Friday, June 6, 2008

Culture & Worship

---by Doug Wilson

The evangelical world is still sitting under modernity's table, eager for any crumbs that may fall our way. The big news down here is when some rock star or other intimates that it is possible that, under certain conditions, he might believe in a divine being other than himself. We snatch it up eagerly and feast for weeks. We have our own cycles of celebrity gossip down below table level, but given the nature of crumbs, our fixings are meager. But we make do, and wherewith are content. "Did you hear that..."

We forget that we are Christians, which means we are to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every aspect of life. For some mysterious reason, we have settled for the Lordship of Christ over some precincts of heaven, but everything else belongs to Time Warner or Ted Turner. We have made our peace with our situation. But at least the prodigal son had the good sense to be revolted when the pig food was starting to look good to him -- we in contrast take our hunger as an indication that we will soon be accepted into the best porcine circles, over there on the other side of the pen. We wait patiently for our place at the, table. We do not cast our pearls before swine; we cast ourselves.

The cultural poverty within the church is considerable. Our idea of the cultural mandate is to ape whatever our disintegrating modern culture comes up with, after a respectable time lag of five to ten years. The only redeeming thing about our worldliness is that we carry it off badly. Anything the world can do, we can do afterwards and, hamstrung by our remaining biblical memories, worse. The faith, to paraphrase Paul Simon, "ain't got no cultcha." When the world comes up with thrasher bands, we want a thrasher band with John 3:16 somewhere in the liner notes.

Vibrant Christianity carries within it the germ of a vibrant culture. If Henry Van Til was correct when he said that culture is religion externalized, then the true religion must necessarily have a profound cultural impact. But this is a situation which we may only apprehend through a study of its previous occurrences in history; we do not see it occurring around us now. Oh we see a religion reflected in our culture alright, but not a scripturally faithful one.

In the meantime, modernity, that once proud heresy, has visibly started to topple. Postmodernists are running around gleefully, just like looters after an earthquake in a great city, but postmodernity's self-confessed parasitic relativism means that it has a cultural staying power which can be measured in weeks. After the looted Ho-Ho's run out, everyone will be hungry again.

The answer, however, is not more highbrow music seminars for Christians, or more visits to the classical sections of our art museums. The answer is to recover a Biblical vision of who Jesus Christ is, and what He requires godly parents to do in the training and equipping of their children. When Paul requires fathers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), we frequently forget that the word he used for nurture was paideia. This is the word which a first-century Greek would have used to describe what we call education, as well as what we call enculturation. Paul requires Christian fathers to educate their children in the Lord, and to bring them up in a Christian culture. But with our theology being what it is, the resultant "externalization" of our current religion has really only resulted in mountains of cheesy kitsch. The average Christian bookstore, which reflects accurately what we are about, is an abundant cornucopia of nonsense. A moment's reflection should bring us, in humility and tears, to ask what can be done.

The cultural achievements of Christianity were at one time magnificent -- and these accomplishments from centuries past still remain with us. From the cathedral at Chartres to Bach's Mass in B Minor, from Beowulf to the poetry of Donne, from the Dutch realists to Handel's Messiah, the Christian church amply demonstrated that when a lofty view of God occupies the church, a vision for glorifying Him fills and transforms a culture.

To return to our picture, that of Christians sitting under the table eating cultural crumbs, it has begun to dawn on some Christians that the banquet of modernity above us is just about over. We no longer hear the clink of silverware; they have run out of wine, and have very little food left. So why are we content to remain here? The answer is not to put on a cultural affectation, from any century. The point is not to imitate the externals of anything.

Our problem is that we rarely hear our Lord referred to as the Lord Jesus Christ. We gravitate to Jesus, preferably expressed in a sibilant whisper . . . Jeeessusss. This, we think, is intimate worship. Caught up in our subjectivism, we think that we are worshiping Him simply because we feel worshipful. Our inner feelings become the gauge of pure and undefiled religion. Our music in worship is no longer religious; but simply relational. We sing boyfriend/girlfriend music in the Throne Room of God.

But the Lord Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father. He is the Lord of all, and He will be recognized as such. When God is pleased to grant doctrinal reformation in the church, the cultural impact will soon follow.


ScottH said...

Golly,you mean Doug wouldn't like the song,"now that you're here everything is different,everything is different Lord?" Man what a kill joy! Some certain mid-Michigan pastors would say Doug just killed the "anointing!" lol!

srhoyle said...

"killed the annoying" is more like it!