Welcome to Week Four of The Rabbit Reads Book Group: Culture Making. This week, we’re looking at Chapters 9 – 11 and focusing on the ways the Resurrection and the Spirit have empowered God’s people to make real, lasting change…maybe even eternal change. Read on for this week’s reflection, and share your insights, questions, or favorite quotes in the comments below!
It’s hard to deny that something happened. What should have been a brief disruption quickly turned into outrageous claims of an executed man coming back to life. His small band of misfit followers went from scared out of their minds to claiming they’d seen him, eaten with him, and touched the wounds.
Saul, an educated Jewish leader and Roman citizen, stopped persecuting Christians and instead traversed the empire to teach the gospel, planting churches along the way.
From there, this weird little movement only grew. Jesus was the Messiah, they said. He told them to go and spread his story, love others, change the world. What began as a very specific religion among very specific people exploded into a multinational force. By AD 350 Christianity was not only legal, but claimed by half the Roman Empire.
And today, we’re still talking about it. Something happened—something paradigm-shifting. World-shattering. Something true.
Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been looking at Part 2 of Culture Making, in which Andy Crouch takes us on a tour of culture’s role in the Biblical narrative. We looked at how the creation account of Genesis presented a God unlike any other, a Creator who actually empowered his own creatures to create with him (if you missed it, Laure Hittle wrote a fantastic exploration of this topic last week). We explored the implications of the Fall and when human creativity goes awry in Babel. We looked at the call of Abram and how God’s restoration project began with a tiny imperfect nation. And we saw how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection became the hinge of history, a culture-shaking event that still influences the world today.
So here we are. In this week’s chapters, we see how the early church grew into a massive movement, and how God’s chosen family opened the way for the redemption of nations. This story is our inheritance. This is the story we live in still.
Why Christianity? Why didn’t this whole thing fizzle out, leaving Jesus as a footnote in history? Crouch cites Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity for some insight. Perhaps part of the church’s growth came from their involvement with culture, serving their neighbors and facing challenges in loving, creative ways.
In one example, Stark writes about the Christian response when disease swept through Roman cities. “In the face of terrible conditions, pagan elites and their priests simply fled the cities. The only functioning social network left behind was the church, which provided basic nursing care to Christians and non-Christians alike, along with a hope that transcended death.” (pg 156-157)
So perhaps the spread of Christianity wasn’t from winning arguments, having the best theology, or providing concrete proof of the resurrection. The proof was in people who actually believed it, living like they had nothing to fear. When crises came, Christians were there, “innovating new ways of solving challenges that they shared with their neighbors.” (pg 157)
The same Spirit that arrived at Pentecost and united a diverse crowd in Jerusalem empowered these earliest believers to make something new—the same Spirit behind some of history’s most beautiful movements of hope, restoration, and justice. The work of the Spirit isn’t merely internal self-improvement; it’s a transformation that spills out in powerful movements of grace.
If you believe who Jesus is and what he said is true, enough to not fear death, then imagine the wonders that can be accomplished. “The belief of Christians that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead made them culture makers, and the culture they created was so attractive that by the fourth century A.D., an entire empire was on the verge of faith. (159)
In Chapter 10, Crouch takes a look at the mysteries of Revelation with special attention to a surprising idea: in Isaiah’s vision of the future Holy City, the nations bring their wealth, from the ships of Tarshish to the glory of Lebanon. (Is 60:9, 11-13) There’s a suggestion that the best and most beautiful work of the nations has a place in eternity, a place to be purified and transformed, like gold beaten to translucence, ready to beautify the culmination of all Creation.
Kind of makes you want to make something that lasts, doesn’t it?
This week, can you think of any ways you’ve seen the world transformed by Christians facing outward? Take the time to consider with gratitude how the Spirit has worked in your life, and perhaps how this calls you to be a culture maker in God’s great restoration project. We’d love to hear your insights in the comments!
(Art in featured image: Golden Sea by Makoto Fujimura)
Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. Her words have appeared in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she recently released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores, good coffee, messing about in the kitchen, and local adventures with her husband Chris.