The Irrelevance of Culture

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“Culture? The irrelevance of it!”[1]

If you are like me the idea that culture is irrelevant is ridiculous and goes against your understanding of our humanity and Christianity. We love Lewis, but considering the deep impact his life and writings have had on Western culture his statement is surprising. He’s way off here!

In recent years there has been a large push from the Evangelical world to become culture-makers and “sub-creators.” As Christians we believe we’re created in the image of God with the cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). This includes more than having babies and keeping plants and animals in check. It includes using all the talents and gifts God has given us for His glory. It includes music, literature and drama, fashion, politics, taking care of the environment, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Christians who take the Bible seriously it doesn’t get more relevant than culture. Yet, as Christ-followers, why don’t we see a greater impact on culture? Why is it that so often we are trying to keep up or catch up with the culture around us? We want to dramatically influence culture for the kingdom and glory of God (and in many ways we are), yet we often we seem to miss the mark.

This has led me to start asking questions. As a follower of Christ, am I to pursue impacting culture for Christ? Or am I to pursue Christ which will inevitably impact culture? It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference. And I think it’s a significant one. I can’t help contemplating the idea that as Christians we’re not experiencing the influence we long for because we’re focusing on the influence itself. How does the world perceive us? Do they see us as relevant? Are we speaking their language? Do they get us, find us attractive, or want to imitate us? These are all good questions that we need to take seriously and work through. But is it the right place to start?

Regarding culture Lewis also said,

“True culture comes from genuine, spontaneous, un-sought after enjoyment of something.” [2]

In other words, true culture comes from who you are, not what you do. I would suggest that he was right and take it one step further. As a Christian, true cultural impact comes not from seeking to impact culture but from genuine enjoyment of SOMEONE, namely Jesus. If we are not having the impact we long for, does it indicate the depth of our love for God Himself? When I look at history, the greatest impact Christians have had on culture and the world (this includes Lewis) has been from those who were not seeking cultural influence. They had an awe-inspiring love for their Savior which they longed to share with others. With the Psalmist their souls hungered and thirsted for God. They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. Their cry was,

“My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.”[3]

Their consuming love for God poured out into all they did. It influenced art, science, politics, justice, and life both at home and abroad. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe culture in and of itself is irrelevant. Just as culture is the outward manifestation of our inner longings and character, maybe the Christian’s impact on culture also comes from within. Maybe if my consuming goal was “God himself” I’d start to see the cultural transformation I rightly long for.

Note: For the first posting of this blog, visit Park Community Church

[1] Lewis quote taken from his essay “Lilies that Fester” in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays

[2] Ibid

[3] Quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest