Where I grew up, “Take care!” was a common saying when two people parted ways. I love the implications. The phrase expresses a desire for the person to take care of themselves because, in a manner of speaking, they are worthy of care.
The title of curator comes from the Latin word curare, which means “to care.” A curator is traditionally someone who takes care of something that is of cultural significance, like art in a gallery or artifacts in a museum. Today, people use social media to curate online content, pinning to boards and sharing with followers the stuff that seems to be worth people’s attention.
We are natural curators. We value certain cultural artifacts such as music, sports, literature, and technology. We want others to value them as well. So, we patronize and promote, share and forward. We may even add to the mix with our own song, game, book, or invention.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the Garden, God equipped the first man and woman to take care of his creation. He commanded them to have dominion over it and steward its resources. God made us curators.
As we curated creation, however, we developed culture. Author Andy Crouch defines culture very generally as, “what we make of the world.” In other words, we make something of the world as we take care of the world.
Since Christ’s ascension, Christians have grappled with the relationship between Christianity and culture. We recognize the enduring goodness of God’s creation, but we are deeply aware of the havoc that sin has wreaked on the world. Throughout history, humanity displays God’s image writ large one moment and demonstrates our sinful depravity the next.
Christians today continue to clash over approaches to culture, advocating everything from total assimilation to total separation. The conversation is far from over. However, if we are to have clarity on the topic, we must return to Christ’s teachings quickly and frequently.
Here’s the thing…
Christ does not seem to recommend either full assimilation to or full separation from culture. In fact, his teaching on the subject allows for neither. In the end, I believe we are left with one conclusion:
Every Christian to one degree or another ought to be a curator.
In his most famous sermon, using one of his most famous metaphors, Jesus describes the relationship Christians are to have in the culture around them. The meanings are deep, and the implications are wide. Living in this world, our Savior tells us, we are salt and light.
To Be Salt That Does Not Lose Its Savor
It has been estimated that salt has over 14,000 uses. How anyone could possibly know that many uses for salt—or why they would want to—is beyond me. Besides, there are two primary functions for which salt is most known: flavor and preservation.
Jesus had just wrapped up the Beatitudes, revealing to his followers what true holiness looks like in the life of a believer, the type of life that God blesses. He then segues into the salt metaphor, and the transition is seamless. It is as if he is saying, Living this way, righteous by God’s standards, you will bring a distinct flavor to whatever part of the world you occupy.
Phil Johnson clarifies:
What’s most notable about the Beatitudes is that the qualities Jesus blesses are not the same attributes the world typically thinks are worthy of praise. The world glorifies power and dominion, force and physical strength, status and class. By contrast, Jesus blesses humility, meekness, mercy, mourning, purity of heart, and even persecution for righteousness’ sake.
Christians are poised to give a distinct flavor to the world around us. If we lose that savor, that distinction, we are truly “good for nothing.” However, when we apply Biblical thinking and Christian action, we bring an influence upon culture that the world desperately needs. I find it fascinating that Christ calls us something that makes food tasty and makes people thirsty only moments after declaring, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
Long before artificial preservatives and antiseptics, salt was worth its weight in gold (literally) because of its ability to preserve food and prevent decay.
God’s people have always been a preservative in the world. God told Abraham that no more than ten righteous people would have made Sodom worth saving. Joseph kept Egypt from famine and his family from starvation. Esther prevented the execution of thousands.
The presence of Christian savor has a preserving and healing effect on the world. There is no doubt that sin has decayed our culture in eternally profound ways. However, our Savior sends us into the world with the life-giving power of the gospel.
To Be Light that Is Not Hid
Of all the uses we have for light in general, two seem to jump off the page as Christ calls Christians the light of the world: exposing where we are and showing where to go.
Jesus had a way of exposing people for who they were and what they were about. He did not let people settle in their pretenses, whether it was the Pharisees in their religious hypocrisy or the woman at the well with her ethnoreligious assumptions. He exposed the young rich ruler in his materialism and Peter in his pseudo-spirituality.
Jesus’ followers follow suit. Paul is a great example. He exposed the owners of the Philippian slave girl who were profiting from her plight. He exposed the philosophers in Athens for their superstition.
