What Is a Culture?

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Since multiplied volumes have been written in the attempt to define culture, offering a description in a single short essay is certainly presumptuous. This apparent presumption is exacerbated by the fact that social scientists (anthropologists, sociologists) and humanists approach the topic quite differently. For a Christian and theologian, this presumptuousness is further underlined by the fact that the Scriptures themselves offer no deliberate or explicit discussion of the subject.

Nevertheless, some of the most heated conversations in contemporary Christendom concern the relationship between Christianity and culture. Those conversations affect virtually every area of church life. The problem is simply too important to dismiss.

Without at least a preliminary description of “culture,” this entire conversation becomes nonsensical. Without a mechanism to distinguish culture from non-culture, the discussion can broaden to include almost anything. Some attempt at limiting the field of enquiry is obligatory for those who wish to pursue this debate.

From a Christian perspective, certain distinctions seem especially important for a correct description of culture. Without these distinctions, discussions of Christianity and culture quickly become confused. These distinctions are two in number.

First, culture is not equivalent to the created order. When God created things like light, seas, stars, birds, beetles, and aardvarks, He was not creating culture. Granted, such things do provide raw materials upon which cultures operate, but by themselves they do not constitute culture. Gefilte fish and lutefisk are aspects of cultures. Carp and cod are not.

Second, culture is not the same thing as “the world” in any biblical sense of that term. Of course, Scripture uses the expression world in a variety of ways. Among other meanings, the term may denote the created order, the mass of humanity, the present age, and systematic human opposition to God. This is not the place for a discursus on worldliness, but the idea of culture does not correspond neatly to any of the above. Participation in a culture is certainly not by itself “worldly” in the biblical sense of the term.

What is culture, then? First and foremost, cultures are humanly invented systems. That does not mean that all humanly invented systems are cultures (though most are parts of some culture or other). What it does mean is that cultures are created by people and that they display order and pattern.

In Genesis one, the creation narrative shows God taking His world from a condition of lesser order to a condition of greater order. As part of that ordering process, God made human beings in His own image and likeness. He invested them with dominion and gave them His blessing to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. In other words, God committed to humans the task of bringing yet further order to creation.

Humans are unlike God in that they cannot create ex nihilo. Yet they are like God, and one of the points of likeness is that they do create. They display their creative impulse whenever they wrestle their world from a condition of relatively lesser order into a condition of relatively greater order. This includes not only the natural world, but also the world of their relationships. Ultimately, it even includes their own inner worlds.

They do this because they are image and likeness of God. For people to impose higher order upon more primal order is a God-like activity. When they perform this task well, they have the capacity to image God. In other words, when humans instill the right kind of order, they actually reflect the character and glory of God so that other humans (and other moral beings) glimpse something of the Creator. Working together, humans exercising dominion should be like many glass prisms in a chandelier, each reflecting and refracting God’s character so that the multi-faceted nature of His glory is seen in all its beauty.

Some theologians speak of a cultural mandate. The notion of a mandate, however, seems to be superfluous. While the imperatives of Genesis 1:21 are often misread as commands, the text explicitly calls them blessings. God does not have to command humans to create cultures. He has blessed them with this capacity as part of their being. He has hardwired it into them. Wherever they go, this is what people do. They are fruitful and they do multiply. They fill the earth and subdue it. In that respect, they are doing precisely what God meant them to do—and what they cannot avoid doing. Human beings are inveterate exercisers of dominion.

Of course, not all assertions of dominion are now good. Sin has entered the picture, and in marring individuals, sin also mars the cultures that they create. The effect of sin upon culture is a topic that must never be under-rated. Nevertheless, even the capacity of sinful people to create cultures marred by sin is a gift of God. It is a token of the original blessing that was pronounced upon humanity by a benevolent and glorious Creator.

Cultures, then, are humanly invented systems. What gives rise to those systems? Are certain conditions necessary for the emergence of a culture? The answer is likely yes. People respond by creating cultures when at least three elements are brought together.

