In arguably his most important book, The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry writes the following about the Amish (in ways that neo-Calvinists might find instructive and inspirational):
First, the Amish communities are, at their center, religious. They are bound together not just by various worldly necessities, but by spiritual authority. . . Whereas most contemporary sects of Christianity have tended to specialize in the interests of the spirit, leaving aside the issues of the use of the world, the Amish have not secularized their earthly life. . . .
Second, the Amish have severely restricted the growth of institutions among themselves, and so they are not victimized, as we so frequently are, by organizations set up ostensibly to “serve” them. Though they pay the required deferences to our institutions, they accept few of the benefits, and so remain, in perhaps the most important respects, free of them. They do not become dependent on them and so maintain their integrity. As far as I know, the only institutions in our sense that the Amish have started are their schools — and his, by our standards, for a strange reason: to keep the responsibility for educating their children and so, in consequence to keep their children. . . .
Third, the Amish are the truest geniuses of technology, for they understand the necessity of limiting it. . . . Whereas our society tends to conceive of the community as a loose political-economic mechanism of mutually competing producers, suppliers, and consumers, the Amish think of “the community as a whole” — that is, as all of the people, or perhaps, considering the excellence both of their neighborliness and their husbandry, as all the people and their land together. If the community is whole, then it is healthy, at once earthly and holy. The wholeness or healht of the community is their standard. And by this standard they have been required to limit their technology.
Berry goes on even to violate Old Life standards by applying the word Christian to a secular enterprise — as in Christian agriculture, which is “formed upon the understanding that is is sinful for people to misuse or destroy what they did not make.”
As side from the irony from H. Richard Niebuhr categories of Christ and culture that Anabaptists may have done more to create a Christian culture than Niebuhr’s (and Kuyper’s) Calvinist transformationalists, the example of the Amish (as Berry understands them) may also be instructive for those wanting to transform out culture. Instead of infiltrating the city to redeem it, the Amish have fled the dominant culture to cultivate a Christian culture (as they understand it). In so doing, they have avoided the problem that generally afflicts the infiltrators — that they become like the culture they inhabit, that is, in the case of city transformers, they become as urban and hip as they are Christian. The Amish are also apparently free from the self-delusion that often infects the transformationalists, then one where to justify redeeming the culture the cult loses what makes it distinct (the salt is no longer salt).
This is not, by the way, an endorsement of either the Amish (whom I admire) or the project of Christian culture. I am more and more persuaded that the longing for a Christian culture is illegitimate and whets the soul’s appetite for something we cannot have in this world. But if you are going to look for examples of Christian culture, the Amish may have unwittingly outscored the neo-Calvinists. Think Free University.