The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture
Monday, September 30, 2002
Two-Kingdom Critique - III
Earlier I reponded to Gene Veith's rejection of "Christian culture" the idea of which is antithetical to the Two-Kingom View (TKV) of culture. A second criticism of Christian culture I have often encountered (on the White Horse Inn, for example) is that Christian culture is a catagorical impossibility. This argument has two parts. First, TKV propanants argue that the Bible never talks in terms of "Christian art", "Christian music", "Christian jurespudence", etc.; and thus we are not justified in using such terminology. In response, I note that the term "Christian" is used only twice in the scriptures (Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28) and in both instances the term describes individual believers. While it certainly true that we do not read about "Christian art" in the pages of scripture, we do not read about "Christian theology" or "Christian faith" or the "Christian church" either. It is most arbitrary to insist that one usage of the adjective "Christian" is appropriate and another is wrong. Either we apply the term to individuals exclusively, or we assume that it is correct to use the term being in other contexts.
Presumably, TKV advocates want the use the word Christian is some contexts other than to refer to believers. Why not use the term to describe cultural catagories as well? Here TKV-ers reply that these cultural catagories are in the realm of "common grace" and are not exclusively Christian. God gives grace to Christian and non-Christian alike to make art, marry, educate their children, govern, etc. While it is true that non-Christians are involved (and to some degree even excell) in these activities, is it also true that there is no difference in how Christian and non-Christians love their spouses or see the landscape they are painting pictures of, or exercise authority over those whom they are in charge? To this question, I repeatedly hear TKV proponants repond that art is art, marriage is marriage, government is government, etc.; this is just what human beings made in the image of God do. Implicit in this understanding of culture is the belief that one's faith has little to do with how one performs culture-making activities. Presumably there is absolutely no difference in the way Christian write poems and Hindus or Nihilists compose their poetry.
But I would insist that the Christian faith makes all the difference in how we act and think. Our minds are being transformed (Romans 12:2) by the transforming power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit And as we mature in the Christian faith, we will more and more make culture which is consanant with the beauty, truth and goodness which flows out the character of God and is celebrated infallably in pages of His Word. What we believe really ought to make a difference. This difference is what is called Christian culture.
Friday, September 27, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part IV
We bought our son one of these Mountain Ocarinas for Christmas last year. They are beautifully made, have a wonderful tone and are relatively easy to play. I am also drawn to their portability, allowing one to make music on those hikes in the woods! They are made by a Christian homeschooler in central Connecticut and to me demonstrate the surprising cultural blessings that we can bring to society.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
John Adams on the Relationship Between Education, Politics and Culture
"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
The upshot of this quote from Adams is that a vibrant culture depends on a free, lawful, peaceful society. This is illustrated biblically with the progression from David (a man war/politics) to Solomon (a man of peace/culture).
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels." (Psalm 122: 6-7)
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
The Creator as Culture-Maker
"for He [Jesus] was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes"
-- Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, circa A.D. 150 (cf Mark 6:3)
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Theology You Can Sink Your Teeth Into?
"Hatred, vengeance, and witchcraft turned Willow evil, but Xander's unconditional love showed that no sinner is beyond grace. Moments like this explain why Christians such as myself watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
-- from an article by Todd Hertz in ChristianityToday.com
Well CT isn't all Bad!
I also found this article on Wendell Berry and agrarianism. (See my earlier post on this topic.)
Monday, September 23, 2002
My Time in the Woods
I did get out into nature myself for a brief time this weekend. Between services on Sunday I went for a walk with friends in a delightful small woodland near McMinnville. Although I did get an opportunity to take in the beauty of the place and enjoy some of plants growing along the forest floor, I realized that the kind of experience I talked about in the previous post takes solitude and time -- a couple of hours at least. One thing I continually enjoy about living in Oregon is the seeing the landscape of the Willamette valley during my drive to work and church. Especially the changes to the farmland which occur throughout the seasons. The textures at times overwhelm me.
Friday, September 20, 2002
Go Take a Hike!
This weekend -- if you're not already in the habit of doing so -- make a special effort to get out into nature for while. I'm convinced that this is the cultural thing to do. Human beings have a special relationship with the earth, which is captured biblically in words adam (man) and adamah (ground/earth -- Genesis 2:7). The more we get in touch with nature -- to gradually drink in its beauty, intricacy, variety, majesty and structure -- the more we appreciate the wisdom of our Maker, and (somewhat ironically) our calling to make, write, compose and craft as a worshipful response to His magnificent creation.
