Speaking the Truth Without Mentioning God (Robert Drake)
Applying God’s Truth to Today’s Culture
By Robert R. Drake
Speech given to the governing board
Of the World Journalism Institute
May 22, 1998
Consider these two brief passages from Genesis. This is God’s word.
First from Genesis 2, what I am going to call the Song of Adam:
“The man said, this is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called woman,
For she was taken out of man.”
And from Genesis 4:
“Lamech said to his wives,
Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
Wives of Lamech, hear my words,
I have killed a man for wounding me,
A young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
Then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
That is from the word of God.
We are talking about Christian explicitness—so here is a shortcut way of explaining things. I hear people cursing all the time. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t watch television without hearing people curse. So I thought: What if in contrast to this secular profanity we came up with a “religious blessedness” of some kind. When you hear somebody with a flat tire talking about this “blankety-blank tire,” we could respond by talking about “God-created tires.” Or when we go to Hardee’s, we could say, “I’d like one of those God-created burgers.” That way we could always have our faith right out in the open, and we would always be known to people as being believers.
The trouble is that God doesn’t want it that way. His commandment not to take his name in vain suggests we are not to fall into habitual things. That produces a problem. What is the nature of our working and living before God, and how does that relate to our evangelism in the world?
So I thought of Adam and Lamech. Let me tell you about Adam and Lamech, first under the general heading of marriage. Then let me try to draw some implications for culture—because God is, after all, in the beginning in Genesis dealing with these two things: first, with the relationship between the man and the woman, and then with the relationship the man and woman have to the creation and to what we call culture. Culture involves your drawing out of what is already there in the creation, and refashioning the creation to put things into a new form. Man and woman are going to be relating to each other in a certain way, and they are also going to relate to the creation around them.
Let’s look at the Song of Adam. You’ll notice I call it a song; if you’ve got a translation like mine, it will have the verses arranged in a poetic form to show you that scholars have thought that in the Hebrew something lyrical is going on. And so I call this the Song of Adam. If this isn’t a song that he’s actually singing to Eve, at least we’ve got the lyrics for the first love song ever written. All he has to do is take a look at Eve—and he bursts into this kind of poetry.
So what is his poem about as he sees the woman? It is about the woman’s relationship to the man. He’s singing about her identity, and their oneness. Yet there is in this poem no reference to God at all. By the time you read about this song at the end of Genesis 2, you know what the background is; he sings this song out of the truth. He expresses himself knowing the truth.
And we understand what he is saying, out of the truth. But because it is in this kind of lyrical form, it stands by itself. I can envision Adam later on, sitting around with his grandchildren, and the grandchildren saying something like, “Sing us the song of Grandma again. The one that you wrote on the first day that you were ever alive.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that song,” he says, and then he begins to burst into singing and she starts to blush, and they have good memories together.
It’s a love song where the lyrics are true and are spoken out of the truth. Yet God isn’t necessarily right there on the surface in the subject matter. To be sure, we would also say that if God weren’t there, you wouldn’t be able to sing that particular song at all, because there would be no view of marriage or a view of man and woman as we have derived it from the Scripture. God is the author of this relationship. This song of oneness can be sung only out of the truth of God.
If the issue here today were Christian poetry and music, and somebody were to ask, “Do you have to have in your Christian poetry and music specific language indicating that this is religious as we mean that in the narrow sense of the word—language about God and about redemption and whatever?” I would say no, you don’t. Because not only does Adam sing to his woman without reference to God, but so does Solomon. God isn’t in the Song of Solomon either. It is about man and woman, and it is about the truth, but it is a song of truth that can be sung only out of this framework of God’s revealed truth. In that way the songs by both Adam and Solomon stand to challenge any other songs that people could sing to each other.
Now still under the heading of marriage, let me remind you of what we read from Lamech. Lamech, too, is a singer, but if Adam gives the lyrics for the first love song, then I would say that Lamech gives the lyrics for maybe the first violent rap song. He mentions woman—actually he mentions two women—and this is probably the beginning of polygamy. Up to this point, you don’t have the wives mentioned, but now you have two.
So here the man bursts into song, but he is not singing words of love to a woman. He is already in open defiance of the created ontology that God has for man and woman. He has turned his back on the truth. He is singing to two women, and there is now no one-flesh relationship. These women are not objects of his love, but simply witnesses to his own ego. The Song of Lamech is not about his mournful repentant attitude of “Oh no, woe is me, look at what I have done.” It is defiance of the mandate for marriage. It is defiance of how we treat our neighbor. “Cain was dumped on for murder,” Lamech boasts, “but I got somebody for slapping my cheek. Let that curse be piled upon me.”
God, of course, is being alluded to there—but in his defiance and in his blasphemy, Lamech is able to sing by editing God out, and just speaking about the horizontal level of his ancestry with Cain. This is about violence, and it is about his own ego. There’s no reference to God, no specific references about his unbelief. But he sings out of the lie.
And his song stands in contrast to the Song of Adam.
