Io Evangelical theology and culture

william a. dyrness

Though the evangelical movement has become a diverse, worldwide movement, there has been consistency in attitudes toward culture. Throughout their history evangelicals have displayed ambivalence toward their cultural context. The world was either something to be won over in the name of Christ, or to be avoided as a source of temptation, but it could also represent a resource to be exploited in pursuit of their evangelical calling. As a result, their relationship with culture has been ambiguous, marked more often by vigorous campaigns against particular evils believed to threaten Christian living - whether liquor, polygamy or slavery, or, more recently, abortion and gay marriage - than by thoughtful engagement with the complexities of culture. In this respect views of culture reflect the unique historical and theological character of the movement, with its roots in the Reformation, and the revival and missionary movements emanating from Europe and North America.1 In this article we will use "culture" to refer to artifacts, practices, and institutions by which a people expresses its identity; in theological terms, what humans make of God's good creation.

historical sources: reformation and revivals

Two historical sources in particular have shaped evangelical views of culture: the Reformation and the major revivals. The watchwords of the Reformation - faith alone, the Bible alone, and Christ alone - became central to evangelical theology. But the roots of ambiguity toward culture lay, in part, in the diversity of the views of the major Reformers. John Calvin believed that true worship of God should lead to transformation of cultural structures; Martin Luther taught that the word of God would do its work in the human heart and life, and involvement in political or cultural

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