That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works!
---Beatrice’s friend, cf. video*
Evangelicalism is a lot like Beatrice: slightly more infatuated with novelties than is strictly warranted by her understanding of them.
As Evangelicals watched the world around them change, they became apprehensive. They took two different approaches to the problem. Many of our readers will likely assume there was a Fundamentalist response and a contrary Neo-evangelical response; I think that would be too crude and misleading a grasp of the problem. There are too many contradictions and too much overlap for us to divide things so neatly, so I will call them Group 1 and Group 2.
Group 1 decided that rejection and disengagement was the proper response, so that if a new “music style” came along, for instance, and if they did not like it, they attributed it to demonic activity, rampant hedonism, the sexual revolution, communist infiltration, adolescent rebellion, or something else similarly anti-spiritual. They saw it as their task to establish authorities to stomp out the new style, sometimes with bonfires, sometimes with pulpit spittle, sometimes with charts showing how rhythm was a device to excite fleshly lusts.
To listen to these people talk, you’d think the string section was in Heaven and the percussion section was in Hell. It was embarrassing.
Group 1 exercised itself to produce an alternative “music style” to excite spiritual devotion. According to the charts anyway, that should have been less rhythmic and more melodic music. I leave the reader to estimate their success.
That’s not how it works.
Group 2 saw any new style as an occasion to demonstrate their own relevance. They celebrated the moment and used it to “reach the lost” in a language “they could relate to”. Less Bach, More Rock was their Shorter Catechism. There wasn’t an indicator of moral decline you might point to that they couldn’t make an effective means of evangelizing the world.
Group 2 exercised itself to produce look-alike musical styles. No matter how scandalous Jazz or Rock or New Age or Blues was seen to be at its beginning, once a little time passed, a softer, gentler, more insipid version of the stuff could be found at youth rallies, in church, and on Christian radio. It was humiliating.
That’s not how any of this works!
Neither of these groups was producing rocket scientists, obviously: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was not sending representatives to their schools on Career Day. And attending their churches was a kind of religious persecution. Group 1 was trying to tell everyone what great saints they were, Group 2 was trying to tell everyone what great evangelists they were, and everyone came away thinking how unmusical they all were.
By obsessing on those elements of ambient culture that were incompatible with their traditions they actually stopped engaging culture. Group 1 thought standards could be maintained by diktat and Group 2 thought the church could follow the marketplace around like a bouncy little puppy. Neither group was involved in “the common pursuit of true judgment”.
Neither group produced people competent in the art, history, and philosophy which addressed our interest in ideas. Neither group explored the meaning of the world and the life of society. And neither group engaged in the judgments through which we understand each other and ourselves.
They supposed preachers ruled in the world of ideas and affections as a kind of hobby.
That is never how things worked, and now they must go back and rethink their categories of the good, true, and beautiful.
I don’t think they are capable of doing this.
Meanwhile in more densely populated regions of the country, culture is being engaged in odd and addled ways.
Phillip Bethancourt read all about families in Jim Gaffigan’s new study in social behavior, Dad is Fat, and finds in it ways the church “can frame an appraisal of evangelical family ministry”. Yes, this is Evangelical culture-twiddling at its most profound.
“In the end, the book reminds the church of its glorious call to equip families to love and lead their children with the power of the gospel.”
Richard Clark, on the other hand, is a man who learns from Flappybird the risks involved in making their creative efforts go viral.
“Every game, film, song, article, Facebook post, and tweet has the potential to affect a limitless range and depth of people. Everything we create and put out into the world has an opportunity to go viral. That's the good news. The bad news? We can't always control the reasons why.”
Clark is the editor of christandpopculture.com and clearly an internet dimwit. I think it is fair to say that Clark speaks for all Evangelicals when he says:
“We can no longer convince ourselves that we are merely dabbling in popular culture. The truth is, we’ve always been a part of it.”
Yes, Richard, I think you’re probably on to something there. You have always been an integral part of pop culture.
A little while ago now I had lunch with a local pastor at the Panera Bread closest to his church. He asked me what I thought of Evangelicalism and I told him it was a worldwide plague. He suggested that I might find a less obnoxious expression of Evangelicalism in the Gospel Coalition. I hope he was making a joke.
It is true that these are dark days, it is true that the postmodern mood has deepened, it is true that Christianity’s cultural vestiges are gone, and it is true that American religion is as post-Christian as the European nations. And in what must be considered desperate times for the faith, Phillip Bethancourt, Richard Clark, Tim Challies, Trevin Wax, James K. A. Smith, and Al Mohler are holding forth the light of the Gospel in the stygian gloom. I hope this makes you feel better about your job.
I take it that this is Christianity in the Age of Buffoons.
I hope this makes you think harder about your job.
Things are advancing apace up yonder in the Wisconsin woods.
If you would maybe like to see how spirituality, servant leadership, and courageously living out their faith in the new America is taking shape for them, you could go hear the thoughts and insights of Al Mohler and Andrew Peterson. You might enjoy breakfast with the president as well. Not the president of the new America but the president of the new international over-arching entity.
We invite you to a special Founder’s Days Celebration at Northland International University on April 28-29, 2014. Our guest, Dr. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will speak to our students, pastors and all Christians about courageously living out our faith in the new America we live in. Along with these events, we will enjoy author and songwriter Andrew Peterson for a concert and other events related to music, fiction, and the moral imagination.
I wish I could be there: I wish I could learn more about this new America. I would like to contrast it with the old Mediterranean world that gave us the thoughts and insights of guys like St. John, St. James, and St. Paul.
You know, to keep up with things as they change.
I hear change is important.
The woodland’s edge has just begun
its yellow spark and smolder of collapse
which, with the indolent haze of dawn,
or so it seems to me. Standing
along the tree line, letting close my eyes,
I feel that great, red hour approach
unseen, yet recognized.
On that last day, I prophesy,
the trees, fulfilling each past autumn's blaze,
will, like impatient martyrs, lean
toward the promised flames.
This revelation is not truly
strange—see how the sapling, newly sprung
and novice in divinity,
twines out from shade to sun?
Not strange, but stranger to my sense;
O soul, this occupation let you learn:
into that all-consuming Fire
to lean and lean and lean.
The goal of religious education is, on the one hand, the cultivation of the heart, not the head, and the doctrines make sense of that other knowledge, a knowledge that we acquire more easily through ritual, and through holy words and examples, than through any form of theory. On the other hand—and here lies the deep difference between religion and culture—the education of the emotions through religion occurs only when the doctrines are believed. That is why culture cannot be a religion substitute, even though, in a sense, religion is a culture substitute in the lives of those who lack “aesthetic education”.
—Roger Scruton, Culture Counts, p. 39
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