Some people speak of three categories of Christian engagement of culture: receive, reject, redeem. And Brian Godawa has written about cultural gluttonSome people speak of three categories of Christian engagement of culture: receive, reject, redeem. And Brian Godawa has written about cultural gluttons vs. cultural anorexics. People using these categories, consciously or unconsciously, have inherited this kind of systemization from H. Richard Niebuhr. Niebuhr notices five main ways that Christians interact with culture.
1. Radicals see Christ and culture in opposition: Christ against culture. Tertullian and Tolstoy are presented as representatives, although in each category, Niebuhr is careful to say that he is speaking broadly to determine types; Niebuhr acknowledges that those whom he calls representatives exhibit qualities of other categories as well. This category corresponds to the "reject" category, especially regarding the withdrawal of Christians from society and the emphasis on 2 Cor. 6:17 and 1 John 2:15. To an extent, the second wave of 20c. Christian fundamentalism could fit here, with its strong stance on separation.
2. Culturalists idealize the relationship between Christ and culture, seeing mostly an agreement: Christ of culture. Representatives could include Walter Rauschenbusch and others who were part of the social gospel, emphasizing the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man in an attempt to accommodate Christ and culture (cf. Barth's "Cultural Protestantism"). This is the "receive" category.
Niebuhr lumps the next three together, and they would all fit in the "redeem" category. But even as hybrids (as opposed to receiving or rejecting), there are significant differences between the groups.
3. Synthesists see Christ as the fulfillment of cultural aspirations: Christ above culture. They see pagans as having a fragmented light, and all they need is to be pointed in the right direction; it's as if unbelievers are able to climb up so far to God on their own, and Christ supplies the missing link to bridge the gap. Niebuhr puts Thomas Aquinas here, with his baptism of Aristotle. Cornelius Van Til puts C.S. Lewis here.
4. Dualists, best represented by Luther, view sin's effect on humanity as being too powerful for Christ and culture to be in complete synthesis: Christ and culture are in paradox. Society is unconquerably immoral (209), but at least Christians can live out the gospel. The kingdom of the world has useful things in it, which Christians can be involved in, but this kingdom is always in tension with the kingdom of God. The kingship of Christ has little to do with the kingdom of the world, although most secular activities are permitted. Most importantly, there is no way to pursue secular activities in a distinctively Christian manner; that is confusing the two kingdoms, and it's like putting the devil in heaven and God in hell (172). Niebuhr calls Roger Williams the best American example of this idea (183), especially in the separation of church and state (184). As Niebuhr describes this category, "Man is a great amphibian who lives in two realms, and must avoid using in one the ideas and methods appropriate to the other" (183). The emphasis is on "endurance in the expectation of a transhistorical salvation" (45).
5. Conversionists see Christ as the converter of man in his culture and society: Christ is the transformer of culture. Although Augustine did speak about the City of Man and the City of God, Niebuhr thinks Augustine emphasized the transformative potential of the gospel enough for him not to be put in the dualist category. "What distinguishes conversationists from dualists is their more positive and hopeful attitude toward culture" (191). There is an emphasis on creation, fall, and redemption (221)—not the creation-fall-redemption-consummation that dualists sometimes speak of, where God redeems individual souls before the Second Coming, but waits until later to actually fix the world. Because of the fall, human culture has become disordered, but the work of redemption is to reorder creation. Niebuhr puts Calvin here: "Calvinism has been marked by the influence of the eschatological hope of transformation by Christ and by its consequent pressing toward the realization of the promise" (218). Jonathan Edwards would be an American version (219-20).
A medievalist friend of mine said that contemporary medieval scholarship has basically deconstructed the medieval genre of "courtly love" and has moveA medievalist friend of mine said that contemporary medieval scholarship has basically deconstructed the medieval genre of "courtly love" and has moved on. (Issue of adultery or rape [The Romance of the Rose] in connection with courtly love?)
Review: In The Imaginative World of the Reformation, a short book with a ratio of one illustration per six pages, Peter Matheson sets aside traditional narratives—such as doctrinal issues or social pressures—that have explained the major shifts that occurred in sixteenth-century Europe, and he digs to the root of the issue: a shifting (but not a withering) imagination. In the first chapter he argues that the German “Reformations” were not homogeneous (1-2). Matheson contends that in iconoclasm, which Luther and Calvin formally condemned (14), the desired affect is often not to remove all images, but to clear a space for reevaluation. Just as stirring the societal cauldron may paradoxically bring forth hidden aromas, so also apocalyptic language can be received positively, as screams of pain may indicate a woman’s giving birth. Anticlericalism also stirred the pot, but again, all of these disturbances served to revitalize the imagination.
