Straining for the redemptive while swallowing the world

I hear folks say all the time that the reason they watch, listen, read, and become spectators of modern cultural trash is that they are looking for redemptive meaning for the sake of being “all things to all men.” You’ve no doubt have heard this as well. The common defense is that “well, God can use anything He so chooses to bring glory to Himself” to which I respond with a hearty “AMEN!”. After all is that not what lies at the root of passages like Isaiah 46:11 and Romans 8:28? But therein lies the rub that so many in this larger discussion seem to miss. It is not up to us to redeem garbage and call wickedness “good” or even worse “redemptive.” The one bringing about the action in Romans 8:28 is God. I simply raise the point that much of what takes place in the name of “redeeming culture” could actually be a form of incipient worldliness that has infected us in ways we can only begin to imagine and I for one am not immune to this deception either. As usual there is someone else who has communicated this point far better than I ever will. Flannery O’Conner in her Mystery and Manners said the following:

“We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.”

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Pixley on June 30, 2007 at 12:20 am


    This is an excellent observation and one I find timely as I’m preaching this Sunday on 2 John 2:15-17, “Not Loving the World.”

  2. Posted by Mike Jarvis on June 30, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Well said, Paul. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Posted by wulffenstein on June 30, 2007 at 2:08 am

    Paul –

    I have to be honest that I find it a little funny and ironic that you quoted a Catholic writer who frequently satirized salvation by faith alone to make a point about finding redemptive analogies. (BTW: This isn’t meant as a dig – I just find it funny)

  4. Andy, even a great mind like you should know that a broken clock is right twice a day. I’m glad to know you’re such a diligent student of O’Conner.

  5. I guess my concern here is the danger of reductionism, in which we end up falling off the other side of the horse and retreating into cultural isolation. That certainly appears to be the case in more than a few churches and Christian movements.

    The challenge for individuals and entire congregations is to do ‘everyday theology’ and at least work to evaluate culture on the basis of what is laudable, reprehensible and ‘questionable’. There are obviously things in our world we should commend, others which we must absolutely condemn and those elements which we have the opportunity to redeem and renew.

    Involved in all of this are at least two challenges – first, is the danger of evaluating culture on the basis of our subjective evaluation – for all of our talk about objective truth in Reformed circles, we are no less immune to subjective distoration than some of our other brethren. The second challenge, which dovetails with the first, is the need for individuals to not merely trust their own personal intution but to work out a cultural theology with others in our churches on the basis of the Scriptures.

    That might sound like I’m disagreeing with you, Paul, but I don’t think I am. Maybe just adding a ‘yeah, but’ to the process.

  6. Matt,
    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think I’m tracking with you all the way. Personally I don’t run in circles which call for “cultural isolation” but I know such temptations are out there though I think they’re in the minority. Most of the folks I know, including myself, struggle with loving the world at times. Anyone who says he doesn’t probably struggles with lying as well.

    Herein, Matt, is the sticky wicket. A lot of what I read and hear that calls for cultural engagement from a Christian reference point really isn’t (i.e, engagement). I could even raise the point that the most to-the-point-passage on this in Scripture is often ignored in such discussions (1 John 3:15-24).

    So if I take your advice which I think is on the right track (though I may need more detail) that “we should work out a cultural theology with others in our churches on the basis of Scripture” then we have to ask what this looks like.
    Therefore we can’t just easily dismiss the Apostle’s teaching that says, “do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

    We also have to give more consideration to Paul’s admonition to “not be conformed to this world.” If we’re honest, a lot of what is going on in the name of “contextualization” is really conformity to the world.

    I think we can learn a great deal from theologs like David Wells and the late Francis Schaeffer who saw and see the importance of being light in the world yet maintaining our inherent saltiness. Thanks again for your comments.

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