The first element is an encounter with the created world. Location in time and space has a powerful influence upon the development of cultures. People living by the sea will necessarily develop different habits and customs than people who live in a desert. Those who dwell in the tropics face different circumstances and challenges than those who live above the fold in the map. Cultures emerge from and are changed by the availability of resources, by the occurrence of natural disasters, and by the passage of time.

The second element is the presence of other people. A solitary individual living in total isolation can hardly be spoken of as having a culture. Such a solitary individual may organize patterns or habits, but until these patterns are touched by the presence of other people, they remain merely idiosyncratic. Being made in God’s image requires a third party, someone to whom God is to be imaged. This is perhaps the most important reason that it was not good for the man to be alone.

Juxtaposition with other humans necessarily modifies the way that one touches the natural world. Two people cannot both catch and eat the same small fish. Some adjustment must be made, and out of such adjustments arise concerns for justice, equity, liberty, mercy, sacrifice, and other moral qualities such as those that are summarized in the Second Table of the Law. Consequently, the creation of culture involves more than the ordering of the natural world. It also includes the ordering of social systems.

The encounter with the natural world and the presence of other humans leads to the invention of technologies. These technologies reflect their geographical, temporal, and social locations, but they also alter those locations. Through technologies, humans become capable of manipulating both the natural world and each other. From a cultural point of view, technologies never merely exist. They always change the culture.

The third element in the creation of culture is a shared vision of the nature of reality. This vision must include some understanding of both the immanent and the transcendent orders. It will incorporate unseen actualities and accepted moral verities that are believed to affect the arrangement of both the natural and social world. In short, a culture incarnates and expresses a religion.

Religion affects everything in almost everything about a culture. Art, science, technology, jurisprudence, work, domestic relations: little or nothing is left untouched. Religion becomes the lens through which the whole natural and social worlds are viewed. People groups with different religious perspectives will naturally have different social arrangements, but they will also appropriate the created order differently. The Israelites of the Old Testament, for example, were expected to treat both the land and each other differently than the Canaanites whom they displaced.

In other words, a culture is more than just a system. It is a system of meaning. The various aspects of a culture point beyond themselves to a vision of reality—indeed, a vision of God. A culture is not simply something that is. Rather, a culture signifies. That being so, the significance(s) of any culture is capable of being understood and evaluated.

A culture is a shared phenomenon. A culture will typically contain permutations and variations, but it will also exhibit regularities. The permutations come from differences in interest. The regularities come from shared interests.

In the past, cultures were held together by what is sometimes called the “fabric of society.” This fabric bound the culture together at points of shared interest to prevent it from disintegrating because of diverse interests. For example, the people of a particular region typically shared interests unique to their region, whatever their class might be. The people of the same class typically had interests unique to their class, from whatever region they might hail. One set of interests worked to hold people together even if another set tended to push them apart. The more levels at which individuals shared interests, the stronger a culture was likely to be.

Shared interest, however, is not by itself sufficient to produce a strong culture. Cultures have always required an overarching commitment to a shared metaphysical vision. For the culture to survive and to succeed, participants in the culture had to see reality through this vision. Ultimately, of the three elements that form a culture (the created world, the presence of other people, and a shared understanding of the nature of reality), this was the crucial element. Cultures could and did survive epidemics, famines, invasions, and migrations. They could not survive fundamental shifts in commitment. To change the shared vision is necessarily to change, or even abolish, the culture itself.

If they are to be useful, discussions of Christianity and culture must have some idea of what a culture is. This essay has argued that a culture is a humanly invented system of meaning that responds to at least three elements. The first is an encounter with the natural world. The second is the presence of other people. The third and most important is a religion, for every culture is the incarnation of a religion. Cultures are meaningful, and their meaning can be evaluated. Therefore, any discussion of Christianity and culture must take account of the significance of the cultures that it purports to examine.

Truth and Divine Love Rejected by the World (Translation)
William Cowper (1731-1800)

O Love, of pure and heav’nly birth!
O simple Truth, scarce known on earth!
Whom men resist with stubborn will;
And more perverse and daring still,
Smother and quench, with reas’nings vain,
While error and deception reign.

