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The Joy of God: Our Key to Cultural Engagement

For centuries, those in the church have debated the most biblical and effective strategy for engaging their unique cultural contexts. From Augustine’s “City of God” to Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture,” and from Carl F.H. Henry’s “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” to Andy Crouch’s “Culture Making,” this discussion has continued for centuries as Christians of every time and place seek to answer the perennial question of how to carry out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission while also engaging culture and participating in modern life.

Into this critical conversation steps Greg Forster, with his most recent book “Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It.” A program director for the Kern Family Foundation and senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Forster offers a holistic approach to Christian cultural engagement—a vision that draws from historical perspectives while also wrestling with the unique challenges facing contemporary American culture.

[pq]The joy of God is a blessing meant to be shared with the world.[/pq]

In “Joy for the World,” Forster proposes that instead of dominating culture from the outside or withdrawing from it entirely, we should instead seek to bless it as we participate in “the full fabric of society.” “Joy for the World” calls readers to affirm “the God-given goodness of all civilizational activity” while allowing the “special transformation of our hearts by the Spirit [to] flow” into it. The joy of God—the “state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit”—is a blessing meant to be shared with the world.

The joy of God manifests itself outwardly in the civilizational lives of believers through a number of institutions, such as families, local congregations, and communities. And as Arthur Brooks has discovered, these institutions are inherent to fostering true happiness in the lives of all individuals. Another compelling method of commending the Gospel, creating value, and seeking the welfare of cities is through our work.

Yet today, both the availability and the understanding of work has suffered dramatically. Work is increasingly seen as a burden that must be born rather than a blessing to be enjoyed and stewarded. As Brooks noted in AEI’s recent “Vision Talk,” we must strive for the sanctification of work, understanding that there is no such thing as a “dead-end job,” but that all work is valuable when done for enjoyment of man and the glory of God. Forster describes it this way:

Work is everything we do to serve people and make the world a better place…. Part of being made in the image of God is being gifted with capacities to make the world a better place, and being called to use those capacities to bless people…. [God] calls us out into the world to be a blessing to our neighbors, and I believe economic work provides the most powerful opportunity to do so in our time.

Compelled by love for our neighbor, we should embrace our role as participants in civilization and creators of culture, displaying the redemptive joy of God through our value-producing and purpose-driven work. As we work for the enjoyment of man and the glory of God,

God works miracles in our hearts that transform us into people who are morally capable, however imperfectly, of generously blessing all our neighbors regardless of where they stand with the Lord, and participating in the community…in ways that cultivate justice and flourishing for all citizens.

Whether in the political sphere or in our workplace, in our neighborhood or around our dinner table, our primary objective ought not to be strategically reclaiming Christianity’s good cultural standing or political influence, but rather creatively seeking out ways in which to bless our neighbors, our community, and our country with the same deep joy and full flourishing we experience in Christ. This is how the joy of God in our own lives truly becomes joy for the world.