What is “The Story”?

Before you can redeem culture rightly, you’ll need to know The Story that all culture echoes. And for my money, that story is best told in Colossians 1:15-23 and 3:4:

He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Colossians 1:15-23, 3:4 ESV

This is brilliant and beautiful.  I love looking at it piece-by-piece.

Through Him and for Him

The first two verses talk about Jesus’ eternality and divinity.  He isn’t just like God, it says, He is God – made of the same stuff, with the same plans and goals and desires.  He is the image of an invisible God.  And He was there, with God, from all time, making the universe.  And He made it perfectly.

All Things Hold Together

Christ didn’t just make the universe.  He also, amazingly, holds the universe, and everything about it together: from the atoms in your body to the people of His church.

Firstborn from the Dead

Jesus came to die, but why?  In verse 18, he tells us one reason: that He would take his right place as the preeminent before all other people.  His death on the cross to reconcile everything – to redeem everything – is the single most important event in all of history, and it makes Him the single most important person in all of history.

And You

Here we come to the turn.  For the first half of this verse, it’s been talking about Jesus and how important He is.  But the Bible is written to man, and now we come to the point: why did Jesus need to die to redeem creation?

Alienated and Hostile

The Bible talks at length about how wicked we are.  In the Garden of Eden, our forefathers Adam and Eve turned their back on God’s perfection in the first ever action of cosmic treason, and we have followed suit ever since.  As a result, our race is doomed to be sinners by nature (we are sinners when we’re born, unable to not sin) as well as by choice (sure, we are natural sinners, but we really want to, too).  And because of this, our minds and bodies are hostile to God, doing evil deeds.

To Present You

Ah, sneaky.  You thought the rest of this verse would be about humanity, but again, Christ is the real hero of this story.  He created us, and when we fell, He redeemed us.  And He didn’t just save us a little bit!  “Above reproach” is a huge vindication for a fallen humanity with hostile minds.  He died to make us holy and blameless, not just “good enough.”

Continue in the Faith

A lot has been made of this verse.  Some would say this is proof that in order to be saved, we must “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”  In reality, though, our continuation in the faith is the sign that the promises of this entire passage apply to us!  A God who has sent His son to save us at great cost also gives us the ability to overcome our evil nature and glorify Him wholeheartedly.  “If you continue in the faith, you prove that Christ died to present you blameless.”

I Became a Minister

Now we come to the most mind-bending part of this passage, for me.  Here we see that God not only saves Paul (read Paul’s story if you think that’s not impressive), He also chooses Paul to become a minister for his side!  This is the really amazing part of Christ’s work: He doesn’t just save people, he gives them a job to do.  God fills the ranks of His army with the very people he’s battling against.

When

To see the last part of The Story, though, we need to jump ahead to Chapter 3.  There, Paul discusses what will happen in eternity yet to come: namely, that Jesus will return and, with His people, glorify all of creation – that is, make us all a part of an eternal and perfect Kingdom, just like He intended in the first place.  In that moment, we’ll lose all of our sinful nature and gain all of Christ’s perfection.  And then we will join Him on His eternal adventure!

 

The Story, in reality is so much richer than that, though!  To correctly redeem culture, you’ll want to know more about it than I could ever tell, especially in a single blog post.  But for a bare-basics recap:

God Made
Man Fell
God Redeemed
God Will Restore

Redeeming what?

Welcome to Redeeming Culture!

Hm?  You don’t know what “culture” is?  It’s ok.

Webster’s defines “Culture” as “Cultivation, tillage.”  That’s not what this site is about.
Webster’s Medical Dictionary calls it “the act or process of growing living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media.”  That’s…SO not what this site is about.

All right, dictionaries are getting us nowhere.  How about this definition:

CULTURE is the intangible product of a society, consisting of their common language, morality, mythology, sport, literature, experience, art, music, sensation, weather, fashion, play, memes, architecture…

Ok.  That’s going to get way too long for one post…but don’t worry.  We’ll make the list even longer as time goes on.

