Thursday, June 2, 2016

What culture is left for Christianity to address?

Christians need to wake up to this. We have no culture to engage, let alone transform. It is thus time to drop the hip rhetoric of cultural engagement and transformation that comforts us that we are part of some non-existent dialogue and that grants the world of our opponents a dignity which it simply does not deserve. I am not entirely sure that Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is the way forward, partly because it seems at the moment to be a work-in-progress with regard to the practical details. But one of its basic premises—that awareness of the antithesis between church and world is becoming vital to the Christian mindset—is surely correct. The church is a culture and the West is now an anti-culture. And we can no more engage or transform anti-culture than we can hunt unicorns or turn lead into gold. Or find a mildly coherent insight or a hint of lasting musical merit in a Lady Gaga song, for that matter.     Carl Trueman in First Things

What would Niebuhr do today? Now more than 65 years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr famously suggested five different ways for Christianity to relate to culture:
    • Opposition
    • Agreement
    • Christ above culture
    • Tension
    • Transformation
      The first two choices are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Opposition is sort of the Amish option in which Christians oppose all culture around it as "worldly." Agreement takes the other extreme in which nothing distinctively Christian exists and the faith is fundamentally compatible with the culture around it. The last three choices attempt to mediate between the extremes. The "Christ above culture" option was advocated by Thomas Aquinas and suggests that they are not merely incompatible but as different as night and day. The tension option, seemingly the position of Luther, puts the Christian into a tension between Christ and culture, in but not of the world. As citizens of two worlds that are often at odds with each other, the Christian is to chart a course of faithfulness. The final option fits the Radical Reformers and was advocated by Calvin (among others). In this view, the relationship between Christianity and culture was transformational, or reformational, renewing what was tainted and redeeming what was sinful.

      But what happens when the culture has disintegrated into at best a pop culture and at worst nothing recognizable as culture? Then how does one related to culture? To be sure we still have our cultural artifacts -- our buildings and institutions and political structures -- but when these no longer have much impact upon us or power to shape us, with what are we left?

      For those who would protest against this, what ties do we have with our past? We have a legacy of Christian faith and life but this is now being reduced to merely a right to private worship and the very dogmas of this Christian past are being rejected wholesale by the powerful among us (media, politics, and law). We have no fabric of shared values to bind us together; we cannot agree on what life is or when it begins or ends or it possesses some sacred character that must be defended. We equate the battle for which restroom someone chooses to use with the great battles for civil rights as if they were morally equivalent. We have halls of learning in which opposition to the politically correct views and speech of the day are considered more than offensive but abusive. We have an anti-culture but we do not have a recognizable culture to engage. We have pop culture which is constantly and rapidly evolving and is no more enduring than pop stars and pop songs. But we do not have a culture to transform.

      Even Luther would wrestle with the prospect of how to relate to a kingdom of the left which has almost ceased to be a kingdom at all. Anarchy is not only the absence of boundaries and law; it is also the existence of so many competing boundaries and laws that none can speak to or for all people. When the culture no longer is a culture but merely the individual and his or her freedoms, preferences, and choices, how does the Church related to the State?


      John Joseph Flanagan said...

      The kingdoms in which the Apostles evangelized, and were martyred, were as bad as today's anti-Christian and pagan societies. The reality is that even "worldly" kingdoms cannot resist the Gospel, nor can they prevent God from calling His elect. If this were not so, we would not be reading news that Christianity, despite opposition, repression, stigma, and active persecution, is actually taking a foothold in communist countries like China and Vietnam, in Muslim cultures like Saudi Arabia and Iran, and in many other areas. Hebrews 11 tells us the true numbers are often small, but since it is God's work, He will see it prosper. Of course, the decadent West, where Christianity flourished, has declined in the number of believers, having embraced a secularized humanistic philosophy. We in America are seeing Christianity under assault, and even if the sheer numbers of the faithful are reduced, God will draw from this pagan wasteland those whom He has elected. We must keep our own faith in Him strong, despite the depressing trends we see around us. Each of us must attend to our own household even as the fires rage about us.

      Carl Vehse said...

      Yet another example of the U.S. swirling down the cultural toilet is the June 1, 2016, statement in Elkhart, IN, by the Floater-in-Chief, on forcing school restrooms and locker rooms be open for use by both sexes based on claims of gender identity:

      "I have profound respect for everybody's religious beliefs on this. But if you're at a public school, the question is, how do we just make sure that, uh, children are treated with kindness. That's all. And you know, my reading of scripture tells me that that golden rule is pretty high up there in terms of my Christian belief."

      Excerpted from the "Transcript: PBS NewsHour Town Hall from Lerner Theatre."

      Lutheran Lurker said...

      John, you wrote: The kingdoms in which the Apostles evangelized, and were martyred, were as bad as today's anti-Christian and pagan societies. I am not sure that this is true. Rome had never heard the Gospel before and so there was an entrance for the Gospel among many -- if only for curiosity sake. Today those who reject the Gospel do not reject what they do not know, but what they think they know. They are rejecting not unknown but that which they know and do not believe is credible or reasonable or just. Thus such folks are harder for the Gospel to gain a hearing because they have no curiosity. They believe they have heard it and they are rejecting it. Even the claim that they have not heard the Gospel rightly does not carry much weight with the new pagans.

      John Joseph Flanagan said...

      Lutheran Larker, indeed you are correct. Rome did not have the Gospel, and it was an unreached pagan culture, as opposed to societies which were later aware of the Gospel but rejected it. We see that happening in our own land as well. Remember when Jesus quoted Isaiah, "This people draw near me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

      Anonymous said...

      There is a more recent post by Carl Trueman that is very helpful in understanding Rod Dreher's work-in-progress Benedict Option. Dreher is making some valuable contributions that are well worth reading and contemplating.

      Eating Locusts Will Be (Benedict) Optional | Carl R. Trueman | First Things

      Carl Vehse said...

      There's only a hell-spawned culture remaining in the fifth-column leftist media, as reported in the NewsBusters article, "Nets Cover Gorilla Death 6x More Than ISIS Christian Beheading."