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FIRST-PERSON: Engaging the culture

1 Peter 3:15-16: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Editor’s note: This column examines the necessity for the new L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–At the present time, naturalistic philosophy seemingly rules the West. Its influence filters down to us through government, the courts, the media, the arts and sciences, and the educational systems in general. The East certainly maintains its sense of multiple spiritual realities, but even the East is adopting western naturalism in science classrooms, and the people of Asia are increasing their consumption of naturalistic western media.

Naturalism, the view that all things have only natural causes, offers no hope and provides no ultimate meaning for life. Without Christian voices raising biblical alternatives and giving answers to naturalism, western culture as we have known it may collapse, and the East eventually faces a similar end.

A cursory view of the modern church will reveal that it, too, shows signs of being influenced by the trends and methods of a cultural naturalism. It is my desire, and that of my colleagues at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, that the new L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture will provide a platform from which the Christian message will be able to engage every aspect of non-Christian thought (from naturalism to animism, from humanism to pantheism) and counter the false spirits of the age (wherever they are found) by proposing Christian faith as the only true way. We want the center to be a reliable source of Christian answers.

Evangelicals are great at chronicling and describing modern trends. The center will need to do some of that. But we change nothing unless we can show people the error inherent in non-Christian philosophies and at the same time train a core of leaders who can be both salt and light in our culture. We want to persuade the public of the weakness of the naturalistic worldview and lead them to the true way in Christ. We want to support our churches in their efforts to present authentic Christian truth throughout the culture, confronting the false teachings that are in our world today. Our goals, however, are not ultimately measured by how much we change the world but by how faithful we are to Christ.

We Christians cannot ignore our responsibility under God to present biblical truth to the people of the world, making disciples of all nations. Moreover, Peter tells us to be ready to give answers to anyone who asks about our faith. Like Jesus, we want to offer Living Water. Like Paul, we want to tell people about the Most High God, and we want to defend the faith against false teachers.

Personally, I do not subscribe to the so-called “warfare model” where Christian faith is thought to be inevitably pitted against everything else. Our center will not be opposed to science, art, media and technology as such. We can recognize the good in our culture without compromising our Gospel commitments. In fact, we plan to draw upon these cultural resources, and we will celebrate truth wherever we can find it.

God is the all-knowing scientist. Human science is the fascinating discovery of the nature and organization of God’s intelligently designed universe.

God is the supreme artist. Human art flows out of the image of God that we posses. Our art reveals much about the human condition and helps us to see ugliness for what it is as well as to learn to appreciate beauty. Through art God allows us to recognize both positive and negative aspects of life.

None of us want to do without our intelligently designed technology. We all enjoy entertainment; the better the special effects, the better we like it. I do not intend to argue that science and media are strictly neutral, but I do not want to say that cultural realities are (by definition) enemies against which we must always fight.

But make no mistake about it, Christians are, as Paul says in Ephesians 6, in a spiritual battle. Our primary weapons will be prayer and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Building on that foundation, we will hope to provide an effective demonstration of the validity and value of the biblical worldview. We will maintain that the biblical worldview is in fact the best cultural framework even for unbelievers, though at the moment they do not seem to recognize this fact. Truth always has more value than error, and Jesus is the true way (John 14:6) who taught us that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

Many believers today are confused. They fail to see the cultural importance of the biblical worldview. But this biblical worldview is the faith once delivered to the saints, the treasure we are to guard. This is what we believe to be true. God is real, and He is One, not many. The universe was created and is sustained by the biblical God; it did not evolve naturally; it did not create itself. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. He died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended, and is coming again. He is Lord! God says so!

As God gives us grace, we pledge ourselves to present biblical truth in the brightest light we can. Engaging the culture: Defending the faith. That is the ultimate purpose of the new Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. May God give us grace to see His truth shine ever brighter until Jesus comes to lead us home.
L. Russ Bush is the academic vice president/dean of the faculty for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He will begin his new duties as the director of the center on June 1.

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