An OT Picture of the New Earth

In my 11th grade theology class at Westminster Academy, we are reading David Hegeman’s helpful book Plowing in Hope: Towards a Biblical Theology of Culture. Here is an interesting quote regarding the broad cultural work reflected in the Old Testament:

The tabernacle and temple were both emblematic–on a small scale–of the grand diversity which was to make the global culturative endeavor given to man in the Garden of Eden. And they point forward to the wondrous culturative potentialities which will be released after the consummation, when a glorified, sinless humanity fulfills with perfection the culturative development of the New Earth.

Living in a Post-Christian Society

In the United States, we are not yet living in a Post-Christian Society, but within the Western culture, this is becoming an increasing reality. Steve Holmes shares a story about what it is like to live in that kind of culture:

Post-christian societies – the whole of Europe, except perhaps Poland; Canada too, I believe – are more complicated. Certainly one must be prepared for astonishing ignorance of the basic grammar of faith and of the most foundational stories. My old friend Stuart Murray-Williams collects and distributes anecdotes to remind us of the extent of the ignorance we might encounter; one concerns an English tour party being shown Gaudi’s magnificent Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (it’s the only thing in Barcelona more stunning than what goes on on the pitch of the Nou Camp – could there be higher praise?). The details of the decoration are being pointed out, including a magic square, with everything adding up to 33, because, the guide explains, that’s the age at which Jesus died.

A teenage lass at the back comments, ‘That’s very young – what did he die of?’

He points out that a Post-Christian society is difficult to navigate precisely for that reason: you never know if the person looking at the Christian art actually knows anything about Christianity, while the person standing next to the “lass” could be a committed Christian. He has some other helpful thoughts about these categories in his whole post.

Well that explains it

I was watching Criminal Minds the other night, and Thomas Gibson (who plays Aaron Hotchner on the show) said, “All adolescents profile like sociopaths.” Something to remember next time you are trying to figure out your teenager. But given the fact that “America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization,” we might need to consider this when dealing with people who refuse to grow up too.

Interested in the profile? The DSM-IV(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition) lumps this in with antisocial disorder, and cautions that the individual has to be at least 18 years of age to diagnose. No kidding.

  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
  2. deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
  3. impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
  4. irritability and aggression, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by indifference to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;

Some of the traits include: Glibness, Manipulative, Conning, Grandiose Sense of Self, Shallow Emotions, Incapacity for Love, Constant Need for Stimulation, Impulsive Nature, Irresponsibility, Lack of Realistic Life Plan, Parasitic Lifestyle.

Certainly there are maturity issues involved in this area for teenagers, but this sounds like a lot of adults to me. That is part of the reason I started thinking down this road when I heard that quote, and connected it to Diane West’s study The Death of the Grown-Up.

The Center for Renaissance and Reformation (Chattanooga, TN)

I grew up just outside of Chattanooga, TN, in the North Georgia area. My family still lives there, and I love the transformation that has taken place in Chattanooga. I was browsing around looking at stuff about the city, and I came across the The Center for Renaissance and Reformation. The center is focusing on renewing the city with a tradition of civility, eloquence, and theological wisdom. Ron Lowe is the President and Director, and he teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Be sure to check out their website here.

Steve Jobs: Shaman and Sorcerer

Oh Alan Jacobs…the Wheaton College English prof who provides helpful cultural analysis is at it again on a new website called “Big Questions Online.” It’s an interesting collection of articles and issues covering science, religion, markets, and morals. Jacobs article is the title of this post: “Steve Jobs: Shaman and Sorcerer.” It is an examination of how the Apple vs. PC conflict was once like the Catholic vs. Protestant conflict, but Jobs has pushed into some serious magic now with the iPad. The conclusion:

To turn back the cultural clock, as it were, to take a set of technologies that Apple had already deployed in the iPhone and improve them, repackage and repurpose them in a way that functions with near-absolute smoothness: this is the goal of the iPad. It’s a device meant to mediate the web flawlessly, and to do so — and this is perhaps the most important thing — not primarily by altering what you see or hear but rather by giving you manual control. On the iPad you make things happen by moving your hands around, like a wizard, except you don’t need either a mouse or a wand. You don’t even need those funky gloves that Tom Cruise wore in Minority Report. You touch the Internet: you stroke it, swipe it, pinch it. And it responds precisely to your will. And only Apple can give you that.

