Mission starts with Babel: A cool Biblical Theology thing

I’m doing some stuff on the church for one of my subjects this semester (well, for three of them, but this one in particular is called Church, Sacraments, and Ministry). Here’s a cool bit of Biblical Theology that I’d kind of thought about before but I’ve just had to articulate it…

These passages work really nicely together to account for the global significance of the gospel…

In Genesis 11 you get the story of Babel, some entrepreneurial peeps try to build a big tower to be like God. Because they all speak the same language.

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lordsaid, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

It’s a nice little theological account for why there are different nations – which sits just before God calls Abraham (then Abram) to start his own people – and they’re meant to bless these other nations (Gen 12:1-3).

Skip ahead a few thousand years (well, you could incorporate the nations coming in to see Solomon. I probably would). And you get the great Commission… Especially these bits in Matthew 28:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It’s global. But it’s global because the Babel type distinction (which has become a “Jew/Gentile” distinction) has been broken down by Jesus.

Paul says it this way in Galatians 3:

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Here’s some cool stuff though… Babel starts getting reversed at Pentecost in Acts 2 (I know it’s probably obvious, sometimes the obvious can be exciting though)…

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontusand Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

That, in itself, is a pretty nice piece of Biblical Theology. But what I really love is when you throw in a picture of what heaven will look like, which seems to riff on this little thread that develops through the Bible – where people get together and sing with one voice…

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

Cool. Hey. Babel gets reversed so that people can sing stuff about Jesus.

 

 

38 Comments Mission starts with Babel: A cool Biblical Theology thing

  1. Arthur

    So hey, in this line of thinking, wouldn’t the reverse of Babel mean that Pentecost and New Creation involve everyone speaking the same language and/or everyone being absorbed into some sort of mono-culture?

    1. Nathan Campbell

      Yeah. I don’t know. I suspect a mono-culture of awesomeness. But given infinite time, and perfect humanity, and given that most cultures arise as products of time and space, won’t most cultures kind of coalesce into one naturally, even without being gathered in one city, around the throne of God… I’d like to be able to eat food from different traditions though…

      I’ve been thinking for a while that the internet is kind of a reverse Babel. Not just because of Babel Fish… or Google Translate… but it’s this great monument to humanity’s awesomeness that we’re all kind of building together… especially wikipedia.

    2. Nathan Campbell

      Perhaps the “same language” we now speak is the gospel – that Jesus is Lord… over all cultures.

  2. Laura

    It’s even cooler than that – people of every people and language singing together to Jesus. I’m not sure that Babel is a curse: it’s a type of creation. At Babel God frustrated our proud plans and his response was to give us languages and cultures. Pentecost doesn’t erase cultures, it unifies us across cultures in Jesus- the apostles can be understood in any language.

    In revelation they’re praising Jesus not in monolingual songs but in all languages. Babel is reversed in that people aren’t seeking to make a name for themselves but praising Jesus. But more than reversed, it’s fulfilled – all the languages and cultures created at Babel find their true purpose in Jesus. Jesus is the alpha and omega after all, the sum of all meaning, after all.

    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hmmm. I’ll have to think about this a little – I’m not sure I agree that Pentecost is the apostles being understood in every language, more everybody understanding what’s being said as though it’s in their own language… perhaps we’ll all speak tongues in the New Creation.

      I think I agree that Babel is a type of creation – of the nations – but I don’t think that means it’s not also a curse.

      I love the bit about Babel being reversed because the object of our praise shifts from our own ingenuity to Jesus, and while the text does explicitly say people of many nations and languages will be around the throne, the sense I get is that part of that gathering is essentially doing away with those distinctions – but then I’d have to figure out the stuff about kings and nations bringing tribute to the throne in Revelation 21.

      I also wonder about cultures, rather than nations, being created at Babel. I feel like all our cultures are human constructs continue the curse of Babel by inhibiting a genuine experience of God, which we’ll only truly taste in the New Creation.

    2. AndrewF

      I agree.. I don’t think Babel was a curse either – it was, partly, God forcing what he had commanded us to do. Cultural diversity is not reversed with the gospel.

  3. AndrewF

    But what I really love is when you throw in a picture of what heaven will look like, which seems to riff on this little thread that develops through the Bible – where people get together and sing with one voice…

    9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God,
    who sits on the throne,
    and to the Lamb.”

