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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Engaging the What? (V)

Culture in the Broadest Sense

In his Stone Lectureship series at Princeton, Herman Bavinck pointed out that “Culture in the broadest sense…includes all the labor which human power expends on nature.”[1] In this sense, all of us participate in “engaging culture.” But Bavinck continues and qualifies his remarks in this manner: “But this nature is twofold: it includes not only the whole visible world of phenomena which is outside man, but also, in a wider sense, man himself; not his body alone, but his soul also.”[2] This being the case, David Wells comments that “the issue that has emerged…is whether evangelicals will build their churches sola Scriptura or sola cultura.”[3] That is to say, we can get so caught up in dealing with, engaging “the culture” as an objective entity containing art, music, literature, TV, movies, and the like, that we forget or neglect the ideational view of culture.

Wells’ question is all the more pressing in light of what he chronicles about the modern evangelical church abandoning biblical truth for other, edgier accoutrements such as drama and liturgical dance. Why has this phenomenon occurred in modern Christianity? No doubt, there are a number of valid reasons, but Wells puts his finger on the pulse when he asserts, “But the largest factor in this internal change, I think, was that evangelicalism began to be infested by the culture in which it was living.”[4] It will be interesting to watch what transpires in the next while as our country and its economy go through some very difficult times. I say this because I’m convinced that the type of theology that has been prevalent in the United States since at least the mid-1970s can best be described as “soft.”

Along with the loss of masculinity among men in general, there has been a concomitant loss of masculine Christianity as well. I suppose we can blame part of it on feminism and political correctness, but in the final analysis the fault is ours. Far too many Christian leaders have been unwilling to stand in the gap for their respective congregations and have allowed a flood of unbiblical nonsense and claptrap to deluge their local congregations. Unwilling to stem the tide of a wide variety of unbiblical ideas and ideologies, they opened the spigots failing to realize that once you do that you cannot tell the water where to go.

Thinking that culture was something only external, the soul of the Christian and non-Christian alike was neglected. It was deemed chic to be acquainted with Renoir, van Gogh, and the one artist we insist on calling by his first name: Rembrandt (van Rijn), and we failed to take the spiritual dimensions of culture into account. It is one thing to know who these artists are, who Telemann, Corelli, Tartini, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Miles Davis are, but it is quite another thing to acknowledge up front that “The faculties and powers which man possesses have not been acquired by him, but are given to him by God; they are a gift of nature, and these gifts are a means for cultivating the external world, as well as an object which must be cultivated.”[5]

In other words, there are two great circles of culture. To the first circle “belong all those activities of man for the production and distribution of material goods, such as agriculture, cattle-rearing, industry, and trade.”[6] By and large, in the 21st century engagement of culture, the production and distribution aspect has been neglected. If, for example, pastors are concerned to “engage” the culture at this point, we might expect to find more writings on Presbyterian and Reformed social ethics and certainly a better and broader understanding of basic economic principles among those pastors. Unfortunately, few possess such understanding.

The second “circle” gets the lion’s share of the “engaging the culture” attention these days. It “includes all that labor whereby man realizes objectively his ideals of the true, the good, and the beautiful, by means of literature and science, justice and statecraft, works of beauty and art, and at the same time works out his own development and civilization.” While some truncated attempts are being made today in this area, it all seems so one-dimensional and stereotypic. If byFaith magazine is any indicator, church plants seem to believe that art exhibits, jazz quartets, and classical music will draw a crowd. Bavinck, on the other hand, wrote extensively on a much more comprehensive explanation of a biblical life and worldview.

In the recently translated work, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, the interested reader will find articles on “Christian Principles and Social Relationships,” “On Inequality,” “”Trends in Pedagogy,” “Of Beauty and Aesthetics,” and “Ethics and Politics,” just to mention the most salient.[7] That aside—but needing desperately to be addressed in our time—the questions that must be asked as we engage culture are: Whither culture? and What are our aims or goals as we engage culture and the culture despisers of Christianity?

