Posts tagged with: culture

UntitledA generation of Christians has been inspired and challenged by James Davison Hunter’s popular work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World 1st Edition. Published five years ago, the book promotes a particular approach to cultural engagement (“faithful presence”) that stirred a wide and rich conversation across Christendom.

Its influence continues to endure, whether in stirring individual imaginations or shaping the arc of institutions. To reflect on that influence, The Gospel Coalition recently rounded up a series of essays on the topic, including a range of voices such as Collin Hansen, Al Mohler, Hunter Baker, and Greg Forster. Titled Revisiting Faithful Presence, the collection is available for free as an ebook.

The responses vary in praise and critique, uncovering new insights, posing new questions, and exposing lingering cracks and gaps. In doing so, they’ve inspired me to once again return to the book myself.

Though each offers its own compelling angle, it was Greg Forster’s essay (“To Love the World”) that stuck with me the most, reminding me of some of the key areas I initially wrestled with, particularly Hunter’s lopsided elevation of common grace and the embedded materialism in his framing of culture. (more…)

carolers2Over the last century, Christianity has declined in social influence across much of the Western world, leading many to believe it has little place or purpose in public life.

In response, Christian reactions have varied, with the more typical approaches being fortification (“hide!”), domination (“fight!”), or accommodation (“blend in!”). In each case, the response takes the shape of heavy-handed strategery or top-down mobilization, whether to or from the hills.

And yet the cultural witness of the church ought to flow (or overflow) a bit differently. For Greg Forster, it has less to do with “cultural lever-pulling,” and a whole lot more to do with joy.

“Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to,” Forster writes in his latest book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. “…The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.”

As we experience the joy of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our attitudes and activities are transformed. As Christians, our primary task is not to take that transformation and funnel it toward end-game tactics, but to faithfully embody it across culture: blessing our neighbors and cultivating civilization, whether in the family, our work and the economy, or citizenship and community (Forster’s three main categories). (more…)

carolerAs Christians living in a secular age, there’s a temptation to use Christmas as a wedge to wage epic new battles to restore Christendom.

But despite the flurry of hackneyed “War on Christmas” tropes, there is, alas, something rather amiss. Though the battlefront may not be a petty replacement of “Merry Christmas” with “happy holidays,” society is obviously devoid of a true understanding of the season, diluting a celebration about the invasion of heaven to a shallow idolatry of tradition for tradition’s sake.

Yet, as Andrew Ferguson reminds us, despite its best efforts, culture cannot, and indeed, doesn’t want to escape the “true meaning of Christmas” after all. In many ways, Ferguson writes, alluding to G.K. Chesterton’s famous words, it’s impossible to live in a post-Christian age.

Some things can’t be undone, and chief among them is the Light that was lit the first Christmas morning, while choirs of angels sang above,” Ferguson writes. “It can be ridiculed and parodied, satirized and scoffed at, obscured and sentimentalized, but it won’t be extinguished. So even a secular age continues to go through the motions, singing the same songs, sometimes the old songs, without quite knowing why.

And those songs — they bring such revelation and power, wherever they find a welcome set of lungs. (Yes, wherever.)

It is with Christmas music, Ferguson argues, that we see the Christian witness endure at its finest, not via an antagonism of tacky cultural kitsch, but through an elevation of the true and serious joy of Christ:

A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth…

…To take life”—and hence Christmas—”with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” The opposite isn’t necessarily true, by the way. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” [by Mariah Carey] might be described as jolly; no one would describe it as serious. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, is both. A Christmas carol is meant to liberate us from phony seriousness and phony good cheer.

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian.

Carols offer a profound example of cultural engagement done right, shining a blinding light that, by virtue of its truth, goodness, and beauty, welcomes a lost world even as it wages war against hell.

Thus, as we worship and magnify Jesus this Christmas season, let us avoid petty battles against petty gods, whether of blind consumerism or nostalgic knick-knackery. Instead, let us exude and share the serious joy that comes from being a child of the living God. Let us simply sing, and sing of Jesus.

And let earth receive her King.