Whence comes it, that, your pow’r the same
As his on high from whence you came,
Ye rarely find a list’ning ear,
Or heart that makes you welcome here?
—Because ye bring reproach and pain,
Where’er ye visit, in your train.

The world is proud, and cannot bear
The scorn and calumny ye share;
The praise of men the mark they mean,
They fly the place where ye are seen;
Pure Love, with scandal in the rear,
Suits not the vain; it costs too dear.

Then, let the price be what it may,
Though poor, I am prepar’d to pay;
Come shame, come sorrow; spite of tears,
Weakness, and heart-oppressing fears;
One soul, as least, shall not repine,
To give you room; come, reign in mine!


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Kevin, you forgot to begin this essay with "Rap is evil" in all caps so people would read it Wink (though I suppose many would only skim it, then commence reacting in the discussion!).

Anyway, several debatable points in the essay, obviously, but very helpful in bringing several of the important questions into focus. Especially for those like me who are barely informed enough to begin to think clearly about culture. Thanks for "presuming" to define culture in a short essay!
As for "the important questions," one of the real biggies is are all cultures systems of religious expression? I'm certainly inclined to agree. But that raises another question, in a cultural blender (with the motor engaged and the tines spinning) like ours, how do you tell when you're looking at an expression of one culture vs. an expression of another?

Todd Wood's picture

As a whole Corridor of religious, conservative people in America encounter the natural world, they hold to one fundamental:

Denial of creation ex nihilo

appreciate William Cowper's words,
et

dmicah's picture

Addressing culture from an academic vantage point is difficult. The article makes sense, but it doesn't have the earthy pulp of cultural experience. Maybe that is coming in a future article. This is not a crack on Dr. Bauder. Cultural naivety is quite the norm for those whose real world experience is limited to a pulpit and/or a classroom. In Bourne Supremacy, discussing the handling of a secret op to reacquire or terminate rogue agent Jason Bourne, Ward Abbott, a CIA veteran told Pamela Landy, "You speak about this like you read it in a book." Among those of faith, culture is often discussed as if it is the sterile subject of a lab experiment.

Perhaps the undefinable fluidity that is ethos is the reason God said little explicitly about "systems" as Bauder defines it; though i tend to disagree with his conclusion that worldliness has no correlation to culture. Either way, culture exists....should we care about a rigid definition? God's truth, the freedom of the gospel, the transformative nature of the Spirit in us, and the culmination of all things into a physical kingdom with Jesus on the throne is supra-cultural and will by definition be countercultural. The progression of the discussion must be then to the contextualization of God's truth within various cultures. Balance is the underlying theme in that lightning rod of a topic.

For a good read about Christianity intersecting with culture, try Brett McCracken's Hipster Christianity. There is much there, like his interesting assessment that the culture of being hip is self-centered worldliness that should not be a mark of Christianity. He concludes rightly that even those on the fringe of orthodox evangelicalism are now realizing that without a clear distinction between the Christian faith, and its biblically based sub-culture, and the world's embodiment of egocentric and anthropocentric culture, we are left culturally vacuous and spiritually impotent.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't think academic vs. other has much to do with it. If the case is a solid one, it makes no difference it all whether it came "from books." But in this case, Kevin asserts alot without making a systematic case for it. How much can you say in one essay?

I think, though, that there is alot here that can be backed biblically without a great deal of effort.
We know human beings are inherently religious beings.
We know that human beings always believe something about the big questions of how we got here, what life is all about, how right and wrong are determined, etc.
The universality of these human qualities are pretty easy to see in the Bible.

Most of the rest stands to reason.
If people always believe something about the big why's and wherefore's of life (their religion), they are going to reflect those beliefs in what they do. In a place where the culture is strongly unified, there's going to be alot of consistency in beliefs and values and expressions of them.

I think the case could be made that in the US we are in a declining civilization and our culture is very disintegrated as a symptom (or contributing factor? or both?) of that.

We shouldn't overweight the word "system." I'm pretty sure the meaning here is nothing more than a set of beliefs, affections, expressions, etc. that are all interconnected.

