Monday, March 2, 2009

The Redemption of Culture, #2

A few weeks ago I started looking at the theme of the redemption of culture, but never came back to it. For those who would like to read more about this, I would recommend Richard Mouw's When the Kings Come Marching In, and Chapter 10 of Andy Crouch's Culture Making. What follows is basically a very short summary of material found there.

A comparison of Revelation 21-22 with Isaiah 60 will show that John's vision of the New Jerusalem seems to be shaped by his understanding of Isaiah's vision. And Isaiah depicts a holy city teeming with cultural goods not only from Israel's culture, but from the surrounding nations: domesticated animals, ships, precious minerals, jewels and timber. So as John echoes Isaiah's vision, it does not seem like he is picturing only 'Christian' cultural artifacts when he says that 'the glory and honor of the nations' are brought into the city.

Take the ships of Tarshish, for instance. Isaiah mentions these ships will be a part of the New Jerusalem (60:9). This is odd, because earlier in Isaiah (2:16) we are told that in the coming day of God's judgment, the ships of Tarshish will be among those things that the Lord is against. Yet in chapter 60 they are a part of the redeemed Holy City, being put to good use for God's glory.

How can this be? It seems that the judgment in chapter 2 is not a condemnation of the intrinsic value of these ships, but of the idolatrous function that these vessels are playing in the life of pagan societies. The judgment seems to be a purifying one, not a destruction. When the ships are stripped of the haughtiness and rebellion with which they are presently associated, they are freed for service to God and His people. That is how Isaiah can speak a word of judgment over the ships of Tarshish, yet chapters later speak of their use in the New Jerusalem.

Mouw writes, 'When the Kings come marching in, then, they bring the best of their nations -- even the cultural goods that had been deployed against God and his people. The final vision of the City is one filled, not just with God's glory and presence...but with redeemed human culture too.'

While this initially seemed far-fetched to me, reflection on the reference to the ships of Tarshish leads me to agree with Mouw. Just as our bodies will be redeemed and transformed yet still be our bodies and recognizable to those who knew us, so also cultural goods will be redeemed and transformed, while bearing some resemblance to what they were in the old creation.

This has caused me to ponder which of my favorite cultural artifacts might be cleansed and transformed on the New Earth. If the ships of Tarshish can be stripped of their idolatrous function and put to good use in the New Jerusalem, why not the best of music, film, sport, food, theater and architecture? For these are the things that our nation glories in, aren't they? So here are a few cultural artifacts I'd be delighted to see in the redeemed city of God:

Faithful readers of the blog know that Dave Matthews Band is one of my favorite culture-makers, and their CD Before These Crowded Streets is one of the most musically beautiful recordings I own. Yet I am often grieved that some of the songs contain lyrics that reveal ignorance of and/or hostility toward the God of Scripture. It would be sweet to see Jesus transform this cultural product and put it to use for His glory and honor.

I imagine we'll still love good stories on the New Earth, and this movie is one of my favorite parables of redemption. Cleansed and purified of course, but recognizable nevertheless.

Imagine the thrill of victory and the excellence of athletic greatness, purified from the egos, the greed and the idolatry of so many fans. Perhaps there will be some kind of World Series on the New Earth.

I prefer regular rye as opposed to marble, but a corned beef special would be a nice treat. Of course, as Andy Crouch points out, for the cow's sake I suppose that transformed meals will be vegetarian, but surely they will be a lot better than tofurkey!

Please remember, that my goal on this blog is to share my musings. I am not saying that I know Dave Matthews' music and the Philadelphia Phillies are definitely going to be a part of our experience in the New Jerusalem. All of us see through a mirror dimly when it comes to these matters. But I believe that God is honored when we use our Bible-grounded, sanctified imagination in pondering the wonders of His new creation, so long as we are looking to Him as our ultimate hope and the supreme joy and treasure of all our other joys.

So now it's your turn: what artifacts of culture would you like to see brought into the New Jerusalem?

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