Bavinck was convinced that “nobody can say whither modern culture will lead us; one can surmise, guess, speculate, but there is no certainty at all.”[8] There might be voices of criticism with a view to where modern culture is heading or taking us. Concerned voices might be raised about the immorality of modern culture and its relativism, existentialism, postmodernism, and nihilism, but precisely where it’s heading—and taking many Christians in its maelstrom—is at best a crap shoot. Sure, there are “trends” and sign posts along the way, but the journey can be a lot more dangerous than one might think initially. Pastors need to warm their congregations to be quite circumspect when it comes to dabbling in some facets of modern culture. The Hollywood sub-culture is highly ideological and the medium contains a clear message.

The second question has to do with what we intend by engaging our culture. Are we prepared to present Christianity’s cultured despisers with the unvarnished truth or would we prefer to soft pedal it, not wishing to offend their sensitivities? At what point, if any, are we prepared to tell them what Presbyterians believe? This does not mean that we should be cultural Philistines, but it does mean that when we engage the culture, we should hold to the concept of the “antithesis” vis-à-vis the pagan and Christian notion of culture.

If pastors are hot to trot to get their congregations to engage culture, there had better be some industrial strength training and “accompanied confrontation” to ensure that the Christian does not get absorbed into the culture and ends up calling him or herself a Christian all the while living and acting like a raw pagan. This can be done, of course, but one does have to wonder how much time this would take away from more important gospel considerations. In Bavinck’s day, he could ask, “Who, for example, defends the materialistic tone, the mammonism, the alcoholism, the prostitution so prevalent these days?”[9] Today, our answer could very well be: a number of people in Southern California, the majority of our politicians, along with a bevy of sundry actors, actresses, and hip-hop artists. Oh yeah, I left out the high school and college students.

Granted I’ve exaggerated somewhat, but the undeniable point is that we are not as adept as engaging the culture as we might think. There is a need for Christians to be more actively involved with culture and cultural matters, but there is also a danger in getting so involved in the culture that we end up looking, thinking, and acting like it. We certainly experienced that in the mega-church where the music tended to be purely secular with some sort of “Christian sauce” poured over it. It doesn’t make raucous music Christian by saying Jesus’ name every two or three words. By the same token, by having a jazz quartet play a Stan Getz selection prior to a worship service, by no means sanctifies the music.

In our next installment, we’ll follow Bavinck further as he clearly lays out what this involvement—or, to use the modern term, “engagement”—with culture is.

[1] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, (Henry Dosker; Nicholas Steffens; & Geerhardus Vos [trans.]), (Scarsdale, NY: Westminster Discount Book Service, n.d.), p. 249.

[2] Ibid.

[3] David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 4.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Bavinck, TPR, 249.

[6] Ibid., 250.

[7] Herman Bavinck, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, (Harry Boonstra & Gerrit Sheeres [trans.]), (John Bolt [ed.]), (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). This work is a translation of Bavinck’s Verzamelde Opstellen op het gebied van godsdients en wetenschap, (Kampen: Kok, 1921).

[8] Bavinck, TPR, 252.

[9] Ibid.



Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Whither is what my house plants do without enough water and h's. There are a couple of things that bother me about Bavinck and I can't really articulate them yet. He's off a notch. I'll get back to you Monday or Tuesday.

Have a great weekend.
Phil Perkins.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

You can get back to me on Bavinck and I'm always open to learn, but I have studied the man since 1975 and there is precious little I've found where he's off. In fact, I'd say next to Calvin and Bullinger, he's the best and safest theologian one can read.
Have a great weekend and blessed Sunday.

3:39 PM  
Blogger The Matriarch said...

Who's Tartini, a small sauteed veal cutlet? Regarding the whole slobbering obsession with culture, especially art,poetry and prose, I have often felt motivated to rev up my roto-tiller and roll it into the sanctuary to be mounted on the wall. Can you imagine Jesus walking into a modern church with a nail gun and a 35' tape measure. "I,ve come here to do my Father's will" as he covers over a stained glass window portraying himself with a sheet of plywood. He could just as easily have thrown a rock through it, but then he would have been condemned as an iconoclast and philistine, the former being the more serious of the two charges. Would the horrific drama of the crucifixion have been enhanced by all the Marys dancing pirouettes, arabesques, and performing 'the dying swan' routine at the foot of the cross? I reckon their ulalations and wailings sufficed. Alas,what does an unemployed gardener know about art? GAmullet

6:21 PM  
Blogger sister said...

