This last installment of a Carson summary finishes “Disputed Agendas & Frustrated Utopias.” After speaking of some more sweeping paradigms yesterday, Carson now moves to a less ambitious perspective.
This view recognizes culture as a storm that we cannot affect, but we help individuals who are being battered by the storm. There is some wisdom that culture cannot ultimately be redeemed until the new heavens and the new earth, but there is surely some temporal good we can do. For example, we can do more to abolish slavery than just rescue individual slaves – or cure diseases, not just individual sufferers. And, Christians can help create culture to make a better world that is passed on to the next generation for the common good.
Carson gives initial praise to Craig Carter’s Rethinking Christ and Culture and it operates from a post-Christendom perspective. The dividing line for Carter regarding Christendom or post-Christendom is pacifism. The latter are the approved post-Christendom models. The strength of this model is that it discusses what Christians and the Christian community should do, but Carson ultimately has little use for it due to the arbitrary dividing line of pacifism (equating the Crusades with WWII, for instance, as both morally indefensible) and it is ultimately reductionistic.
Finally, persecution is a painful reality in the world and, when it is extensive and exhaustive, the blood of martyrs is not the seed of the church. It can be stamped out when the persecution is particularly intense (e.g., Turkmenistan). Persecuted Christians don’t often see themselves as part of the culture, but “other.” However, while some flee for freedom, others stay to try to bring about change. Carson offers that options on how the church should engage in culture are not given to everyone and we must humbly learn from those who are in much more difficult circumstances than most of us find ourselves in.
As useful as all these paradigms and grids may be, culture changes within a generation or two and it must constantly be rebuilt and re-thought.
There is a tension between “This is My Father’s World” and “This World is Not My Home” (in Michael Horton’s words). Both are too reductionistic – as are most options. We need to keep the turning points of biblical theology and flex with regard to how we engage with culture rather than canonizing inflexible paradigms.
Carson’s final words serve as a good summary for his study: “…we will live in the tension of claiming every square inch for King Jesus, even while we know full well that the consummation is not yet, that we walk by faith and not by sight, and that the weapons with which we fight are not the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4)” (p. 228).