If you know anyone who lives in the sexually immoral morass that is 2021, have them read this book. Read it for yourself, too. I recommend letting these ideas bounce around in your mental hopper, especially if you’re a pastor or teacher.
It is, however, highly repetitive. It is also proffered as a “surprise” that our cultural problems go back a couple centuries, as compared maybe with the 1960s. Trueman does a good job of demonstrating that our problems do go back that far, but it’s more surprising that he doesn’t mention the wayback of Genesis 6, or Genesis 18, or Romans 1. The absence of connection with Romans stands out because he recommends that the current church learn from the 2nd century church.
More than anything, I do not understand why Trueman never mentions the gospel. Like, no joke, there is not even one reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no mention of the cross, either for sake of showing the judgment sinners deserve or showing the forgiveness that Christ offers to any who repent and believe. I know that Trueman knows the true, and only, solution, to sexual immorality, but he does not point to it anywhere in this book. He must have his reason(s), but without Jesus we are without hope.
Again, I appreciate how well Trueman shows the desperate and degenerating nature of a culture without transcendent truth, and how in fact that sort of culture, our culture, is more of an anticulture. But ironically there is a significant lack of the transcendent God’s Word in this book, both in terms of Bible and the Son.
I finished this book a couple years ago but it’s been in my “currently reading” list since then. No longer! I read it in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, and I figured I’d post a review today in preparation for Reformation Day tomorrow.
“The Reformation…was more a song or a symphony than a system, more lyric than lecture, more a leap of the imagination than one of those social restructurings we are so heartily sick of today. It certainly produced systems, lectures and structures as well, but they were secondary.” (loc. 215)
This is not a disparaging word against the solas, it’s just that justification by faith alone belonged with abundant life not only clarified doctrines, let alone liberation from self-serving religious authorities. The Reformation gave Protestants freedom to read God’s Word, freedom to share communion, freedom from traditionalism and from dualism. It was a freedom to imagine (not outside reality but new concepts of reality) that daily work and survival meant something to God and was a good given by God.
“the Reformation can be seen as an infinitely varied, but coherent and extended, metaphor for the bountifulness of God’s grace.” (loc. 99)
Should you read this? You should put it in your queue if you’ve already read a lot of Luther and Calvin first, and if you’re interested to see how preaching was (actually only) a part of how nations were turned upside down.
This is an interesting take on three approaches that Christians take to culture, in particular, to Western society. I haven’t spent much time among self-identified capitulators, nor for that matter among the warriors. I have spent most of my life among the reconcilers, as defined by this article, though those most of those guys would not identify themselves as such. I think the reason for that is because many of these orthodox Evangelicals are fighting, and their claim is not untrue. They are fighting the spiritual war, at least as they understand it and for which there is a kind of biblical defense (i.e., Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). They are fighting against capitulators in the church (those who “affirm with their generous overlords the unworthiness of conservative evangelicals to be tolerated”), and they are fighting against sin in souls by proclaiming the cross. Calling them reconcilers is not quite accurate, though I can see from Wolfe’s perspective how he tags them as such.
The whole article is worth your time to read, and it provides an opportunity to consider what sphere(s) a faithful disciple of Christ should seek (and expect?) to influence. It’s connected to our Kuyperian-sized blind spot. I do agree that our goal should not be to make ourselves “harmless to the regime.” Jesus is Lord.
Shapiro frames sharp criticism against our current cultural hatred of the very principles that built our culture. However, his call to return to Jerusalem and Athens, as representing virtue and reason, is not enough. He suggests that virtue and reason have worked to give us great things, and that is sort of true. But they worked, to the degree they did, among men who worshipped the Triune God (of Christianity). The eternal Creator and Redeemer is the only transcendent grounds for caring about virtue and reason. Without submission to Him, haters gonna hate, even when the hate destroys them.
I gave the following remarks at our school’s graduation ceremony on June 2, 2019.
Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our seniors. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you, as well as to address our two candidates for graduation.
