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Van Til on “Culture”

April 22, 2008

Henry Van Til defines culture as:

that activity of man, the image-bearer of God, by which he fulfills the creation mandate to cultivate the earth, to have dominion over it and to subdue it. The term is also applied to the result of such activity, namely the secondary environment which has been superimposed upon nature by man’s creative effort. Culture, then, is not a peripheral concern but of the very essence of life. It is expression of man’s essential being as created in the image of God, and since man is essentially a religious being, it is expressive of his relationship to God, that is, of his religion.

Henry Van Til. The Calvinist Conception of Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), xvii

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ChipG permalink
    April 22, 2008 5:10 pm

    I read Van Til’s book a couple of years ago, so my memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I seem to recall that he used the term “culture” very widely. It’s was not at all limited to engagement in the arts, but encompasses every area of mankind’s influence on this earth. As such I think it’s a great book related to the topic of your site. Reading the quote above on its own, I might think that Van Til suggests that culture as expressed in the arts are “the very essence of life.” I remember having a hard time explaining his definition of culture to people when I was reading it. It’s well-articulated on your “What is Creation Project” page–which is one of the reasons I subscribe to your feed.

  2. April 22, 2008 9:38 pm

    Thanks for weighing in and for subscribing, Chip. I agree Van Til is confusing on culture; you have to think it through a few times. I do like his emphasis essential and doxological dimensions of culture-making.

    I have concisely defined culture as “the manipulation of creation, for good or for ill.” This gets at the idealogical and material dimensions of culture or to use McLuhan’s language, the “medium” and the “message.”

    You might like Ken Myers def: “Culture is what we make of the world,” simple, but also gets at both aspects of culture.

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