The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Invitable Rise of Christian Culture
For many Christians - esp. Anabaptists and pessemistic two-culture types - Constantine was a low point in church history. The opportunity to shed our "resident alien" identitity and establish a Christian society/culture was a big mistake.

It would seem that these critics fail to see what was accomplished. Sure it wasn't perfect or consistently biblical. But the accomplishments of Ambrose and Augustine and Alcuin and the author of Beowulf, etc. must be seen in a positive light. This is what Andrew Sandlin argues in "Our Post-Constantinian World":

Whatever one may think of the product of Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313), it ushered in an astoundingly extensive era of Christian culture. In fact, in the East, the longest-lived human empire in the history of the world was Christian — I am speaking, of course, of that centered in Byzantium. Constantine’s edict, it is sometimes presumed, explicitly established Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. This is not correct, as Charles Norris Cochrane observes in his great Christianity and Classical Culture. It truly was an act of political toleration, canceling persecution of the church and restoring its confiscated lands and other possessions, despite otherwise despotic elements. The fact that Christianity soon became the dominant cultural force in the ambiance of such relative political toleration lends credence to the idea that what is necessary for such dominance is not official political establishment, but only the absence of official political hostility. If given genuine religious freedom, all other factors being equal, Christianity tends to rise to the top.

Monday, November 26, 2007
How Polical Correctness Has Changed over the Years
This came out last week, but I post it because it anyway. A very intreguing NYT article about how the early Seseme Street episodes from the late 60s are regarded as innapropriate or even dangerous for children today.

Here's a snippet:

I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

Snuffleupagus is visible only to Big Bird; since 1985, all the characters can see him, as Big Bird’s old protestations that he was not hallucinating came to seem a little creepy, not to mention somewhat strained. As for Cookie Monster, he can be seen in the old-school episodes in his former inglorious incarnation: a blue, googly-eyed cookievore with a signature gobble (“om nom nom nom”). Originally designed by Jim Henson for use in commercials for General Foods International and Frito-Lay, Cookie Monster was never a righteous figure. His controversial conversion to a more diverse diet wouldn’t come until 2005, and in the early seasons he comes across a Child’s First Addict.

The first time I saw Seseme Street was in the early 80s when I was in my 20s - I was babysitting for several families whose kids were regular viewers. Alistair Cookie was one of my favorites!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Lost Heritage
From a review in Books & Culture:

...the fall of the Asian churches [during the Islamic conquest of the 7th century] made Christianity much less Semitic in thought and language. A thousand years after the world depicted in the Book of Acts, some of the world's most active and dynamic churches still thought and spoke in Syriac, a language closely related to the Aramaic of Jesus' own time. They still called themselves Nasraye, Nazarenes, and followed Yeshua. Through such bodies, we can trace a natural religious and cultural evolution from the apostolic world through the Middle Ages. If there is a decisive break between the New Testament world and modern Christianity, it occurs with the fall of these churches, chiefly during the 14th century. Christianity does indeed become predominantly "European," but about a millennium later than most nonspecialists think.

Not to mention the loss of the vibrant Christian culture in northern Africa that was wiped out.

Friday, November 16, 2007
What Your Basic Approach?
Here is a really interesting item from David Bahnsen posted on Andrew Sandlin's blog where he talks about two kinds of post-mils:

There are two types of postmillennialists. Gradualists, who believe that there is subtle progress in all of history, and a long, progressive ride to kingdom conquest, and then there are the doomsdayers like some of the theonomists, who actually believe that things have to civilizationally collapse before the postmil predictions can be realized. Therefore, it is natural that the gradualists will be more Kuyperian, and a bit more assimilationist, while the doomsdayers will be more separatist, and tribalistic (i.e. ghetto).

A great manifestation of this fundamental difference is the knee-jerk reaction many have to various institutions. I was once one who immediately wanted to see "our own" version of everything (i.e. a third-party political alternative, new "Christian" universities, a "Christian music industry," a "Christian" news network, etc.). As my gradualistic and Kuyperian commitments have evolved, I now aspire to see the Republican party restored, the Harvards and Princetons re-captured, and Hollywood/New York subverted.

As I have said before, I am what I call an "earthy ammilennialist". I believe that Christian societal-cultural renewal is possible and worthwhile on a local/national level for a limited duration. And I think that a worldwide renewal is theortically possible but there is no biblical warrant for such an expection.

