In the words of 19th-century Scottish minister and author George MacDonald,
To be right with God is to be right with the universe: one with the power, the love, the will of the mighty father, the cherisher of Joy, the Lord of laughter, whose are all glories, all hopes, who loves everything and hates nothing but selfishness.
God’s love and care for His world, something that poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning called “Earth crammed with heaven,” is the theme of this year’s Colson Center National Conference this May 19-21 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The “Worldview Intensive” part of the conference will be taught by Dr. Justin Bailey, professor of theology at Dordt University and author of several important books describing a theology of culture.
Here’s Dr. Bailey, from a recent Breakpoint interview:
I have a really strong conviction … that grace is opposed to sin, not to nature, not to creation, or not to culture, as such, in that grace comes to renew those things. Sin is the thing that must be replaced. But culture doesn’t need to be replaced, you know, in the same way that I didn’t need to give up my Filipino heritage when I came to Jesus. If anything, Jesus fulfilled and completed and pointed me in new directions. But it didn’t mean that everything needed to be replaced without remainder….
I wrote a piece awhile back when Kobe Bryant died, sort of reflecting on what we were seeing. Sometimes when celebrities pass away, there’s this sort of “why is everybody so concerned about this celebrity?” And it just made me think you know, if we never take time to understand the reason why these things happen, the reason why there is such an outpouring of emotion when a celebrity dies, why Kobe Bryant was so important to some of my college students, for example … then maybe we miss an opportunity for deeper discipleship and the formation of a life that is integrative and that takes the things that we find in culture … and finds truth and beauty and goodness because of God’s common grace wherever we can find it and yet know that ultimately what will complete it, what will fill the longings that our cultural artifacts testify to, is Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In his book Interpreting Your World, Dr. Bailey employs five different lenses (meaning, power, ethics, religion, and aesthetics) to demonstrate the consistent conversation that takes place between eternal truths and culture:
This is already happening. These conversations are already going on—people are already engaging in all five of these areas, whether explicitly within the context of some sort of religion or not in the context of some sort of religion. And Scripture has a lot to say about these five things, and the Gospel comes in and offers something distinct, offers something new that is continuous with human desire, but also renews it and deepens it and corrects it.
As Dr. Bailey argues, the opportunity for Christ followers is ultimately to renew. Our culture is asking serious questions and being brutally misled in most areas of life and existence. Christians, both in their words and their lives, point to the depths of meaning and beauty that God has woven into the world.
Earth may be crammed with heaven, but our eyes and our ears are crammed with Earth. So, in other words, we have this sense of disenchantment, this estrangement that has happened in our society. There has been a loss of faith, there has been a trauma of meaninglessness. There’s a distrust of the institutions that we once sort of felt gave us some sort of stability, and so I’m going to sort of trace how we got there and what it feels like to live there and what can be done about it….
It’s not enough for us merely to name the idols, but we also have to create something that is faithful, something that is beautiful. And that’s really the work of cultural discipleship: Not to stand on the sidelines and point out the problems with everybody and everything, but to actually criticize by creating, building things … that in imperfect ways point to the kingdom of God in a way that lasts for multiple generations, passing it on to the next generation….
We are not secure because we have all the answers or because we figured it out or do it perfectly. We’re secure because of the faithful love of Jesus Christ. And if that’s the case, then we can be brave.
The worldview intensive at this year’s Colson Center National Conference will be a crash course in cultural apologetics. Join us in Indianapolis, May 19-21. To learn more about the lineup of speakers and to register, visit colsonconference.org before February 28 to get a special early admission price.
For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.
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