    Cool. Hey. Babel gets reversed so that people can sing stuff about Jesus.

    Come and visit us! ;)
    In our first service, after singing the gospel together in half a dozen different languages, we read that passage, and then sang the song.. it was awesome (in the proper sense of the word).

  4. pharbo

    Great discussion. :)

    Yeah, I read Revelation, as others here do, as a celebration of the unity in Christ crossing cultural diversities with such diversity being to the honour and glory of the Lamb who rescued people from all tribes. Or, as Ephesians has it, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. The retaining of cultural diversity hightens the glory of God in bringing unity in Christ.

    I’m not yet convinced that creation is the right paradigm for Babel. It seems to me that after Gen 2 God seemed to rest from his work of creation. (Cf also Hebrews 4:1-3.)

    It seems more an act of frustration than anything. Frustrating humanity’s greatest strength which was their unity because they were utilising it not in the service of God but in opposition to his command to spread out and fill the earth. Frustrating their plan to be able to exert their control over God.

    Thus, it seems to me that the separation and division brought about by the Babel incident is a part of frustration of creation referenced in Ecclesiastes and in the groaning of Romans 8.* That God uses these differences between people that were once used by sinful people as pretexts for war, pride, etc as a means of diversifying and enriching the glory of his work in salvation seems only appropriate for the way our God works, bringing glory to himself by salvation through judgement.

    To coin a phrase.

    :P

    Thoughts?

  5. Nathan

    I’m not convinced that human cultures, as human creations, in response to this Babel act, but also since then in response to the desires of our own hearts, are good things that I’d want continuing.

    I can’t think of any culture that isn’t either formed because a group is wanting to define its identity against something, or as something that other people aren’t – at one level there’s a rightness to that, because cultures can form in opposition to sin or oppression – but there won’t be sin or oppression in the New Creation. But lots of cultures (and I’m not just talking ethnic diversity) are formed on the basis of idolatry (even those that we participate in as Christians, either deliberately, mindful of the idol, or by preference), gathering around an idol. And there’ll be no idolatry in the New Creation because we’ll be gathered around the throne of God.

    Cultures are an important part of mission – understanding how to turn people’s ultimate concern to Jesus, within their culture, and being concerned for the culture you are part of, or other cultures who are unreached, or could be reached better, is fundamental to missiology. But we are calling people out of that culture first, and into a culture built on our union with Christ, and with one another as Christians, before re-entering those cultures as missionaries (deliberately or not, we’re all called to be missionaries). I think our understanding of human culture, and cultural expression, as something to be potentially redeemed, but that’s largely something that’s the result of sinful humans coming together means I’m looking forward to coming together with my brothers and sisters from across cultures in the New Creation for something new – not a continuation of old boundary markers that distinguish me from them…

    1. Nathan Campbell

      I’d also say Paul only really maintained his Jewishness, or expressed Gentileness, in order to win those cultures. I think we’re called to operate from a position of cultural flexibility now (which means not investing too much significance into culture for ourselves, but recognising its significance for others), which to me suggests there’ll be no cultural inflexibility in the New Creation – and at that point I wonder if you’ve really got multiculturalism, rather than one expansive mono-culture centred around rightly and fully responding to being in the presence of God. Even if the positive aspects of our cultures now are doing that (if you want to use the Keller/Driscoll redeem, reject, receive paradigm) are already rightly responding to the presence of God, surely those will be subsumed into the ur-culture, or archetypal culture of heaven, rather than maintained as distinct.

  6. pharbo

    A good chat.

    A few thoughts in response to Nath:

    First, it seems like your thoughts here are matters of degree. You’re ok with the idea of redeemed human culture, but in practice just barely so. Only just enough to escape a front-on accusation of your beloved ‘wrong use not negating right use’ argument? Ultimately I think you’re just collapsing distinction on the basis of what unity is shared. Just because the circle of unity is great doesn’t make the amount of venn diagram that is distinct small. You could go even further with this. If my cultural identity is obliterated, then why not my personal identity? If the characteristics that distinguish me from another Christian will in heaven be reduced to a different set of physical atoms that make up my body (a result of taking your thinking further than you have to this point), then what is left of personal identity?

