Mike Horton has been invited to participate in two conversations leading up to the Lausanne global conference on evangelism in Cape Town this summer. The first of these conversations (part of the “12 Cities, 12 Conversations” campaign) is tonight in Pasadena at Fuller Theological Seminary. The topic is “Culture Making: The Role of Christians in the World Today.”
Mike’s newest book (as yet untitled but part of his Christless Christianity and Gospel Driven Life series) takes on the issue of the relationship between Christians and culture. We’re posting a small snippet of the book below. You’ll also find links to other White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation resources to stimulate your own thinking about Christ and culture.
There are two extremes in contemporary Christian interpretations of the kingdom. One extreme is to say that the kingdom is not present at all, but is an entirely future (millennial) reality. In this future millennial kingdom the purpose is not only to dispense Christ’s gifts, which he has already won by his own trial, but “is the final form of moral testing.” The other extreme is to say that it is present in its all-encompassing form, transforming the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ. In this perspective, the main calling of Christians and churches is to redeem the culture and extend Christ’s kingdom over politics, the arts, entertainment, sports, economics, law, and every other aspect of public and private life. We’ve gone from “soul-winning-and-waiting-for-the-Rapture” to “kingdom transformation” in the blink of an eye.
The Great Commission is given to the church for this time between his first and second comings. It is an intermission, between his accomplishment of redemption and his return to consummate its blessings. However, this intermission isn’t a time for loitering in the lobby as consumers; it is a time of joyful activity on behalf of our neighbors: loving and serving them through our witness to Christ and also through our daily callings in the world.
This Great Commission is not the cultural mandate—the original commission to be fruitful and to multiply, ruling creation as God’s viceroys. That is the covenant of creation, in which worship and cultural labors were fused in a vocation whose goal was nothing less than bringing all of creation into the everlasting Sabbath rest. It was this covenant that was renewed as God took Israel to himself as a chosen nation. “But like Adam they transgressed my covenant…” (Hos 6:7). So once again, God cast his people out of his sanctuary, “east of Eden,” into captivity, where they languished in hope for the coming Redeemer promised through the prophets even in the people’s dire distress. Nevertheless, God again promised the coming seed who would bring salvation to the ends of the earth. It would be a new covenant, greater than the covenant that Israel swore at Mount Sinai.
The march toward the kingdom continued, even though its typological sign—the land and the Temple—lay in ruins. The land of Israel was no longer holy, but common. The Spirit had evacuated the Temple and Judah joined its northern sister in exile. Yet even in Babylonian captivity, the people received the letter from the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD (Jer 29:4-9).
Living like our exiled parents (Adam and Eve), “east of Eden,” the children of Judah are to participate in the common life—its burdens and joys—of the secular city. They find their welfare in the city’s welfare and are therefore to pray for the commonwealth. Yet they are also to increase the size of the covenant community during this period and the greatest threat is not persecution by the ungodly, but the internal deceptions of unauthorized prophets. (As we will see, this is precisely the situation of the new covenant church in its exile and Jeremiah’s exhortations bear striking resemblance to those of the apostles in their letters.)
Although a remnant returned to Jerusalem and sought to rebuild the walls and rededicate itself to the covenant they made with God at Sinai, they realized that they were still in exile. Ruled by a series of oppressive Gentile regimes, punctuated by false messiahs and attempts to bring in the kingdom by force, the City of Peace was in perpetual turmoil. It was into this scene that John the Baptist stepped as the forerunner of the Messiah.
It is this new covenant that forms the basis for the Great Commission: a holy task of bringing the Good News to the world. It is an unshakable kingdom—incapable of being thwarted by our own unfaithfulness—precisely because it is not a kingdom that we are building, but one that we are receiving (Heb 12:28). It is God’s work. Everything that we will be exploring in the rest of this book presupposes the view of the kingdom that is summarized here.
- The current White Horse Inn series is exploring the topic, “The Kingdom of God”
- The October 18, 2009 broadcast featured an interview with journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto on the topic, “Christianity and Secular Culture”
- The September 20, 2009 broadcast featured an interview with author Ken Myers on the topic, “Christianity and Popular Culture”
- Read the January/February 2009 issue of Modern Reformation, “Christ in a Post-Christian Culture,” which includes articles on the Christian’s calling in a post-Christian world
- Read the May/June 199 issue of Modern Reformation magazine that takes up the big ideas of calling and vocation