"It doesn’t make raucous music Christian by saying Jesus’ name every two or three words."

It's an important distinction, too, that making music raucous does not necessarily make it un-Christian.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Unless raucous equates with disorderly, which then violates biblical truth. I always enjoyed the music of that famous Christian rock band, The Electric Cesspool. Didn't they do the initial version of "Jesus Was a Cool Dude?"

10:30 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Not surprisingly, you have no clue what the Reformed worldview is or how the Reformed notion of the regulative principle in worship differs from, say, the Lutheran. Reading Calvin would help you immensely.
Either apologize to Susan on the previous thread or you are permanently history. You have until Monday, Feb. 9th. Let's see where all your love talk takes you now.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Kenya Matters (admin.) said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Ron said...


A minimal search would reveal to you that your claim about Luther is a falsehood. But even if it was true, pointing to someone else's error as an excuse excuse for our own is nothing more than unwillingness to admit our own sins and repent. The blame game won't hold water when we sit in the Judgement Seat. But since some of your cohorts reject Resurrection and anything except the red letters, it's not much of a stretch to reject judgement. The longer I read what you and your friends write, the more convinced I am that your group worships a god of your manufacture, not the one, true God that reveals Himself in all of Scripture.

8:00 AM  
Blogger sister said...

"Unless raucous equates with disorderly, which then violates biblical truth.

You might be right about that. It seems to me, though, that there is little that is more orderly than four/four time. Four beats per bar. No more, no less. Very straightforward.

Maybe that's why (raucous) rock music remains so accessible, to so many people, so far past its expiry date? Because the rules are clear and simple? Or were we talking about Beethoven (how dare you take my ears?)? Or Handel (gotta be heard on the other side of the Thames)? Or Tchaikovsky (sweet pyro at the end of the overture,hunh?)?

Ps. I heard that the Cesspool stinks.

8:46 AM  
Blogger donsands said...

"..can best be described as “soft.”

Go along to get along. I would rather do this, for I'm a timid kind of Christian, and I do go along at times. But the Lord has His word burning in my belly, and it bursts forth at times, by His grace.

There are times I can take on 400 prophets of Baal, and then other times I flee from Jezzabel.

I pray the Body of Christ would become firm and bold, and turn from it's softness, and really cowardice. May the Lord be gracious to us in this dark and hard times.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

What you're doing to Randy is actually very good. It shows what the Emergents mean by "love". It really means "agree with me or shut up" in their world.

Phil Perkins.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Randy, but it did seem like he was kidding.


10:55 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

One thing I notice the more I consider it . . . in former days, art used to be something that would inspire and lift the spirit i.e. something that would be a thing of beauty in its creativity.

Nowadays, "art" seems designed to do nothing more than shock, offend, blaspheme or titillate. Andres Serrano is a good example of what I am talking about.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Interesting. So, what happened around Jericho (and yes, Randy, you misspelled it) is determinative about how we are to do music in the church.

That has to be the most fascinating exegesis I have ever seen.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

And by the way, Randaroo, notice the bass guitar in my hands (a Rickenbacker). I happen to know something about music. So educate me.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Kenya Matters (admin.) said...

Mr. Ron,
Your intention with Randy is to bar him because?

It's my understanding of Scripture that educated men such as yourself should always be willing to hear the voice of others no matter how wrong the may be.

Jesus spent time with all of the marginal people and marginal voices of his society. Yet, it seems that you are not willing to do anything of the sort.

Is it possible that your form of Christianity resembles little of the ways of Jesus Christ?

12:34 PM  
Blogger sister said...

Why do people always forget about how Jesus freaked out on the money changers in the temple? The way he locked horns with the Pharisees? etc.?

Mr. Kenya, Ron's demeanor is not unchristian: it's just distasteful.

However, he is, as you say, well educated.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Kenya Matters,
If this were the first time Randy had published a ridiculous post or had been rude, I could fully understand your comments. Unfortunately, Randy has a history of not sticking to the point, telling others to be loving and then belittling them, and just being obnoxious. After years of this, I'm weary of his antics and rantings. Enough is enough.

Distasteful? Wearing a brown thong with blue socks is distasteful. The rest is called biblically principled.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Jhonsun said...

