Gospel & Culture blog
By Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be seen as a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. In this post, I introduce ideas that are central to a theology of government. This field is also called "public theology" or a "theology of the public square." As with other aspects of the "theology of culture," I am looking at God's intended purpose, structure and authority for government.
God's intended purpose for government
Some pacifists argue that government was not present in Eden- only after the Fall. They see government as a necessary evil for this present time, rather than as something innate to God's nature. Others, such as Skillen, argue that government, like other aspects of culture (family, language, communication) is rooted in the image of God: God is orderly, authoritative, even coercive, and that even in a perfect kingdom on earth, as people "filled the earth and subdued it" they would have necessarily developed complex societies with creative and diverse forms of government-- all which led to flourishing.
"Citizenship in earthly political communities is thus as much a part of the revelation of God and of our identity as God’s image bearer as are marriage family, friendship, discipleship and shepherding.” (Skillen, p. 37)
The Fall, of course, has resulted in our continual corruption of all forms of government, as we turn power and freedom -even justice - into idols, and we use "order" as an ends that justifies
by Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be seen as a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. n this post, I introduce ideas that are central to a theology of education. As with other aspects of the "theology of culture," I am looking at God's intended purpose, structure and authority for government
The purpose of education as a cultural system
The cultures of the world have competing ideas about the purpose of education: in the USA education is increasingly about career advancement rather than to make people well-rounded thinkers or to encourage personal enrichment. The seeing in emphasis from liberal arts to STEM is a result of the trend to align higher education with career, rather than knowledge. Other cultures emphasize that education is about socialization, guaranteeing social welfare (a populace needs to be literate to ensure the growth of GDP), or simply about making good citizens. All of these are legitimate purposes of education, as long as none becomes an idol. In early missionary work around the world, education was primarily about teaching people to read so they could know scripture and discern Christian worldview but also focused on increasing the economic lives of those in poorer parts of the world.
Like all cultural systems, the ultimate purpose of education is for humankind to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Kuyper argued that education has been God’s plan along- building on the knowledge of previous ancestors. There was no way for one generation to fulfil the command to fill the earth and subdue it, so education is necessary for us to transmit the accumulation of knowledge as we make something great of the world God created.
Scripture balances the tendency to make education an idol, on the one hand, with ignorance or foolishness on the other:
•He who increases knowledge increases sorrow –Ecc1:18
•For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Cor3:19) quoting Job 5:13
The structure of education as a cultural system
Education is neither entirely the task of the parents, nor entirely the task of the state. Some may be reluctant to allow state involvement at all with the education of a Christian community. Yet an education that is wholly separate from the state will not be able to achieve all the purposes that God plans for education. A fully functioning educational system would lead to cures for cancer, mapping the human genome, designing better bridges, interpreting history in ways that dignify diverse peoples. Many of these advancements are possible because of state involvement.
Others might argue that the private enterprise should take on the task of education-- let the free market determine which majors are valuable enough to offer at the university. Let people pay for education what it is worth. But in reality, virtually no government wholly accepts this notion-- the state must get involved to ensure that those who do not have money can still become literate and even upwardly mobile.
The authority for education as a cultural system
The authority for education is firstly located within the family, as parents "train up their children" (Prov 22:6). But as I mentioned above, the authority for education must also be located within the state, which has resources for research-one institutions that can train up specialists like aerospace engineers and epidemiologists. Only the state - not the family- can ensure system-wide literacy and vocational training.
By Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. In this post, I provide some direction for the theology of family, which begins (as with all other cases in the "theology of" culture) by asking about the purpose, structure and authority of family.
The purpose of family as a cultural system
The purpose of all aspects of culture, more generally, is for humans to flourish. Marriage, being one of the first institutions God instituted (in Eden), was explicitly for our flourishing. Somehow the "leaving and cleaving" (Gen 2:24) when a man and wife are committed to each other unto death guarantees flourishing. Primarily, this seems to relate to the fact that there is no other social relationship where we see distinct persons referred to as "one." In this sense, marriage reflects the Trinity better than any other relationship; and this reflection is for our own instruction. The Father Son and Holy Spirit are eternally creating, communicating and loving; and marriage is where this sort of intimacy is to be found primarily, among all relationships. Note that the term for wife, "helpmate", is not derogatory- in fact, God refers to Himself as a helpmate more than 15 times in the OT.