It is often a dangerous thing to speak about dichotomies, to divide things into only two. Our world dislikes generalizations—which, of course, is itself a generalization—because we want to be seen as special shades on the paint palette. But I don’t mind slathering paint on the wall with 48″ rollers, and there’s not enough time to get out drop-cloths. Before us tonight are two very different colors. We have two graduates ready to commence, and though they are not quite black and white, they are yellow and violet.
If Mrs. Bowers had assigned her Omnibus class to list all of the differences between Gideon and Kelly, the length of such a list might endanger the edges of an infinite canvas. If Mr. Sarr had assigned his Capstone class to write a paper on each senior’s favorite five world-and-life-view spheres, I am not sure there would have been any overlap. It is not just that Gideon and Kelly come from separate families, Gideon and Kelly live in two distinguishable cultures.
When I say “living in a culture” I mean how one reacts without needing to think about it. We do not walk into any Starbucks in Snohomish and think about what language to order in, we naturally start speaking in English. But there are smaller cultures, not just between schools but also in schools of thought. There are shared assumptions, shared values, shared priorities in a culture that may sometimes be talked about, but are usually obvious to anyone watching from the outside. Gideon and Kelly look at many of the same things, but they do not look at the same things and have the same response.
Both of our seniors have taken mostly the same classes for the last few years, but that didn’t stop one from talking more about Math and the other from talking more about Music (or, more usually, pounding on the public piano before school). One leans toward the Aristotelian world of fact and the other toward the Platonic world of ideas and ideals. One is drawn to the mechanical, one is drawn more toward the magical. One prefers science, the other prefers stories.
These two seniors embody an academic division that has really only been around for a century and a half, but in our society the split spreads wider every year. There are the STEM people: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and there are the Humanities people: Language, Philosophy, Literature, Art. There are the natural sciences and what used to be called the moral sciences.
In May 1959, a British scientist-turned-novelist named Charles Percy Snow gave an address called The Two Cultures in the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge. This was only 12 years after Dorothy Sayers gave her address, “The Lost Tools of Learning” at Oxford, which became a catalyst for the classical education movement of which we are a part. Snow expressed his concern over the hostility, the dislike, and most of all the lack of understanding between the literary intellectuals and the physical scientists. He lamented that the two cultures had “long since ceased to speak to each other; but at least they managed a kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now the politeness has gone, and they just make faces.” The debate continues 60 years later, and faces are still being made, including mean emoji on social media.
Snow gave a simple test for recognizing the groups. “Without thinking about it, they respond alike. That is what a culture means.” For example, the children of Karl Marx don’t think about the nuts and bolts; nuts and bolts are just used to oppress the poor. On the other hand, the children of Adam Smith think a lot about nuts and bolts, and how many people it takes to make a nail, and how making nails frees the poor and fastens our economy together.
There are rationalists and romantics, there are accountants and accompanists, there are left brain and right brain people, but which is true? That is a complex question, a logical fallacy, which suggests that only one could be true. Let’s try this, which is better? That is perhaps a tougher question, but still one that requires more context.
At ECS we do emphasize the liberal arts and great books and robust singing, but we enjoy those studies having arrived in motor vehicles driven from drilled and processed fossil-fuels, meeting in climate controlled rooms, reading by artificial light from an electrical grid that spans the Pacific Northwest. We order these books using the digital fiber-optic system that connects us to the rest of the world wide web, to the world of living men as well as the vestiges of the generations before us in Western Civilization. Plus, Algebra, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus classes figure into our curriculum as well.
We can sit back and read the classics because science and technology have made it so that we’re not fighting for our existence. Of course, electric light and heat, and microwaves for fish sticks, don’t tell us why we exist.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Gideon is a fish out of water when it comes to The Faerie Queene, but he would rather swim closer to prose than poetry. It also wouldn’t be right to say that Kelly falls flat in the so-called practical subjects, but he is more attuned to the melodies and harmonies of imagination.