    For me, I think one of the great glories of the gospel is in the fact that cultural identity is not destroyed. In fact, this seems to me to be the great distinction between the new and old testaments. Everyone from any nation could be saved in the OT. You just had to lose your human cultural identity and take on a Jewish one in order to do so. The Jerusalem Council, Galatians, etc are all making the point that one does not have to become Jewish to become a Christian. And this, I think, is significant in the great plan of God’s gospel, as Ephesians particularly takes up.

    1. Nathan Campbell

      But Paul does seem to suggest that once his identity is caught up in Christ, though he is very Jewish by background, he still “becomes a Jew” to win the Jews. I’m just saying cultural identity isn’t the hard and fast identity definer that we think it is, and that has been affirmed by others in this discussion. I think my view of cultures, in sum, is that they are human constructions, bound by time and space, and their human creators. We humans are a complex mix of the Image of God, and the fallen nature. This mix is different between individuals, and between cultures, as some of the image of God has been more or less visible through the work of the Spirit where Christians have influenced culture (I’d say cultures are also influenced by God’s work via common grace, and the created order). But we’re also fallen, and the noetic effect of sin affects our ability to rightly build cultures, as do our idolatrous hearts. So the cultures we create will have aspects of this mix involved.

      This mix won’t exist in the New Creation, and neither will time, well, not meaningfully in the scheme of infinity… so our cultures won’t exist in their current form, and our individuality will change too. I think. Because much of our individuality is limited by our imperfections. I’d say the pay off is that we’re free to be who we’re created to be without the constraint of sin, and that we’ll be accepted for who we are, without the constraint of sin, such that our cultural markers, as identity markers, will fade away.

      I’m increasingly thinking that what some people suggest is my anemic doctrine of creation, is rather a relatively robust view of the effect of the fall. I think the discontinuity in the New Creation will be greater than the continuity (though there will be continuity), because it’ll be like seeing for the first time, hearing for the first time, tasting for the first time – without the shackles of sin – we’ll all be experiencing it like blind people seeing, and lame people dancing – I’d say everything will appear new (even if it’s much the same), not just restored and slightly renovated, because not only will the creation be different and released from sin, we’ll be different and released from sin too.

  7. Arthur

    See, I’d say that cultural diversity is built into creation. Humanity is male and female. Culture is intertwined with the provision of creative stewardship/work.

    I suspect Babel (at least, the problem of Babel) has more to do with empire than with culture. Babel says that human empire cannot run unchecked because, in God’s grace, human diversity white-ants it.

    1. Nathan Campbell

      See I’d say that culture is intertwined with the provision of creative stewardship/work – and that the ability to appreciate good culture is limited by sin – so I think all good creativity is objectively good, rather than subjectively – and I’d say the New Creation makes what we think is subjective into something objective.

  8. pharbo

    @Arthur: Absolutely, I don’t think that Babel is the origin of distinct human cultures either. The Cainite lineage gives you a bunch of different cultures developing earlier.

    @Nathan: Paul doesn’t actually say that he becomes a Jew. He says that he “to the Jews I became like a Jew”. This is clearly a statement of (a) presentation of oneself in relationship rather than a shift in ontology and (b) doesn’t imply that he in any way lost his ‘Jewishness’. In fact, he claims it pretty strongly in a number of places. I haven’t as yet seen any reason to think that despite his Jewish identity being relatively insignificant compared to his identity in Christ that it is in any way diminished. It’s like saying that I become less Australian because I’ve joined up with the International Trainspotting Society, my true lifelong dream and passion. It makes me no less Australian to have joined.

    Re anaemic creation: Well, all theology is a bunch of positions held in tension, as an emphasis on one area will in many cases necessitate a reduced emphasis on another. In that sense, I don’t actually see any necessary problem with both statements (the ‘anaemic creation’ and ‘robust fall’) being true of your theology at the same time. It’s simply a question of what the right balance is. From your perspective, it would then seem to make sense to respond to those accusations with the suggestion that the leveller is overly ‘creational’.