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Christendom - Part I: An Inescapable Concept
The word Christendom is a contraction of the words Christ and kingdom. A kingdom is the territory, realm and/or subjects over which a king rules. Christendom is therefore the territory, realm and/or subjects over which Jesus Christ rules. All orthodox Christians believe in some sort of idea of Christendom. We all profess that Jesus is Lord and that he is Lord now. We may differ greatly on our understanding of the extent of Christ's rule -- whether it be over believers hearts only, the church, or culture as a whole. We may even expect the scope or character of Christ's rule to change over time. But that fact that Jesus is ruling now is a truth which all Christians must face. The question of course is what does the Bible teach about Christendom. This we will explore (DV) in coming posts.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Another Look at Eliot
One of my favorite Christian analyses of culture is T.S. Eliot's Christianity and Culture, which is really two books merged into one. Eliot demonstrates brilliantly how a cultural elite is necessary for the advanced development of culture. I think that this makes good biblical sense. But it drives egalitarian-minded Americans crazy. A case in point is Philip Yancy. Needless to say, Eliot's ideas do not jive with current post-modernist dogma.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part III
Many of us who are biased, like to call this little oasis the "cultural center of downtown Newberg." I am referring to the Coffee Cottage, a small converted house on the main drag of Newberg, Oregon owned by Dave and Sally Mehler. Besides what you might expect -- lattes, scones, soups and sandwiches -- the Cottage as a plethora of cultural amenities There is a wide array of intelligent books to buy and browse through on theology, culture, and literature as well a poetry, children's classics and literary classics. There are rotating art exhibits on the walls. And on Friday and Saturday nights you can delight in live folk, bluegrass and jazz music. The Mehler's are practicing Christian artists (Dave is a published poet and Sally plays and sings with the Celtic musical ensemble Roughly Hewn) and their love of beauty and goodness shapes the whole atmosphere of the place. After an evening of coffee, fellowship and music at the Coffee Cottage it is not too hard to think that Christian culture may not be so far away after all.
Monday, September 16, 2002
One of my Favorite Quotes
From Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy of Education: "Artists may inconsistently be humanists, but a humanistic, atheistic, purposeless universe provides no basis for art." (Or anythings else for that matter!)
Friday, September 13, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part II
My wife is so insightful, in ways that at times takes my breath away. Last year, when I was writing an article, I tested my notion on her that all parts of culture -- even the most mundane -- can be genuinely Christian. "Do you suppose that kitchen implements could be Christian?" Marjorie thought for a few seconds, then she said, "A Christian mixing spoon wouldn't break after only six months use."
The Adverbial Approach to Culture
A couple of days ago I listened to the latest Mars Hill tape. It was chock full of provocative ideas (as these tapes usually are). One idea that Ken Myers floated was how Christians tend to approach making culture in adverbial terms. All too often we see the catagories -- painting, political activism, engineering design, scientific research, etc. -- as fixed; as a given; perhaps even inescapable. Thus what matters is not WHAT we do so much but HOW we do it. Thus a Christian who is an artist paints _____-ly (fill in the appropriate adverb). Surely how we do things is immensely important (the means and ends both matter in biblical ethics), but we must not be so naive to think that the cultural catagories that are handed down to us by the prevailing culture (the what) are necessarily good or appropriate. All of these modes of doing culture are informed by values and presuppositions which are or are not in consonance with thruths and principles of the Bible. Christians who desire to build a faithful Christian culture need to carefully examine both the what and the how.
Thursday, September 12, 2002
That Intoxicating Stuff Called Paper . . .
Here are some brief excerpts from a Wired article on a community college in Iowa that has allegedly gone "paperless":
"Despite everything we think about the e-generation,
students are still pretty dependent on paper," DeAngelo said.
In fact, the school's printing costs have increased
significantly, so this fall the number of free printouts will be
limited to 20 pages per user per session.
"Once they have surpassed that amount (of allotted
printouts), they have to go back and add more copies to their
account. . . . Otherwise, they'll print off reams of
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Where I Was When I Heard
I was driving to work as usual on Route 22 west of Salem, just before 7AM. NPR cut into the usual broadcast (Morning Edition is played on tape delay on the west coast) to announce that two airplanes had collided into the two World Trade Center towers. In a split second I made the decision to pull off the road and find a pay phone to call my wife. We had lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for many years. We had many friends who worked in the financial district, including many members of our former church in Brooklyn (Messiah's Congregation) and my wife's matron of honor at our wedding. By the grace of God, not one of our friends was killed or (physically) injured.
The attack was all the more sobering for us because we had just completed a family trip to the east coast. Just eight days before (Labor Day) we had taken the Staten Island Ferry and had seen the towers standing majestically above the lower Manhattan skyline. My kids were astonished to think that someone could have tight-rope walked between those two buildings. Just four days before we had driven on the insterstate past the Pentagon on our way back from Williamsburg. We were that close.
Six months later I was going through some old photographs I had taken for a college photography class. These included a contact sheet of shots I had taken of the World Trade Center. I had completely forgotten about them over the years.
