In my forthcoming book I argue that Christianity can and should be a leading influence in human culture. We do this not by seizing control of the institutions of culture and imposing Christianity on people by force, but by acting as cultural entrepreneurs.
A good example of what I mean can be found in Job 29. This passage follows the famous passage on wisdom in chapter 28, which is one of my favorites in all scripture. I had never paid close attention to chapter 29, though, until the other day when I realized what was going on in that chapter. The ESV editors label the passage beginning with chapter 29 and running through the rest of Job’s discourse as “Job’s Summary Defense.”
Job begins the passage by lamenting for the social position he held before his downfall:
2 “Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me,
3 when his lamp shone upon my head,
and by his light I walked through darkness,
4 as I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
5 when the Almighty was yet with me,
when my children were all around me,
6 when my steps were washed with butter,
and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
7 When I went out to the gate of the city,
when I prepared my seat in the square,
8 the young men saw me and withdrew,
and the aged rose and stood;
9 the princes refrained from talking
and laid their hand on their mouth;
10 the voice of the nobles was hushed,
and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
11 When the ear heard, it called me blessed,
and when the eye saw, it approved,
Let’s stop there for a moment. Before he was stricken, Job was a cultural leader. People looked to him for wisdom. And the word “because” in verse 12 indicates that he’s about to tell us why people looked to him for wisdom. Was it because he was smarter? Was it because he was wealthy and successful? No doubt those factors were important, but Job does not identify them as the main source of his cultural leadership. Instead, he points to something else:
12 because I delivered the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to help him.
13 The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,
and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy,
and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
17 I broke the fangs of the unrighteous
and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
Job was a cultural leader because he served human needs. The connection is reinforced in the following verses, where Job seamlessly transitions back from his deeds of service to his position of cultural leadership. “Men listened to me and waited and kept silence for my counsel…” etc.
We become cultural leaders not by seizing control of institutions but by inventing new ways of serving human needs and proving that they work better than the anti-Christian alternatives. We are able to invent new ways of serving human needs because the Spirit has empowered and equipped us in unique ways – through the revelation of the Bible that gives us “inside information” about how the world works, and through the transformation of our hearts and lives. When Christians and Christian institutions serve human needs better than secularists and anti-Christian institutions do, people stop looking to them for leadership and start looking to us.