The Cycle of Redemption

The cycle of redemption

We are called to be different than the world. But the world in which we live is dramatically different than the world in which Jesus walked.  But God is at work, and that work is visible in the cycle of redemption.

The movement and flow of daily life have presented us with opportunities and challenges, and the systems beyond that seem to grow and expand, even though we are unaware of their existence. But if these systems are broken, how can we respond with a gospel that was given to a small, close-knit community?

God’s System for Change

The good news is that there is a system behind these systems, a Redemptive Cycle, which does move us from culture to community. We still need that small, close-knit community, and the changing circumstances that affect our systems have not changed that.

Instead, we can map those circumstances onto this larger system to understand. Then we can see where we are and recognize the points at which moving to community is possible and necessary.

Understanding the Redemptive Cycle helps us recognize and encourage healthy cultures. These cultures in turn give birth to genuine community. It also helps us see where culture is serving community, and where culture is causing harm.

And, perhaps more urgently, it helps diagnose some of the particularly vexing problems we are facing in our present circumstances, and to know how to better align ourselves with God’s redemptive work.

The Cycle of Redemption

We have now moved into the realm of faith. These are the things that we cannot necessarily define or prove, but that we still believe are true. This is true with the history of culture and community.  

And in the same way, we pay a great deal of attention to the differences and similarities of various faiths. But the basic definition of faith is to hold as true something that cannot be proven.

I am writing from within the Christian faith. That is both descriptive of what I personally believe, and the system of faith that has had the greatest influence on western civilization. In many ways, in this conversation, we cannot avoid that system of faith.

And I will be the first to admit that I, and those who share this faith, have contributed significantly to this undiagnosed problem. So I believe we have a responsibility, and an opportunity to contribute to the unidentified solution.

Problems with People

problems with people

Systems have failures, and eventually, those failures will overlap. When that happens, the system creates more problems than it solves. Then we must confront the problems with people.

At some point, we must trust someone. But to do so, we must have a level of discernment and confidence that the person we are trusting is genuinely being themselves with us.

Plus, people are hard to work with. They take time, and we can’t get the measurable results we would expect from a program based on a system. As a result, we are relying more and more on systems to manage our communication.

Talking Round and Round

Communication technology has allowed us to interact with more people who are further and further away. This means culture has been called upon to play a larger role in these relationships. In addition, more people from different cultures have become part of our day-to-day interactions. As a result, we must fit a greater number of experiences with people into our basic cultural categories.

We have become more dependent on a basic set of shared experiences to feel comfortable with other people. These basic experiences have been discovered by those who want to gain an audience, whether that is the TV news, social media, or a church focused on numerical growth.

The old adage, “If it bleeds it leads” became the hallmark of the evening news, and social media had its own way to discover and feature visual or disturbing content. So too does the pastor who, in seeking to energize his congregation, takes note of how people respond to his sidebars on politics and social issues over his teaching from God’s Word.

Culture, on its own, magnifies our sense of distrust and lack of perspective. When we encounter something we don’t understand, our natural response is to be curious and learn more.

We used to turn to someone we could trust and have a conversation about it. Now we reach for our phones to Google the answer. In doing so, we give that place of authority to whoever could get their page highest in the rankings, or to the organization that we let dominate our inbox or online world.

Media and culture are a particularly powerful combination, and for many Christians, the two terms are synonymous. But the effects of media on community are less understood.

In particular, media has contributed to the separation of culture and community. As a result, we are less likely to know our neighbors who we can see, and more likely to imagine an enemy we can’t.

Problems with People

People used to be the solution. We could solve any problem without the help of someone else.

Now we turn to systems to solve our problems with people. But those systems can create more problems than they solve.

Rising Threat Levels

rising threat levels

If anyone who isn’t like us becomes our enemy, we are asking our problems bigger. That’s what happens when we talk about problems in general terms. But what can we do here and now to solve the problems out there? Or are rising threat levels just a part of life?

