Christian Realism 2

I don’t know what you think is the best book on Christ and Culture, but I’d be interested in hearing. We are looking at John Stackhouse, Making the Best of It , and we turn to his first resource for how he builds his own version of Christian realism. He starts with CS Lewis.
By the way, there are some new books on this topic, including DA Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited, which just arrived on my desk. Any response to that book or any others you think should be mentioned?
Now, to Lewis.
He begins with what I might call the building blocks of how CS Lewis approached Christ and culture questions. He begins with the Christian Story: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Along the way, Stackhouse inserts some salty quotations from Lewis, including these you might want to respond to:
“Lewis has relatively little to say about church life or about society as a whole” (55).
“To me, religion ought to have been a matter of good men praying alone, and meeting by twos and threes to talk of spiritual matters” (55). [Stackhouse didn't think Lewis changed his mind on this after his conversion.]
“Yes this individualism is not self-absorption” (56).
Then he tackles the themes one finds in Lewis: sanctification of self — and society?, conversion … as chief mission and yet scholarship as worthy occupation, work and domesticity, hope and vocation, history and imagination, enjoying the world and its maker…
Lewis’ concern “was not to subvert public institutions nor to convert them to their final messianic state, but to revert them back to their traditional sources and purposes in God’s providence” (60).
Here’s one: “The real reason for democracy is that we are so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows” (61). [What part does the Fall play in your "Christ and culture" view?]
He observes how much time Lewis took up with Mrs Moore and household duties. Lewis didn’t live in a library.
He liked friendship, beer and food, conversation, and encounter with nature (66). He thought these things were intrinsically good. He did not simply see these things as iconic — pointing to God.
He thought his devotion to literature was a perfectly good calling. His conversion did not call him out of culture and into the church ministry, but to work at the complex relation of Christian beliefs, values, and norms to the culture (68).
Stackhouse works through Lewis, Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer before he builds his case. So … that’s where we are.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Andrew Butler

    I am not sure it is the “best”, but Craig A. Carter’s “Rethinking Christ and Culture”, Brazos Press, 2006 is well worth a read.

  • Duane

    Border Crossings: Christian Trespasses on Popular Culture and Public Affairs by Rodney Clapp

  • Ken White

    Lewis has had tremendous influence on me. I remember that he said he never read the daily newspaper and for many years I felt a tinge of guilt reading papers or being informed. The key for me is being who God has called me to in relation to culture and not what God has called others to be. So, I think as a pastor I have a duty to be informed, to know what is going on locally and globally and to effect people. Driscoll writes in his book “Confessions of a Reformisson Rev.” that “The church accepts that it is marginalized in culture and holds no privileged position of influence but gains influence by serving the common good.” I’ve noted that people have mixed reactions to him, but I think Driscoll’s statement is right on the money and requires a dynamic interaction with culture. “Common good”: What is the common good? “marginalized in culture”: What is culture? They are important questions.

  • Karl

    It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn’t care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He usually attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn’t like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis.
    Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?”
    His answer was as follows: “That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” God in the Dock, pp. 61-62.
    [from the web]

  • RJS

    Karl,
    I had vaguely recalled such an observation from Lewis as well – but couldn’t recall where. Church – communal worship – is essential. It grounds us in the reality of the community and in the communion of the saints. It seems to me that this should be the real purpose – not teaching or exegetical preaching (although these have a place as well).
    To me, religion ought to have been a matter of good men praying alone, and meeting by twos and threes to talk of spiritual matters (55).
    These days we don’t even need to meet to talk about spiritual matters – we can blog and comment and make everything rather impersonal and solitary. But this isn’t enough – being Christian is more than solitary conceit.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I like the way Stackhouse interweaves Lewis’ thinking with his daily existence.
    One aspect that Stackhouse brings out about Lewis is the eschatological implications of his thinking. When Narnia ends, the redeemed assume a new life in a more concrete, more real, Narnia. This doesn’t square well with the view held by a lot of Evangelicals of being raptured into heaven to live in some ethereal spiritual existence. Curious how so many who have this eschatology also seem to be big Lewis fans.
    I do think it is interesting, as Stackhouse points out, that in the Great Divorce that Hell is a city and Heaven is in the countryside. This is despite the fact that the biblical narrative humanity begins in a garden and ends up in a city. This just reinforces my perception of a long running tendency of intellectuals and theologians to at best minimize the viva activa (especially commerce and economic activity) and at worst to demonize it. Can’t get much more demonizing that to call it Hell. :)

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I second comment #1 re: Craig Carter’s book — particularly if you’re interested in an anabaptist perspective.

  • Clay Knick

    Andy Crouch has an IVP book coming out this summer
    on the subject of culture.

  • http://epicproblem.tumblr.com/ mike m

    Resident Aliens by Hauerwas and Willimon has had the biggest influence on how I view the interaction between the Church and the culture we find ourselves in. It put words to things I had been feeling for quite some time, it was both compelling and convicting.
    I highly recommend it.

  • http://www.gracechicago.com Bob Reid

    This little article on Christ and Culture by Volf is by far the freshest and most helpful thing I have have read on the topic in years. Perhaps it has already been mentioned in the thread but I did not see it. Volf uses I Peter as a backdrop to his analysis of this topic. http://www.npcts.edu/sem/exauditu/papers/volf.html

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    What part does the Fall play in your “Christ and culture” view?
    A pretty big part. Keeping in mind that everyone is made in the image of God and in everyone that image is marred by sin is fundamental. The meanest person is capable of revealing that image, at least for a moment, and the holiest person is still capable of great sin. That has to affect how we think about every aspect of human culture and our interaction with it in the name of Christ.

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    I would offer that culture is the context for the proclamation of the Gospel. I believe the Gospel is not a-cultural but is rather embodied within a particular culture. Even those who would say they are against culture are really embodying the Gospel in a particular cultural form, that of separation. So, I guess understanding how “culture” is defined in this context is vital. Is it the symbols, language, practices, etc that define a group, or is it the world system that is opposed to the Kingdom of God?

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    “Volf uses I Peter as a backdrop to his analysis of this topic. http://www.npcts.edu/sem/exauditu/papers/volf.html
    Great article!

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Rob #12
    “…how “culture” is defined in this context is vital. Is it the symbols, language, practices, etc that define a group, or is it the world system that is opposed to the Kingdom of God?”
    I think the former is the operative notion in this book. In the previous post on this book, I wrote:
    “Stackhouse quotes Ken Myers as saying culture is “what we make of creation – in both senses of the word make.” (15) We make material objects and we make sense of the world around us. But there is no synonym for the world “culture” in the Bible. Stackhouse suggests often when NT writers are talking about “the world,” they’re referencing something close to the idea of culture. There is significant intersection, though not one-to-one correspondence.”

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #Rob #13
    You link takes me to a 404 error. Do you have the title of the article or another link?

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    http://www.npcts.edu/sem/exauditu/papers/volf.html
    sorry, a set of quotes got in there by accident.

  • Andrew Butler

    I enjoy Clapp’s writings. ( I see he has a new book out on Johnny Cash). The article by Volf is very helpful too. But does anyone know the date he wrote/published it? And is “Mirslav” a legitimate alternative spelling to Miroslav, or is it a typo?

  • http://urbanphile.blogspot.com/ michael

    Having spent much of my life overseas, I tend to favor missiologists on the subject of Christ and culture. The late Paul Hiebert did not address it directly in a monograph, but his Scripturally grounded theology, anthropology training, and extensive overseas experience offers the most nuanced theology of culture. A more recent volume title Appropriate Christianity edited by Charles Kraft provides well-rounded approach to a culture (found at William Carey Library).
    #10, I found Volf’s article helpful as well.

  • http://www.thedarkglass.net Anthony

    In grad school I wrote a paper for O.T. Theology on Genesis titled, “Pilgrimage and Promise” in which I contrasted the human impulse to root themselves in man made society as seen in Abraham’s encounter with various civilizations, and Abraham’s own call to root himself in the promise of God, by which he embarked on a pilgrimage out from his native land. Taking this as a model for Xian life, I would say that our hope and security is to be fixed upon the call and promises of God given in Jesus Christ. With this established, we are free to critically engage culture without being lured by the false hopes and security it offers. In short, we are free to minister to society because collectively and individually we know that our being and becoming is secure in Christ, regardless of the position we occupy in any given culture.
    Regarding the schema of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, shooting from the hip I would say that our task is to first demonstrate the reality of God’s in our midst, and from their move out into the world to provide a preserving influence.

  • http://www.thedarkglass.net Anthony

    In grad school I wrote a paper for O.T. Theology on Genesis titled, “Pilgrimage and Promise” in which I contrasted the human impulse to root themselves in man made society as seen in Abraham’s encounter with various civilizations, and Abraham’s own call to root himself in the promise of God, by which he embarked on a pilgrimage out from his native land. Taking this as a model for Xian life, I would say that our hope and security is to be fixed upon the call and promises of God given in Jesus Christ. With this established, we are free to critically engage culture without being lured by the false hopes and security it offers. In short, we are free to minister to society because collectively and individually we know that our being and becoming is secure in Christ, regardless of the position we occupy in any given culture.
    Regarding the schema of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, shooting from the hip, I would say that we are not trying to redeem the world, as redemption is a reality complete in Christ. Our task is to first demonstrate the reality of God’s Kingdom in our midst, and from their move out into the world to provide a preserving influence.

  • http://www.thissideofsunday.blogspot.com Jon C

    I second the comment about Hauerwas and Willimon’s “Resident Aliens” and also, though it is perhaps not as broad in focus, Miroslav Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace”. Both these books have been and continue to be paradigm-shaping for me. I look forward to reading Stackhouse’s book though.

  • Mark Pike

    Re: “Lewis has relatively little to say about church life or about society as a whole” (55).
    One comment by Lewis on church life which has stayed with me comes from The Screwtape Letters. In one of the Letters the junior demon is alarmed when his patient begins attending church services and believes he has lost. He is counseled that some of the best tempting happens in church and is directed to distract his patient by the ordinary folk sitting next to him in the pew. It is similar to the quote from God in the Dock which Karl mentions. Lewis reveals a profound understanding that the person we are quick to dismiss or ridicule may just be a powerful prayer warrior whose boots we aren’t fit to clean. Lewis did value the life of the church – he learned humility there.

  • http://vox-femina.blogspot.com/ Teresita

    Michael Kruse: “I do think it is interesting, as Stackhouse points out, that in the Great Divorce that Hell is a city and Heaven is in the countryside.”
    In the countryside people live a half-mile apart, and they are largely self-sufficient. At night the country is only sparsely illuminated and can actually be described as the “outer darkness” even if there is no gnashing of teeth. In the city people live close together, and rely on the ministry of the fire department, the police, the water department, the power company, their neighborhood organizations, on and on. There is activity day and night, and it is always brightly lit. It is an error, I think, to link Hell to city life and heaven to the country.

  • http://www.groshlink.net Tom Grosh IV

    RE: 8, “Andy Crouch has an IVP book coming out this summer
    on the subject of culture.”
    Andy sure does! You can find out lots about “Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” at http://www.culture-making.com/ … one can even download a PDF of the first 40 pages of at http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/3394-sample-1.pdf
    BTW, I’d place myself close to his posture, but acknowledging that there are times for condemning, critiquing, copying, and consuming culture.


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