"You should not drink that."
"You should not listen to that."
"You should not spend time there."
"You should not feel or think like that."
These are some of the hallmarks of the summation of what i thought Christianity to be about when I was a teenager. The message I heard as "gospel" was dogged with rules and all kinds of "dos" and "dont's". Now to be fair, the brothers and sisters who taught us this were sincere - they did not want us as young Christian believers to be stained by the stench of the world. And rightly so! The writer of 1 John rightly puts it this way in 2:15: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
Indeed, we who are followers of Christ ought not to be "in love" with the "system of the world". What this fundamentally means is that at our core, we should not be pursuing the way things are done in the world which are inconsistent with how we clearly see the Lord telling us to do things. So for example, a hot topic in our age is that of sexuality. What does the world say about sexuality? It says:
"Do whatever you want to do."
"Sleep with whomever you like."
"Use sex to fulfill your deepest sexual desires.
"Heck, you can even have sex with someone of the same sex and its fine."
And all this, as popular as it is, is at odds with what we see in the Scriptures. We are not our own - therefore we ought to honour God with our bodies. Honour God with our bodies. Honour God with our bodies. Honour God with our bodies. What!? Yes, honour God with our bodies. Not popular, but so true. We are not our own.
So I get why the common message I heard back then was about just this. Youth conference after youth conference. And I am thankful for that good old teaching on pursuing a pure life - no idea where I would be without those truths entrenched in me then. However, this whole idea of running away from "worldliness" has also been completely misunderstood in so many ways and it is visible in so many ways too as Christians interact with the world.
In a sense, a lot of believers have no idea what to do "in the world", and because all that they have been taught is "run from it", they either end up being so useless out there where they spend 8 hours of their day, or they end up hopelessly sucked up into the system of the world that we lose them as they backslide or turn completely from the faith.
I felt this when I started writing for a newspaper in Bulawayo. Those are some of the fondest memories in my life. But for a "church boy" who is all so innocent, it was a bit of an adjustment to actually learn how to exist "in the world" without being necessarily a part of it. What does one do when they are in a work environment at work or at school that is charged with crude sexual innuendo and jokes, racism, tribalism, drugs, misogyny and cynicism? Well, the average person can either run, or you can be sucked into the culture of that place.
Over the years as I have matured, I have come to understand something fundamental to my existence on this earth as a believer, namely that, the mandate that God placed on Adam and Eve is still the mandate that is upon my shoulder, and the shoulders of all believers. An understanding of this mandate will change how we view "the world" as it were, and instead of running from it, we do things that are even more radical, Christ-like and cool to the glory of God. I will explain.
In Genesis 1:28, God gives mankind a blessing and gives them an instruction: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” What was the instruction?
Be fruitful and multiply.
Rule over the creatures on earth, sky and sea.
I would like to focus on the second: subdue.
Andy Crouch says that this term is hard for us in our cultural context in 2018 to actually understand what it means to a pre-technological context. It actually means that God meant for us to move out of the Garden of Eden, multiply numerically, discover all the possibilities, care for the earth, build stuff, discover music, make art etc! And what is really great is that we see clearly from the Scriptures that while the opening of the Bible is one of a Garden, its closing is one of a city - the New Jerusalem. We are people essentially moving from a Garden to a City. And while we are here on earth, God has called us to subdue this earth and this looks differently for all of us but in summary this is what some have called "culture creation".
A lot of Christians would rather relegate Christian living to this utopian island where we are divorced from "creating culture", and are accidental recipients of things that have been created by other people. Now this is what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that we ought to create a Christian Island with our own politics, worldview and education etc - because I believe that is missing the point. But I do believe that as believers live life on this earth, we ought to be excited about "subduing" it. We ought to be encouraging young men and women to go to colleges and pursue higher learning so that technology advances. We ought to be encouraging young people into sporting excellence. We ought to be encouraging young people to pursue art at the highest levels in the world. And this is NOT because of any hidden agenda to "evangelise" the world but for the simple purpose of living to the fullest of our being as human beings. Art for the sake of art. Music for the sake of music. Sport for the sake of sport.
What it means to be fully human, in my humble Biblically informed view is this: to know the God of heavens as Father, and to pursue and fully enjoy all that he has given us as our lot in life.
For a husband who has three kids and loves to build furniture, to be human means walking faithfully with God each day of his life, loving his wife, raising his kids, while making furniture that is world-class and is sought after in his community. His taking a log and turning it into a TV cabinet is what subduing the earth is, and oh what a blessing it is to used by God to make the world a better and habitable place in the most mundane ways.
For a 20 year old college student who is pursuing a degree in Finance, being fully human to me would mean that she will walk faithfully with the Lord all the days of her life, while at night she diligently studies, making sense of all the jargon about market frictions and asset pricing, or corporate finance and corporate governance. She kills it in her exams, and enters the marketplace as a well-sought employee who works hard and is the envy of any employer.
I think Christian circles emphasises a lot of "walk diligently with the Lord daily" because it is of utmost importance. But when it comes to the world, young people are not equipped to think that they ought to do the "work of God" out there - yes, the work of making disciples - which I know there are enough blogs about it - but also the work for work's sake - to advance humanity and culture, to the glory of God.
I love coffee. And the question we always ask is who actually discovered it!? According to the National Coffee Association, legend says the goat herder Kaldi (on the Ethiopian plateau) first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. The story goes that that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe. Is that not amazing? This is how we have discovered any other thing and created culture, and we as believers should not shy away from all this. We must work and pursue all areas of influence so we can make the world a better place for the sake of humanity and the glory of God.
Think of the grain thats on the ground and who thought it could be bread? How about grapes and who thought it could be wine? Who thought clay could make pots? Who thought humans could travel via sky? There was no template - it was human beings doing exactly what God intended them to do - create culture.
Human beings are here to make something of the world, in the creator's name. And Christian teachers and leaders ought to help us become better at this. Oh! for companies filled with Christians who are great employees and not just chief-evangelists at work. Oh! for college campuses filled with disciples of Jesus who are diligent students creating great art, doing life-changing research or making amazing music and are not just known for praying late into the night. We are spiritual, and human. And should excel in both. And the Great Commission sends us out to make dead men and women alive, but the cultural mandate send us out to also encourage them to work hard, be diligent and do a lot of cool stuff in God's world.
Cook that amazing food. Try new recipes.
Write those beautiful songs. For the sake of good music.
Build those houses. Not to have Bible studies (although thats great) in them - just for a family to be comfortable in.
Build those websites. For companies and schools.
Create those specialty drinks. For friends to enjoy.
Bake those muffins. For a party.
Do work for work's sake. All work that is honest and advances humanity is God's work for humans. Do it in the world, to the glory of Your Father in heaven.