Speaking of Transformationalizationism

Ken Myers once upon a time took instruction from Meredith Kline about why the idea of Christian culture is wrongheaded:

The experience of human culture in all its diversity is the way we enjoy being human. And enjoy it we must. Being human is the most profound aspect of the creation for which we ought to give thanks. If we can enjoy the beauty of all else in creation, how foolish to resent or ignore the image of the Creator, the pinnacle of creation. It is being human, not being saved — it is the image of God in us, not regeneration — that established the capacity to recognize the distinctions between the beautiful and the ubly, between order and chaos, between the creative and the stultifying.

We were created beings before we were redeemed beings. God’s benediction on creation has not been entirely erased by the Fall. Jesus Himself is not only divine, He is human. Does he enjoy it, or simply endure it? Until our bodies are made new, like the body Jesus now enjoys, our calling is not to escape fleshly existence, nor to sanctify culture (since it is “common,” shared by believer and unbeliever, and cannot be made holy), but to so influence our culture as to make it more consistent with the created nature of man, and to sanctify our own lives, because we are also living in the Spirit, with our minds set on the things that are above.

We acknowledge this distinction between the holy and the common each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. Every meal I eat, I eat to the glory of God, under the Lordship of Christ. But not every meal I heat has the significance and the power to transform that the Lord’s Supper has. It is a holy meal in a way last week’s visit to Burger King is not. Not everyone is allowed to eat this holy meal, but everyone is allowed to eat at Burger King. If there are deficiencies within the culture that have produced Burger King, the deficiencies are not due to the fact that it is not a holy place, but because it violates or compromises aspects of our experience as human beings. If we believe that to be the case, our goal as Christians would not be to sanctify the Whopper, to make it into a sacrament, but to attempt to influence our culture to make it more fitting for human beings bearing the image of God.

While our culture may not be holy, it should not be inhuman. (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 50-51)

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44 thoughts on “Speaking of Transformationalizationism

  1. It seems that the Benedict Option is embraced by those who think of Christian influence on culture in all-or-nothing ways. Either the culture must be Christian or we take some kind of monastic approach to society.

    There are alternatives like Christian co-existence. That is we tolerate many of each others’ differences and jointly, with unbelievers create a culture that allows us to share society as equals.

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  2. I’ve been a subscriber to Ken’s Mars Hill Audio for several years and still profit from his interviews and insights. But these days, I am not sure where Ken is coming from anymore. Back in the day of the old Nicotine Theological Journal, there was a column praising Ken’s perspective on creation, church and culture. Would Darryl be able to affirm that NTJ stamp of approval today? There are times when Ken talks like a transformationalist and a Catholic.

    Additionally, I appreciate Mr. Day’s statement “there are alternatives like Christian co-existence.” Yes, indeed. Wworking within the context of a public university, I have always appreciated James Davison Hunter’s notion of “faithful presence within” or something like that.

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  3. Mark, I don’t know how Ken squares his current understandings of culture with the ones he articulated in All God’s Children. Doesn’t mean he can’t. Just means I haven’t seen it.

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  4. D.G.,
    Seems like you always want to divert attention from criticisms of your views. Here you do so by trying to make an accusation that shows a lack of understanding of the topic and of what I wrote.

    Again, the thinking behind the Benedict Option is that either culture must be Christian or we take some kind of monastic approach to society. I would think that a 2Ker would immediately object to the Benedict Option’s limited choices. After all, the Benedict Option says that either we must be successful transformationalists or monastics.

    Now it could be that you choose the monastic option because that simply says one should choose the neighborhood that they should love. But the Good Samaritan Parable tells us that we can’t always pick the neighbors we are called to love.

    As for your comments on tribalism and social justice. How is the mere desire for social justice all-or-nothing when working for social justice always involves a continuum? How is the objection to a group loyalty that causes us to embrace moral relativity objectionable to the Scriptures? The embrace of moral relativity includes the embracing of the kind of preference James 2 warns against. But, like monasticism, tribalism directs us to choose the neighborhood that we are called to love. And like monasticism, the Good Samaritan Parable tells us that we can’t always pick the neighbors we are called to love. BTW, the can’t always negates any all-or-nothing charges? And doesn’t Jesus tell us that even the heathen love their but we are called to love our enemies.