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
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colson-way-owen-strachan“I’ve done my best to popularize Kuyper, because that’s what’s so desperately needed in Western civilization today: a looking at all of life through God’s eyes.” –Chuck Colson

Given the recent release of Abraham Kuyper’s 12-volume collection of works in public theology, it’s worth noting his influence on modern-day shapers of Christian thought and action.

From Francis Schaeffer to Cornelius Van Til to Alvin Plantinga, Kuyper’s works have expanded the cultural imaginations of many. Another devotee was the late Chuck Colson, author, founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint, and past recipient of Acton’s Faith and Freedom Award.

In The Colson Way, Owen Strachan’s new book on Colson’s model and enduring influence, we learn how Kuyper’s works had a profound impact on Colson’s perspective (joined by the likes of Wilberforce, Carl F.H. Henry, and Schaeffer).

In the late 1970s, Michael Cromartie (at that time, on Colson’s staff) introduced him to the “reformed  world-and-live view,” reconciling the City of God with the City of Man.

“In this tradition,” Strachan writes, “Colson found the theological orientation he craved”:
(more…)

night-sky-lanterns-all-is-giftThe Acton Institute’s latest film series is having a profound influence on churches and communities of all kinds. Hearts are being stirred and inspired, minds are connecting mission with culture, and as a result, the church is unlocking a bigger-picture vision of God’s plan for creation.

Over at the Letters to the Exiles blog, Evan Koons is compiling letters and testimonials from viewers of the series, sharing how For the Life of the World is transforming their lives and communities.

In the latest letter, we hear the story of Judilynn Niedercorn, a self-described “crazy middle-aged woman from D.C.,” who recently felt the call to leave her 30-year consulting career and relocate to rural New York.

Why? She knew she wanted to “be in the world” and she knew she wanted to change culture, but she wasn’t sure about God’s precise plan. “I thought it was to go to school and learn to be a social worker,” she writes. “But nope…it is to bring peace and prosperity to rural Appalachian NY!” (more…)

51If4pLhXLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s always a pleasure when Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, comes to town; he’s an engaging speaker, a thoughtful leader, and really an all around fantastic guy. That’s why it was such a privilege to sit down with him last week in the Acton Studios after he delivered his latest Acton Lecture Series Address last Thursday to record this week’s edition of Radio Free Acton. We talked about the message of conservatism, how it often gets bogged down in facts and statistics, and how conservatives can better communicate their core principles to a public that is often quite skeptical of our motivations.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below, and stay tuned to the PowerBlog for video of Brooks’ ALS address, which will be posted a bit later this week.

onward-russell-moore-culture-gospelOne of the long-running mistakes of the church has been its various confinements of cultural engagement to particular spheres (e.g. churchplace ministry) or selective “uses” (e.g. evangelistic conversion).

But even if we manage to broaden the scope of our stewardship — recognizing that God has called us to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty across all spheres of creation — our imaginations will still require a strong injection of the transformative power of Jesus.

When we seek God first and neighbor second, we no longer proceed from the base assumptions of earthbound goods — the “love of man” what-have-you. Yes, our goals and actions will occasionally find overlap with those of the world, but eventually, the upside-down economics of the Gospel will set us apart. We will do certain things and make certain sacrifices that are foreign and incomprehensible to those around us.

This has implications for all areas, but much of it boils down to our basic views about the human person: his and her dignity and destiny as an image-bearer of an almighty God. Once our hearts are transformed according to his designs and our views about our neighbors are aligned to God’s story about his children, our cultural engagement will manifest in unpredictable and mysterious ways. This is, after all, what it means to be strangers in a strange land, as Episode 1 of For the Life of the World artfully explains.

In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore offers some valuable reflections along these lines, noting that we can’t possibly stand as witnesses of God’s love if our cultural comings and goings fail to respond through the lens of Christ’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God changes the culture of the church by showing us a longer view of who’s important and who’s in charge,” he writes.

What cultural engagement really requires, then, is a careful destruction of that basic lie the enemy continues to spread and embed across societies and civilizations: that the love of man and the worship of his goals is, indeed, enough. (more…)