"Culture" is a Christian buzz word these days. I'm guilty of it & you're guilty of it. We throw this word around rarely giving any thought to what we mean by it. This has caused a haze to rest over our eyes and minds whenever we hear someone talk about "culture." Thankfully, there are people out there who are concerned with this sort of hazy approach to culture. Peter Leithart is one such person.
In his book Against Christianity Leithart contends that culture is not some mysterious substance lurking behind the scenes of the world we inhabit rearing its ugly head whenever we attend a movie or find ourselves in the city center. He explains:
Culture is not a shadowy something existing in secret "behind" its "manifestations" in language, rites, rules, and discipline. Culture is a people organized and united by its language, rites, rules, and mechanisms of enforcement. So also is the covenant. So also is the Church (pg. 56)
It will not do to approach culture from this dodgy and shadowy perspective. This only confuses things. Culture can be seen and touched and tasted and heard. In all our fumbling with "culture" we have missed the mark pretty bad.
You can tell in the conclusion to the quotation that Leithart does not think our misunderstanding of culture simply affects the way we view the world "out there." No, he concludes that in the same way that any culture is a people united by tangible realities (language, rites, rules, etc.) so too is the church. Our misgivings about culture in a more general sense have projected themselves back onto our understanding of the church. Because we have approached our discussion of "culture" from a dodgy and shadowy perspective we have, accidentally, made the Church dodgy and shadowy in the process.
Too often we are looking for the Church "behind" the Church in the same way that we are looking for the culture "behind" the culture. In short, we have chosen to view the church (and culture) through the lens of election instead of through the lens of covenant. What this means is that we are trying to see the invisible decrees of God (election) instead of the visible decrees of God (covenant). Whenever we attempt to see things that God has not revealed to us we ourselves are attempting to be God. The consequences can only be negative.
Let us abandon our attempts to see the "invisible" Church or the "invisible" culture and instead see that which God has revealed to us in his word.
Food for thought.