He passes for "well educated"? How much education does it take to be a relativist?

6:23 PM  
Blogger Kenya Matters (admin.) said...

Can we be biblically principled if we don't leave room for others? Even if they don't agree, Jesus sitll invites them to the talbe. It's only those who don't come to the table who are turned away.

Or at least, that is how the great feast in the Bible is told to us by the Master.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Jhonsun said...

Pardon me Kenya, but if someone didn't agree with Jesus, they were wrong. Christ is merciful and longsuffering, but he never negotiates the truth. He actively corrected error during his encounters with Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Romans, and even his own disciples. His teachings in front of crowds were a repudiation of the prevailing, unbiblical views of the religious leaders among the Jews. The operative word there is not "religious" or "prevailing"(as if Jesus were merely anti-establishment)- the operative word there is "unbiblical".

As followers of Christ, our conversations, arguments, debates, etc. are to be guided by an objective interpretation of Scripture. Those who do not wish to be objective will try to find more mystical or subjective means of interpreting Scripture, but they do not honor Christ nor do they represent him (no matter what sort of "loving" facade they put on). They lead people into error and cause them to sin, something that Christ was very judgmental of (millstones around the neck anybody?).

The truth of scripture is meant to bring about a change in our conduct (by the power of the Holy Spirit) but it never "makes room" for error. Many scriptures clearly say this, but I think one will suffice:

2 Corinthians 10:1-6
Paul Defends His Ministry

1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—
2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

10:15 AM  
Blogger sister said...

"How much education does it take to be a relativist?"

It depends.

11:56 AM  
Blogger donsands said...

"Or at least, that is how the great feast in the Bible is told to us by the Master."

Oh how I long for the Day! However before the return of Christ, and the new Earth, where we shall sit at His table; all the different ethnic groups, and denominations, and nations--the redeemed of the Lord--, we need to deal with the small feasts.

"These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. ...These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; their mouths speak great swelling words,..." Jude 12-18

These false disciples and teachers are in the Church, and they may even say they love Jesus, and on and on.

Watch out for the false Christians. Jesus warned very often.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...


Thanks for the chuckle. That was good! :)

1:39 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Rattlesnake and Matriarch,
"...the whole slobbering obsession with culture..." That's a good line. Very descriptive. Your whole point in this series is good and biblical, Ron.

Here's what I don't like about Bavinck. He's not dealing with the problem in a biblical way. That's not just a biblical problem, but a practical one, too.

The practical side. By continuing to speak about culture, he leaves the debate on the home turf of the culture-lovers. Like the abortion opponent who says that he's not pro-choice, he starts behind the eight ball. (But, perhaps Bavinck's point was this debate.) The anti-abortionist needs to speak about defending the life and rights of the helpless. That's why the pro-death crowd says it's pro-choice. That word alone goes a long way to win the argument for the pro-deathers. If we keep speaking about culture, the question will always be there: What do we do with culture? It seems in Scripture, that question was so minor it was never, or nearly never, mentioned. Was Scripture wrong in this attitude? Remember Paul was active in nearly every culture in the Middle East and Southern Europe. He didn't give long instructions on how to do this. Why?

In debate, connotation is often more important than denotation.

The biblical part. The Scripture never addresses the category of culture--or nearly never. The closest categories in Scripture are derek (way) in the Old Testament and world in the New. People groups are rewarded or punished on the basis of their obedience to God. Little else is said about their cultures.

Derek nearly always refers to the ways of individuals, but occassionally of groups, such as Psalm 1:1. World refers to the way of life and thought of mankind combined--all cultures come under this category.

Derek is morally neutral, but it always (or nearly always) includes the moral and spiritual state of the individual to which the derek belongs unless it takes its literal meaning of path or road. The way of the Lord. The way of the king. The way of the prophet. The way of the Amorites.

World is morally negative. It's something we are to reject by taking positive action to train our minds. Romans 12, Eph. 5, etc.

We need to think biblical thoughts in biblical categories with biblical vocabulary. Seminaries are adding courses and even degrees in "spiritual formation". This replaces the biblical catorgory of sanctification. Not good.

Bavinck's culture talk isn't heretical, but sticking with biblical categories will lead to better results for all of us. We should make that a habit. The Bible has given us enough.

