And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.Adam still had all the same responsibilities God intended, but now with much more difficulty as punishment for sin. God still wanted man to obey all those initial commands in Genesis 1:28---He never rescinded them---"be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion." However, sin and its curse do not lend themselves toward man's self-denial and subservience. Romans 1:25 describes the direction of man under the curse---he changes "the truth of God into a lie, and worship[s] and serve[s] the creature more than the Creator." He puts his own interests above God.
I write in my book Sound Music or Sounding Brass (p. 37):
In the evil pre-flood society after Cain (Genesis 4-6), Lamech lead the Cainites into open rebellion against God. God told them to replenish the earth, and yet they built a city. They had as a goal to live comfortably and conveniently in sin under the curse. God gave the standard of "one man, one wife," but Lamech took two wives, Adah and Zillah. The sons of Lamech helped in making life easier for wicked living in a cursed society.
Under the curse of sin, instead of repentance and then glory of God, man thinks about the easy life, the one that will be the best for him. He wants to alleviate difficulty and pain. Rather than pleasing God, He thinks of His own pleasure. Rather than mastering what God had said, he becomes his own master. Sin will end man's life, but instead of thinking of numbering those days and living for eternity, he tries to make something of himself and his life on earth. Rather than taking his punishment, he lives to avoid it, attempting to build his own garden for his own pleasure.
The Bible becomes a record of two different cultures---one righteous and the other wicked. One about God and the other about man himself and the environment in which he lives. The first is vertical and the other horizontal. Scripture calls for a wide chasm between the two, which is described in many different ways, including light and darkness, truth and error, and righteousness and unrighteousness. God has given us a book, the Bible, and a Person, the Holy Spirit, and a new nature to discern.
Culture Isn't Neutral
Culture itself isn't neutral. We can judge it. Raymond Williams in The Society of Culture says that culture is a "signifying system through which . . . . a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored. . . ." (p. 13, emphasis his). Human action is meaning based. We have a wink and twitch of the eye and we know the difference. Clifford Geertz defines culture as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life" (The Interpretation of Cultures, p. 89). Leslie Newbigin writes (Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, p. 3):
Central to culture is language. The language of a people provides the means by which they express their way of perceiving things and of coping with them. Around that center one would have to group their visual and musical arts, their technologies, their law, and their social and political organization.
Since culture transmits meaning, the meaning can and should be judged. Not all meaning pleases God.
We get the superior standard for judgment from the revelation of God in creation, in the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, as manifested in ages of conviction about absolutes, truth, virtue, and beauty. Based on scriptural criteria, we decide that Thomas Jefferson is a more significant thinker than a headhunter from Borneo or than Bruce Springsteen. T. S. Eliot in sorting through these things in 1948 put down this vital thought in his Notes Toward the Definition of Culture:
The important question that we can ask is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilization with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own.
We know the nature of God through the Bible, so we know perfection. We see His creation, so we know His standard. Our art, music, and literature should reflect His nature as manifested through His special and general revelation. Without the higher purpose of God, men are Eliot's Hollow Men wandering the earth aimlessly, ending in a whimper.
The Enablers of the Slide
David Wells writes in God in the Wasteland (p. 35):
It is ironic that there are those in the church who view culture as mostly neutral and mostly harmless, even though they have a compelling Christian reason to think otherwise, while there are those in society who recognize that culture is laden with values, many of which are injurious to human well-being, even though they have no compelling religious or ideological reason to come to this conclusion.
Concerning his own take on culture, he says in No Place for Truth (p. 11):
Yet I would be remiss if I failed to point out that while the angle from which I approach culture may be commonplace among some of its interpreters, it is not common among evangelicals. Evangelicals are antimodern only across a narrow front; I write from a position that is antimodern across the entire front. It is only where assumptions in culture directly and obviously contradict articles of faith that most evangelicals become aroused and rise up to battle "secular humanism"; aside from these specific matters, they tend to view culture as neutral and harmless. More than that, they often view culture as a partner amenable to bein coopted in the cause of celebrating Christian truth. I cannot share that naivete; indeed, I consider it dangerous. Culture is laden with values, many of which work to rearrange the substance of faith, even when they are mediated to us through teh benefits that the modern world also bestows upon us.
Wells, in my opinion, falls short in telling us exactly what he's talking about. I think he leaves that for us to figure out on our own. From all the rest of his books, I believe it is safe to say that he does refer to music, art, technology, and all the ways meaning is conveyed in a civilization. I'm guessing that he leaves out the details, so he can stay in good favor in evangelical circles. If it really is as serious as he says, he should give specific examples of what he is talking about. Wells is one of the few evangelicals to say anything about these things, but then he does the great disservice of continuing his cozy relationships with major violators.
I'm going to name a few who have aided the slide: Rick Warren, John Piper, Ron Hamilton, Joel Osteen, Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, and Jack Schaap, not necessarily in that order, and in no way is that list all-inclusive. Some are far worse than others, but they're all a part. Evangelicals, including almost all fundamentalists, have caved on the culture. Many of them hate what they see happening, but they are actually enablers of the cultural downfall.
A ravine separates one culture, God's, from all the others, which really are all one culture, the world's. Richard Lints writes in The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (p. 104): "It is easy to think of culture in the abstract, as if it were some entity far removed from the concrete life of ordinary people." It isn't. Culture contains the symbols by which we understand meaning. The world had rebelled against God. The church has accepted it, even welcomed it into the church with its self-centered shallowness.
Next time I'm going to talk about this has happened and then continues.