Applying Truth to Today’s Culture
If you were going to ask me today when it comes to poetry and music, does a song have to be openly blasphemous and obscene to be non-Christian? Does it have to be immoral? Does it have to be blaspheming God specifically? I would say no, it doesn’t. If it speaks out of the lie to distort what the relationship is between man and woman or the relationship man and woman have to the creation, we can call it non-Christian.
So I thought back over the songs I have grown up with. My dad used to play in a dance band before I was born, so we always had in the house the songs of his generation, and some even before that. There was an old song Frank Sinatra used to sing; it goes back to the turn of the century: “You made me what I am today; I hope you’re satisfied. You did something . . . until the soul within me died. . . . You dragged and dragged me down until . . . .” This was a real tear-jerker. But it is a non-Christian song. It is trying to say that who I am today is your fault. That is just not the way the Scriptures speak. You got yourself into this, they say. You need to repent. You need to straighten out.
Dean Martin used to sing, “Heaven can wait. This is paradise. Loving the way that we do.” You’re uncomfortable with that? Elvis Presley sang, “It’s now or never, my love can’t wait.” I didn’t even know what he was talking about until I got to be an adult and had teenagers of my own. Then I knew. That is non-Christian. You don't have to be obscene. You don't have to be even as blatant as Lamech was.
But back to the idea of speaking out of the truth. Adam spoke out of the truth when he sang about the relationship of a man and a woman. But he also spoke out of the truth when he alluded to taking dominion over the earth and cultivating the garden. Indeed, if we use this as a second topic, we might see a similar theme in the relationship that we have to culture. Here too we can speak out of the truth of God without necessarily bringing God into the subject.
The Origin of Culture
Poems are cultural objects—just as in the opening chapters of Genesis we have things that are cultural—in the sense that we use that word today in everyday life. As I said earlier, culture involves your drawing out of what is already there in the creation, and refashioning the creation to put things into a new form.
The first recorded time that man creates something as a refashioning of the creation is to make clothes, or at least garments to cover his nakedness. And there we discover a truth that is behind the fact that every one of us is dressed today—and dressed modestly. Yet although there is a truth behind this, we do not go around always discussing this truth. We take it for granted. We live out of it. And yes, we are also now living in a society where other people do not want to live out of that truth. So when others want to wear immodest apparel, we resist. We speak out of the truth, you see, without necessarily talking about the sources of our truth—although we are always ready to do so. We are always ready to say, “Well, we don’t justify immodesty because in the beginning . . . ” We appeal to modesty because man is fallen now, and we have the responsibility not only for our own hearts, but for the hearts of others.
Bread is another cultural item mentioned in Genesis. God says you shall eat bread now by the sweat of your brow. Bread is a cultural product; it does not grow on trees. You have to go out and do something to get it. It’s after the fall that taking dominion of this particular cultural activity shifts a little bit. Man never used to have to worry about food before; he could just pick the stuff off the trees. But now the dominion task is combined with his quest for bread. Bread is something man has to make. Indeed, that’s part of what a cultural object is.
Yet in spite of all this, we don’t go around every time we have a piece of bread bringing God into the subject and talking about why we have had to make these things as part of God’s scheme of things. Certainly we stand ready to do so if we are asked, or if we are challenged. And ultimately if people refuse to work and refuse to make bread, our conversations will include not just the social aspects, but will go back to God’s assignment to man in the very beginning to work.
Is this not the way we live our lives? We go to the bank and to the grocery store. We evaluate TV shows and books. And most of the time, we are simply speaking out of the truth—but not necessarily making God the primary subject matter. It is when we get close to the issues of the heart and when we see that there is really resistance and defiance, and whenever our foundation is challenged, that we then get more specific.
Practical Suggestions on Redeeming Our Culture
I suggest several principles about how we ought to speak in the world about God.
1) The first is that in this cultural task, in our fulfillment of this taking dominion over the creation and cultivating the garden, there is value in these tasks just because they are assigned to us by God. The New Testament says that Jesus Christ has become the last Adam, and implies that he is the one who really takes dominion over the creation. He is the one who really multiplies. Man has not fulfilled what he was supposed to fulfill in the beginning. So Jesus Christ has taken it upon himself and he is now going to harness all those things for the great purpose of his gospel.
But the New Testament does not call us to forsake marriage. It does not let us forsake our responsibilities to work. While Christ is the one who ultimately fulfills all of these things, there still is value to being married and there is value to working. Indeed, with those activities come the consequences of the fruit of children and the fruit of your labors as you create things. There is value in the cultural tasks that God has assigned us to do.
An extension of this first principle is that man in the beginning never was created to spend all his time communing face-to- face with God. If I had been Adam, would I have been disappointed to find that after I was assigned to be lord of the creation, I was then told to go out and take care of a garden? Would I have objected and said, “What is this? Can’t we just kind of discuss philosophy together or something like that? What is with this gardening stuff?” But there is a task, there is work which is good that man do. Man in the beginning had a face-to-face relationship with God; today we call that our “devotions.” But he also had a side-by-side relationship with God where he was sent out to work. And especially when the woman came on the scene he was going to be looking into the face of the woman and not directly into the face of God. He spoke out of the truth when he related to the woman. He spoke out of the truth when he related to the ground.