The Apple-DOS wars may have been like religion-as-doctrine, but this isn’t: this calls for more archaic imagery, for a picture of religion as “a vast reservoir of magical power.” Apple seems to be the only company playing this game. It has positioned itself as the sole technological conduit for that reservoir. If you don’t believe me, pay attention on your next visit to Diagon Alley: it’s Ollivander’s for wands, Flourish & Blotts for books, the Apple Store for Internet devices. Simple as that.

Read the whole article. If you like this article, you might like Shaming The Devil: Essays In Truthtelling and A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age, which contains a brilliant essay on magic and Harry Potter.

Colson & Crouch on To Change the World

James Davidson Hunter’s new book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World has received a lot of attention on the internet and book journals and interviews. Hunter’s book is a call for Christians to have a “faithful presence” within the world. Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, reviewed the book for Books & Culture, and you can read his review here.

Christianity Today has also published two articles interacting with Hunter’s book. One is by Crouch: “Hunter and I Agree on Culture Making (He Just Seems Not to Know It).” Crouch interacts with Hunter’s four page summary of Culture Making, concluding with this statement: “I hope many readers of Culture Making will read To Change the World. But I also hope that readers of To Change the World will not assume they have grasped the heart of Culture Making from Hunter’s summary dismissal.”

The other article is by Chuck Colson: “More than Faithful Presence.” Colson has written on the aspect of engaging the culture, most notably with his book How Now Shall We Live? You can tell from the title of the article that Colson is going to argue for more engagement than Hunter. Along the way, Colson mentions examples of his view of engagement, which include Abraham Kuyper, William Wilberforce, and the recent document he wrote with Timothy George and Robert George called the “Manhattan Declaration.” It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out now that Hunter is getting critical feedback.

Malls & Movies: Religious Centers of Our Culture

I recently read James K. A. Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (a book I would recommend), and he has a powerful description of some of the areas of religious expression in our culture. Doug Wilson brought this to my mind with this helpful collection of quotes:

He calls the mall “one of the most important religious sites in our metropolitan area” (p. 19). The site is “throbbing with pilgrims” (p. 19). As we enter, we are “ushered into a narthex of sorts” (p. 20). “The layout of this temple has architectural echoes that hark back to medieval cathedrals — mammoth religious spaces that can absorb all kinds of different religious activities all at one time” (p. 21). He points to the product posters, exemplifying the “catholicity of this iconography” (p. 21). When we have found our holy object, that which we have been seeking, lo, these many days, “we proceed to the altar” (p. 22). Afterwards we are released “by the priest with a benediction” (p. 22). I don’t know about Smith, but in my neck of the woods, that benediction is usually “have a nice day!” delivered by a cute coed priestess. And if you think that Smith is simply being clever with some similarities, he pushes back against the charge. “But I want to adamantly contend that describing the mall as a religious site is not merely a metaphor or an analogy” (p. 23).

Wilson goes on to point out that Smith forgot about the Sunday School classes: the 8-theater cineplex that you find in every religious site. People cram into these instruction halls, cry together, eat together, and learn the narrative of this culture together. This reminded me of two quotes that showed up recently on Evangel. No explanation needed:

I meet people occasionally who think motion pictures, the product Hollywood makes, is merely entertainment, has nothing to do with education. That’s one of the darndest fool fantasies that is current . . . . Anything that brings you to tears by way of drama does something to the deepest roots of our personality. All movies, good or bad, are educational and Hollywood is the foremost educational institution on earth. What, Hollywood more important Harvard? The answer is not as clean as Harvard, but nevertheless farther reaching.

–Carl Sandburg, poet laureate

I believe cinema is now the most powerful secular religion and people gather in cinemas to experience things collectively the way they once did in church. The cinema storytellers have become the new priests. They’re doing a lot of the work of our religious institutions, which have so concretized the metaphors in their stories, taken so much of the poetry, mystery and mysticism out of religious belief, that people look for other places to question their spirituality.

–George Miller, filmmaker

The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker: Robert P. George

Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He is also one of the drafter of the recent Manhattan Declaration. George is one of the important Christian moral philosophers of our time, so it is not surprising that the New York Times has an article about him titled, “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”

[HT: Touchstone]

Gay Activists Target Signers Of The Manhattan Declaration

From The Bulletin:

A post appearing on GayBuzz.blogspot on Nov. 28 calls upon gay activists to punish Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Ca., for signing the declaration.

