught me a brief overview of the Jews and the world that Jesus was born into. In my Old Testament Survey and Backgrounds classes, I became familiar with Assyria, Rome, Greece, and Babylon. We studied some of the war tactics of Joshua. And you know what happened? The Holy Spirit softened my heart and made me receptive to the historical backgrounds of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the post-biblical world, and the progression of thought, both philosophical and theological, up until present day. Now, Foundations is one of my favorite classes, and I’m sad to leave it behind.

History is important because it acts as a universal language. This makes it vital to understand, because having a healthy grasp on major historical events not only give Christians a bridge to the secular world, but it allows us to see the way Christianity has impacted the world. The victories of Christianity throughout history–the contribution to the rise of modern science or Christian involvement in Roman plagues, for instance–give Christians moments to look back on and return praise to God for continuing to use broken individuals to affect the world for better. Christianity’s failures–the involvement in the Crusades, the silence during the Holocaust, or the abuse of Orthodoxy, for instance–allow Christians to recognize their failures and grow to be more like the people Christ compels them to be.

Artists and Gardeners

People_Children_Young_artist_023259_Ask any Christian in the world how they respond to and interact with culture and you’re likely to get a wide array of responses. First, because cultures are different around the world. A Christian in India responds differently to Indian culture than a Christian in England responds to British culture. Second, because there’s a myriad of ways for Christians to respond to culture. In one of my favorite books from the first semester of class at Eternity, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch addresses this very issue.

As in all good discussions, terms must be defined before expounded upon. The term, “culture”, then, Crouch defines as “what we make of the world…the name of our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s give to us and make something else” (23). This idea manifests itself in what people physically create and is always first and foremost effected by personal worldview. Crouch refers to the physical creations of culture–such as movies, music, clothes, and tools–as “artifacts”. Each artifact asks specific questions about the world that it encounters, such as “What does this artifact assume about the way the world should be?”, and “What does this artifact make possible?” (29). To put it practically, what does a movie like Inception assume about the world? What does a book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows make possible?

The very heart of Culture Making, the meat of the subject, lies in the four ways Crouch perceives Christians interacting with culture:

  1. Condemning. Christians who condemn culture separate themselves from the surrounding culture with the notion that all culture has to offer is strictly evil. This was especially popular during the Fundamentalist revival.
  2. Critiquing. Critiquing culture is taking cultural artifacts and thinking critically and philosophically about their existence and the worldview(s) portrayed through their medium. Francis Schaeffer, before his untimely passing, propagating a cultural critiquing stance.
  3. Copying. Christians who copy culture take the framework of cultural artifacts, empty the artifacts of “secular” content, inject the artifacts with Christian worldviews, then offer the final product to a subculture of Christians. Crouch proposes that the Jesus Movement and CCM made this stance wildly popular.
  4. Consuming. Consuming culture is perhaps the most dangerous. Those who consume culture merely feed on the fat of cultural artifacts without question. They turn into cultural gluttons, blindly gobbling up all artifacts culture offers.

Not a single one of Crouch’s four stances are completely right or, for that matter, completely wrong. There are some aspects of culture that are rightly condemned. Some artifacts require critique before consumption, and some “secular” aspects of culture are rightly painted gray-scale onto the background of Christian subculture. It’s here that Crouch offers two more postures that Christians should take towards culture:

  1. Creating. Within the very definition of what it means to be human is creation, for humans were created “in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Creators make artifacts that enhance the cultural experience and engage the secular culture with a Christian worldview.
  2. Cultivating. In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons’ accessible book on the Christian generation following Generation X, the author offers the term “Restorers“. Cultivators, or restorers, take the artifacts culture offers and improves upon them as part of their God-given ability to be creative. This posture directly interacts with culture in an effort to make it more beneficial for the common good.

Culture Making begs the reader to take an introspective look at the way they live their lives, and assess their personal interaction with culture. It’s a challenge to look at how the reader’s posture towards culture betters, or unfortunately damages, the world around them. Christians come alive when they create and cultivate the culture that surrounds them in an effort to continually better the world and point back to the original Creator who gifted them with creative abilities.