Two areas of study that have consumed most of my reading over the past year have been covenant and culture. In fact, it was reading several great books on Christianity and culture that opened my eyes to the importance of covenant. Likewise, my pursuit in understanding the Biblical onus on covenants has only reinforced what I have learned about culture.
From what I have learned covenants create culture and where covenants are ignored there is only anti-culture. A culture, briefly put, is a community of shared beliefs and practices that shape relationships and institutions. When one understands the idea of covenant it should come as no surprise that covenants are natural culture builders.
A covenant is a legal bond between parties with stipulations that carry blessings or curses dependent upon faithfulness.
What makes a covenant so unique is that it is neither experiential or intellectual at its foundation; rather it is legal. This does not mean that you cannot experience or comprehend a covenant. Rather, this means that experience and intellectual ascent are not the grounds upon which a covenant is built. This is why we are so averse to the idea of covenant in our day.
The Enlightenment taught us that nothing can be established (for anyone) before logical consent. Pietism taught us that nothing can be established (for anyone) before genuine experience.
Both of these approaches take a man centered approach to the idea of covenant. As a consequence, culture’s built upon either Enlightenment (Intellectual/Modern) or Peistic (Experiential/Post-Modern) foundations have only succeeded in creating anti-cultures.
If a culture is a community of shared beliefs and practices that shape relationships and institutions then an anti-culture, by definition, must be a community of disjointed beliefs and practices that still shapes relationships and institutions. This is where things get iffy.
Relationships and institutions are constant. They might not always be called “husband” and “wife” but we will always have relationships. Likewise, they will not always be called “schools” but we will always have institutions. These things will exist, regardless of whether a culture acknowledges it or not, in any society.
The problem is that anti-cultures have no foundation outside of an individual’s intellectual ascent or experience. This means that no norms can be truly shared but only, at best, overlap with other individuals.
Covenants are the answer to reclaiming any semblance of a true culture and the avoidance of furthering anti-culture.
Because covenants are objectively and legally administered they do not change based on the ever-wavering experiences and intellectual inclinations of those involved in the covenant. A husband is no less covenanted to his wife if he “experiences” adultery or no longer ascents intellectually to the concept of marriage. This man is still a husband. This objective nature to covenants create a culture where normative beliefs and practices can truly be shared with others because these beliefs and practices are not based on individuals but covenant stipulations.
What this creates is affirmation to those who are inclined toward covenant faithfulness and boundaries for those who are inclined toward covenant unfaithfulness.
To bring things down to ground level to conclude I would argue that we have in many ways lost true cultures in the family, the church, and the wider society because of our lack of covenantal thinking and living. Instead of treating children like they are truly a member of the family & church based objectively on their physical birth and baptism, we often take an intellectual and experiential approach to their inclusion to these covenants. When the child is old enough to intellectually ascent or experience what it truly means to be a Hansen or a Christian, then we will let them into the fold. Until then we will allow them to create their own personal culture which will only reek further habit on the anti-cultures of our current-day families & churches.
The sandy foundations of both Enlightenment thought and Pieistic experimentalism are giving way to the winds and rains of reality. If we are to ride out the storm then we must return to a more Biblical model of culture; this necessitates a more Biblical model of covenant in the family, church, and society at large.
If you’re curious, these are some of the books that have been immensely helpful in my understanding of these areas.
Food for thought.