Society, Civilization, and Culture
It’s important to sharpen our definitions in order to clarify how we differ. Therefore it is necessary to define what culture is before examining whether Christian culture is possible or not. In explaining his understanding of the relation between civilization and culture, Dr. Hart writes:
However, this is not how I have understood civilization and culture. And I think this may be the source of some of our difficultyâ€”though not all. While society and civilization are like things, so that civilization is best understood an advanced state of human society, civilization and culture belong to different categories.
Since civilization is nothing more than human society developed to a high degree of sophistication, I take society as the basic category to be differentiated from culture. This is because every society has its own complex, evolving culture that can be objectively studied by anthropologists, sociologists, and historians alike. Dawsonâ€™s definition of culture as â€œa common social way of lifeâ€ makes sense to me here.
A society includes people, institutions, and artifacts, but these things alone do not a society make. A unifying spirit or matrix, if you will, is needed. This is culture, a common social way of life that involves shared beliefs & purposes, unifying rituals, and cooperative labor. For me, then, society is the totality of a shared human experience, animated by culture.
It is helpful to point out here that culture is a complex thing that encompasses and interacts with other cultures and subcultures. We may equally speak of counterculture, automobile culture, and even corporate culture. These are all subcultures. A national culture can even be a subculture of a larger civilizational culture.
Considering culture further, I want to highlight its dynamic character and propose a working definition for it. Culture arises when formerly isolated individuals are brought together to cooperate for the purpose of achieving a desired goal. The original society in Eden was created by God in order that Adam would be able to work out his original created purpose: to cultivate and keep the world. The woman was to be a helpmeet for the man. Therefore, all culturesâ€”including that of the first familyâ€”have an historic alpha and a teleological omega. The working definition Iâ€™d like to propose is that culture is social life, the animating principle of society. As the spirit is to the body, so culture is to society.
Cult and Culture
From these considerations, it is plain that culture existed in the original Edenic state and is not a by-product of the â€œfracturingâ€ of the original theocracy that occurred due to the Fall. Furthermore this definition of culture jeopardizes an absolute cult/culture dichotomy. If the original purpose of culture was to glorify God by building what Kline calls Megapolis, and that Megapolis was to be eschatologically transformed into Metapolisâ€”human civilization suffused with divine gloryâ€”then the telos of culture has always been glorification.
As Kline admits, cult and culture were seamlessly unified in the Edenic theocracy. Work and worship were part of the same program. But according to his conception, redemptive cult is theocratic culture that has been disconnected from the cultural mandate. Where has the original cultural mandate gone? It appears that the original goal of human activity was derailed.
As an alternative to Kline, who has dispensationalized cult from culture in the Noahic covenant, Iâ€™d like to propose that cultureâ€™s purpose as originally intended has retained its focus because of Godâ€™s grace. I am grateful that Dr. Chellis has insisted on the dependence of culture upon cult, and has re-connected the order of â€œcommon graceâ€ with the sacrifice that established it. But, Iâ€™d like to add that fallen human culture waits for redemption, the postlapsarian program of eschatological transformation. Human culture must eventually be purged of its wood, hay, and stubble.
The messianic Kingdom of God, inaugurated by Christ, has entered history. This kingdom is the coming meta-civilization we anticipate. What is commonly understood as redemptive cult, I identify as the meta-culture of Christâ€™s Kingdom. This meta-culture is actively imparting life and health to earthly cultures. As earthly culture is increasingly understood as insufficient in itself and re-oriented to a higher purpose, it becomes more and more conformed to the image of New Jerusalem descending.
Of course, Christ and the apostles were not merely hoping to launch a Christian civilization subject to the principles of this fallen and decaying world! They had a far loftier intention. They were looking for and hastening toward the coming Kingdom of God.