Sola Scriptura.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

9:34 AM  
Blogger sister said...


Glad to oblige!

If I can interest you in another facetious tidbit, take a moment to peruse this morsel:


6:35 PM  
Blogger sister said...


Forgive me if I got you wrong, but I get the feeling that you missed a significant part of the message.

Scripture addresses culture frequently, by implication. Culture is, by definition, a connotation.

And, while I don't agree with the entire Bavinck (and rattlesnake) message, I agree with the idea that although we are surrounded by our culture, we must not necessarily be immersed in it.

8:00 PM  
Blogger sister said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:41 PM  
Blogger sister said...

I should elaborate:

Exodus 32 demonstrates a tragic example of "engaging the culture" gone wrong. If, when Moses rolled off the mountain, Aaron had said, "Hey, check out this sweet lawn ornament I picked up at a Canaanite garage sale... I can tie my dog to it!", there probably would have been far less dire consequences.

Conversely, the first chapter of Daniel illustrates a shining example of a young man who, with God's help, was able to engage and navigate his secular culture with astounding success. If, however, he had chosen to engage the Babylonian burger with cheese, he might not have had the opportunity to become an ambassador for God in one of the most respected positions in Nebuchadnezzar's Neighbourhood.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

If Scripture only speaks of culture by implication, it's not a significant category. Not even one significant enough warrant a vocab word.

If you look at the Exodus 32 episode, I believe you've forced the culture category upon it. Moses seems to be giving an episode of idolatry. Can you look at it through the culture category? Yes. But Mo doesn't seem to.

If it was important, he would have. Instead the important idea is not to do idolatry, not to copy the false religions. Culture isn't mentioned directly. Idolatry is. That must be the point. In this episode, God wanted us to think about idolatry. He mentioned idolatry. He didn't mention culture. He didn't seem to care enough to mention it. He did care about the idolatry. So, that must be the point. That must be what he wants us to consider.

Just a thought,
Phil Perkins.

8:04 PM  
Blogger sister said...


I think you've got, but you just don't know it.

The culture is in the subtext. It doesn't need to be specified to be clearly recognized. The presence of the idol implicitly identifies a culture, and implicity doesn't necessarily make it insignificant.

The calf structure was a product of the culture. If the calf was an important part of the story, so was the implied culture from which it was conceived.

In itself, that gob of moulded gold was probably not a danger to the Israelites, but worshipped as an idol... deadly.

The Daniel example is more straightforward. Art, history, language, literature, diet... it's all directly identified in the text without being directly labelled "culture." If it wasn't an important subtext, why not save some papyrus for the Sunday funnies and leave that part out? Again the culture category is implicit; and significant.

The point:

When your road leads you to a river, you navigate safely to the other side... you don't have to turn back and head home, and you don't have to drown. If culture is our surroundings, our environment, our relationships... we can't necessarily avoid it, but when we engage, we should engage with wisdom. Our culture can't always be our choice, but how we confront it is our responsibility.

But, hey... rattlesnake will probably be along shortly to tell me that I missed the gist too :)

Thanks for the discussion.

10:10 PM  
Blogger sister said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot.

I also recognize that the explicit message is "no idols." Also important. You're right.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Don't take this as overly argumentative. But neither Daniel nor Ex 32 speak of culture. It speaks of things we call cultural, it doesn't call them that. That category of things isn't introduced. This is horrible hermeneutics.

It DOES call them either righteous or unrighteous, good or evil, godly or idolatrous.

And what are we talking about here? Righteousness and sin? No.

Instead, we're talking about culture. We're off the topic of the passages.

We are. It's a very sophisticated conversation, approved by all sorts of very sopisticated folk who think it's better to talk and talk and talk about everything other than Scripture, but if misses the point of the passage. Both passages have to do with obedience to God's law or disobedience.

Unless of course, every commentator from the time of Christ until now was much stupider than you and I.

Do you think we've discovered something Calvin, Henry, Spurgeon, Augustine, et al missed? How do you think they missed this?


6:02 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

I forgot one thing. Culture isn't a connotation when the word is actually used.

Nothing is a connotation when actually mentioned by name. The name denotes the thing.


9:35 AM  
Blogger sister said...


