The Actual Culture War

So there definitely is a culture war.  It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society.  And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles.  The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  This is true.  People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration.  One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson.  It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs.  Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving.  It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.”  Now that certainly sounds pious.  This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.

Obviously that’s ridiculous.  No one can be bias-free, and there are plenty of “whats” that students need to be taught, mathematics and logic both come to mind, not to mention those foundational axioms of philosophy, the first things, by which all other knowledge is obtained and evaluated.  But even worse than the incoherence of the statement is that it thinks it is being quite profound.  There’s a sort of off-putting pretension about it, an offense only magnified by its self-refuting nature.  In the South, we call this kind of thing “being too big for your britches.”

But the problem with the conservative counterpart to this is that it’s often just as pretentious but much less smart-sounding.  Tim Tebow actually isn’t a very good NFL Quarterback, and whether he’s traded or let go is fairly unlikely to affect the corporate holiness of our great nation.  That Sarah Palin says she has a “worldview” doesn’t change the fact that her family is setting a pretty terrible public example as to what Christians should aspire towards.  The powerful-executive mother, the “First Dude” who is known for his recreational prowess, and the out-of-wedlock-producing daughter who goes on to have minor media fame dancing in a short skirt– this is not the cultural renaissance we need.  And then to pretend that supporting that insouciant melange is some sort of symbol of Christian commitment and civic martyrdom, well that’s just downright obnoxious.  The Gospel is offensive to the natural man all on its own.  It doesn’t need the help.

I did say that the culture war was real, though.  If it isn’t the superficial punditry that I’ve critiqued, then what is it?  How can Christians do their part?

It’s pretty simple.  The culture war is the battle between being self-driven and being God-driven, between putting the individual and the realization of all of his free potential first and putting what God has said and what He has called you to do first.  It’s the difference between talking about culture and just being culture, in a godly way.  Do justly.  Love what is good and right, and render to each their due.  Love mercy.  Be kind and charitable to people, giving to them before you spend money on luxury.  And walk humbly with your God.  This means not talking about it in superficial ways and not calling the press corps every time you do something that you believe is distinctively “Christian.”  Don’t pray to be seen, like the hypocrites.  Just living out your life in peace and quietness, doing your Christian duty is a radical thing.

We can fill this out more, of course.  There is a long history of Christian humanism, learning in the arts, moral and juridical teaching, and much more that we can offer a dying and death-loving society.  But for now, just for today, let’s keep it simple.  Are you reading your Bible, praying regularly, attending public worship, and displaying the Christian virtues to others?  If not, then you should stop all the noise and go back to square one.  Parents, are you training your children in the way that they should go, both in the curriculum and school, as well as your personal example at home?  And this personal example includes work ethic, anger management, service to others, and the kindness of your words.  If you’re so busy trying to save the world that you lose your own family, then you’ve failed your most immediate constituency.  And is your public image one that can be reasonably said to be without reproach, to include the reproach of being an unfriendly and self-centered loudmouth?  I don’t mean that all men should speak well of you, since that would be a sure sign of an evil flatterer.  But I do mean that if people think of you as basically an unlearned crank, then you shouldn’t expect them to want to listen to you and learn from you.

You can only control what God puts under you, and you can only try to manage your life.  A few men in this world will be powerful and have control over many.  Most of us, on the other hand, will have our little plot of land to cultivate.  Christian meekness and gentleness is satisfied with that.  The haughty spirit is bummed out, having hoped for a little more panache.  But it is the meek who will inherit the earth.

Martin Luther is the kind of guy who attracts legends.  Most of the stories one hears about him are made up.  But they’re still pretty good.  I think this next one is true, though.  When asked how it was that he managed to turn Europe upside down, to inspire men with new passion for the gospel, he replied that it was nothing of his own doing, but solely the power of God’s word:

I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything (LW 51:77).

So to put it simply, love God and live your life.  Do what’s right, and trust in Him.  He’ll do the rest.

And sure, you should learn, be smart, talk sense, and apply yourself fully in your calling.  Christians should certainly be willing to “speak up” when the time is right.  But don’t get too big for your britches either.  You’re not the one who is changing the world.  You’re just doing what God calls you to do, when He calls you.  Your witness should be the kind that makes Jesus more important than you.  And other people should be able to pick up on that.

If everybody did that, we’d see quite the culture change.

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3 thoughts on “The Actual Culture War

  1. Thanks Steven. Good article. I still find great delight and comfort in the simplicity of the Reformed view of what Man’s duty is. You have expressed it well, here.

  2. Great post! Confirming and convicting. Speaking of Luther, I think a huge help for Christians in the “culture war” would be to return to his doctrine of vocation. We need less Christian subculture and more Christians out in the world serving and loving people in their calling.

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