    What is Scripturally pushing you towards seeing a loss of cultural identity in the New Creation? I hear your argument re sinful aspects being removed and I agree, so no problems there. It seems to me that there’ve been a few good passages mentioned in support of them remaining…

    1. Nathan Campbell

      I wonder if we need some clarity here re the distinction between nationality and cultural identity. While there’s a significant overlap there, I think we risk conflating them in this discussion and I’m only really interested in what happens to man made expressions in response to experiencing creation in time and space (which is, I think, the right definition of “culture”), rather than “genetic lineage from a common ancestor in time and space” – I think the new creation is a celebration of a coming together of the latter, as one in Christ, but a permanent reordering of the further, through a permanent right ordering of the human heart. It’s possible that some expressions of culture are bound by the latter – though I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, I think cultures in all places, and races, adapt to circumstances, they seem, from observations of history, to be fluid, such that most racial stereotypes are general, while most cultural stereotypes are specific and constitutive (Germans are organised and efficient is different to “emos wear black and are sad”). You can be German without being organised (or Scottish without wearing a kilt – if we want to incorporate the problems with applying the no true Scotsman fallacy to a culture). But you can’t be truly emo without adopting the identity markers of the culture.

      “It seems to me that there’ve been a few good passages mentioned in support of them remaining…”

      Which ones. If we’re talking Revelation 7 – I’d say it’s at least disputed that this is what the passage is doing, I’d say it’s the many becoming one, rather than the many remaining many around the one.

      Re your point a) I’d say the shift in ontology has already happened such that Paul no longer considers his “Jewishness” as a significant identity marker, he tends only to bring it up in order to shame those who haven’t shifted their identity markers far enough away from their Jewishness or Gentileness – or to defend himself when he’s being wrongly attacked (ie fights about circumcision, circumcising Timothy, not circumcising Titus, his reliance on his Roman rights at certain points in Acts). I’d say his whole argument in Romans isn’t just predicated on the universal nature of the Gospel, but the new identity both Jews and Gentiles have through Union with Christ, which transforms their understanding of cultural markers – I think it’s the same in his stuff about eating with people in 1 Corinthians. I think the abolition of Jew/Gentile distinctions within the church, but paying heed to them when you’re trying to have fellowship with non-Christians for the sake of winning them is the big cultural paradigm in Pauline thought – which to me suggests we work from a common identity/cultural marker – we’re the family of God/body of Christ/one in Christ/united with Christ – to reach people who don’t share that identity/cultural marker – people of other cultures – be they Jew or Gentile, slave or free, educated or non-educated, and I think we see that applied in how Paul goes about talking to different groups, embodying 1 Cor 9, throughout Acts.

      I think you need to actually convince me that cultural identity markers are a good thing, especially in the light of the Vanhoozer/Tillich stuff I linked to above

      1. kutz

        I don’t disagree with anything in the VanHoozer/Tillich stuff you linked to, so I’m not sure why I’d want to refute it.

        Re cultural markers being good things: Hmmm… well, I’m not really arguing for them being good things. They’re realities that can have pro-Christ or anti-Christ expressions. Though I think in other such cases (like, the Internet for example) we generally call this type of created reality ‘good’ in at least some sense. In heaven as redeemed things, I’d suggest that they’ll be good. :)

        Re the racial/cultural distinction: I’m really not sure where you’re going with that bro, sorry. :s I’m a touch slow. I do, in fact, analyse the situation somewhat differently to yourself, but I’m not really sure why that matters in this case.

        Your arguments seem to contain within them the necessary loss of one type of identity in order to take on another. Is that how you see things?

        Re your response to my (a): I’d argue that Paul doesn’t have a problem with people who refuse to lose their Jewishness, but he has a problem with Christians who equate their Jewishness with their spiritual identity. In the NT, they’re different types of identity markers.

        Re passages supporting:

        Rev 7 and of course 11:9, 13:7 and 14:6 too. ( Even in your paradigm, why must many becoming one be mutually exclusive to the many gathering around the one? )

        Keller argues that Rev 21:26 is a case of cultural artifacts enriching the glory of God in heaven. (It picks up on Isaiah 60:1-11ish, where the function of the bringing in of national treasures (different types depending on the nation) is in order to add to the glory of Jerusalem and yhwh. It’s pretty much exactly my point. )

        Malachi 1:11 is certainly not a ‘lay down misere’ prooftext, but it is exemplary of many other ‘nations coming in’ references. Why are these the substantive content of prophecy rather than the language of either (a) gospel conquest or (b) cultural conversion of the nations? Under your paradigm I’d expect a great deal of the content of prophecy to be different.