I have my doubts about the "subversion" of Hollywood/New York. Maybe it could happen over a long, long period of time (100 years at the very least). But am no catastrophic either nor am I a strict sepratist. I think we are better off working locally and building new Christian institutions and collaborating with non-Christians on a very selective basis.

I hold up what they are doing in Moscow, Idaho as a fine model.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Theology of Culture Test
Match the quote below with the pastor/theologian who said it:

1. A church that regards such transformation as its primary goal may well miss its more fundamental calling to glorify God in preaching the gospel. Yet a church that minimizes the importance of its legitimate calling to cultural transformation may fail to do the full work of discipleship or of bearing full witness to the kingdom of God.

2. In addressing the question, "Is it the church’s responsibility to embrace or assume the civic responsibility of the state (e.g. education, the poor, social injustice, the arts, etc.)?", we need to consider the following. The church does not have any juridical authority in the city/state public square, but that does not mean that the Church ought to stay out in the periphery. The church does have the responsibility for acts of mercy and for engaging our community with acts of social justice (cf. Jas. 1.27). Paul states that "as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:10). He is clearly referring to a deed ministry that should be shared with all people as they have need. . . . it is the church’s responsibility to pursue both public compassion and personal piety.

3. Combining these assumptions leads me to conclude that the church should focus on doing that which she is uniquely charged to do: guarding doctrine, preaching it boldly, and calling her members to live it out vigorously and practically in their communities. This excludes the church, as the church, from taking responsibility for the culture, though it does not exclude the church from changing the culture indirectly through the work of individuals. In fact, if a church is not expressing a Scriptural concern for those outside the church—leading and equipping her members to act—she is not preaching the whole counsel of God.

4. In my understanding, the local church is not free to do anything in Christ’s name that Christ himself—the King of the church—has not commissioned it to do. Preaching the Word, administering Baptism and the Supper, teaching, and providing spiritual fellowship and discipline receive clear mandates in Scripture . . . Now, as citizens of temporal kingdoms as well as the kingdom of Christ, believers are called to be husbands, wives, children, parents, employers, employees, voters, and neighbors in a variety of daily callings. In these vocations, they love and serve their neighbor. With no expectation that they are transforming the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of Christ, they nevertheless "aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] own business, and to work with [their] hands, so that [they] may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one" (1 Thes 4:11-12).

5. The task of the church is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)—to make disciples, teaching them "to observe all that I have commanded you." By God’s grace, we train believers in obedience. That obedience inevitably transforms culture, as it has done now for nearly 2000 years. Christians have made huge contributions to learning, the arts and literature, the treatment of women, the abolition of anti-biblical slavery, the care of the poor, the sick, the widows, and orphans. Sin, of course, has impeded our mission; but the grace of God working through his people has accomplished amazing things.

____ Michael Horton, professor at WTS, California
____ John Frame, professor at RTS, Orlando
____ Philip Ryken, pastor, Tenth Presbytian, Philadelphia (PCA)
____ Aaron Menikoff, elder and PhD student, Southern Baptist Conv
____ Steven Um, pastor, Citylife Presbyterian Church, Boston (PCA)

This is a self correcting test. Answers here.

Additional credit: Read Michael Hortons latest TKV screed here and related comments here and post a twelve word essay in comments below.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

"For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate or to appease those full of hate … , what more effective means than music could you find?"

--Martin Luther

(quote stolen from this article by Mark Noll on music in Books & Culture)

Friday, November 09, 2007
The Myth of Neutrality Redoux
We return to Doug Wilson's critique/review of DG Hart's A Secular Faith. Wilson summarizes Hart's reasoning on why we shouldn't be concerned about the religious convictions of political candidates:

...All a man's convictions about what is to be done or not done in the public sphere [and by extension all other cultural endeavors] are his private convictions. And when an official acts in the "national or public interest," by what standard does he make these decisions? There is no such thing as a national or public decision made by an impersonal decision-making "locus" that is outside an individual who will answer to God for the decision.

Wilson then quotes Hart:

"Despite the prominence of religion throughoug the history of American politics, the national or public character of government decisions has generally been the accepted norm" (p. 161).

Hart's naiveté at this point is stunning. Does he really believe that their is a "national" or "public" way of thinking that somehow rises above religious and ideological commitments.

