Interview with byFaith: William Edgar

October 05, 2018

by William Edgar

Westminster Seminary professor William Edgar explains that his new book, Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture, has been years in the making. “I have been thinking about culture and the biblical approach to culture for some 50 years,” Edgar writes. “Whether in the practice of the arts, particularly music, or in theorizing about issues such as meaning, power, values, symbols, and aesthetics, my concerns about the matter of culture have been close at hand.”

In the early pages of the book, Edgar gives readers a brief overview of recent Christian thinking on the subject. He discusses the “realms of culture,” and comes to the conclusion that, “Culture characterizes our calling here on earth. It distinguishes our common humanity, but also our differences. Culture can be positive, leading to human flourishing, or negative, bringing corruption and abuse.” Hence the need to investigate and discuss the relationship between Christianity and the surrounding culture.

The Bible teaches that cultural engagement before the living God is, along with worship, the fundamental calling for the human race

After a half-century’s search, Edgar is certain: “The Bible teaches that cultural engagement before the living God is, along with worship, the fundamental calling for the human race.” 

ByFaith editor Richard Doster asked Edgar about a few of the book’s main assertions.

Doster: To understand our proper role in culture, you argue that we need “a proper grounding in the doctrine of creation.” How does such a grounding help?

Edgar: The doctrine of creation is absolutely crucial for the Christian worldview. The account in Genesis tells us that God made the universe and that it was “good and very good.” To be sure, there would be a fall, but not because of any flaw in the creation. Every non-Christian worldview believes there is a limitation or a defect which means evil is not really our fault.

Culture making and culture care are not later additions to the human agenda. Nor are they provisional as we await the new covenant. They were given as ordinances from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26–30), and are a permanent feature of our human calling. They follow directly from the creation of humans, made after the image of God. Thus, engaging in culture is not a concession to the temporary nature of the present world, but ingrained in our vocation from the very beginning.

This does not mean that there are no developments or modifications as we move through the successive eras of redemptive history. The creation ordinances—work, marriage, worship, and the like—are permanent for human vocation, but they take on different forms according to the contours of the epoch.

Among the many implications of the cultural mandate are, that because the creation qua creation is good, even today—in our broken world—we may enjoy it, invest in it, and develop it. 1 Timothy 4:1–4 teaches that it is a heresy to deny this goodness in our cultural activities, whether they be in family life or the partaking of food. Even with the coming of the Fall, followed by God’s redemption of his people, cultural activity is not abrogated but given new and deeper meanings.

Doster: You point out that in Colossians 1:15–20 Paul makes a powerful comparison between the supremacy of Christ in creation and his supremacy in redemption. There is no separation, you argue, between Christ’s rule over creation and his rule over the church. What does that mean? And how does it shape our attitude about culture?

Edgar: What it means is that the one who is Lord over the creation is also the cause and the goal of redemption. Jesus is the ruler of the world, and all things hold together in him. To use Abraham Kuyper’s well-known phrase, there is not one square inch of creation about which he does not say, “Mine.” If to our ears this sounds imperialistic, it is meant to proclaim Christ’s sovereignty over all things. It is important to note that Christ is not merely above the creation (though in one sense he is), but that he rules over it and through it. To quote James Skillen, discussing the Christian view of politics, a subset of culture, “Christ does not sit on a supernatural throne above the natural world but on the throne of creation’s fulfillment, which includes the fulfillment of human governing responsibility.”

The one who is Lord over the creation is also the cause and the goal of redemption.

Of course, creation and redemption are different activities. But still the second person is the link between the two. Each member of the holy Trinity is at work in redemption, just as they were in the original creation. But Jesus Christ is the one who came to earth and revealed the glory of the Father, and then gave the Holy Spirit to his people. He is thus the one in whom the fall is being reversed, because he is reconciling all things to himself, as it says in this same passage.

One of the implications of this rule of the second person over both creation and redemption was mentioned earlier. It is that our cultural activity is in continuity with the order of creation. Put negatively, it means our human calling is much more (though no less) than simply obtaining a passage to heaven for our soul, although that could not be more crucial. Put positively, it means that salvation is all-encompassing. Indeed, it has cosmic implications. The letter to the Colossians goes on to describe an entire array of human endeavors which are good because they are being redeemed. Thus when Paul tells the Romans that the Gospel is the power of salvation, he does not restrict it to something narrowly spiritual. Or, put better, everything is spiritual!

In Colossians, Paul was combatting the gnostic heresy that taught a special, secret knowledge of God through an elite spiritual posture. Instead, all human activity (outside of idolatry) is good: family life, legitimate philosophy, the search for the benefit of your neighbor, the godly use of the tongue, proper employment practices, and the rest.

. . . continue reading at byFaith. 

William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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