I appreciate your position, and I understand your perspective. I've been reading and enjoying your blogs.

It's important for you to recognize that I haven't added a single word or idea to the scripture. It's all there.

Hermeneutics is, by definition, interpretation. If the scripture was written without the need for interpretation, why then would we need Calvin, Henry, Spurgeon, Augustine, et al, to explain it to us?

Please don't take this as overly argumentative, but if you choose to ignore the subtexts in scripture, you're taking the easy way out by eschewing exegesis. It just seems lazy to me. Jesus asked, "Have you understood all these things?" What will you reply?

"O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from old.

2:48 PM  
Blogger sister said...

"Culture isn't a connotation when the word is actually used."

I entirely understand the contrast between "connotation" and "denotation." I also understand the correlation.

A connotation can be very illustrative. When I hear the words, "snow" and "rain" and "sunshine" and "hurricane" and low pressure system" and etc., etc, I don't have to hear the word "weather" to know that we're talking about the, ummm, weather.

Similarly, when I hear "language" and "literature" and "learning" and "food and wine" and "treasure house" and etc, etc... I know we're talking about culture.

It's really not a stretch.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

You said, "Similarly, when I hear "language" and "literature" and "learning" and "food and wine" and "treasure house" and etc, etc... I know we're talking about culture."

No, you don't. When I speak of carrots, peas, beans, potatoes, brussel sprouts, peppers, cabbage, and lettuce, I may or may not be talking about a vegetarian diet. It may be the vegetables for a granish plate for all you know. It may be neither.

Even the Greek "ethos" and Hebrew "chaqqal" occur in passages in which they are morally evaluated--usually in the negative.

The Scripture speaks of the carrots, not the diet. The diet isn't in the mind of any of the biblical writers. Culture is morally neutral and describes the ways of a people group in normal English usage. The Scripture never speaks that way to my knowledge. Ways are "derekiym". Derekiym are never morally neutral in Scripture--or if they do occur that way, I can't think of an instance.

And who's winning--the Scriptural idea of thinking of the ways of men in light of God's moral law, or the worldly idea that we ought to spend all sorts of time and energy talking ang thinking about culture?

This conversations proves that we've abandoned the Scriptural categories and adopted the worldly category of morally neutral culture.

The ways of a man or the ways of a people group aren't morally neutral. In this, we've actually gone beyond a simple replacement of biblical categories with human constructs, but we have contradicted the Scripture.

But it inevitably gets worse. As the ways of men are elevated to a matter for deep consideration, we are expected to bend to it.

Scripture says, we aren't.

Phil Perkins.

10:20 PM  
Blogger sister said...


What you wrote is mostly (maybe entirely) true, but it also proves that you have completely missed the point.

When you speak of carrots, peas, beans, etc., you may or may not be talking about a vegetarian diet, but you are CERTAINLY talking about vegetables.

Back to that most elusive point:

We cannot be separated from culture. Bavinck's argument (I think... correct me if I'm wrong, snake) is that scripture should guide us in our participation of that which we cannot escape.

Daniel completed a liberal arts degree at Babylon U... and remained entirely obedient while doing so.

"Whither culture? and What are our aims or goals as we engage culture..." must certainly have gone through his head before he declined the Grande Royale avec fromage.

12:46 AM  
Blogger sister said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:49 AM  
Blogger sister said...

Where is our favourite fanatic fugleman, anyway?
It's been a couple of weeks... I hope everything's ok?

1:14 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

The point of the carrots, peas, etc. isn't about our category "culture". It's about authorial intent. There is precious little evidence of the idea of a morally neutral "culture"
(as we modern Westerners think of it) in the minds of the scriptural writers. Naming the elements that we include in that category of our thoughts doesn't mean the writers (and, therefore, God) thought in that categories of the morally neutral ways of men.

And we ARE supposed to be separated from the ways of the world around us. "Culture" doesn't lend itself to causing us to thinking that way. "World" as used in Scripture does. And "derek" in the OT asks for a moral evaluation before we adapt any way of living.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

10:44 AM  
Blogger sister said...

"And "derek" in the OT asks for a moral evaluation before we adapt any way of living."

