Jesus wed mission and message together seamlessly, proclaiming the kingdom that had come while healing the leper and feeding the hungry. He mandated concern for the widow and orphan, the homeless and naked, the imprisoned and hungry while speaking of the bread of life and a home in heaven. In other words, we should have been nailing this all along.
But what is it we are after with cause? If we are attempting to be counter-cultural agents of change through the creation of the common good, what is the common good? Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today magazine, has written that our goal is not cultural transformation as much as it is personal obedience and service. As has often been noted, neither Jesus nor Paul seemed particularly concerned about addressing the immediate and most obvious (to the people of that day) cultural challenges of the Roman Empire. Jesus did not seem as interested in altering that kingdom as much as he was in ushering in an altogether new one; and when questioned, he as much as told Pilate exactly that. We know we are to be witnesses; we are to make disciples; we are to do justice, love mercy, feed the hungry, and care for the widow and orphan. This is obviously far from pursuing a privatized faith. We know we are called to be present in culture as salt. That, of course, can and often should lead to transformation—but more to the point, it can lead to renewal.3 But what does renewal mean?
Andy Crouch, in his book Culture Making, refers to it as the title suggests: the practice of making culture, drawing on the biblical ideas of creation and cultivation.4 Too often, he writes, we have settled for condemning, critiquing, copying, or consuming culture. All have their place, but they pale in comparison to the deeper ideas of creation and cultivation. Sociologist James Davison Hunter argues similarly, maintaining that cultural transformation only occurs through cultural renewal, such as “compelling artistic and intellectual works produced by a movement of cultural visionaries and the networks they build.” Once such visionaries gain a foothold in society, their words galvanize a culture.5 Our tools for such an effort have never changed: prayer, evangelism, example, argument, action, and suffering.6
But again, the dilemma is that we too often do not know what making culture is supposed to make. We know to act, but where? We are willing to suffer, but for which cause? We are to embody faith, hope, and love, but to what end? As T. S. Eliot notes, “It is not enough simply to see the evil and injustice and suffering of this world, and precipitate oneself into action. What we must know, what only theology can tell us, is why these things are wrong. Otherwise, we may right some wrongs at the cost of creating new ones.”7 So what is the cultural target on the wall? Yes, God’s kingdom, but what does the reign of that kingdom entail?
What actually constitutes kingdom culture? Truth, goodness, and beauty have been called the three fundamental values because the worth of anything can be exhaustively judged by reference to these three standards. Everything that is is related to whether it is true or false, good or evil, beautiful or ugly. Truth, goodness, and beauty constitute what it is that we are trying to achieve through our efforts to renew this culture as followers of Christ. But that simply begs the question: What are the true, the good, and the beautiful?
James Emery White, Rise of the Nones, the: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).