Anyway, it would be interesting to hear particulars of where you believe he is mistaken and why.

Quote:
Either way, culture exists....should we care about a rigid definition? God's truth, the freedom of the gospel, the transformative nature of the Spirit in us, and the culmination of all things into a physical kingdom with Jesus on the throne is supra-cultural and will by definition be countercultural. The progression of the discussion must be then to the contextualization of God's truth within various cultures. Balance is the underlying theme in that lightning rod of a topic.
How can "countercultural" or "supra-cultural" or "contextualization" mean anything if we don't know what "culture" is?

B-Lowry's picture

Dr. Bauder has done a good job in distilling, e.g., ideas from T.S.Eliot's "Notes Toward a Definition of Culture" and I think also Roger Scruton's "Culture Counts."

Picking Ward Abbott's comment from the Bourne Supremacy film may not be the best pop culture example. He did get caught in the end. In the film, he was using that statement to cover up his own duplicity. And Pamela Landy was not as inexperienced as the quote leads one to believe.

To say that Bauder is naïve because he spends part of his time with books is itself naïve.

He is articulating the ideas and meaning that lie behind culture, which will take time to do with clarity. I think he will expand on this essay in future ones.

dmicah's picture

Here's an illustration for academics vs. actual. I spent almost 7 years working as a police officer. In defensive tactics they taught a number of control techniques. By the book, state mandated grips, pushes, pulls, throws, etc. to take a person down. Almost without exception when arresting resistive or combative subjects, the technical by-the-book techniques were completely ineffective, except in situations where i happened to be much larger and/or stronger than the subject. We constantly improvised with general wrestling and MMA style techniques to counter combative subjects. Classroom vs. real-world is always different.

I don't disagree with Dr. Bauder's assessment of culture proper, so to speak. I was saying the tone sounded theoretical. I'll give the benefit of the doubt that he may follow up with a secondary addition to this, or third, or 12th. J/K The questions that jumped to mind were like...how does an academic fully interact with others who are different? How about a pastor in full-time ministry? From where does he/she draw their conclusions? TV? Internet? How often do they talk to the people they've labeled? Once defined, where does one go? How does one minister directly? What is the proper amount of contextualization?

Quote:
If people always believe something about the big why's and wherefore's of life (their religion), they are going to reflect those beliefs in what they do. In a place where the culture is strongly unified, there's going to be alot of consistency in beliefs and values and expressions of them.

I think this is less culture, and more general worldview. There will be a tendency among all humans to trust themselves and work to "be good" by whatever subjective standard they establish. I suppose I was thinking differently. In relation to fundamentalism, i was under the impression that a discussion of culture would be related to the genre of sub-cultures that shape the people in churches: MTV Generation, Hip Hop Nation, Hipsters, Hollywood, Greenwich Village mentality, Jersey Shore, narcotics usage, middle class utopia/American Dream, acceptance of internet porn as ok, etc.

Quote:
How can "countercultural" or "supra-cultural" or "contextualization" mean anything if we don't know what "culture" is?

Supra-cultural - gospel supersedes any culture, any people, any nation, any time, anywhere. it is unchanging truth. So on that one, we don't care what the culture is, we establish the path by which men come to faith in Christ.

By counter-cultural, and here I lean on McCracken, is that, we are not concerned with the constantly changing dynamic of culture though we are fully aware of its presence. His point was that the church is ALWAYS behind. It's always chasing a cultural waypoint that can't be caught because as soon the masses embrace what is "cool", the cool people move on to the newest thing. So our counter-cultural nature is that we don't change. That is a major cultural distinction. Our faith is ancient and reliable and consistent and stable. Culture is not. The culture of the church should be the attractive sub-culture for people. The love, harmony, mercy, peace, grace, accountability, faithfulness, service, mutual care, etc. demonstrated through the church should be so attractive, that people will gravitate toward it even before they understand the reason a church has these characteristics. That reason, of course being the Word made flesh.

