Christ, Culture, and College Students – A Reformed Perspective (Pt. 2)

Last time I had said that “if we do not allow our theory to move into praxis then we have failed to perform the proper task of theology (orthopraxy).” This blog series aims at orthpraxy. Today we look at the first of four theological concepts regarding Christ and Culture and we will see how it affects the way college ministry is done. Lets talk about culture and the cultural mandate.

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Culture and the Cultural Mandate

            So there are a bunch of different definitions of culture. Some of these definitions emphasize a view of culture as being “high culture.” These types of definitions spring from the concept of something being “cultural” if it represents the crowning achievements of a particular culture. For instance we could think of “high culture” as being cultural products like poetry, Shakespeare, classical music, fine wines, art, etc. Under this view the things that would not be culture are pop music, blockbuster movies, cheep beer, or action films because these are the “base” things of culture. However this way of understanding culture doesn’t do much work for us theologically. We need to focus on a more substantive understanding of culture. In Christ and Culture Revisited D.A. Carson offered several substantive definitions of culture that were put forward by various anthropologists. For instance Robert Redfield defines culture as “shared understandings mad manifest in act and artifact.”[1] Clifford Geertz says that “the culture concept…denotes an historically transmitted patter of meanings embodied in symbols…which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life.”[2] However the definition of culture that I find most helpful is Andy Crouch’s definition (Its SUPER easy to remember). Crouch says that “culture is what we make of the world.”[3] My own understanding of culture has been shaped by this definition. In this definition Crouch intends to communicate that human beings are creative. Human beings create artifacts, they create meanings regarding those artifact, and they create meanings regarding the world around them. So for Crouch “what we make of the world” could be understood in two senses: creating artifacts and making interpretations.

Crouch grounds this creative task in what has often been called the “cultural mandate.” Richard Mouw presents a basic but informative understanding of what the “cultural mandate” is. Mouw notes that in Genesis God commands humanity to fill the earth and subdue it, Mouw understands this as a command to create culture. Mouw says that God appointed humanity to be stewards over the earth’s resources. Humanity was supposed to take these resources and fill the earthy with God’s glory. Humans were to do this through their “interactions with nature and with each other.”[4] They were also supposed to bring order to the garden and introduce “schemes for managing” it.[5] In doing this humans would be adding to what God created. They would be creating culture; they would be creating new artifacts and new ways of organizing and understanding the world around them. This understanding of the “cultural mandate” is in line with Crouch’s definition of culture; Crouch emphasizes that humans are essentially creative (since all humans are embedded in culture) and Mouw emphasizes that creating culture is a part of what God intended for humanity. These two things are especially relevant for college students that I am working with. If we take seriously that engaging in culture and creating culture is part of what it means to be fully human then this must affect the way we minister to these college students.

There are various ways that this understanding of culture and the cultural mandate will affect a college ministry. I believe that since creating culture is an essential part of flourishing as a human we should take steps to help encourage students to engage creatively with culture. This might be as simple as encouraging students to create cultural artifacts like music or art. Another way that I could do that is by encouraging them to create systems and structures for our ministry or to create new initiatives for ministry. For instance if some students want to reach out and help the foreign students at our local college campus they are engaging with culture creatively by creating a new way to help fellow human being engage in community. A third way that we could help students do this is by helping them form new interpretations of the world. Since creating culture involves creating new meanings for the world around them, I could help resource them to do that. This might take the form of challenging them to think differently, giving them books to read from people outside of our tradition, or helping them process through cross-cultural experiences. These are only a few ways to help them engage in culture and fulfill the cultural mandate. However before the students begin to do this it would be helpful for them to understand some of the areas of culture God desires to transform.

Next time we will take a look at how culture is transformed….

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[1] D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 2.

[2] D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, 2.

[3] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 23.

[4] Richard Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 35.

[5] Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, 35.

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