Until we see these problems as ours to solve, we will expect someone else to do it. So problems get worse, and we blame others for not doing anything about them.

General Threat Response

This generalization of threats is another manifestation of the problem created by systems, and it affects the way we interact with people.

These systems magnify our sense that people want to do us harm, but they also generalize where that harm comes from. The result is that we go into many casual interactions already on guard, and suspicious of the ill intent that lies beneath that initial greeting.

Culture helps us manage our interactions with others. It creates a relational short-hand that allows us to communicate without having to establish all of the points of reference we would need to give our interaction meaning.

Culture helps us “get it” with other people, and more quickly creates a mutual experience of trust and shared perspective. But when we connect with fewer and fewer people, those outside that group are viewed with increasing mistrust and suspicion.

Problems Created by Systems

What’s the connection between these divisions and the systems underlying them? In short, these large-scale problems become large-scale because they are built on systems that expand their reach.

These are the same systems we hope will expand the reach of the message of the gospel, that God loves the world and sent his Son, Jesus, to make a way of salvation. But when something goes wrong, the harm done by these system-based programs is also multiplied.

This creates a tension. We are predisposed to trust systems, but intuitively know that no system will perform perfectly. So we compensate for this instability by relying on multiple systems in various places, and so hedge our bets against failure in one. This can lead to a contradictory and often chaotic view of the world.

Threat Levels Rising

We can keep these conflicting approaches working together for a time.  But when one fails, it can create a cascading failure in the others. Or in times of stress, we can’t keep it all straight. We end up performing for one system when we should be functioning in another.

Yet this all falls apart because of us. People don’t work as systems do, and the problems with people can’t be solved by systems.

Hope For Something Better

Hope for Something Better

In a previous post, I discussed the tension and confusion between culture and community. But there’s actually something behind that.  That something gives us a reason to hope for something better.

We hope for something better, but our hopes are constantly disappointed. Instead, as this “cycle has increased in speed and intensity” we find ourselves spending more time on less important things.

Why is that, and what can stop it?

Systems of Disfunction

We live in the golden age of systems. Everything we want to do, from financial security to weight loss, has been broken down into a system. These systems contain enormous powers of change and present themselves as a program with a simple series of steps to follow and a simple set of indicators to measure.

These systems have extended into almost every area of life. We have programs for better marriages, raising happy kids, growing as a person, and just about every other topic you can fit into the self-help section. We may approach these titles with a degree of skepticism, but approach them we do. Every time there’s a problem, we immediately wonder, who has already figured out the solution?

But beneath all that lies an undiagnosed problem. It shows up when our solutions create problems of their own, and we find ourselves dealing with the unintended consequences. Or when our proposed solutions fail, and the problem we were hoping to fix now looms even larger.

In moments like these, we may wonder if we’re up against something bigger and more cohesive than we first realized. There’s some kind of system at work that we don’t quite understand. Somehow we’ve run afoul of its process and we just want to get back in sync.

These are also the moments when we tell ourselves to “suck it up” or “get back in line.” We face the choice of giving up part of ourselves and what’s important for us just to get along. All the while, our hopes that this time it will be different are dashed as we find ourselves in the very place we were desperate to avoid.

Hope For Something Better

The alternative is to hope for something better and set out to search for it. But we carry with us the fear that whatever we find will eventually end up being more of the same. We wonder if we are the problem and wish we could just be content with what we have.

We resolve to stick it out where we are, but can’t shake the feeling that something may be dying inside us.

It feels like we’re at war, but we don’t know who the enemy is.

Communities Are Failing

communities are failing

In my last post (What Redeems Culture?) I stated that community redeems culture, but communities are failing. As a result, culture rules in the ruins of community.

One question this doesn’t answer is, “What is community?” That’s a logical question, but the fact we have to ask it is evidence that communities, as we know them, are failing.