Finally, to clarify, if we are going to be distinct, we should be aware of that from which are drawing distinction. "Come out from among them, and be separate." To summarize, on Mars Hill Paul said, "You're here worshipping what you don't even know. Let me clue you in." Jesus' message was very similar to the woman at the well. I think we agree that we don't need to pray on carpets seven times per day to minister to Muslims. We also don't need to become club-hopping, Ecstasy-popping partiers to reach young people. But in our town, city, region, country, we should not merely decry the degradation of a fallen culture, we should know what they are doing and how to call them out on it. That is what i mean by not merely recognizing or defining culture, but understanding culture first hand.

dmicah's picture

B-Lowry wrote:
Dr. Bauder has done a good job in distilling, e.g., ideas from T.S.Eliot's "Notes Toward a Definition of Culture" and I think also Roger Scruton's "Culture Counts."

Picking Ward Abbott's comment from the Bourne Supremacy film may not be the best pop culture example. He did get caught in the end. In the film, he was using that statement to cover up his own duplicity. And Pamela Landy was not as inexperienced as the quote leads one to believe.

To say that Bauder is naïve because he spends part of his time with books is itself naïve.

He is articulating the ideas and meaning that lie behind culture, which will take time to do with clarity. I think he will expand on this essay in future ones.

I should have drawn a stronger line between Dr. Bauder and the concept of naivety. I didn't mean to insinuate his personal naivety. In my experience, many who stay inside colleges/seminaries and other professional ministry organizations often become quite disconnected from the real world. This applies to Christian or secular institutions, i.e. the Harvard professor who views a plumber as a low brow, or the politician who can't tell you how much a gallon of milk costs.

Surely Abbott was covering his tracks the whole time, but my intent was to highlight his veteran, in-the-trenches knowledge to a person who had little field experience. His statement was factual. Despite her experience, she didn't know what she was into at the time with Bourne. Since he did, that made his comment legitimate, therefore, applicable. IMO, of course. Smile

DavidO's picture

dmicah wrote:
how does an academic fully interact with others who are different? How about a pastor in full-time ministry? From where does he/she draw their conclusions? TV? Internet? How often do they talk to the people they've labeled?

IRONY ALERT!!

Steve Newman's picture

When we talk "culture", aren't we really talking about the local area where we live? If we actually live, work, shop, etc. in an area, we will have some idea of the culture. There are larger "macro" cultural forces, such as media, internet, etc. We tend to want to philosophize about the "macro" issues, when we should be looking at the "micro" issues. Some of that is the difference in being in a large metropolitan area vs. a small town. For example, I could wax philosophical about the moral decay of culture, and rightly so, or I could act locally to pray and preach about the corrupt local culture in my area.

RPittman's picture

Bauder wrote:
Humans are unlike God in that they cannot create ex nihilo. Yet they are like God, and one of the points of likeness is that they do create. They display their creative impulse whenever they wrestle their world from a condition of relatively lesser order into a condition of relatively greater order.[emphasis added ] This includes not only the natural world, but also the world of their relationships. Ultimately, it even includes their own inner worlds.

They do this because they are image and likeness of God. For people to impose higher order upon more primal order is a God-like activity. [emphasis added ]When they perform this task well, they have the capacity to image God. In other words, when humans instill the right kind of order, they actually reflect the character and glory of God so that other humans (and other moral beings) glimpse something of the Creator. Working together, humans exercising dominion should be like many glass prisms in a chandelier, each reflecting and refracting God’s character so that the multi-faceted nature of His glory is seen in all its beauty.

Are we saying that the ability to create or impose order upon our environment is a characteristic of being created in God's image? How do we know? Animals also impose order upon their environment. Beavers construct dams to form ponds, birds build nests for incubation of their eggs, and honey bees construct wonderfully symmetric combs for their honey. Spiders weave intricate webs to catch their prey. The list goes on. Creation in God's image is something that sets man apart from the other creatures. How can we argue that the ability to impose order on the environment is a characteristic of creation in God's image when this ability is shared by other creatures? It seems that we only do it more extensively and better than other critters.