They graduate in the same class on the same day and they live in two different cultures. There is the athlete and the musician. There is the social flag pole and the social floor-looker. Which culture, the Sciences or the Humanities, will be better suited to succeed? Which culture will bring more blessing to others?
Of course, for those of us who believe the evangel, the answer to this dichotomy is to recognize that both cultures fall under the Christ-honoring culture. Neither math nor music is ultimate (not to mention that music requires math and math accordingly demonstrates great harmony). Neither Aristotle or Plato hold the answer because the ultimate answer is only in Christ.
In his book Wisdon and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper wrote that only those who understand the Bible by the work of the Spirit can learn about “the origin, the coherence, and the destiny of things.” Life’s three big questions are: “From where? How? And to what end?” Graduates, you know the answer to all of three questions.
Science that treats everything as nothing more than material and mechanical processes sucks the God-breathed soul out of creation. Stories that have no plot or purpose, no redemption or character development deaden the souls of reading creatures. We don’t exalt Science, we value Science studied in submission to the Lord of creation. We can’t be satisfied with Stories, we need Stories written in submission to the Lord of words.
So neither culture is ultimate or sufficient, but both are untied and both serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is what you share in common, Gideon and Kelly. You also share in common the inability to remember and recite together the Apostle’s Creed, but the Jesus in the Creed is yours. You share in worship, you share in the cultus, from which the meta-culture comes. You have been marinating in this Christ-honoring culture, and it is now your responsibility to advance it.
Take your gifts and your interests and your energies and take them further up and further in. Whether you write formulas to build bridges or write fiction, whether you swim laps or compose lyrics, do it all in the name of the Lord. Also, ten years from now, it will not be surprising if you change lanes, if your advance of Christ-honoring culture has moved you to put together a different part of the puzzle. You have been equipped, but in some ways graduation is just the kinder-prep for a life and family and vocation of serving Christ.
The Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton wrote,
Next June, if you attend the graduation of the current class of Juniors, you should look back and wonder what you were doing, not because what you were doing was wrong, but because you’ve continued to learn and grow. Even asking that question of yourselves will show that you have not squandered your education, but that you are advancing with it.
The Corinthians had at least four sub-cultures in their church, aligning themselves in four different directions. The apostle Paul didn’t tell them to lower their appreciation for any one leader, but that they were limiting themselves unnecessarily. It is the way of the world to identify with just one (and get snobby about it), while the Lord knows that such self-imposed limitation from all that He’s given is futile.
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
In Latin Omnibus means “all things,” but Omnibus also means that all those pages you’ve read are just some of the things of the all of the things that are yours.
Psalm 77:12, meditabor in omnibus operibus tuis, “I will mediate on all Your work” (NAS). Gideon and Kelly, you both are God’s work, and He has work for each of you to do to advance a Christ-honoring culture. All are yours.
A friend recommended this book to me a few months ago and it really was worthwhile. It was first published in 1993, so there are more chapters that could be added now, but I appreciated Briner’s encouragement for Christians to get out of boycotting and grumbling and into screenwriting (for movies and TV) as well as into journalism and other writing endeavors, along with visual arts and higher education. The biggest weakness, in my opinion, is that Briner doesn’t root his exhortations in the deep soil of God’s sovereignty over all the world, such as a Kuyperian would do. And I disagree with Briner that all of this is the church’s job to manage, though the church should be equipping and encouraging Christian disciples to work, which, I agree with him, the church has not done well. As he said early in the book, “Almost nothing in my church or collegiate experiences presented possibilities for a dynamic, involved Christian life outside the professional ministry.” That’s a need that this book seeks to tackle.
As is usually the case, there are ranges on a spectrum when it comes to the question of whether believers should speak and live in such a way that unbelievers would be attracted to the gospel of Christ.