        I think Acts 15 and Galatians and Ephesians is arguing for conversion to Christianity not requiring conversion away from a particular national culture. There are plenty of Pauline examples of instructions to ‘remain as you are’ in the context of cultural mores(sp?).

        1. Nathan Campbell

          “Re the racial/cultural distinction: I’m really not sure where you’re going with that bro, sorry. :s I’m a touch slow. ”

          It matters because I think at times the two have been conflated above. So I don’t think that we have a mix of nations around the throne necessarily implies that we have a mix of cultures. I just want to make sure we all understand the terms that each of us is using in the discussion or we’ll be talking across each other – so I’m actually not expecting that we’ll disagree, I’m just working hard to define my terms so I can be sure what we’re disagreeing on.

          1. Nathan Campbell

            Assuming we’re on the same page on what “cultures” are and what identity is… I’ll answer your points (though I should be answering my take home exam)…

            “They’re realities that can have pro-Christ or anti-Christ expressions. Though I think in other such cases (like, the Internet for example) we generally call this type of created reality ‘good’ in at least some sense. In heaven as redeemed things, I’d suggest that they’ll be good. :)”

            Well. Yes. I guess I’m trying to make a distinction between realities that creatures have made versus realities the creator has made. I would suggest that some of the realities we have made – like the internet – won’t continue in the new creation because we won’t need them to make up for some deficiencies and limitations in our abilities. Things that we have made to adapt and multiply won’t necessarily be needed in the new creation where we won’t be adapting (I assume), or multiplying (I assume on the basis of marriage ending). So even good things now, won’t carry over into the New Creation if they’ll be superseded.

            “Your arguments seem to contain within them the necessary loss of one type of identity in order to take on another. Is that how you see things?”

            Not a necessary loss – so we don’t lose our humanity or gender – but how we think about these things might change, because we are transformed by taking on our new identity – so, sexual expression – which is a valid and important part of our identity – such that we become one flesh with the person we have sex with – is transformed, and the place it occupies in our identity changes in priority order – such that our sexual expression flows from our identity in Christ, rather than constituting part of our identity without him. But we remain sexual. Just as our ability to paint should be transformed by our conversion because we are now painting for God’s glory. The cultural products we produce – and I’ll get to this a little below – are not the cultural products they were, because I’d suggest they too are transformed, as we are, and if they stay the same then there’s probably a problem – though they can still be “good” if they reflect the creation, they’re better if they reflect the creator.

            “I’d argue that Paul doesn’t have a problem with people who refuse to lose their Jewishness”

            I’d say he does when it stops other people, either Jew, or Gentile, gaining their Christness. If it gets in the way of mission. I think this is at least one of the sustained arguments he’s making in Galatians, and it’s, I think, at the heart of the Jerusalem Council’s decision, and at the heart of his approach to dining in Romans and Corinthians – it’s not so much that expressing your Jewishness, or Romanness, is wrong – it’s about the motivations behind expressing those things – are you doing it because that’s who you are, or because that’s who the people around you are – and if it’s because it’s who you are, are you mindful of the people you’ll hurt or hinder by being that… I’d say those are the cultural questions Paul is asking.

            “I think Acts 15 and Galatians and Ephesians is arguing for conversion to Christianity not requiring conversion away from a particular national culture.

            I’ll expand on what I’ve said above – I’d say he’s also saying particular national cultures shouldn’t create barriers for people not of that culture to enter – it’s essentially the same as what you’re saying, but I’d say it’s more that Paul doesn’t think your culture of origin is an impediment to entering the church and fellowship with one another. But I think the council is also calling people to reject aspects of their culture in order to enter this fellowship when they’ll be damaging to Christian witness – because we’re called to be counter-cultural, I think Paul then applies this, particularly in 1 Corinthians.

            “There are plenty of Pauline examples of instructions to ‘remain as you are’ in the context of cultural mores”

            Which again, I would think is almost always in the context of doing kingdom work, or mission, by glorifying God in how we live, and breathe, and have our being.

            “Why are these the substantive content of prophecy rather than the language of either (a) gospel conquest or (b) cultural conversion of the nations? Under your paradigm I’d expect a great deal of the content of prophecy to be different.”