Additionally, all human creations are not reflective of "God’s character so that the multi-faceted nature of His glory is seen in all its beauty." Culture, per se, has the potential, and often is, for being bend, twisted, perverse, evil, and wicked. Again, we ask if this evil potential is part of God's image--God, Who cannot sin--or is it a purely human or creature trait?

Too often our reasoned inferences are based on parallels where no causal relationship exists. Parallels make for tempting inferences because humans love order and relatedness. Unless causality can be established, these inferences are usually false. After all, parallels never intersect.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Can't speak for Kevin, but here's a thought.
Perhaps we cannot accurately describe what beasts to as "imposing order" on their environment since (a) they do not understand what order is, (b) if they are conscious of anything it is only to solve an immediate problem.
I'd have to give the question more thought I suspect that the difference between us and the beasts and instinct vs. creativity is a difference in kind, not merely a difference of degree.

I don't think anybody is questioning that human beings often create for evil purposes. Even when they do this, they are reflecting the imago dei because even a creation intended for evil purposes (and performed with evil motives) is a creation. In these cases, it's our likeness to God put to evil use. Still our God likeness, though. (As an analogy, if you shape a mass of gold into a club to bonk your neighbor with, it's still gold.)

Edit: after thinking some more, I think a better answer is this...
The "given" here is that man is uniquely made "in the image of God." We have that revealed directly in Genesis 1. From there, if we start looking for points of similarity, some things become pretty hard to miss. In the context of Genesis, what have we just seen God do? Create. So if we even just look at the closest possible example of what "image" could mean, it points in that direction.
Beyond that, the similarities between what God did in creating and we do in creating are too numerous to be coincidental. I think it takes real effort to not see culture as a reflection of the image of God.

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Can't speak for Kevin, but here's a thought.
Perhaps we cannot accurately describe what beasts to as "imposing order" on their environment since (a) they do not understand what order is, (b) if they are conscious of anything it is only to solve an immediate problem.
I'd have to give the question more thought I suspect that the difference between us and the beasts and instinct vs. creativity is a difference in kind, not merely a difference of degree.
Even if we accept this explanation, the original statement was in purely behavioral terms that matched. The emphasis was upon the action of imposing order upon the environment, which animals, as well as humans do. In other words, there was no distinction between instinctive behavior and creative thought behind the behavior. Was he thinking about this when he wrote? Perhaps Dr. Bauder would care to modify and refine his original assertion.
Quote:

I don't think anybody is questioning that human beings often create for evil purposes. Even when they do this, they are reflecting the imago dei because even a creation intended for evil purposes (and performed with evil motives) is a creation. In these cases, it's our likeness to God put to evil use. Still our God likeness, though. (As an analogy, if you shape a mass of gold into a club to bonk your neighbor with, it's still gold.)

Your analogy argues for an amoral culture, I think. It is similar to the idea of science being able to give us the knowledge how to make dynamite but dynamite can be used to blast a road for farmers to carry their produce to market (good use) or used to make a bomb for terrorist mayhem (bad use). If culture is evil, then it reflects more of a Satanic image than the image of God. Even evil culture (e.g. intricately carved idols, etc.) can be creative and artistic. I don't think we can say that culture is amoral. If so, then we cannot argue that culture of itself is a reflection of God's image unless we are willing to mix light and darkness ("This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)."
Quote:

Edit: after thinking some more, I think a better answer is this...
The "given" here is that man is uniquely made "in the image of God." We have that revealed directly in Genesis 1. From there, if we start looking for points of similarity, some things become pretty hard to miss. In the context of Genesis, what have we just seen God do? Create. So if we even just look at the closest possible example of what "image" could mean, it points in that direction.
Beyond that, the similarities between what God did in creating and we do in creating are too numerous to be coincidental.[emphasis added ] I think it takes real effort to not see culture as a reflection of the image of God.

Aaron, you seem to have missed, or overlooked, my original points about parallels and causality. Would you care to comment on those? The number of parallelisms do not prove causality. The argument follows the same course as homology--similarity indicates relationship--used by evolutionists, who can find unlimited parallels among organisms in the natural world. The problem is that homology has never been established. The homologous similarities among organisms is readily explained by functionality based on a common creative design, not necessarily evolutionary relationships. Again, your proposed homology between man's cultural behavior and God's image is lacking the connection of causality.

