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Frame, Christianity and Culture: What is Culture?

John Frame is one of my favorite living theologians. I was excited to find out that he had lectured on Christ and Culture at the Pensacola Theological Institute, and that the lecture’s manuscript has been published on the internet.

For those of you who don’t know, the Pensacola Theological Institute is an annual conference that highlights an important speaker on a theological topic of current interest. Although I have never personally attended, I have noticed their speakers are always great and topics always interesting.

In his first lecture, Frame addresses an important, foundational question: what is culture? I was glad to see him start here because that is one of the things I have had the hardest time doing. “Culture” is one of those things that we know what it is, but when we have to define it, we have a hard time.

According to Frame, culture is what we create as the people God has put in charge of creation. We were created to be creative, as creatures created in the image of God. Not everything we create is good, we are fallen creatures after all, but because of common grace even fallen creatures are able to create beneficial things.

Defining culture in this way, might automatically begin to answer the question of how we, as Christians are to engage our culture. If we are called to create, and culture is part of this creation, then we probably shouldn’t separate from it as the Christ Against Culture or the Christ and Culture in Paradox perspectives believe. From what Frame is saying, if even fallen creatures can create good things Christians can and should take advantage of them rather than separate themselves from them.

At the same time, if culture is something we create, we should not be subjected to it like the Christ of Culture perspective might do. Although I believe few people would actually call themselves by this perspective, defining culture in this way stands as an argument against those who might try to redefine Christ in terms of their culture.

Another way of looking at it would say that Frame’s higher doctrines of sin and redemption preclude both the Christ of Culture and Christ Against Culture positions.

This leaves two perspectives open for possibilities for how Frame might argue a Christian should engage their culture. We’ll have to see how he suggests we should engage our culture in his later lectures.

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