There is one side—usually driven by the Bible and theology, even Reformed, Calvinistic doctrines such as the depravity of man and the need for irresistible grace—of those who argue that Christians and the gospel cannot be attractive to sinners and therefore any attempt to make ourselves winsome is naive at best and probably actually dangerous, you know, slippery slope and all.
On the other side—sometimes driven by the apparent callousness and unloving nature of the Bible-theology folks, and/or sometimes driven by the apparent gravity of Jesus demonstrated in the Gospels—are those who maintain that Christians and the gospel can be attractive to sinners and therefore any refusal to make ourselves winsome is at best immature and probably actually ungodly.
I am a truth guy. I think the Bible is the ultimate standard. My wife and I named our only son Calvin. I have served my time in very man-centered churches and can see with my eyes how compromised much of the Christian message is today because of those who try to win the world by being like it. One of my favorite books ever is Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur, and I read it at a time when I was first learning the doctrines of grace. His book gave me categories to resist pragmatism along with the heroic narrative and quotability of Charles Spurgeon.
However, Solomon said it was worth gaining wisdom in order to increase persuasiveness of speech (Proverbs 16:21; 16:23). Wisdom works to be winsome. Paul told the Cretan slaves that they should “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior“ in their behavior (Titus 2:10), not on their book selling tours. Adorning makes it look good, appealing, desirable. Paul also said that “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 5:15-16). Speaking about Christ and living lives for Christ is a smell, detestable to some and delightful to others. Don’t we want it to be delightful? And when does the delightful, life to life part start? Only after a man believes, or as God’s Spirit is sovereignly drawing him to believe?
Of course if no one can hate what we’re doing, we may be seeking the wrong kind of attractiveness. Do not be ashamed of the gospel, and don’t be conformed to this world. But if no one wants what we have, we may be an ungodly sort of unattractive. Life can smell like death to the dead, but deadness also smells like death to the dead.
I’m not actually as pessimistic as Bahnsen sounds (Kavanaugh was confirmed), and also Jesus talked about when others “utter all kinds of evil against you falsely,” which, whether that applies to Kavanaugh or not, at least shouldn’t surprise Christians. Regardless, the article is good, and near the end he makes a brutal (and sadly accurate) comment about how evangelical churches, and their pastors, are providing no support for those conservative Christians endeavoring to live courageously in the culture.
2018 – Reread this and talked through it with the men’s group at our church. Forster is not Kuyper, and I think he’s more happy about that than I am, but it still provoked a lot of good discussion about how Christians can influence our neighbors with more joyful living and labor.
2017 – I don’t share Forster’s view on the Christian-or-not founding of the United States, nor do I share his view on a variety of other specifics in the book, but I definitely share his enthusiasm for “awakening from the dogmatic slumbers of fundamentalism” and very much enjoyed sharing the “victory feast of [his] liberation” from dualism (page 16). I would recommend this for anyone trying to add a little more Kuyperian into his worldview who doesn’t necessarily want to read about, or by, Kuyper himself.
The world prefers that we do not confess when we disobey God. For that matter, the world prefers when we do not obey God. It might seem as if this puts us in a position where we cannot win. By faith we know that it means we are.
Noah showed how this works.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
Noah believed God and did all that God commanded him, and look what it accomplished: “by this he condemned the world.” His obedience to build a boat–not his letters to the editor, his weekly sermon podcast, or his public revival meetings–declared the disobedience of the world. Noah trusted and submitted to God and, because his generation saw him do it, they were accountable for it. They couldn’t say that they didn’t know.
They were responsible for 100 years of mockery-of-mouth toward the ark-itect, 100 years of laughing off the ridiculous idea of rain, 100 years of evidence they couldn’t un-see.
Just because our obedience isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean that it isn’t as effective in condemning the world. Even when we disobey but then acknowledge our sin and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ, we show the world what they should do. By faith we trust the judgment of God on His Son, by faith we expect the judgment of God by His Son, and by faith we become the heirs of righteousness. Our obedience of faith is antithetical worship and a witness to the unbelieving culture.