“It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”

After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.

The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.”

Read the whole article.

The Manhattan Declaration and the Gospel

The Manhattan Declaration is a new statement or manifesto by numerous leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical/Protestant traditions dealing with current cultural issues that face Christians. The statement is over 4,000 words and was drafted by Chuck Colson, Robert P. George, and Timothy George. Some evangelical signers include Al Mohler, Tim Keller, Wayne Grudem, Ligon Duncan, and others. You can see the complete list here.

These Christians have united to “reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them.” The specific truths articulated in the document are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Al Mohler, one of the signers, provided a post on why he signed the declaration, but a number of Christians have voiced concern over this. Some evangelicals have complained that the document fails to articulate the Gospel, especially since these different groups of Christians (Orthodox, Roman, and evangelical) do not agree on the gospel. An example of this criticism has come from John MacArthur, Jr. as well as Michael Horton.

In his recent newsletter, Father Pat Reardon, Pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, and a signer of the document, explains that the Orthodox Priest Father Tobias is also frustrated because the document doesn’t call for repentance. After explaining both of these objections, Reardon concludes:

The objections of MacArthur and Tobias are curious in their evident presumption that Christians, when they speak in public, should limit their discourse to the proclamation of the Gospel and the summons to repentance.

This may be a legitimate view, though it was neither shared by many Christians over the centuries nor obviously favored by the prophets. Jonah, for instance, preached judgment—not repentance—at Nineveh, nor did his proclamation include one syllable of Good News. If this was true of Jonah, what shall we say of Nahum, whose own message to the Ninevites was just an expansion of Jonah’s meager half-verse?

Respectfully, these objections to the Manhattan Declaration (including its rhetoric) could easily have been made against any one—and perhaps all—of the biblical prophets. Our modest Declaration, as a statement of social concern, invites the endorsement of Christians who share that concern. The matter is truly as plain as that.

You can read his article here. I think Reardon is right, and I think the document is helpful in what it articulates and how it is drawing together Christians from different traditions. I do not have to deny the gospel in order to affirm the document, and I am a “catholic” Christian who believes we should seek common ground with others who identify themselves as Christians around the world. This document is a good way to do it. I disagree with what I would consider a sectarian view of Christianity that would require me to never agree on these issues with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I had no problem signing it. I would encourage you to to read it and sign it as well.

Creation, Culture, and Spiritual Life

I have been preaching through the early chapters of Genesis on Sunday night, covering different themes that are at the beginning of the Bible. It has been something of a biblical-theological study as we covered topics such as the Great King, Views of Creation, The Garden and the Land, Mankind, Image of God, Sabbath, Sin & the Fall, Grace, etc.

In the process of the study, several books have been helpful, but I was very encouraged by Marva Dawn’s new book In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life. She covers some of the topics I covered, as well as issues like what it means to be human, ecology, justice, human sexuality, implications of the fall for God and culture, worship, and faithfulness. I would suggest this book as a good resource for a study on the opening chapters of Genesis. You can get it here, as well as view the table of contents and some sample pages.

Ken Myers on the “Two-Kingdom” Social Theory

In the recent interview with Ken Myers at Ordinary Means, one of the questions they asked Ken had to do with the two kingdom view of culture and the church. I thought Myers response was helpful for getting at one of the concerns some people have with certain strands of the two-kingdom theory. Here is the question and Myers’ answer:

Question: One of the arguments out there by what I am going to call a “high two-kingdoms view,” is that there is not a distinctively Christian way of doing “X” vocation, even that we should resist that because that would be to mix the kingdoms, and if you were to, for example (this would be the anti-Abraham Kuyper position), be a politician, your Christian thought should not come in. Could you interact with that a little?

Myers: First of all I would agree…I am a believer in natural law. Let me put it this way. Let me say for the sake of the argument that I’ll agree with that, there isn’t a distinctively Christian view of politics and art, or anything. But there is a distinctively human view; that is there are de-humanizing possibilities in those spheres; Christians we are necessarily humanists. That is, Christians are necessarily interested in sustaining the best for human beings as human beings.

Now, having said that, I also do believe that any effort to understand the human apart from Christ falls short. Not that it is wrong, but I do think that we only understand our humanity fully by understanding [Christ]…I think that the biblical account of life helps us understand our humanity. So I think there are insights into humanity that come from all sorts of cultural sources through general revelation, but I do think that there are correctives that Scripture offers to understanding our humanity that are just not available elsewhere. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is distinctively Christian.

