In the last couple of blog posts I tried to set forth the idea that without the sanction of biblical faith, conservatism alone cannot capture the hearts and minds of men. Many of conservatism’s tenets can be easily supported by the imperatives of faith and morality, and must be. This should be an important goal of conservative polemics. This, I don’t believe, is optional. Arguments which rely only on an empirical analysis of data can be easily ignored or rendered misleading by a point-counterpoint manipulation of the supposed facts. The man-made climate change debate is one case in point. We must get to the spiritual root of the matter, whatever the issue may be. This requires a rebirth of theology.
A hundred years ago, the great Christian author and teacher J. Gresham Machen described the problem we are considering with great clarity. The things he wrote could have been written today without any lack of relevance. In his essay “Christianity and Culture” he explains the need for a “consecration of culture”. He states that if Christianity becomes a mere appendage of culture, a line item on a person’s resume’, then Christianity is destroyed. If, however, Christians regard culture as irremediably evil and abandon it to live in pietistic isolation, then culture is destroyed. This is our present situation.
The third and only way for Machen was the consecration of culture. By this he meant most specifically “high” culture. This is characterized by the dedication of the highest efforts of art and science to being conducted under the aegis of biblical truth. This he considered essential to a genuinely evangelistic outlook because it creates a culture that affirms and confirms the truth at all points and makes the Gospel an entirely relevant message in the mental world that men inhabit. Without this, the Gospel becomes only a harmless hobby of churchgoers that leaves the majority of men indifferent to it’s claims. Gospel preaching and teaching then become confined, in most cases, to mental and physical ghettos and backwaters where men are destitute of any other significant cultural engagement.
The word “world” in almost every New Testament usage is translated from the Greek word cosmos. This word does not refer primarily to physical things, but to the systems of belief, governance, and order to which men subscribe and which animate their lives. The “Great Commission” , then, is the reconciling of all these things to biblical truth by means of faith in Jesus Christ. God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only begotten Son so that this might be accomplished. This is the broadest statement possible of the “consecration of culture”. I believe the consecration of “high” culture is imperative in this regard if as many men as possible are to be reconciled to God in Christ. Those in authority, whether in government, science, education, business, art, or whatever, are not to be constantly suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
But the consecration of culture must also be an all-encompassing idea. It certainly cannot be limited to the realms of the learned and powerful. I believe in Ezekiel 38: 11, an image of the land of Israel, we are given a picture of “consecrated culture” in it’s broadest sense. A vision of quiet people living in villages without bars, walls, or gates is a vision of godly society. This is a spiritual vision, not a material vision of rural necessity. This shows us, in a simple picture, a culture devoid of wickedness. This is a culture free of covetousness and unbridled ambition, the lording of authority over men, theft and violence, lies, slander, and false witness, lust and immorality. This is a culture of contentment, simplicity, peace, and security. It is a culture the “world” of ungodly men hate and attack, but that it is upheld and protected by God. This is a culture for every man of faith and uprightness. In such a culture we should hope and expect to see an entirely symbiotic and complementary relationship between this bedrock of godly society and the finest works of art, science, and industry.