I’ve been on a Ken Myers listening binge. Mars Hill Audio Journal, the fantastic Epiphany Lectures he gave on music at New St. Andrews College, and now a series of lectures and panel discussions on culture and music (and, as always, the givenness of creation) that he gave at Southern Seminary.
Myers is a voice in the wilderness, and I wonder how many people have the theological framework to even grasp what he’s saying. I say that in part because he complains eloquently that the whole idea of a created order is missing from public and even Christian thinking. And I say it because, despite my longtime love and appreciation for Myers, I don’t think I had a key building block in that framework until the last two years.
That block is really a cornerstone, maybe the whole foundation, and in my new book I put it like this: creation is the standard by which we judge the way things ought to be. And in my book, though this was not original to me, I took that a step further: God didn’t just create stuff, He created the structure and the order into which that stuff fits, or ought to fit. He created not just people but marriage; not just rocks but gravity; not just families but the structures of culture.
Conservative Christians such as myself may have an initial negative reaction to the idea that God has expectations for culture. It either sounds like a prelude to saying, “And my particular culture just happens to be God’s ideal” or to saying, “Let’s redeem the tawdriest elements of American entertainment culture, and do it for Jesus! Rock on!”
I don’t think my culture is God’s ideal. I want to push my culture toward its ideal in whatever way I can—which isn’t many ways, but it is some. And I don’t think we should slap Christian labels on whatever pop music was hot three years ago.
It’s a bit of a bandwagon, and has been for a while, for Christians to talk about culture. But I’ve done the work to justify my talking about it: God created culture and therefore cares about it. And I think Ken Myers was right to say that Christians ought to take part in and enjoy cultural life because we are created, not just because we are redeemed.
Here’s Myers in one of those talks above (I’m sorry; I’ve now forgotten which):
If there is no moral order in the nature of things then the traditions that are sustained in families, churches, communities, guilds and other social structures are not mechanisms providentially established to serve human wellbeing, but they’re arbitrary and bothersome conventions, they’re forms of tyranny, they’re sheer obstacles to self-fulfillment. This individualistic conviction has been a powerful dynamic in the defining of the modern world, and it’s taken root in the hearts of the populace as well as the heads of theorists. For centuries economic necessity and technical poverty kept most people from regarding such a radical idea as fully plausible or fully enactable, but as mobility, wealth, and technical capacity have increased during the 20th century this view has blossomed fully in the center of Western life.
Here’s Myers again:
Contemporary culture…is dominated by a model…in which all cultural experiences are just independent selected commodities…. Seeing culture just as a set of commodities, instead of an inheritance, which implies responsibilities, is very much tied up with modern ideas about freedom. Freedom is one of the central organizing ideas of the modern West.
Myers is not saying, “Let’s redeem culture for Christ.” There is indeed a danger of worldliness in such talk. But there’s a danger of worldliness in the common conservative Christian attitude toward culture, too, the attitude that says, “Leave culture to the world. We’re going to heaven.” This forgets that you can’t avoid being part of a culture, and that much of what we all do all day isn’t evangelism but culture. It lets secularism, a definite form of worldliness, sneak through the back door. Either your cultural endeavors will be done for God’s glory and in accordance with his order, or they will be for someone else’s glory and in accordance with disorder.
I haven’t ever listened to Myers, so my comment has to do with my experience of other evangelical sorts who talk about culture. In principle, they are fine, but in application, it seems like they don’t know what they are talking about. They appear, instead of attempting a Christian culture, to be embracing the culture of the world in the name of Christ.
Southern Seminary would be a case in point, wouldn’t you think?
I know how you feel, Don, but you just have to listen. He’ll surprise you.