Wilson nails it, when he concludes:

There are many aspects of my identity that are not essential to my standing in Christ. For example, I am a husband, an American, a conservative, a lover of the blues, a submariner, a son, and a minister. There are many fine Christians who are, to the contrary, wives, Englishmen, libertarians, jazz-lovers, aircraft carrier men, daughters, or laymen. This is why the hyphen must not set up a horizontal dualism, but rather point to a hierarchy. Whatever aspect of my identity exists in distinction from the legitimate identity of others must nevertheless be an aspect of my identity that is in submission to Christ. There is not one part of my life where Christ rules and another part where the "national character of public decisions" rule. I must only go with the national character of the decision if Jesus wants me to.

Thursday, November 08, 2007
Two-Kingdom Covenanters
Who woulda thought...Over at De Regno Christi comes William Chellis' argument for the otherworldliness of the Kingdom. Covenanters historically have vigorously insisted that Christ's rule should be acknowledged by civil as well as ecclesiastical authorites.

He takes a pretty standard, yet misguided argument, based on Matt. 18:

Against the violent backdrop of this world’s kingdoms, Christ vindicates Himself against the charge of sedition declaring, “ My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Emphasizing the spiritual nature of His kingdom, Christ explains, “if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews” (John 18:35,36).


As Christ stood before Pilate two kingdoms were in conflict. Before Pilate stood a king whose kingdom transcends the passing order of this present age. Asked, are you guilty of treasonous rebellion, Christ justified Himself as sinless by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Rather, He is king over an eternal realm, the concerns of which far surpass the mundane realities of earthly politics. In response, Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, brutal bearer of the sword, punisher of all rebellion against Caesar, justified Christ with his just pronouncement; “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38).

Chellis (as do many other commentators) fails to hear Christ's words accurately. Jesus did not say, "My kingdom is not in this world", but, "My kingdom is not of this world". The preposition Jesus uses makes all the difference.

Christ is not talking about the location of the Kingdom but its holy nature. When the NT warns of being "not of the world", it is referring to the danger of being influenced or "possessed" as it were by the rebellious, God-hating system of those opposed to rule of Christ (e.g. John 17:14). In other places of scripture "in the world" refers to being in the physical location (the upshot of 1 Cor 5:10).

The ultimate irony of "heavenly" references to the Kingdom of God is that, at the end of history, heaven and earth will be made one. Such "heavenly" talk is really shorthand for the life we live on the renewed earth!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Kuyperianism Baptist-Style
Books & Culture has an interesting review of a book exploring the Baylor 2012 project/fiasco. Even though this was hardly a reformed venture, the prospect of a true doctorate-awarding research university that is distinctly Christian was exciting. But it met considerable resistance from the status quo at Baylor.

Here is a key part of the review:

The key was hiring Christian faculty. Sloan and his provosts aggressively recruited Christian scholars from every denomination and from all over the country. They also rigorously screened departmental hiring recommendations, and provoked much resentment by rejecting several each year. They weren't just looking for Christians; they sought those who could "integrate faith and learning" in a way that would "engage the world from a uniquely Christian perspective."

This is pretty standard broadly Kuyperian stuff.

Then there is this odd statement:

Lyon notes that the administration's hard push for integration stirred far more trouble than anticipated, and he argues that Baylor should also seek faculty who use a complementarian approach to faith and learning. Tellingly, Sloan continues to disagree. Baylor's trouble with this form of faith-and-learning integration suggests that, while adequate for a Christian college, it may be too narrow for a Christian research university.

Why is this the case? Is it due to a lack of teacher-scholars who hold to integration? Is there something about a research university that demands a weak commitment to the Christian faith?

Monday, November 05, 2007
Lordship and Culture-Building
from Doug Wilson (in response to DG Hart's book):

There is also the question of what the Lordship of Christ means exactly. In my view, it means discipling the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. It does not mean, just to be clear, invoking the name of Jesus in order to justify every damn fool idea that might be floating around in our heads. It means preaching the gospel in the narrow sense, saving souls, planting churches, building parish life, and then expecting the right worship of God in that place to transform that region over the course of centuries, and eventually the world over the course of millennia.

I am curious how Wilson sees cultural transformation flowing out of worship (esp. formal worship), but it is a fairly fine quote. It mixes well with Phil Ryken quote - see below...

Friday, November 02, 2007
TNT on the Road
Sorry for the quiet week. I was in very beautiful Monterey, Calif Saturday through Wednesday of this week for the Internet Librarian conference.

I enjoyed worshipping at Covenant OPC in Catroville and also (unexpectedly!) was able to attend a Reformation Day service at Covenant OPC in San Jose.

Besides the fellowship on Sunday and learning gobs of stuff at the conference (check out the Exalead search engine if you haven't already), I enjoyed the numerous used bookstores in the area and the sea air and views.