            I don’t think I’m arguing what I think you’re arguing. I’m not saying we should do away with culture now, or convert people in their cultures to what we think a gospel culture looks like. That would be imperialistic, and I’m more post-modern than that – I’m saying most cultures will express something different about God, based on their experiences, and the New Creation will merge the good, and do away with the bad. People, in the OT prophecies, and now, are simply called to base their understandings of their experience, and their identity, and thus appropriately culturally express themselves, in Yahweh (and in the OT, in Israel, or at least in the Temple), and then in Christ, in a submission to his Lordship over all cultures and people.

            “Keller argues that Rev 21:26 is a case of cultural artifacts enriching the glory of God in heaven. (It picks up on Isaiah 60:1-11ish, where the function of the bringing in of national treasures (different types depending on the nation) is in order to add to the glory of Jerusalem and yhwh. It’s pretty much exactly my point. )”

            Mine too. Though from a different angle. Say we go with the plundering of Gold analogy I’m so fond of… If the gold of Egypt was a cultural artefact, it seems to me there are four options for this gold:

            1. Leave it in Egypt – assuming the gold itself is inherently bad. I would say this is a bad option.
            2. Bring it with you, but make it an idol – Like a golden calf, at the foot of Sinai.
            3. Bring it with you, leave it as gold, celebrate its goodness – This could be “good,” and would be my understanding of most cultural expressions that are good – so music etc, where they recognise the order of creation. People can then make their own conclusions about the goodness of the author of creation.
            4. Bring it with you, use it to glorify God – build the temple out of it, artistically, with sculptures. People will then both understand a good God made it, and understand that this Good God is Yahweh, who reveals himself in creation, and the redemption of creation.

            Both the last two are good – the latter is better, and the latter is what I see happening with our cultural expression in the New Creation, such that all expressions of culture will not just be good in the eyes of the beholders, but will be understood as good because our eyes will be perfected and will see the goodness naturally, without needing the cultural context to make the goodness clear.

          2. kutz

            Yeah, I’m now going to go do my boring annoying assignment so I can get on to my exciting and awesome one.

            Though I think you’ll like the response I have in mind. It involved one (or both) of us having to draw Venn diagrams. ;)

            Caio for now.

        2. kutz

          Ok, now I can think of a reason for the racial/cultural distinction you made. It gets you out of some exegetical jams that you’d otherwise be stuck in. That right?

          Unless absolutely necessary to unpack why I think those passages that I’ve suggested should be thought to include artefacts of culture I’m just going to say that I think that they do. :P

          1. Nathan Campbell

            I guess it’s more in response to this:
            “The Cainite lineage gives you a bunch of different cultures developing earlier.”

            I’d say the most you can get from the text is that there is a distinct tribe of people emerging earlier. Who have a pretty violent take on life. Which probably produces a culture different from the other descendants of Adam.

            But they get wiped out by the flood before Babel.

          2. Nathan Campbell

            Assuming the narrative purpose of the flood (without getting in to what actually happens) is, in part, establishing a cultural clean slate.

          3. kutz

            Ah, can’t quite let this one go.

            Re “I guess it’s more in response to this:”

            I’m referring fairly specifically to “Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harpa and flute.b 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forgeda all kinds of tools out of1 bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.” (Gen 4:20-22 NIV)

            It seems simply that there’s a set of cool things developed even by the ungodly Cainite line, and that various branches of the family gravitated towards different cultural artefacts by their personal choice.

            I don’t think that the purpose of the flood had anything to do with a cultural clean slate. I think it had to do with a moral clean slate.

          4. Nathan Campbell

            Granted there are cultural expressions noted before the flood that I’ve brushed over above…

            Methinks you doth rule out too much in this statement:

            “I don’t think that the purpose of the flood had anything to do with a cultural clean slate. I think it had to do with a moral clean slate.”

            If the ungodly way people were living prior to the flood was worthy of judgment, then cultural expression must, by the definition of culture I’m conducting this conversation on, have been part of the picture – culture is not morally neutral expression. It’s what you do with harps etc, not the harps itself.

            I don’t think you can clean the moral slate without clearing the cultural slate – and by purporting to clear all people, it necessarily also cleared all cultures – except those remembered by the people on the Ark. This, then, leads nicely on to Babel, where cultures are scattered because people are scattered, to create new cultures in response to new situations in new places.

