'Culture is', as Archbishop Derek Worlock, once remarked, 'the way we do things round here.' It has to do with the way that key ideas shape us and inform our habits. So culture also includes the conversations we have about the books we read and the TV and films that we watch, as well as the books, programmes and movies themselves.
It includes the way we organise our time, the work that we do, the way that we do it and the places in which we do it. It includes our politics - why we think one party is more deserving of our vote than another, or our perception that it's not worth voting at all. It includes our rest and our play - the leisure activities we choose, and the reasons why we choose them. And it includes our churches - the way our church does things will be different than the way the church down the road does things.
In short, culture is unavoidable. So all pervasive is its influence that it's been likened to the air that we breathe. To continue with that metaphor, sometimes it can seem that our cultural air is somewhat polluted, and we can be tempted to withdraw to the relative safety of our churches. But that's not the way Jesus wants it. We read in John's Gospel that he prayed this to his Father about his disciples: 'My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world' (John 17:15-18).
Jesus wants us to breathe the 'common air' of the cultures in which he has placed us. By living like him, in the world but not of the world, Jesus wants our everyday lives to lace our cultures with his fragrance, making the 'cultural air' easier for everyone to breathe and our quality of life altogether closer to the fullness that he intended.
Does that sound too grand? Well here's the thing - it can take no more than a conversation to begin to effect such transformation. The example of Christ himself proves it. Talking with the dejected travellers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), he listens to their despair and then opens their eyes to the interpretation of the events of their culture from God's perspective, setting their hearts on fire, filling them with new vibrancy and hope.
And of course, the very fact that Jesus - as a man living in first century Palestine, wearing clothes, sharing meals, learning a trade, interacting with people - could join the two travellers on the physical road at all is down to the miracle of the incarnation. In Christ, God came among us - into the midst of a human culture, in which he had to wrestle with the tension of allowing God to shape him in his image in the mist of the shaping forces of culture. This Christ is the one who reveals God to us, and whose Spirit transforms us even as we live in our culture.
And he wants us to be like him - for our lives to be soaked in God's Word and lived in God's world, in order that we might be agents of transformation in our culture just as he was in his.
The articles and resources on this website are provided to help you engage in such a way with the culture in which God has placed you. Welcome to the world of culture at LICC.
Lecturer in Contemporary Culture