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Plowing In Hope is a book that sets out to be a biblical theology of culture. It
examines culture within its redemptive-historical context by beginning with the first two chapters of Genesis dealing with God’s commands to Adam and Eve and then ending in Revelation with the disclosure of the New Jerusalem. David Bruce Hegeman, the author, defines culture as “the product of human acts of concretization undertaken in the developmental transformation of the earth according to the commandment of God.” Hegeman wrote this book out of comments and encouragement from people in a pair of Sunday school classes he taught on Christianity and Culture.
The book has ten chapters and is divided into two parts. The first part deals with “A Positive Theology of Culture” and the second deals with “Culture and Redemption.” Culturative history (the history of the process of culture) and redemptive history (the history of human salvation wrought by God) are two strands of history which are decreed and ruled by God, in which Hegeman thinks are helpful to see culture operating within.
Hegeman argues in part one of his book that the Bible implicitly teaches that: (1) there is real cultural development, (2) occupational differentiation and societal stratification are necessary in order to meet God’s command for global cultural development, and (3) some artifacts are recognized as having greater value because they are more intellectually and aesthetically refined and made with greater skill. (p.15)
In chapter two, the transformation and development of the earth from garden-paradise to the glorious city of God is brought about through God’s unfolding purpose for man, which is culturative history. Now, culturative history is the strand of history concerned with culture-making. Here we see that human history begins in a garden and ends in a city.
Moving onto chapter four, we see that the cultural activities of man grow out of his relationship to work on the earth. This in turn shows that culture is an outworking of mankind’s unique place within God’s creation, bearing the image of God. Then we see how there are varying degrees of expressive intensity that culture manifests itself in. A “High” culture designates cultural artifacts for long use as objects of intellectual, aesthetic contemplation, or for religious service. While on the other hand, A “Low” culture has designated objects made for common purposes that focus especially on utility.
Moving onto part two “Culture and Redemption,” the relationship between culture and God’s redemptive acts, and culture’s place within the restoration of the earth is outlined. In chapter seven we see that restoring mankind to holiness of body and soul is the ultimate purpose of redemptive history. It is so that the original culturative program that God had in mind will be fulfilled with obedience.
In chapter eight Hegeman goes on about how God’s common grace allows a sinful mankind to be part of God’s culturative program. He then points out in chapter nine how God allows non-Christians to prosper in their activities in order to benefit the Church. Then Hegeman points out that of all the culturative products, only the most noble and excellent will have a place in the New Jerusalem.
Last, but not least, Hegeman provides a Postscript that talks about Culture and the Sabbath. Hegeman really places an emphasis of ceasing from work and for resting on the Sabbath. He concludes the book with an Appendix dealing with a Christian Vision in the Arts.
In the introduction to the book, Hegeman gave a wonderful illustration on the effects of sin through the industrial valley of Cubatao in Brazil. It simply shows the horror and intensity of sin, while he then points out the beauty of the Phoenix Hall, which is destined to an ugly end. This just shows that even non-Christians can make beautiful artifacts. Whether or not it will be used for God’s glory is solely up to Him.
In Hegeman’s book, he keeps his main focus on culture throughout all of the chapters, which helps to keep the thought process going in one direction. He also includes scripture verses to reference and back up all of the things that he says. This proves to be helpful in knowing that what he says is true. He made the book in a nice format of short chapters that make it easier to find a place to start and stop reading without feeling the agony of a fifty-page chapter. He points out that “we as Christians must never assume that culture ‘just happens.’” The Bible shows us that “the Lord has established His throne in heaven and His kingdom rules over all.”
Hegeman is very good at stating his point. The way each chapter is titled shows an author that states his thesis for each chapter and then carries it out within the text. He shows that culture indeed has an end in view that has been ordained by God. Hegeman is right in saying that culture has a central place in God’s purpose for mankind because it was in essence what God had started in the Garden of Eden with Adam.
Hegeman is also very encouraging to tell us to continue where Adam left off before his sin, by having the Church seize the opportunities that the modern circumstances present us with and transform the earth. Hegeman deals with several issues in the book that is very relative to present time. He talks about how the church should be “in the world, but not of the world.” Here we see that the church should be among non-Christians evangelizing them, but at the same time we as Christians should not be following what this world has to offer.
Lastly Hegeman uses many Greek words throughout the book which in turn shows a high knowledge into all of the subject matter that he discussed. There are many other things that I think Hegeman did a great job with, but are too numerous to mention.