Communities Are Failing

Communities have been failing for a long time. Small towns are shrinking in the face of hard economic times. Small churches struggle to stay alive past a dying generation.

Even our neighborhoods lack a feeling of being connected to each other, and belonging to something together. Isolating during the pandemic has only made this worse.

These small, personal communities have been replaced by large, impersonal ones. There’s talk about “the Christian community,” or the “business community.” And yet, it’s harder and harder to know who makes up that community, and what responsibility they feel towards others who are in it.

What is community?

A community is a group of people who are bound together by a common identity.

It seems strange to ask that question because community has always been part of our lives. We can all think of a community we came from, even if we’re not certain we belong to one now.

That description explains why we are talking about community now. Our sense of identity is at the heart of our deepest divisions. Instead of drawing us together, identity is fracturing us in unimaginable ways.

Identity has become the trump card in any social or political disagreement. It’s the unassailable truth, but that truth can only be defined by each individual.

This view to identity makes each one of us autonomous. As autonomous beings, we must choose with whom we will identify. With this approach, identification cannot be forced on us. Doing so violates our very humanity.

In that light, it’s understandable why communities are failing. A community is bound together by a common identity. But if identity is determined by each of us, and we each must choose our community, that bond is weak to the point of being non-existent.

Communities Come Apart.

Communities were intended to be a source of strength in our lives. But instead they come apart. Rather than being a refuge we find ourselves handling them like a ticking bomb.

How do we get communities back? How can we return communities to a place that solves problems instead creating them?

Communities were intended for good, not by us but by God. God, as he is described in the Bible, is a community of Three-In-One. (Read more at

God created the world to be a place that allowed those created in his image to grow in community. But sin entered that world, and sin has led us to where we are now.

But there is hope. God sent his Son to pay the penalty for our sin. But he also established a new community, the church.

The church, as it is described in the Bible, is uniquely equipped to grow in the hard places left by sin. And, by growing in hard places, the church allows other communities to grow as well.

So, how do we do that? That should be a simple question to answer, and according to the Bible, it is.

The way to grow community is this: Work for the good of those around you.

This solution is so simple we already apply it in our businesses and organizations. And it works whether you believe the Bible or not. So, why has working for the good of those around us become so hard to do?

Something else has confused our idea of community. That something else is culture. Communities create culture, but superficial communities create destructive cultures (I wrote about this in my previous post).

This creates a spiral. Culture confuses and weakens communities, making them superficial. These superficial communities create destructive cultures. As this cycle has increased in speed and intensity our focus has shifted from strengthening communities to resisting destructive cultures.

In fact, we are more aware of culture today than we are of community. And that’s part of the problem.

Instead of focusing on the bad out there, we need to grow the good right here.

Then community can redeem culture.

What Redeems Culture?

what redeems culture

We’ve all heard that culture beats strategy, but what redeems culture?

For decades now, culture has been the thing everyone sought to control. We worked for it in our companies and fought for it in our politics.

But despite these efforts, we now face problems we’ve never seen before. These problems stem from conflicting views of the world, and a willingness to act on those views at any cost.

What have we unleashed? Are not these problems caused by culture? Are we not seeing the thing we have prized used against us, and taken to an extreme we could not imagine?

It seems undeniable that culture has a role in our problems. But that has not brought us any closer to a solution. Rather, we stand dismayed as the unthinkable plays out before us, and our beliefs and values are swept aside.

We wonder openly if we have reached a point of no return. Has culture become a force beyond our control? Does it now control us? To ask that another way, is culture redeemable? And if so, what redeems it?

There is something that redeems culture: Community.

Defining culture and community are complicated tasks. That’s because they are closely related, and often overlap.

But perhaps two diagnostic questions will help. Where would you be missed? That is your community. What do you worry about missing? That is your culture.

These questions are overly simplistic but can begin to create a bit of separation between community and culture. That separation helps us see the relationship between community and culture.

