A theologically-driven approach to culture (1/3)


Jonny Woodrow is a Faculty Member of Crosslands and Lead Pastor of The Crowded House church Loughborough.  In this three-part series, he first explores a theologically-driven approach to culture, then how this is informed by the uniqueness of Christ and finally how we should respond.

Three sources of opposition

As we seek to plant churches that proclaim the gospel in Europe and the 10:40 window, we face opposition from at least three worldviews; secularism, moral relativism and Islam in its various forms. Secularism drives faith and the gospel from public life. Moral relativism hears the gospel as an oppressive curb to personal freedom. Islam claims to uphold a monotheistic worldview but denies all the central claims of the Christian faith (e.g. the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus, original sin, justification by faith).

We face three different sources of opposition all in tension with one another. The secular drive to remove private opinion and faith from public life can’t cope with a radical moral relativism. Britain, where I live, has been seeking to define ‘British values’ that everyone can agree to; but moral relativism erodes any commonly-held values or moral standards, making this an impossible task. Islam is neither relativist nor secularist given its origins as a religio-political system of life.

How should Christians respond? How do we begin to make sense of these worldviews that oppose the gospel? In these three short blogs we want to illustrate an approach to the gospel and culture by running with one simple idea.

First, start with God and his nature

The approach runs like this: God’s word addresses culture as a human activity. God’s word puts human worldviews and cultural practices in their place.  Webster says:

What it means to be human can only be grasped in its full scope and integrity on the basis of a depiction of the gracious work of God, Father, Son and Spirit, in his saving self-communication with us*.

This means that the context within which to understand humanity and cultural activity, is the activity of God in creation, redemption and perfecting his creatures.

The explanatory sequence runs thus: First start with God and his nature. Then his works and purposes in creation, redemption and perfection of the creature. Only then should we consider humans and our activities (both intellectual and cultural) in rebellion against him or in covenantal relationship with him.

The chain of understanding doesn’t run in the opposite direction. Culture and worldviews do not and cannot provide the key grid-references of meaning for the revelation of God. Theology is the practice of hearing, in the right sequence, what God says about himself, his works and the nature of human activity (including culture making and worldview creation). Therefore, the practice of theology, properly understood, always points back to the nature of God in Christ and is directed toward the interpretation of human activity and cultural interpretation.  

All alternative worldviews will be united in their rejection of God of the Bible. We know this because God’s word tells us that all peoples everywhere, since the fall, have repressed the knowledge of the true God (Romans 1:18-23). Therefore, viewed through the lens of God’s self-revelation to us and his revelation about us, we should be able to see common elements across worldviews. In the next paragraphs, we will explore one common element in each of the three worldviews under consideration: the denial of the deity of Christ. This is a self-evidently theological reading of culture but it illustrates the explanatory power of a theologically-driven approach to culture.

Denial of the deity of Christ

Secularism, moral relativism and Islam (in all its forms) are united in one thing. They all deny the deity of Christ and all affirm Jesus’ humanity. In his place, they all elevate various aspects of humanity to the category of ultimate source or guide for truth and morality.  This leads to legalism and license.  The result: they ultimately undermine our humanity.  And by denying the deity of Christ they also undermine his humanity and his design for humanity.

Therefore, the argument we will sketch from theology to practice runs like this:

1) Jesus Christ is God with us. He is one person with two natures: the divine nature and the human nature united in one person without separation, confusion, or conversion.

2) The hypostatic union of the two natures in the one person Christ, makes him uniquely qualified to reveal God to us, reconcile us to God and rule over us as the Christ of God.

3)  Churches which cling to the person and work of the God-Man, will increasingly shine against the back drop of secularism, relativism and Islam as communities of truth, moral certainty and human flourishing in a dark world of moral confusion and corruption at the hands of both legalism and license in Europe.

In the next blog, we will outline points 1 and 2 in more detail.

* John Webster, ‘The Human Person’ in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 200

Tom Olyott