No one is contesting that man was created in God's image and no one is arguing that culture is not important. The argument is about what constitutes being created in God's image. We are not arguing about what Scripture says. Our argument is based on conjecture and supposition with very little supporting evidence. The data submitted as proof are debatable inferences and observations of parallelism. With such an unstable foundation, how can we construct a Christian theory of culture?

Although we speak of God in anthropomorphisms, man's creation in God's image is more about the spiritual side of man than the physical and behavioral. The connection of man's creative nature with God's image is as specious as man having a physical appearance like God, Who is a Spirit.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm not really all that interested in debating it, I guess. I think the matter is pretty clear. But a couple thoughts...

You can't really separate the behavior from the nature of the thing that is behaving. If a mindless beast makes a nest it is not really doing the same thing as a human being creating a nest in imitation of the bird's. The "behavior" is not the same because the behavior includes the thinking behind it. It's also not the same because being an eternal soul fundamentally alters any activity vs. a souless version of the activity that happens to look the same.

You say that creation in God's image is about the spiritual side and then deny that creativity has anything to do with His image. I think we're getting confused on some terminology here. When I say "creativity" I am talking about what a spirit does. Not sure but it seems likely that Kevin would also not define creativity as something a beast or machine can do. So soul/spirit are assumed in the term.
It's far from obvious--as you seem to assume--that this creative ability and desire could come from anywhere but God's image in us, since humans alone posses this ability/drive.

Charlie's picture

Culture is not amoral. Culture is good. Or, rather, was created good. If it is evil, it is the perversion of a prior good.

When Christianity dealt with Manichaean dualism, it did so by asserting that "being" is good. Humans, insofar as they are humans, are good. Insofar as they are sinners, they are bad. The curse is overlaid on top of the original good creation. Redemption restores and perfects nature; it does not replace it. This is the teaching of all the major branches of Christendom.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

RPittman's picture

Charlie wrote:
Culture is not amoral. Culture is good. Or, rather, was created good. If it is evil, it is the perversion of a prior good.

When Christianity dealt with Manichaean dualism, it did so by asserting that "being" is good. Humans, insofar as they are humans, are good. Insofar as they are sinners, they are bad. The curse is overlaid on top of the original good creation. Redemption restores and perfects nature; it does not replace it. This is the teaching of all the major branches of Christendom.

I don't think we are debating dualism here. It is simply a question of whether culture is a reflection of God's image in man. I am still waiting for someone to make the connection. How do you know culture is good?

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I'm not really all that interested in debating it, I guess. I think the matter is pretty clear. But a couple thoughts...
It may be clear to you but that is not cogent for the rest of us.
Quote:

You can't really separate the behavior from the nature of the thing that is behaving. If a mindless beast makes a nest it is not really doing the same thing as a human being creating a nest in imitation of the bird's. The "behavior" is not the same because the behavior includes the thinking behind it. It's also not the same because being an eternal soul fundamentally alters any activity vs. a souless version of the activity that happens to look the same.
Fundamentally, I don't disagree. However, the original argument was purely on observable behavior. If there is a distinction that clinches the argument, then it ought to be note or the argument is lacking. The problem is that it is going to be tricky and difficult to establish the discerning between the two similar behaviors because what is different is not as easily observable. Thus, one is forced into make indirect arguments. Then, one must still make the connection with non-observable distinction being connected with the image of God in man. The use of parallelism is easy to believe but it is difficult to prove.

Also, you are overlooking some very modern viewpoints here. The latest thinking in psychology and behavioral studies is that all thought and behavior are chemically based. This is a type of reductionism that reduces thoughts to biochemical pathways with behavior being genetically based. If one follows this increasingly popular line of thinking, then your argument evaporates because a genetically determined biochemical pathway in a bird's brain is not significantly different in kind from a genetically determined biochemical pathway in a human brain. This is quite interesting to me and I, for one, think that Christians need better answers to give a skeptical world than the stand-pat answers of a 19th century worldview.