I think we just found the forest, after all... You just summed up the point perfectly. I'm glad we agree! :)

Here's some old-fashioned etymological elucidation to mull over for a bit, compliments of my good friend, Merriam Webster:

Pronunciation: \ˈkəl-chər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, cultivated land, cultivation, from Anglo-French, from Latin cultura, from cultus, past participle
Date: 15th century
1: cultivation , tillage
2: the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3: expert care and training (beauty culture)
4 a: enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b: acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group ; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time (popular culture) (southern culture) c: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (a corporate culture focused on the bottom line) d: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic (studying the effect of computers on print culture) (changing the culture of materialism will take time — Peggy O'Mara)
6: the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media ; also : a product of such cultivation

5:03 PM  
Blogger sister said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:16 PM  
Blogger sister said...

Actually, he's not that good of a friend. He keeps taking all the "u"s and silent "e"s out of everything, and doesn't think I'll notice. Hmmph.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

I certainly agree that culture is not neutral, and I also agree that we in the church have been far too lazy in judging what is good from what is bad--morally, aesthetically, and truthfully.
That being said, I think we are often just as hypo-critical towards culture when we draw out these simplistic nostalgic declension narratives, bemoaning of the impersonal cultural flood waters encroaching on our Christian high ground.
While in agreement regarding the mega-churches and Emerging church scenes, please tell me why you are not just as “of the world, but not in it”?! For through all this criticizing and complaining from this particular Reformed weltanschauung, where is your art, poetry and songs, positing--restating--biblical truths to this dry land? All I see is Lockean and Reidean philosophy, modern notions of public/private, church and state--of the world but not in it.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

I know what "culture" is and so does everyone else here. You just haven't shown that the writers of Scripture thought in that morally neutral category. Defining the category in which we think doesn't prove, nor does finding the sub-categories in Scripture.

Can we think scripturally without scriptural vocab? Yes and no. It's much harder. Redefining culture as morally loaded is okay, but what you'll find is that since the speech pattern of the culture around you will come back to you. Read a little linguistics.

And, you haven't answered the sufficiency of Scripture. How do you justify bending your talk to be in sync with the world when the Scripture says it gives all we need?

Do we need to speak about culture?

Scripture says no. You and Bavinck say yes.

Phil Perkins.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Sorry this answer took so long--I was out of town.


8:31 AM  
Blogger sister said...

"You just haven't shown that the writers of Scripture thought in that morally neutral category."

Phil! Honestly! You keep bringing this up, but it really has no place in this discussion. It doesn't fit the context. I'm starting to worry that you're more concerned with being perceived correct than you are about understanding the scope of the message!

"Can we think scripturally without scriptural vocab? Yes and no. It's much harder. Redefining culture as morally loaded is okay, but what you'll find is that since the speech pattern of the culture around you will come back to you. Read a little linguistics."

I think we're closer to being on the same page here, but I'm having trouble reading it the way it's written (near the end of the paragraph, it's grammatically awkward... some clarification would be appreciated). I hope you're not boiling this argument down to semantics?

"And, you haven't answered the sufficiency of Scripture."

This particular argument really gets my goat... and makes me worry. You're missing half the message if you really believe it. When Jesus said "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." was he really talking about selective botanical breeding? Or was he leaving us a little exegesis to perform? If there were no interpretation of scripture required, we'd either have really neat and bountiful orchards, or we'd be disobedient wouldn't we?

"How do you justify bending your talk to be in sync with the world when the Scripture says it gives all we need?"

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. It's really very cryptic. Do you mean why do I use English instead of the original languages? Do you mean why do I use colloquialism? Exactly how do I bend my words in a way that's contrary to scripture?

"Do we need to speak about culture? Scripture says no."

Phil, I know this is going to rile you, and I'm sorry, but it's got to be said:

What!?! Scripture says what?!? "No?!?" Where?!? In fact, culture is described on hundreds of pages of my Bible. It's spoken about on hundreds more. And nowhere can I find anything that mentions that I don't need to speak about it...

Phil, unless you have a substantially different text that you also call "scripture," you're breaking your own rules here... nothing added, nothing taken away, remember?

Respectfully, but perplexed.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

I don't need a passage. Scripture doesn't speak of a morally neutral category called "culture" to my knowledge. If that's not included, then we don't need to include it. In fact, if Scripture is sufficient, we need no new ideas.

