A Biblical Theology of Culture
“Cultural engagement is the human response to the divine call to enjoy and develop the world that God has generously given to his image bearers. Culture includes the symbols, the tools, the conventions, the social ties, and all else contributing to this call. Cultural activity occurs in a historical setting, and is meant to improve the human condition. Because of the fall, culture can and has become sinister. Christ’s redeeming grace moves culture in the right direction, ennobles it, and allows it to extend the realm of God’s shalom, his goodness, his justice, his love.”
This is the single best book that I have read on the cultural mandate. I recommend it over and above both Maximum Life and Creation Regained. In its balanced blend of accessibility and thoroughness it trumps both. Edgar is mind-blowingly well read, reflected in his eye-watering bibliography and mastery over a broad horizon of fields. He is a biblical scholar, cultural critic and professor of apologetics at Westminster seminary. In Created and Creating, it shows. I do not think it is too grand a claim to say that Edgar does everything well in this book.
Edgar’s discussion of the cultural mandate (as summarised in the passage quoted above) is comprehensive. In a long chapter he begins by addressing cultural studies before plunging into his biblical analysis. His handling of Scripture (which the book is submerged in) is excellent; he is careful, reverent, and demonstrates a rare expertise in entwining academic rigour with clear accessibility. That being said, the book takes both time and patience to read properly. If one is after quick answers to questions of culture, one will not find them here. And, on reflection, I am not convinced that one will find them anywhere. Although lengthy, I do not think it could have been shorter; superbly written and measured, Created and Creating remains seriously interesting throughout and dodges irrelevant bogs.
Further features to be lauded include a pleasing honesty and disinterest in speculation when it comes to reflecting on what continues into the New Creation, and an inarguable demonstration that a wide reading of non-Christian sources can help our own understanding. Probably its best feature is diligence in dealing deliberately with passages of Scripture that seemingly threaten Edgar’s position. 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18, 2nd Peter 3:10 and James 4:4 are prima facie examples of this. He is unafraid to take them, passage by passage, and explain why they are not problematic to him. So often an absence of dealing with opponent’s strongest arguments hamstrings books like this. Authors write past one another.
In Created and Creating, and other books advocating similar views, there is an emphasis that sin is the problem, not the universe; the creation was good and it remains good. As Schaeffer put it, the fall was ethical rather than metaphysical. But is this true? When I examine the curse of Genesis 3, I cannot help but notice that God curses the ground, and if he curses the ground, is not the creation itself cursed at the fall? Is this not where natural disasters emerge from? I am not sure how significant this point is, or whether (and far more likely) I have missed something. Another tentative point; I wonder what the pragmatic difference is between those who champion Edgar’s theology and those that disagree. One sister describes her action as fulfilling the cultural mandate, one brother describes the same action as a matter of godliness. I would not be so hasty as to call the debate a verbal dispute, and this point is wildly simplistic, but still…
Regardless, if one is looking for a book on the theology of culture, creation, work, the fall, the infamous sacred/secular divide or indeed if one is looking for a commentary on Colossians 1:15-20, I cannot see a book topping Created and Creating in the near future.