What would you do if a topless bar-adult theater complex opened across the street from your church or Christian school? If your community were hit with a wave of pornographic materials, which institution should take the lead in campaigning against it? A hundred years ago, the answer would have been instantaneous, the local church. Yet when confronted with just this question by members of one southern California conservative church, the pastor replied that the church should do nothing officially. “We can’t get involved in social action projects,” he said. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matt. 5:13). Christians have been losing their cultural savor for well over two centuries, and with increasing speed since the end of the Civil War. How could this have happened?
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Christians invented the university, one of the great engines of social advancement and cultural enrichment ever conceived. Now they build backwater Bible colleges that send the students to the local secular college or university for the “neutral” academic subjects — like Freudian psychology, Keynesian economics and evolutionary anthropology. Christian professors have no alternatives today.
Challenging a Whole Culture
The Reformation saw the advent of modern printing, and the bulk of that printing was Christian, and by no means limited to gushy devotional tracts. Luther was challenging the whole fabric of Western culture; Calvin was rebuilding his city of Geneva (at the desperate request of the local town leaders); John Knox was winning Scotland to the gospel, using the sword as well as the pen. This literature still survives, even in secular college classrooms; it changed our world. The King James Bible established a standard of excellence in the English language that has never been superseded. Try to find a modern Christian example of literature that has had this kind of impact!
In 1974, I sent the manuscript of Foundations of Christian Scholarship to a Christian publishing firm in Britain. The book’s essays challenge the established secular presuppositions of many academic disciplines: economics, sociology, psychology, education, philosophy, political science and even mathematics.
The writers all had advanced degrees, and most held the Ph.D. The letter of preliminary rejection explained that the publishing organization “has been generally very wary about involving itself in this field. There is no one of any real competence to get involved in these matters of economics, sociology, etc; [presumably, he means nobody associated with his publishing firm] and it would be sticking our neck out with no one able to answer the charges that might be made. We see the first concern to address ourselves to the prevailing piety in worship, prayer and preaching. . . .”
The Prophets’ Legacy
What has become of the legacy of the Hebrew prophets, who called a rebellious people — including priests and kings — to repentance and reform? What has become of the whole counsel of God? Why do Christians feel incompetent “to answer the charges that might be made?”
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)