What about the purpose of other relationships in the family? Family, including extended family relationships, are God's way of ensuring elderly are taken care of when they cannot take care of themselves (1 Tim 5:8) - of ensuring small children are "trained up in the way they should go" (Prov 22:6) so they can be flourishing members of society - of ensuring that wealth is produced and inherited (Prov
Below is an excerpt from my book God's Image and Global Cultures:God's Image and Global Cultures
When systematic theologians ask about the nature of human beings, they are exploring, “What does it mean to be in God’s image?” Questions about the nature of humanity belong to a specific branch of systematic theology that is referred to as theological anthropology. Anthropologians (theologians of anthropology) focus primarily on what it means that humankind was created perfect, because God cannot create an imperfect creation. Jesus, the perfect God-man is the model for this inquiry. Anthropologians also look at the essence of humankind: the relationship between the human body, soul, spirit and heart (or inner person). In a broader sense, they are concerned with the role of humans in respect to creation at large, as well as questions of race, free will, sexuality, and economics. An evangelical theological anthropology recognizes that humans are tempted, but are morally accountable, and because of the Fall, currently exist in an abnormal state.
There are substantive, relational and functional aspects of being in the image (or shadow or reflection) (Hebrew: tzelem) and likeness (Hebrew: demus) of God. Theologians have described three possible explanations for what it means that we are in God’s likeness: 1) we share characteristics, like rationality; 2) we are relational, and in relationship with God, or 3) we function in ways that God does. I cannot develop each of these ideas here, but I will point out that my argument that bearing God’s image means cultural behavior emphasizes the functional image. We function in ways that God does, as we rule, create, express and relate to others, and even rest. Of course, functioning in God’s image does not mean that we mirror his image. The cultural ramifications of the Fall are that we function in cultural systems (economics, social structures, expression, etc.) but are immensely creative in the way we corrupt each of these systems.
If we employ any number of definitions of culture, it would be accurate to say that culture is rooted in the very nature of God. Culture is fundamentally about communicating, creativity, society, and norms. And the Trinity is eternally engaged in these activities we call culture. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit communicate—though the Trinity is not confined to any particular language. God has tremendous (unlimited) creative potential. The Trinity has recently been described as a society of three, eternally existing in communion. Jürgen Moltmann, who focused especially on the social aspect of the Trinity, understood that this view of God would have political and social implications—that is, it would have to do with culture. And God has norms of behavior we see reflected in His Law (Ps 119).
T. F. Torrance has masterfully tied the act of creation/culture, as well as its purpose and design, to the Trinity. “The very plurality of God serves as the basis for the unified and creative agency of God”. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit fellowship in creative activity. Humans, as image-bearers, are mediators or stewards of the order of creation, and that is really what culture is about: “ ‘The creative re-ordering of existence’…This is by its very nature a socio-cultural activity”.
Granted, the eternally existing culture in the Trinity is not perfectly analogous to culture on earth. Our cultures seem to be inextricably linked to the environment in which we live, and it would require linguistic gymnastics to say that God exists in an environment.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 22.
 Geisler, Systematic Theology, 50–53.
 Cortez, Theological Anthropology.
 Leech, The Social God.
 Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God.
 Unfortunately, the metaphor of the Social Trinity can admittedly be hijacked by any social agenda. Specifically, socialists coopt the notion of a perfect heavenly society and mandate that the people of God, as representatives of the Trinity, must reconstruct this perfect society. See Chapman, “The Social Doctrine of the Trinity.”
 Flett, Persons, Powers and Pluralities, 18.
 Ibid., 114.
Below is taken from my book God's Image and Global Cultures:
Not everyone sees cultural diversity as a plus. Having taught on culture to numerous audiences around the world, I have encountered two objections to “diversity.” First, some people come from fairly mono-cultural backgrounds and are either afraid of other cultures or even presuppose an amount of cultural superiority. “They should just learn English,” or “We have more freedoms here in America” are typical statements from mono-cultural folks. A sub-culture in the US holds to “American exceptionalism” (see chapter 2), conceiving of the US as particularly and uniquely blessed above all other nations.
