11 October 2012

The Church, Our Culture and Our Children

sleepofreasonMy last post was a brief reflection on one aspect of Puritanism’s influence on the Reformed tradition. Rookmaker argues that the mysticism imported from the Anabaptists via Puritanism is the reason for the almost total lack of appreciation for the arts in the Reformed tradition (in contrast to Roman Catholicism, for example). This mystic influence ‘held that the arts were in themselves worldly, unholy and that a Christian should never participate in them.’

A lack of appreciation for the arts is a significant problem, and the fact that many in the Reformed tradition probably would disagree just validates the point. In some strands of Scottish Presbyterianism, the expectation that a Christian would give up musical instruments or ceilidhs, or might only read ‘spiritual’ books is not that far in the past. There are also still many who, for ‘spiritual’ reasons, have little time for the Gaelic language. The Church, our culture and the people themselves have been left all the poorer for this kind of dualistic view.

But the effects of mystic dualism can be seen in many more areas of life within the Church, especially those of an evangelical persuasion. For example, spiritual guidance is a key concern in evangelicalism and is often understood in spiritualised terms where the balance falls heavily on God’s intervention rather than on the nitty-gritty of human decisions. While waiting for God to intervene, opportunities to resolve a situation, or to find direction and progress, go begging. Similarly, when it comes to mission, mysticism often leads to the irony of people praying fervently for revival whilst totally neglecting engagement with the communities and culture around them.

But for all of the above, I think the most urgent reason to address this mystical outlook in the Church is our own children. Many of them have just left home to go to University, to stand alone for the first time in a way that requires them to meet and engage with our culture in ways they haven’t before. Are they ready? Is the Church, through its life and teaching, equipping them? Statistics on the number of those who abandon the Church whilst at college seem to suggest not. I’m convinced that part of the reason is the legacy of this mystic, dualistic view of the secular/sacred. Rookmaaker saw 40 years ago that many Christians had largely abandoned the dogma of keeping clear of ‘worldly and fleshly pursuits’, but were generally ill-equipped to relate to culture as Christians. He diagnosed that amongst the younger generation ‘any sort of critical thinking is almost completely lacking. There is no artistic insight, nothing to point to, no answer to the relevant questions of a rising generation.’

Only a Reformed Christianity which adopts an all-embracing view of God’s relationship with his creation – for this reflects the biblical view so strongly enshrined in the wisdom literature – can equip Christians to relate to culture as Christians, to live effectively, not only in the world of the arts, but in the world in general.