This meek God of ours has created us in such a way that he allows us to turn our faces away from him and walk side-by-side with him in order to accomplish the tasks he has given us to do. There is something good about those tasks. It is part of how he has created us. We experiment and we cultivate, we invent, and we compose not primarily because we can harness these things for evangelism, but because we have been made by God to be cultivators, experimenters, composers, inventors—because this is who we are as the image-bearers of God. This is part of the assignment that God has given man in the world, and it is good.
When we sit around wondering how we can harness things for evangelism, I wonder if we don’t lose a focus on being creative people and inventors. At one time, we had a grand reputation as Christians for our curiosity about God’s world. Unbelievers wanted to know because the dominion task was stamped upon their hearts; they saw there was something good about the cultural task.
2) The second principle is that we work out of the truth of God—the truth about who we are in our being, that we are created and we are fallen and we are redeemed in Christ. We also work out of the truth of God’s rule. God rules his creation by some unbreakable laws and some that are breakable. Rules that we can’t break include physics and chemistry and things like that. Rules we can break include justice and stewardship and love—things like that. Whichever response we offer, we speak always out of the rule that God has over our lives. Some people reject the rules that God has over their lives in their stewardship, their group action, how they trade their belongings, how they sell them, and how they seek justice in the courts. Others take on the cultural task in a manner that speaks out of God’s truth as they perform those cultural tasks.
3) Our work therefore will often be different not because God is specifically introduced as subject matter, but because by following God’s guidance, by following his rules we end up thinking differently, and sometimes we even end up creating things which look different. Our theories about the world end up being especially different when you get into psychology and sociology and things like that.
I sometimes wonder if this strange object called the Constitution of the United States of America isn’t an object that at least Christian ideas had some kind of contribution to. Speaking out of the truth of man’s selfishness, and speaking out of the truth that we know about man that his power has to be limited—knowledge of both those “truths” helped create an object of government which was different from the way in which other people might fashion government.
4) God is not necessarily mentioned every time we perform the task that we are doing, but he is surely introduced as the source and the guide of what we do when such issues are raised. And here if we would take another text and put it alongside Lamech and Adam, I would put down 1 Peter 3. Here Peter is calling us in his letter to the moral life, to the holy life of hope before God. Notably, we do not live that life primarily for the nations and the evangelism of the nations. We live it primarily for God. God does not say in the beginning you shall be holy. He says I am holy, and therefore Peter gives that exhortation to the people of God. We live the moral, holy life for its own sake alone, and for the glory of God—for his glory and for our good. Only then does Peter say, “But when people ask you about this moral holy life, then you be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you.”
Is that not a pattern that we find in all of our living? The holy people are the different people, the people who are speaking out of the truth and are doing different things in the world. But when the question arises, “What are you doing here, and why are you doing things in this way?” it is for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think about 1 Peter 3 as being a pattern.
5) While it may sound as if I have been saying that the cultural task is separate from evangelism, my point would be that everything is for the kingdom of God. Everything—because everything under the rule of God is being harnessed by God for his kingdom. Everything comes from him. It is through him, and it is unto him and everything is going to be used for his kingdom building, even the things that we don’t have a clue as to how they fit in.
So in Reformed circles we talk about a man and woman having a vocation in the world. Not just because they are preachers, because they may be car mechanics. Now I ask you, what does the car mechanic have to do with the kingdom of God? What does the baker have to do with this? Sometimes we can say, “He works for a missionary society and he helps fix the wheels.” No, no, no—I don’t mean that. I mean the Christian guy who is down here fixing my car or your car. What does that have to do with the kingdom?
I can’t always answer that question. But our forefathers have said God knows the answer to that because God is building something under his Son. He is preserving a world so that someday the vision will come true that John saw when he said, “I saw a great multitude that no man could number.” And God has been preserving this world and populating it, and producing things through us in order for that vision one day to come to pass.
The things that we are doing now as we attend to the cultural task are going to be harnessed for the kingdom of God. You don’t have to work at God’s World Publications, you know, in order to have work that is in the kingdom of God. That may come as a shock to some of you, but it is true! As we fulfill the cultural, creational task, I say it is harnessed by this last Adam of ours who is at the right hand of his Father. It is harnessed by him for the advance of the gospel in ways that we don’t even realize yet. But everything is going to turn out to be used for the gospel. There is value in a creation task, and if you take the creation task for the value it has in itself, that will ultimately come to serve the kingdom of God.
Author Robert Russell Drake majored in philosophy at Bethel College (St. Paul) and studied theology at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia). He received an M.A. in humanities from Western Kentucky University and did additional graduate work in American studies at the University of Minnesota. In 1972 he was ordained by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and for five years pastored the Calvary Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Philadelphia where several members of the Westminster faculty worshipped, including Cornelius Van Til. After working in campus ministry with the Christian Reformed Church, he accepted a call to the Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Asheville, where he has served since 1983. Robert has been a frequent contributor to World magazine.