Cultual Apologetics: Approaches to Culture

When most believers think of apologetics, they tend to think of historical and philosophical defenses of the Christian faith against attacks by unbelievers. And so it is. But there are other aspects to apologetics. One of the most fascinating to me personally is the area of cultural apologetics. Many Christians have never heard of cultural apologetics or seen it demonstrated, partly because they have been taught an anemic approach to cultural. They have been taught that all cultural expressions produced by unbelievers (except classical music and high art) are rife with worldliness, dangerous, and totally worthless.

One of the reasons this is an attractive approach to culture is that for the average Christian, no thinking is required. The commendations or condemnations of a particular cultural expression (TV show, novel, song, etc.) come down from above, and the dutiful believer simply adds the item in question to his list of approved or forbidden activities. No need for the individual to discern or to concede that the expression may fall into the category of Christian liberty, where two godly brothers may disagree on its benefit to them (Rom. 14:5).

This approach to cultural, however, is, as I said, anemic. I have found that it breeds over-sensitive consciences and secret lives. Because no good or biblical reasons are given for the approval/disapproval, the compliant obey the edict and the defiant consume it in secret anyway. The person in the pew starts to feel guilty about almost any engagement with activities in this world. And because the list of taboos is so arbitrary, equally zealous groups practicing almost identical restrictions are separated from, because they aren’t exactly identical. This breeds pride of place and irrational “convictions” against all kinds of activities about which the Bible does not speak. All in all, this approach to culture damns its followers to a continual state of guilt, confusion, and conceit. And it reeks of legalism.

A better approach to culture is based on serious theology. It recognizes that although the image of God in man has been defaced by the fall, it is not entirely erased. In addition, God has implanted a knowledge of Himself in every person that is clear and plain (Rom. 1:18-21). As a result, while the unbeliever seeks to suppress the truth of God, he can never fully do so. The truth of God leaks out, even when he is actively trying to quash it. When he lets up in his suppression of the truth, even for a moment, the truth of God bursts forth from the darkness of deceit and rebellion, like the sun after a violent thunderstorm. This is known as common grace—God’s restraint of sin in the unbeliever and bestowal of gifts for the common good.

In Part 3 we will explore the nature of common grace as an explanation for how unbelievers can produce works of culture that have value for a Christian. The notion of common grace provides a robust alternative to the weak and unsatisfying idea that Christians should only enjoy culture that is explicitly Christian.

About Mark Farnham
Professor of Apologetics and Director of the Pre-Seminary Major at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church ( PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

2 Responses to Cultual Apologetics: Approaches to Culture

  1. Pingback: What I Read Online – 07/24/2012 (a.m.) | Emeth Aletheia

  2. liveandlaughwithjesus says:

    I really like the thought and detail of the posts you put up, so I wanted to nominate you for a Very Inspiring Blog award. You can see the shoutout, details, etc, on my post right here:

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