Some detractors of “diversity” are not against multiculturalism per se, but see diversity as an agenda which is hollow or self-defeating. They mainly point to research that indicates that cultural heterogeneity reuces interpersonal trust and causes people to isengage from society (Putman 2007). The more that civilizations meet each other, the more clashes there will be, as a result of differences in ideology and religion.
Part of the ambivalence evangelicals have about multiculturalism comes from our interpretation of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Because the confusing of languages and subsequent scattering of nations appears to be a punishment, Christians may tend to paint multi-culturalism in a negative light. Our argument may look like this:
Sometimes we build a theology of cultural diversity by arguing that diversity is extended to heaven. The argument is mostly based on the book of Revelation, in passages like Revelation 7:9–10, which say heaven includes “every nation, tribe, people and language” (NIV). We reason erroneously as follows:
However, as I showed in a previous section, it is asking too much of the passage to take “nation, tribe people and language” as proof of cultural diversity in heaven. The emphasis here is more on the fact that God’s grace is extended to all of humanity rather than on the eternal permanence and static identification of ethnic categories. The passage shows that God’s promise to make Abraham the father of many nations (Gen 15:5, 32:12) has been fulfilled.
So if we are to build a theology of diversity, it is more advisable to find evidence of cultural diversity through the Old and New Testament than to use Revelation 7:9–10 as a proof text. Even a cursory reading of the Psalms shows God’s interest in people from all backgrounds and languages (see Ps 2:8, 33:12, 67:1–7). In fact, numerous theologies of mission have shown God’s interest in all people groups throughout the Old Testament. Despite Jesus’ enigmatic argument that he was sent to the Jews, his ministry was notably multi-cultural. The plot of the book of Acts is that the church will expand from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The historical narrative moves along as God’s grace extends to the southernmost part of the known world, Ethiopia (Acts 8:26–30), and then to the Greeks, ethnic minorities in the Mediterranean, and on to Rome. Diversity is a major theme in Acts, including (and often blurring the lines between) linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity.
This multi-culturalism is in the DNA of the church; as Andrew Walls put it, the cross-cultural process has been the lifeblood of the church. Some theologians have even suggested that cultural diversity is rooted in the Trinity. A revised, exegetically-substantiated line of reasoning would look like this:
 B. Carson, America the Beautiful; Rauchway Blessed Among Nations.
 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order; Rundle and Steffen Great Commission Companies, 78.
 Trial, Exegetical Summary of Acts.
 Hughes, The Book of Revelation; Mounce, The Book of Revelation.
 Kostenberger and O'Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth; Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts; Verkuyl “The Biblical Foundation.”
 Barreto Ethnic Negotiations.
 Walls, The Cross–cultural Process in Christian History, 67.
 Campbell, A Multitude of Blessings.
 Parler, Things Hold Together, 218.
Below is the answer I give in my newest book God's Image and Global Cultures:
 See Scarborough Enough Is Enough; Starnes God Less America.
 See B. Carson America the Beautiful; Gingrich Rediscovering God in America.
 See Hedges American Fascists; Rudin The Baptizing of America; Whitten The Myth of Christian America.
 I asked five acquaintances who each had more than 2000 “friends” on Facebook to post the survey on their “wall.” Respondents answered a survey on SurveyMonkey.
 Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
 Gingrich and Gingrich. “A City upon a Hill.”
 Asmus and Grudem. The Poverty of Nations.
There's a lot of talk about changing the world- and that involves changing culture. But is that desirable, or even possible? I deal with this in my newest book God's Image and Global Cultures.
You'd think that it's easy for Christians to evaluate features of other cultures-- simply use the Bible, right? I deal with this question in my most recent book, God's Image and Global Cultures:
Jimmy Carter said that the most significant social justice issue facing us in the 21st century is income inequality. Research shows that (at least in wealthy nations) wealth inequality leads to social problems like demoralization, homicide, and depending on who runs the economy, racism (see Chua.). And as free markets take off, especially in this era of globalization 2.0, levels of inequality keep rising. In the past 200 years from 3:1 to 72:1, meaning the richest countries are now 72 times richer (and increasing) than the poorest (see World Centric). If this has happened since 1820, and industrial nations are among the most unequal, it seems to be correlated with the industrial revolution, and especially with capitalism (or free markets). But does that mean the free market is to blame? Some have suggested that if capitalism is correlated with inequality, capitalism is inherently flawed (or even evil). But let's consider the syllogism
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor