Engaging vs. accommodating the culture

My longtime friend, the Rev. Harold Senkbeil, has an article in the latest Concordia Journal entitled “Engaging the Culture Faithfully.”  It is a scathing critique of how the Church as a whole has been accommodating the culture instead of truly engaging it.  At the same time, it offers a genuinely pastoral response.

The article isn’t online, but Pastor Matthew Dent has posted some piercing quotations at Steadfast Lutherans, which you can see after the jump. [Read more...]

Christian influence in Eastern Europe

Filip Mazurczak reports that Eastern Europe is recovering its Christian identity, not only in personal conversions but also in cultural and legal influence.

In Hungary, Croatia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, a pro-family, pro-life revolution and a rediscovery of Christian roots is occurring. While few in the American media have noticed, this trend should challenge those who simply lament Europe’s moral malaise. Unnoticed in the shadow of a secularized west, religion’s public role has been growing in the east since the collapse of communism. [Read more...]

From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority

Russell Moore–identified as one of those mythical “Lutheran Baptists“–is the new spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention on social issues. He is taking a different approach from the conventional political activist on the “Christian right.”  He says that Christians have lost the so-called “culture wars” and that the loss of Christian cultural dominance may actually be good for the church.  He says that Christians need to stop thinking of themselves as “the moral majority.”  Instead, they have to see themselves as the “prophetic minority.”

After the jump, excerpts from a Wall Street Journal piece on Dr. Moore by the outstanding Christian writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, who interviewed him for her story. [Read more...]

Can Christianity survive gay marriage?

Rod Dreher, a Christian writer of the Orthodox persuasion,  has written a provocative article for the American Conservative that is getting a lot of attention entitled Sex after Christianity.   He raises the question of whether Christianity can even survive once its assumptions about sexual morality are jettisoned.  The short answer is, of course Christianity will survive.  The gates of hell cannot prevail against it, let alone sexual transgressions.  Missing in this discussion is that Christianity is about Christ, the Gospel, and the forgiveness of sins, not establishing a particular kind of cultural influence.  Nevertheless, Dreher documents a “cosmological” shift that may well diminish the cultural presence of Christianity.  Still, read this article.  We’ve got to talk about it.  Read the whole article, but I’ll post excerpts after the jump.  (And see my thoughts at the end.) [Read more...]

How Christians can live in a non-Christian culture

Yesterday we discussed a post from my colleague Mark Mitchell:  The Culture of Hospitality | Front Porch Republic.  I’d like to focus on one line that he cites from the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus written in the 2nd century A.D. (or maybe even earlier).  It describes how the very earliest Christians lived in the Roman Empire:

“they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.”

Isn’t this the same thing Christians are called to do today against the same cultural pressures?  Get married; back then even the Roman pagans did this, and that might change.  But whatever happens, Christians will still practice marriage and cultivate families.  Beget children and do not destroy them; that is,  don’t get abortions. Don’t have “a common bed”; that is, don’t be sexually promiscuous.  But do have “a common table”; that is, be hospitable to all, inviting even non-believers into your home so as to get to know them and so they can get to know you and your faith.

Keeping these simple distinctives, Christians would eventually win over the Roman empire.  Maybe if we did the same things, Christians might eventually win over the American empire.

Changing the culture by hospitality

My colleague Mark Mitchell argues that we should change our model of cultural engagement from that of warfare to that of hospitality:

In two recent pieces, I argued that 1) the language of “culture war” is not helpful and should be discarded, and 2) that to the extent that liberalism is rooted in a denial of limits, it is anti-culture, for culture is, at the very least, a set of established norms that include prohibitions as well as prescriptions. In short, to weaponize culture is to destroy culture, and to attempt to forge a culture that denies limits is incoherent conceptually and disastrous socially.

So where does that leave us? I want to suggest that we need rethink the meaning of cultural engagement. “Engaging” culture in the idiom of warfare has not produced much in the way of results. Yet at the same time, those who want to preserve historic norms regarding marriage, sexuality, and even life and death are understandably reticent to simply abandon the field to those who seek to undermine or destroy those norms.

To rethink the possibilities, we might find help in a most unlikely place: a late second century letter from an otherwise unknown author named Mathetes to an equally obscure recipient named Diognetus. The letter is an apologetic of sorts, a kind of primer on what set the new Christian sect apart from the pagan religions of the time as well as from Judaism. In a section dedicated to describing the manners of the Christians, Mathetes remarks that “they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.” If we unpack these lines, I think we can find a plausible alternative to the culture war, an alternative that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other men and women of good will can employ as a means of engaging the culture creatively and winsomely.

The phrase I want to focus on is this: they have a common table, but not a common bed.” Of course, the author is describing the lifestyle of the early Christian community, who were known for sharing meals with each other. They were also known for the limits they recognized: they were exclusive sexually even as they were promiscuous in their hospitality.

The emphasis here is the practice of hospitality (with obvious limits), and I want to suggest that hospitality is a radical alternative to both the language and practice of culture wars. [Read more...]


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