Community is more enduring than culture because community creates culture. It makes sense that the only thing that can redeem culture is the thing that made it in the first place.

But our perception of community seems weak in the face of what we are experiencing from culture now. How can something so intangible and undefined redeem something so powerful and out of control?

Culture is powerful because community is weak. Think about it. Where culture is its most destructive, community has already failed.

Culture rules in the ruins of community.

The more superficial the community, the more destructive the culture it creates. That’s why movements can form around hashtags and catchphrases but inevitably burn themselves out.

But the opposite is also true. The more substantive the community, the more constructive the culture. That’s why some communities survive, regardless of what forces of culture align against them (Read more at

How did it come to this? We took community for granted and pursued culture instead. Now we’re seeing culture for what it is, and are wondering where to turn next.

Like warriors of old, we left our homes to pursue the prize. But we are returning bruised and empty-handed only to find our communities in ruins.

But there is hope. Community can be rebuilt.

We can build community. Even while we are in shock or grieving, our most basic instinct is to reach out to another human being. We look to join hands and begin to build again.

We’ve been here before, countless times. But we’ve also made the same mistake over and over again. Even as community is being rebuilt, we are drawn away by culture.

We forsake our communities again to pursue the prize. So now we must ask, what redeems culture?

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe we’ve seen enough of the destruction and chaos that culture can create.

Maybe this time the cost of rebuilding will be enough that we’ll choose to protect what we have, rather than chasing what we can’t possess.

Community is powerful because it creates culture. But it requires discipline and understanding to be content with culture in here, and resist the allure of culture out there.

We must choose the good of those who are with us over shaming those who are against us. That builds substantive communities which in turn build constructive cultures.

It’s as simple as choosing who over what.

Then culture can be redeemed.

Changing the Conversation

Changing the conversation

This Blog looks at culture and the Bible, and how they fit together. But my goal is to be part of changing the conversation about culture among Christians.

I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, so it sets the standard of truth that culture must be measured against. But I also believe that culture is part of God’s created world, and that God created it for a purpose.

I am concerned that we have missed the purpose for culture that I see described in God’s word.

As our awareness and understanding of culture has grown, our understanding of culture’s purpose has not kept up.

That biblical purpose for culture needs to be brought into the conversation. Only then will we be able to start to apply the truth of God’s word to the problems of culture that we see today.

Culture has gotten a bad rap, and this is particularly true in how Christians think and talk about it (Read more at

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are part of culture that shouldn’t be changed. There most certainly are. But I am concerned that we have largely misdiagnosed the problem, so we can’t properly apply the cure.

God has a purpose for culture. That purpose is part of accomplishing his plan for us, and all of his created world. I am hoping that with biblical truth I can persuade you to look at culture from a different perspective from the one we’ve been given.

What conversation needs changing?

Our current situation presents us with a new set of challenges as we seek to understand and apply God’s Word.

God’s Word hasn’t changed, and how it describes us hasn’t changed. But the way we see and understand our world and how we interact and relate to each other has changed in big ways.

This has created challenges we have not faced before. But with these challenges come the opportunity to look more deeply into God’s word from this new vantage point, and see things we did not see before.

What we see around us is bad and unbiblical. But it gives us the opportunity to see new and profound insights into God’s goodness and grace.

By standing on what we believe about the unchanging truth of God’s word, we can gain new insights into how to respond to the issues we face today.

Perspective on Culture

Culture can help us see the bigger picture in the Bible. But before that, we need to get some perspective on how we think about culture now.

Culture has always existed but something is different in how we think about it now. 50 years ago, culture used to be rarely mentioned. But now you hear about it all the time.

Has something changed with culture, or are we now just more aware of it? The answer is both.

On one level, culture has changed. But on another level, culture never changes. In the same way, we have always been aware of culture, even if we didn’t call it that. But now we seem to be noticing and talking about it all the time.

Culture relates to everything we do, which is why it can be difficult to talk about.