Matheson continues his emphasis on a revitalized imagination by asking in the title of his next chapter whether the Reformation really was a stripping of the altars, or merely a new song. Matheson bolsters his “new song” argument by showing that the Reformation was just as much about printing and singing as it was about preaching. One could even say that it “was more a song or a symphony than a system, more lyric than lecture” (26). Part of the shifting imagination resulted in new possibilities for freedom, from both religious and social tyranny. Popular imagery included Reformers as nightingales, heralding the dawn; clear streams to be preferred over the muddy lagoon of corrupt tradition; and sturdy walls, either to be stormed or to be utilized for protection.
Powerful images contributed to notion of utopias, and this popular idea revealed that those longing for reformation had a keen ability to imagine a better world. This new ordo rerum employed a robust covenantal motif that included lay people as well as intellectual leaders, and women and the poor were able to imagine that their stations in life were not as static as they had been. In this utopian mindset, people envisioned a sacred commonwealth in which rulers operated based on the good of their people. In rural settings, community played a big role in people’s imaginations, and the mission of the peasants to gain freedom was represented sympathetically in the art of Dürer, Cranach, and others. Matheson maintains that while iconoclasm “was part of a levelling campaign [to remove] privilege and hierarchy,” the imaginative art of the revolutionaries shows the paradoxical “iconopoesis” of their reform (74-75).
Of course, “if you set your face towards Utopia you can expect to be mauled in the process” (77). The chapter on “Nightmare” is Matheson’s most artistic chapter in the sense that he builds a nightmare crescendo, from sexual depravity and the plague, to heresy and blasphemy, and finally to social anarchy. “Perhaps . . . too much imagination” led to a “repressive, condemnatory tone set by Rome” (80-81), and the result, from one perspective, was that imagination died: “It appeared that everything was to be resolved by bans, bulls, and force. Coercion was dignified with a pious mask” (81). But another perspective is that events labeled “nightmares” are not always the end of the story. Indeed, “Many of the demands it made were quietly conceded in its aftermath” (99). Popular lyrics after the Peasants’ War express a recognition that unrestrained imagination caused too much chaos. Matheson concludes the chapter with a pastoral admonition to avoid injustice by not “adopting uncritically the terminology of the oppressor” (100). The war was about real concerns, and labeling it a “nightmare” does not do justice to the imaginative efforts of suffering people.
In the final two chapters, Matheson considers individual and spiritual outlooks related to imagination. He explores the life of Argula von Grumbach, and he looks at her daily struggles and attempts to connect them with the imagination of the Reformation. Although the link is tenuous, perhaps the best point of connection is his observation that the monastery and cathedral were often replaced with work and home as the new “laboratories for godliness” (101). Since many efforts to sway the princes had failed, the Reformation imagination turned to local and personal concerns (108). On the spiritual side, which is not completely distinct from individual concerns, spiritual interiority gathered importance as mediatory roles of Mary and the saints diminished. Luther’s devotional literature and hymns connected more with the hearts and imaginations of the lay people, much more so than attempts to catechize families. Furthermore, people now imagined the Godhead as more approachable; God the Father was not an avenger, but a guiding patriarch, and Jesus was a friend.
At brief points, Matheson’s thesis struggles to show its relevance, and the mere mention of imagination at the end of some sections appears forced. Also, as hard as he works to correct clichéd ideas, he seems to cast confessions in a consistently negative light, as if they were intentionally monologic and devoid of imagination (83). But in general, Matheson’s project is reminiscent of Leland Ryken’s helpful book Worldly Saints, which attempts to rescue the Puritans from stereotypes and point to their imaginative creativity. Similarly, Matheson resists seeing the Reformers as purblind iconoclasts. The enchanted world was certainly critiqued, but not destroyed, and Matheson’s spotlight on the many imaginative aspects of the Reformers’ world reveals the iconopoetic nature of the reformations....more
From Vincent E. Bacote's introduction: "Wisdom & Wonder is a fresh, new and complete translation of two sections that Kuyper intended for his largFrom Vincent E. Bacote's introduction: "Wisdom & Wonder is a fresh, new and complete translation of two sections that Kuyper intended for his larger three-volume work on common grace. These sections were mistakenly omitted from the first edition of Kuyper's larger work. From 1895 to 1901 Kuyper wrote a series of articles in De Heraut that was later compiled and the three volumes were published in 1902, 1903, and 1904. "Common Grace in Science and Art" [the subtitled of this volume], the sections translated here, first appeared as a separate bound volume in 1905 and were also added to later printings of the three-volume set" (25)....more
Leithart is against Christian-ism. See Doug Wilson's comments here.
In the final chapter, a foul-mouthed prophet named Stanley preaches to a king, andLeithart is against Christian-ism. See Doug Wilson's comments here.
In the final chapter, a foul-mouthed prophet named Stanley preaches to a king, and lo and behold, the king listens to him. The king then wants to know what to do, and Hauerwas—er, I mean, Stanley—has nothing to say.
Sometimes cultural leaders do listen, and here is a fine example of what to be saying when the ungodly do listen....more