But it gets worse. The Scripture does speak about the ways of men--but not in a morally neutral way. So, morally neutral "culture" isn't simply unbiblical, but anti-biblical.

If I'm wrong and passages do speak that way, show me. I'll change for the exception. But even then, if you find that it's exceptional, not normative. Yet, we speak about it as morally neutral all the time.

You mentioned food and wine, but it's hard to say that when Jesus fed the 5000 and the 4000 or did the wedding switcho-chango, He was thinking about culture. He was most likely thinking about feeding hungry folks and taking care of wedding guests.

As for my motivations, why did you say I was just doing this out of pride--perceptions of correctness?
Am I not entitled to defend my position scripturally? Have you not done the same? And so cannot the same conclusion be drawn about you? Or would that be as much an assumption for you as for me? Or am I duty-bound to demure as you defend your position because you are to be more respected than those with whom you may disagree?

And if so, why are the rules different for you than for others? I've not impugned your character, have I?

Be Holy,
Phil Perkins.

10:17 AM  
Blogger sister said...


Unfortunately, you've attributed things to me that I have not said. Honestly, I was leaning more toward "dogmatism" than "pride." Either way, it wasn't necessary in the argument, so I apologize for including it. I'm disappointed that you took it the wrong way, and I regret that I wasn't clearer. I have neither impugned your character, nor have I intended to do so.

I dispute your claim that a passage is not necessary in this case. You said, "Scripture says no." If you meant "Scripture doesn't say yes," then I might let you get away with it, but it's still not much of an argument, is it?

I'm glad you brought up the wedding at Cana, since it's yet another prime example of the point I'm trying to get across. Here John describes a cultural event, with cultural activities utilizing cultural objects, with people displaying cultural etiquette, and partaking of a cultural diet.
A description of the culture is obviously not the “authorial intent” here, but the point is that the culture is not separate either. In fact, it’s clear that while Jesus could have elected to stay home and separate himself from the cultural proceedings at the wedding, instead he “engaged”. In so doing, he proclaimed himself the Messiah by fulfilling the prophecy and setting the stage of things to come (which was John’s intent).

Am I getting anywhere?

3:02 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

You're right, you do need a passage to speak of the sufficiency of Scripture. I was pointing out that no passage I know of speaks of the ways of men (culture) being morally neutral. You need no passage to say there is no passage. You DO need a passage to say sufficiency.

For a passage that says "NO" to adding concepts, doctrines, and religous practices that aren't expressly named in Scripture, read Deut. 12, 13, 18, and II Timothy 3.

You have now said, " I have neither impugned your character, nor have I intended to do so."

Not true. Just two or three sentences earlier you said I had "dogmatism". Interestingly, another non-biblical category, or perhaps something I caught while shoveling snow. The Bible never denounces doctrinal certainty when the doctrine in question is expressly stated in Scripture (as the sufficiency of Scripture is in the passages listed.)

Phil Perkins.

7:22 AM  
Blogger sister said...

So now, when you run out of good arguments, it's ok to start questioning your opponents' honesty? Is that a biblical strategy Phil?

As I'm sure you already know,"dogmatism" is not something you have, but something you exhibit. And since dogmatism is a synonym for "certainty" ( check the etymology Phil; start with δόγμα and δοκεῖν - it's from Greek ...something you need to be good at if you're going to teach to teach it effectively), it seems it's fair to say we're both dogmatic, doesn't it?

Only one of us is right, though, and since your argument has really just boiled down to a vain attempt to debase my character, it looks more and more that "one" is me.

You said, only a few lines above, "Do we need to speak about culture? Scripture says no." I'm sorry, Phil, scripture doesn't say, "No, we don't need to speak about culture." You might have meant something different, but you didn't say something different. Don't try to wiggle out of having to admit you're wrong for saying it, by twisting the facts around to suggest that my argument is not biblically based, or that I'm adding anything to the text, either. Quite the contrary, it's you who chooses to ignore a significant part of what is plainly written there.

I see no point in continuing this with you now. You've broken all of your own rules, and if you were on your blog, you'd have been banned or heavily censored already.

Good day, sir, and thank you for the "engaging" conversation.

5:26 PM  

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