            Unless you’re actually operating with a different definition of culture, which you may be, I’m wondering where you see the problem with my reasoning is here…

          5. Nathan Campbell

            Also – this comes back a little to the national v cultural distinction, I was trying to make…

            Playing a harp is not a cultural marker, people from any culture can use the harp as a tool to express something about their culture. You can’t say “no true harp player would play death metal on the harp” but you can, perhaps, say “No true baroque harp player plays death metal on the harp,” if baroque harp players are a cultural group who reject death metal.

            You could, I think, make some moral judgment based on whether the creator of the harp intended for it to be used for death metal, if they expressly said “this is not to be used for death metal”…

            I’m not suggesting you disagree with this, just riffing on the harp.

  9. Arthur

    I guess I’m trying to make a distinction between realities that creatures have made versus realities the creator has made. I would suggest that some of the realities we have made – like the internet – won’t continue in the new creation because we won’t need them to make up for some deficiencies and limitations in our abilities. Things that we have made to adapt and multiply won’t necessarily be needed in the new creation where we won’t be adapting (I assume), or multiplying (I assume on the basis of marriage ending). So even good things now, won’t carry over into the New Creation if they’ll be superseded.

    So… You’re not saying that culture is a product of the fall… But are you saying that culture will not persist in the new creation? I’m just trying to get at the main thing without chasing down every thread of the whole discussion…

    1. Nathan Campbell

      No, I’m saying culture is a product of our humanity. Some of which is a right response to God, some of which is not, and only the stuff that is will make it into the new creation, where I’m suggesting it’ll all come together as one right culture, because cultural expression, and our response to it, won’t be bound or limited, by our finitude or sinful nature.

  10. AndrewF

    I’ve been trying to follow the discussion.. but I may have missed or misunderstood somethings..

    Nathan, you talk about the New Creation having one (big?) right mono-culture – how diverse is this mono-culture? When you speak of things like emo and death metal, I wonder if you aren’t talking more about sub-cultures, and the way our sub-cultures are often used as in-group markers (in the west)? When I talk about culture, I tend to see it more broadly connected to ethnicity – our fellowship is multi-cultural because we have people from all different countries and ethnic communities, and that these differences are not the result of a curse, but such diversity is part of the good nature of creation.
    I would agree that when we use things things to separate from others, that is a distortion – we ought to be able to appreciate diversity as a good thing. As an simple example – I can enjoy eating curry with my fingers when I’m at my Tamil friend’s house.. in the new creation, we’re still going to look very different. We both found our unity and our identity in Christ Jesus, but we’re still culturally diverse and bring different things to our fellowship together.

    So I would see that if we come in the New Creation as one culture – it will be a very large, broad and diverse culture still, united in Christ.

    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Andrew,

      This is why I’ve been saying how I’m defining culture over and over again – culture is the human construct that occurs in a time and place – so nations will often have a culture, but nations are not a culture. National identity changes with time, and circumstance. Your fellowship is, I would say, primarily international, and multicultural as a result. This was where the no true Scotsman thing comes in – the fallacy works when it comes to your nation of origin, because that is where you’re born and has limited bearing on how you choose to live, it doesn’t work when it comes to culture, because cultural parameters are more clearly defined. Which is why they splinter off into sub-cultures when people want to define them differently.

      I would say the New Creation will be international, but I am suggesting that rather than being multicultural it will be the Voltronesque super-culture which combines the right bits of all our cultural expression – the bits that properly appreciate God as creator, and use his creation in line with its created purpose. The nations will come together, to glorify God together, bringing different treasures, cultures and styles, but why we assume we will leave the throne room of God where that coming together happens without having been profoundly impacted by this display is beyond me. So, I think given perfect ears we will all appreciate any right ordering of sound in the New Creation (so we’ll all love Opera, but also, reggae), I think given perfect tastebuds we’ll all appreciate the amazing diversity of spices and flavours available in creation – and we’ll even taste the things we’ve always tasted in a more perfect way. I think we’ll all eat curry, but we’ll all also eat yiros, and drink great coffee produced in hundreds of correct ways.

  11. Chris

    Hi Nathan,

    FWIW I found this post really helpful. I love how wind, spirit and breath is all the same word in Hebrew and breath carries words (i.e. language). I led a Growth Group the other week on Acts 2 and this post made for some wonderful and really encouraging discussions.

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