A frequent claim in conservative intellectual circles is that cult is the basis of culture. T. S.
Elliot Eliot may have been the first to assert and Russell Kirk may have picked it up from Elliot Eliot, though Christopher Dawson was also likely responsible for introducing this notion among conservatives in the U.S. The problem with this assertion is that in the Garden before the fall, we see no explicit forms of worship. Adam didn’t preach to Eve. They didn’t sing Psalms in corporate worship. And of course, they did not make sacrifices the way the Israelites would. Why? The introduction of sin.
After the fall, God’s presence is no longer with the human race but is restricted to specific, holy places. Meanwhile, to enter into God’s presence requires fallen saints to take sin into account, either by sacrificing bulls and other barnyard animals, or by confessing sin and observing Christ’s death, the ultimate sacrifice, in the Lord’s Supper.
In other words, you could argue that the fall introduced worship into human history as we (generally) now know it.
This also means that worship before the fall was essentially synonymous with what we now regard as work — specifically, gardening. If the Garden was the place where God was specially present with his people, Eden was also a temple in which Adam’s tending and keeping the land was a kind of priestcraft. According to Zach Keele and Mike Brown (Sacred Bond):
Eden is a place where God dwells . . . . By definition in the ancient Near East, temples were houses of gods, dwellings of the gods. To go to the temple was to draw near the presence of the gods. . . . This holy temple setting, then, means that Adam was a priest. Only priests, along with their guilds of servants, lived and worked in temple precincts in the ancient world. One had to be consecrated as holy to live in a holy place. . . . In fact, the tasks of serving and guarding given to Adam in 2:15 are the most common Hebrew verbs used for what the Aaronic priests and the Levites did in tabernacle and temple (Num. 1:53, 3:7-10) (51-52)
This way of understanding the relationship between worship and work before the fall not only upsets the conservative shibolleth about cult and culture, but it may also resolve the tension that Anthony Bradley noticed about Christians looking for the gospel in the first chapters of Genesis:
There are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions. . . . One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as means of human beings having a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven). . . .
For example, when one begins with Genesis 1 and 2, as one well-known Protestant pastor opines, we could understand the gospel this way: “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Theodore G. Stylianopoulos reminds us that the gospel is “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin and death are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the eschatological glorification of the whole cosmos.” Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race, (Rom 8:19-24) redemption must involve the entire creation, as Michael Williams argues. In a Genesis 1 and 2 framework, everything matters in God’s redemptive plan. . . .
On the other hand, when the gospel begins with Genesis 3, as the conceptual starting point, one might articulate the gospel as: “the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only permanent rejoicing.” As such, because of Christ’s redemptive work, argues this view, “there is nothing that separates those who believe from their Creator and all the benefits that He promises in him.” What matters for the church and the Christian life is keeping the issues of sin and salvation front and center (John 3:16, Eph 2:8-10).
I myself am much more drawn to the Genesis 3 understanding of Christianity. Christ’s work makes no sense without the fall. I know that is not the point as Bradley explains it. But neo-Calvinists in their cosmological understanding of redemption tend to discount the effects of sin (I believe) to the point that they say silly things about redeeming television by our efforts (of course, blessed by the Holy Spirit) — as if television had sinned or believers could save anything.
But if part of the point of God’s creating man was to fellowship with a creature created in the image of God, and if that fellowship was to involve a real presence in which God resided with his people, the idea of saving the cosmos again doesn’t make much sense. After the fall, God is present is specific and special ways with his people but is absent in the way that he was present in the Garden. At the same time, the new heavens and new earth promise a place where God will again be present with his people in a specific and special way. The only harbingers of that redemptive presence between the fall and consummation are not a great symphony or expert plumbing but when Christians gather in God’s presence in the holy of holies for worship. The cosmological understanding of salvation, in other words, does not do justice to what happens in all of Genesis 1-3.
If culture is the basis of cult, then conservatives and neo-Calvinists need to reboot their understanding of culture.