I remember someone joking that they looked like gigantic cigarette lighters (they did). They could be turned a glistening orange-red by the setting sun. You could see them ten miles away on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Belt Parkway in southern Brooklyn. And now they are gone.
Monday, September 09, 2002
A culinary-theological quiz: What do you get when you simmer together the following ingredients: Start with a bunch of Gen X-ers, add some half-baked post-modern philosophy, a cup of Willow Creek extract, some reconstituted Christianity, at least one or two marketing studies, with a healthy dash of aesthetic awareness? No, its not crawling up your back. Its here.
Friday, September 06, 2002
Two-Kingdom Critique - II
In my inaugural post in this series, I mapped out the basic contours of the Two-Kindgom View (TKV) of culture; how it flows out of the ideas of Luther and his followers, and splits all of life into two distinct categories: Christian/Ecclesiastical and Secular/Cultural. At its core the TKV is dualistic and paradoxical (indeed many of the TKV's proponants embrace the idea of paradox). For the TKV adherant, "Christian culture" is a theological impossibility. For example, Gene Veith argues:
"There can be no such thing as a Christian culture as such, because Christianity comes from faith in the Gospel, not the works of the Law, and God saves individuals, not nations. Not every member of a culture is going to be a Christian. Since conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to coerce or require anyone to become a Christian. The unregenerate cannot obey biblical principles so as to be part of a Christian culture. Neither, while they are in their fallen flesh, can Christians."
For Veith, Christian culture is impossible (this side of heaven) because true obedience to God's commands is impossible -- even for born-again Christians. This leads us into the whole law/gospel controversy which I do not have time to go into here. I will simply point out that the Bible states in numerous places that real obedience is possible for the believer (Gen 26:5; Job 1:1; Matt. 1:19; Rom. 7:25; 1 John 3:10-12; see also Heidelberg Cat. Q&A 114). (If obedience was uniformly impossible, how could the inerrant scriptures be written?) Real obedience is possible for Christians who mortify their sinful natures (Rom 8:13) and have their minds renewed by transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:2). Thus, Christian culture is possible because obedience to God's law is possible. This does not answer the question of how this works on a (mixed) societal level. More on this another time.
Thursday, September 05, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part I
Long before Martha Stewart and Shabby Chic a remarkably insightful book by Edith Schaeffer was written: Hidden Art. When I was a pretentious undergraduate art student I used to get together with other Christian artists and trash this book. Back then I thought this book was silly. Now I can see its wisdom. The small cultural things in life matter. Maybe even more in their aggregate effect on us than the weightier things (fine art, the classics, etc.). Schaeffer's book encompassed a philosophy of life -- that the aesthetics of everything that touches our life matters. Human life is meant to be rich -- full of beauty, goodness and truth. It is a small tragedy that when this book was recently re-released Tyndale Press gave it a new title: The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life. This makes the book sound like a Good Housekeeping guide for Christian housewives. The Book is far more than that. Go find a used copy without the foppish title and savour it.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Marsden Critiques Niebuhr
Reformed historian George Marsden sees lots of limitations in H. Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture. I agree with Marsden that using the heading "Christ" is awkward and nebulous. He finds many other things amiss as well. Makes one wonder why anyone still quotes the book . . .
Tuesday, September 03, 2002
The Origins of Kitsch?
Took the family to the Portland Art Museum to see the "Splendors of Imperial Japan" exhibit which focuses on decorative art from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). My wife and I really like Japanese art and we were looking forward to the show. We were not dissapointed. There were a LOT of objects on display. The craft was impeccable. I spent almost two hours taking it all in and, alas, did not have time to take a look at the Grandma Moses exhibit
And the answer is . . .
Rather than take seven paragraphs to spell this out in detail, I will simply say that I am what I like to call an "Earthy Amillenialist" (as opposed to the various forms of "gnostic amillenialism", as the Credenda/Agenda crowd chooses to call them). I believe that the earth will continue to exist in a sanctified, renewed state after the consumation, and that the glorified, redeemed human race will continue to develop and enhance the earth in this new estate -- in other words, we will spend eternity making culture! Culture on the new earth will be far more glorious than anything one could imagine in the most optimistic post-millenial scenario. I am not post-mil because (1) I am an imminentist -- I believe that Christ can return at any moment -- that nothing more must be fulfilled before His return; and (2) I see the global reign passages (e.g. Ps 72:8; Is. 11:9) as being a discription of the status of affairs on the new earth. I do not think it is impossible that the a massive gobal revival could take place sometime in the future, I simply do not see scripture passages that make such an expectation necessary. I do pray for and expect to see localized revivals which result in Christian societies and Christian culture. This is worth working for! My position is very close to Anthony Hoekema's.