Armed with the revelation of God’s Word, Christians speak truth to power, wisdom to foolishness, and love to sorrow. In a culture that is obsessed with itself, we direct people’s attention to something—someone—higher. For people who love their darkness, we shine a light on the danger of that darkness.
Light not only show us where we are, but it also shows us a way forward. Through the lens of God’s Word, we are able to see culture for what it is and for what it could be. Humanity is locked in a struggle between being made in God’s image and being enslaved to sin. Christians have unique insight into the human dilemma and its solution.
Salt is not meant to lose its savor; it is meant to apply a distinct difference on that to which it is applied. Light is not meant to be hid; it is meant to be shown, to be seen by all and to allow all to see.
Johnson points out:
Notice, furthermore, that the clauses “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” are statements of fact, not imperatives. He doesn’t command us to be salt; He says that we are salt and cautions us against losing our savor. He doesn’t command us to be light; He says that we are light and forbids us to hide under a bushel.
In other words, when Jesus called us the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he did so, assuming our faithful presence on the earth and faithful action in the world. The metaphors do not make sense otherwise. We are to be distinct from the world so as not to lose our savor, but we to be applied to the world to give people a taste for righteousness and preserve them from sin’s decay. We are to be light in a dark world, not hid from the world but put on full display.
So how are we doing?
I wonder how much salt has lost its savor because it is so diluted with the things of this world that it has become “good for nothing.” I wonder how much light is dimmed for fear of blinding those who love darkness rather than light.
But, then I also wonder how much salt is not being applied because it is bottled up by our hang-ups. I wonder how much light we hid with the four walls of our church building.
We are called by our Savior to be in the world—to affect our culture—but not of the world—to not be affected by it. This was a personal prayer request for Jesus:
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (John 17:15)
So, who do we move from metaphor to real life, becoming salt and light in our culture? Many books have been written on that topic over the centuries. I hope to explore answers to that question more fully in posts to come. But, in the meantime, here are three suggestions.
Nothing good comes from a Christian who “entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:4-6) And yet, the same Apostle Paul who penned those words is the same who stood on Mars Hill and quoted the Greeks’ poetry back to them. Obsession with culture is a problem of which many Christians are guilty, diluting our savor and dimming our light. However, ignorance of culture is at least an equal problem, failing to apply our savor at all and hiding our light altogether. The balance to be struck is an awareness of the way people think and live that enables us to think and live in a way that points people to God.
When sin entered into the world, God’s good design did not exit. Creation remained orderly, beautiful, and useful, albeit profoundly more difficult. When sin entered into the hearts of humanity, God’s image did not exit. We remained logical, creative, and intelligent. It is for this reason that people who do not know God, some even denying his existence, reflect his creativity and concern for the wellbeing of people. How much more so should we be creative? After all, we know the Creator.
For far too long, Christians have fallen for the worldly idea that it is possible to compartmentalize sacred life from secular life. Outside of being honest or a hard worker, too few Christians have any idea of what it means to be a Christian in their profession. In other words, they fail to see that there is a difference between doing a job as a Christian and doing that job Christianly. For the Christian, there is no such thing as a secular or sacred job. Oh, there may be tasks and responsibilities with no overtly spiritual components. However, if the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), and if all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), then there is way to interpret our daily work—any work—to serve people and glorify God. We ought to do good work, so “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
It has been said that Christians should not simply work to make this world a more comfortable place from which to go to hell. I think it should be added that we also should not resign it to being an uncomfortable place in which to wait for heaven.
If we are to be curators, we should work to make this world an increasingly comfortable place that points us to heaven.
Andy Crouch said it well:
The place where faith and culture meet most fruitfully is where culture is broken. Taking our faith into culture means to find a creative way to serve in those broken places. There’s no other resource for dealing with brokenness that’s as powerful as the gospel lived out creatively and effectively in the context of local culture. The gospel gives us enough hope to enter into these very difficult, seemingly hopeless situations.…where faith and culture meet is the place where the culture is broken and Christ and Christ’s people can offer hope.
 Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (InterVarsity, 2008), p. 23.
 Phil Johnson, “Salt of the Earth” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/salt-of-the-earth/)
 Andy Crouch, “(http://andy-crouch.com/articles/being_culture_makers)
Thanks for reading!
What are your thoughts on the relationship between Christianity and culture?
What does it mean to be salt and light in our world?
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