Let me put it the other way. What does Paul mean when he says in Colossians 1 that all things are through him and for him and to him in. That whole passage, that whole hymn from Paul seems to be that creation cannot be properly understood unless you understand it in a Christocentric form. And I think that it has as much to do with Christ’s identity as creator as it does Christ’s identity as redeemer.

This is where I challenge my two-kingdom friends. I think there is a danger in two kingdom thought of separating Christ as creator and Christ as redeemer, at least more than the New Testament does. I think that the New Testament speaks, just as the Old Testament, about the identity of God as creator and redeemer in a non-modalistic way. God is both creator and redeemer at once, and Christ is both creator and redeemer at once. In fact, redemption is a recovery of creation; redemption is a restoration of creation. So I think that we need to be careful from separating creation and redemption too starkly.

So I would say that there ought to be a Christocentric politic and aesthetic. Christians will not be the only ones who can recognize properly human and hence Christocentric realities. I think that is what the Reformed idea of common grace means. That non-believers will have the capacity to see that because they perceive things that are built into the structure of creation, built in there by Christ. So there is no getting away from Christ.

I became excited by this when I read Colin Gunton, who points out that there has long been a tendency by Christians to view creation as Unitarians, in other words, an impersonal and non-Trinitarian view of creation. So we think that God the Father made everything, things got screwed up, God the Son came and paid the penalty, and God the Spirit comes along and affirms it. So there is a type of sequential Trinitarianism. But Scripture affirms over and over that creation is a Trinitarian act, and so we don’t separate Christ from the fact of creation and the ordering of creation. To do that too starkly is to make a mistake.

Culture Making: Piano Stairs

Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making is about how Christians should make and engage culture, encouraging us to be culture makers (you can read a 40 page excerpt here). Andy and some of his friends also contribute to the Culture Making website, and they occasionally provide pictures and videos of various attempts at creating culture. The video that follows certainly falls into the category of culture making as the participants turn the stairs into a piano (or sorts!).

[HT: Kathleen]

An Important Book on Cultural Criticism

Peter Leithart says that William Everdell’s The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought is “one of the most satisfying and insightful books of cultural critique and history that I’ve read in a long time.” Well, based on Leithart’s broad range of reading in terms of culture, I think I need to buy this book! You can read Leithart’s description here.

Ken Myers on Contextualization

In the interview with Dever, Myers also discusses the issue of contextualization. Dever asked this question: “How do you contextualize in a deeply anti-Christian culture?” Here is my summary of Myers’ answer:

We must contextualize the gospel on a bigger scale. Yes, we must ask what is the context, but we cannot stop with the current fad or fashion this month or this year. Instead, we must go deeper.

Why is it that Christians who want to contextualize always talk to the advocates of a status quo rather than the secular critics of that status quo? People I interview are part of the context, but they are critical of it.

If what we mean by contextualization is to give our blessing to the status quo, then that is wrong. We take the status quo into account, but what we have to ask as we do it is this: “Where do we think the culture ought to be?” Part of the problem is that many Christians have no sense that there would be a norm for cultural life, or that there would be standards by which we can say that this is a superior cultural form.

Yes, we reach people where they are, but we should not assume that is where they should stay. That is a very difficult thing because there are many churches who want to give their blessing to the way things are, but others want to ignore where the world is. And pastors are assuming too much with thinking that things are neutral. They are not.

Here is an example: Informality. If someone from the 1940s came from a time machine, the thing they would notice first is that people in public look like they came out of bed. The level of informality is astonishing.

Question: is this a neutral preference, or is there something embodied in it?

In his book Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care, John McWhorter (a linguist) argues that we have lost rhetorical formal speech. He says we are the only culture in the world that lacks this formal register of speech. He argues that this is because we have a deep suspicion of authority.

So if the move toward informality is an expression of suspicion of authority, can the church wholeheartedly without reservation give its blessing to informal modes of expression? And is it then adding momentum to this suspicion of authority?

Robert George on the Supreme Court Nomination

President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor for appointment to the US Supreme Court. Issues, etc., interviewed Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and Member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, on the topic of Sotomayor’s nomination and California’s Supreme Court upholding Prop. 8. Listen to it here.