God has woven culture into the fabric of his creation, and he has a purpose for it.

God has a purpose for culture. Because we are created in the image of God, we have a unique role in his purpose for culture.

As Christians, we have an opportunity and responsibility to shape the culture that we are part of. But how can we do that if we are not sure how it works?

Challenges in Our Perspective on Culture

Part of the challenge is that we all have a personal perspective on culture. How I see and experience culture will be different from you, and different from everyone else.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t come to understand how it works. The patterns we observe will be the same for each of us, even if the outcomes look different.

This brings us to another part of the challenge in learning about culture. We all will react differently to what we see (Read more at

A lot of our conversation about culture is driven by the feelings these issues create in us. It’s easy to think that for someone to agree with me, they have to react the way I do. But that’s not always the case.

But we might not consider how someone else may see the same thing, but react differently. In that case, we loose a valuable perspective on what we are trying to understand.

The Redemptive Leader Framework helps us understand our unique, personal experience with culture. And that allows us to relate that experience to other’s experience of culture.

Culture and The Bible

Culture and The Bible

How do we connect culture to our faith? To answer that we have to understand the connection between culture and the Bible.

In my previous post I referred to a common definition of culture as the the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.”

That definition has been used to define culture in Christian settings as well. But the problem with understanding culture only as values and behavior is that it makes the Bible a book of values and behaviors.

If we accept the definition of culture that has been given to us, we end up fitting our understanding of the Bible in to that definition. But that’s not what the Bible is.

The Bible on culture

The Bible is God’s Word to us. It is a book, but it’s a book by a Person. That Person, who we refer to as the Trinity, is beyond our ability to comprehend in every way. And yet God made himself one of us so that we relate to him.

So yes, the Bible does teach values. But it’s really teaching us to value what God values, and not just what set of human values should be in charge.

And yes, the Bible does teach us about behavior. But it is really teaching us what behaviors reflect who God is, not just which behaviors will win in God’s world.

To understand culture in a biblical way means looking at the Bible in a bigger way, and noticing where our views line up, and where they don’t.

This is actually where culture can help us. Since there is a connection between the God’s Word and culture, what we know about culture can help us look for this bigger picture in the Bible (Read more about this at

We must always be on guard against interpreting the Bible to fit our view of culture. Culture may be part of God’s creation, but God’s Word has authority over creation.

Culture and Christianity

Culture and Christianity

Christians often talk about “the culture,” referring to the non-Christian values on display in the media and entertainment industries, or we expand that to include the influence of a secular world-view.  For some Christianity is at war with culture.

But we don’t just talk about culture in a negative way. We also use culture positively to describe things that are difficult to understand, but are causing good results. Whether it’s a winning sports team, or a company where people love to work, culture seems to be part of the answer.

Christianity and Culture

As Christians, we have started using culture to describe the kind of change we want to see in our churches and communities. We will talk about a “culture of discipleship” or a “culture of serving.” In that sense, we are describing an attitude, or willingness to act and think in a certain way.

But it’s more than that. We’ve always had expectations of how we act and think. But now our emphasis has shifted away from those behaviors being enforced from the outside, to some kind of internal motivation.

There’s a motivation, or sense of momentum that we want to describe as “culture.”

Something about that term captures what we want, and it seems that others understand its significance. (Read more about this at

But what exactly is “culture?” Culture is a difficult thing to describe. The usual definition is that it is the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.” I recently heard this shortened to “values + behavior = culture.”

While that definition may be true, it’s not necessarily helpful. It still leaves us with the question of values, and how values relate to behavior. How do we change values, and how does behavior change when values change?

That “beliefs, values, behavior” definition doesn’t help us know how to respond to issues of culture. In fact, it may be why culture seems so difficult to change in the first place.

It turns out there’s much more to culture than meets the eye. And the deeper we dig, the more connections we find to scripture. But maybe not in the ways we expect.