Furthermore, Aaron, would you please comment on my points regarding parallelism and homology? Either deny them or grant them. I don't mind answering your ideas but I would like for you to deal with my points occasionally instead of constantly raise new ones.

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You say that creation in God's image is about the spiritual side and then deny that creativity has anything to do with His image.

Aaron, let's be precise. I did NOT "deny that creativity has anything to do with His image." I am saying that we don't know if "creativity has anything to do with His image" until you can establish the connection between man's creativity and God's image bearing. Furthermore, we don't know how the fall has affected God's image in man as well as man's creativity. Similarities, as in the homology argument, do not necessarily prove relationship. I would be rather be intellectually honest and say that "I don't know" rather than enter into speculation built upon speculation. Too often, we accept and find logical what fits our own worldview. It's more about preserving the system (i.e. worldview) than pursuing the truth.
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I think we're getting confused on some terminology here. When I say "creativity" I am talking about what a spirit does.

Okay, I'm will to listen and learn. How do you know that human creativity (and I assume you are speaking of human creativity) is a spiritual activity? I know that God's Spirit was instrumental in creation but man cannot speak things into existence in essentially the same way. This is akin to Word of Faith teaching per Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. The common everyday meaning of creativity is the ability or process of producing something new, innovative, or original. It has no special spiritual significance until one begins to philosophize and spiritualize the meaning. We are agreed that both God and man have the ability to produce or increase order in the universe but can you connect this specifically as a spiritual activity?
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Not sure but it seems likely that Kevin would also not define creativity as something a beast or machine can do. So soul/spirit are assumed in the term.

It is interesting that you would mention machines. Man has shown much creativity in scientific knowledge as well as the humanities. Science is far from the cold, impassionate, intellectual quest that is popular myth. Science is based on orderliness and replication. With the coming of Chaos Theory, it appeared at first that randomness lay behind the orderliness until orderliness behind the orderliness appeared. Computer programs modeling dynamic chaotic processes plot beautiful images showing deterministic order in the process. Are the computers creativity?
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It's far from obvious--as you seem to assume--that this creative ability and desire could come from anywhere but God's image in us, since humans alone posses this ability/drive.
Don't assume! Do humans alone possess creativity? Perhaps creativity resides in our God-given intellectual abilities. Are intelligence and spirituality synonymous? Are they related? Is intelligence part of bearing God's image? How do we know? After all, angels and demons both evidence intelligence.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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the original argument was purely on observable behavior.

I think you read that into it.
When you write something short, you have to make some assumptions. It was a pretty safe assumption that readers would view human beings as creatures of both body and spirit who do what they do as an expression of mind.

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Quote:
the original argument was purely on observable behavior.

I think you read that into it.
When you write something short, you have to make some assumptions.
Did you mean to say that you make assumptions in writing something short? Or, did you mean that one must make assumptions in reading something that is short? I don't know that I agree. Clear writing should preclude the reader making assumptions because one cannot count on his making the right assumption. And the writer ought not make assumptions either than perhaps that the reader has sufficient intelligence and knowledge for following the argument.
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It was a pretty safe assumption that readers would view human beings as creatures of both body and spirit who do what they do as an expression of mind.

What? It's best not to assume because we don't read another's thoughts. You contradict yourself. I did not read into it. The article only spoke of behavior, not thoughts behind the behavior. If my observation, not assumption, is wrong then it is provable from the article. I did not assume and I did not read into it. I merely noted how the argument was stated--purely behavioral terms.

Furthermore, I don't understand the the following: "It was a pretty safe assumption that readers would view human beings as creatures of both body and spirit who do what they do as an expression of mind." Are you equating "spirit" and "an expression of mind?" What "spirit" is your reference? Man's "spirit?" Is man's "spirit" the same as his mind? These are fine sounding words signifying nothing.

Now, Aaron, why don't you answer my main points instead of finding some obscure, insignificant phrase to challenge?

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