How’s this for a definition:

CULTURE is the common thread that binds all human beings together.

Short and sweet.  Also, ridiculously broad.  All human beings?  All common threads?  Yep, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.  This stuff is important—and exciting!

Saddle up, strap in, power to the engines.  We’re going on an adventure.

(“Cool, but what do you mean by ‘redeeming?’  Like, trading in your tokens at an arcade?”  Read up on that here.)
(“But wait, why does culture need to be redeemed?  Sounds like it’s pretty good already.”  Read this and I’ll explain.)

Doing what to Culture?

Welcome to Redeeming Culture!

Oh?  You’re not sure what I mean by “Redeeming?”  Well, I love to talk about it.

Webster’s has three great definitions for the word “redeem.”  I love ’em all.

re·deem

verb \ri-ˈdēm\

: to make (something that is bad, unpleasant, etc.) better or more acceptable

: to exchange (something, such as a coupon or lottery ticket) for money, an award, etc.

: to buy back (something, such as a stock or bond)

In this context, it’s a little more specific, because it’s talking about Jesus Christ: He made us acceptable to God by exchanging His life for ours, in order to buy back our rebellious selves from the destruction of sin and make us one with Him.

Redemption is quite possibly the most beautiful concept on this or any other planet.  And I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

Pour yourself a delicious beverage, kick back, and relax.  Let’s enjoy this.

(“I understand redemption, but what about ‘culture?’  Are you talking about the stuff in yogurt, or going to the symphony?”  Both and neither.  Read up on it here.)
(“Hold up, this doesn’t make sense.  You’re just talking about redeeming people, nothing about redeeming culture.  And that’s the name of the site!!”  Which is why I talk about it here.)

Redeeming…Culture?

Welcome to Redeeming Culture!

What’s that?  Why are those two words together?  Well, I’ll tell you.

So, several times in the past two millennia, the Christian church has decided that all culture was bad.  They are wrong about this.

Also, several times in the past life of humanity on the planet, the secular culture has decided that all culture was good.  They are also wrong about this.

See, not all culture is bad.  And not all culture is good.  As vlogger and YouTube personality John Green said, “The truth resists simplicity.”

Why does this truth resist simplicity?  Because there is a lot of different culture out there, and a lot of different people to consume it.

Some culture consumed by some people is dangerous, and it should be rejected completely because of the harm it can cause to them.  Other culture, or even the same culture consumed by different people, is not harmful or is even helpful, and should be received completely!  But there is a type of cultural interaction that should truly be redeemed—not because it is inherently good, but because the God who made us all wrote His Story on our hearts, and so when we create and enjoy things, they naturally reflect His Story in some way, shape, form or fashion.¹

Imperfectly, yes. Sometimes even ridiculously so. But we cannot ignore even the barest nuggets, because the stories and cultural expressions that touch our hearts are profound and can help us understand ourselves and God in deeper and newer ways.

And this is where we sit today.  Redeeming Culture means recognizing those nuggets of truth, or the holes where they should be, and bringing them into the light where they can give glory to the Creator of all good stories.²

Grab your magnifying glass and deerstalker cap. This is a search for the ages.

(“Cool, but what do you mean by ‘redeeming?’ Like, coupons or something?” Read up on that here.)
(“I understand redemption, but what about ‘culture?’ Like what happens in a petri dish?” Sorta. Learn about that here.)

¹ The “Receive, Reject, Redeem” trichotomy is a framework developed by Mark Driscoll of the Resurgence. Learn more about this filter here

² “Ok, so…this is a site full of sermon illustrations?” Kind of. Well, they could be. But they’re WAY more than that. Rather than trying to support some point I’ve already made with a piece of culture, the point of Redeeming Culture is the culture. What is it about this stuff that drives us, draws us in? Why does it make for such effective sermon illustrations? And how does it reflect the Truth?  But the main point isn’t just to find parallels – it’s to see our hearts resonate with  the pieces of His stoy, written on our hearts.

³ “Wait, there are footnotes on this blog? I don’t think I would have read this if I knew what I was getting into…”