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  5. ” Again, the thinking behind the Benedict Option is that either culture must be Christian or we take some kind of monastic approach to society. ”

    This is false. Dreher does not claim either. Rather his thesis is that the west is post-christian. If believers wish to sustain and propagate the faith, they must be intentional as the culture is not supportive of Christian formstion (and indeed is increasingly opposed to it). Given the challenges that the Christian faith faces from “liquid modernity, forming intentional communities that offer mutual support to believers is essential.

    Dreher was raised nominal mainline, converted to RC , and then EO. His background is not evangelical. The emphasis on lay spiritual formation that is distinctive to evangelicalism was not part of his experience. Thus many evangelicals have responded by assuming he meant more because his “radical” call is what they see themselves doing.

    There is plenty to criticize in his work, but your construal of his thesis is false.

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  6. I found this short segment quite profound — my immediate reaction after I read it was an audible “wow”. It really rang true with me. I’m now reading DGH’s “The Lost Soul of American Protestantism” (the last of his books I need to read…I think). I have not read “Blue Suede Shoes…” but must now include it on my required reading list.

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  7. “It is vital that we not regard art or science or the humanities to be evangelism carried on by other means. The purpose of those cultural pursuits is not to get people to acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord, but simply to maintain fallen yet rich human life on earth. Certainly the ultimate purpose of all creation is the glory of God but the glory of God is served in ways that are not properly speaking redemptive.”
    “The life of human culture is a common task. There is nothing intrinsically holy about it since holiness has always to do with the unique presence of God. The saints are to live holy lives but the locus of their holiness is not in the nature of what they do (since non-saints can do many of the same things) but in the manner in which they do it.”

    ~Ken Myers in “Christianity, Culture & Common Grace” 1989/1994

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  8. Curt, “How is the mere desire for social justice all-or-nothing when working for social justice always involves a continuum?”

    Because of the way you criticize.

    Duh.

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  9. CD: How is the mere desire for social justice all-or-nothing when working for social justice always involves a continuum?

    Mainly because “better” is never “good enough.” Child abductions, racially motivated crimes, sexual assaults, police killings of blacks, and global poverty are all way down since the 70s. But the relentless push for more and more and more social justice continues apace, with people convinced that things are worse now than they have ever been.

    What’s the point of pursuing progress if it just makes you more discontent when it arrives?

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  10. Jeff,

    Mainly because “better” is never “good enough.” Child abductions, racially motivated crimes, sexual assaults, police killings of blacks, and global poverty are all way down since the 70s. But the relentless push for more and more and more social justice continues apace, with people convinced that things are worse now than they have ever been.

    Lucid as always, but why criticize the optics of a dominant cultural narrative when grandstanding is so tasty? The good news is the virtue signaling industrial complex is just gaining steam, and there’s plenty of opportunity to get in on this growth market while its still on the ground floor. Personally I am thinking that there should be some kind of futures market on moral superiority that will allow me to develop a diversified portfolio of cultural superiority and inferiority commodities that will enable me to attain my goals of ideological respectability in a dynamic and risky public square. Surely the gospel as foolishness is an irrelevant relic of a bygone era.

    Is my HS econ teacher slip showing?

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  11. “There are times when Ken talks like a transformationalist and a Catholic.”

    Yeah, like the vast majority of the time anymore! I subscribed for over a decade to his “Mars Hill Audio”. Stopped this last year. I find his constant emphasis on community engagement and transforming culture to have more in common with Pope Francis’s “we must do and be the gospel” than it does with the Protestant Reformation.
    It seems he has become a softy towards Roman Catholic theology and the Federal Vision among others.

    For every ten times he focuses on a fuzzy idea of community or cultural I would appreciate at least one bit along the lines of the five Sloa’s of the Reformation, etc. Ken Myers is correct that “politics is downstream from culture.” What he does not get is that culture is downstream from theology and epistemology. Indeed he has veered off the track since ” All gods children and blue suede shoes” .

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  12. E Burns, I just wish Ken would talk about being human without having to add some cosmological vision of Christian wholeness — that also happens to be, anti-modern.

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  13. D.G,
    Why is it that you so often try to change the subject from the issue discussed to the person making the comments.

    So you like the Benedict Option. And the Benedict Option is about picking some form of the monastic way of life rather than loving one’s neighbor in the world that exists. Why attack social justice when that point in brought out? And why make snide comments about me and how I approach social justice? The answer to those questions is not found in the Scriptures, but in tribalism. In tribalism, group loyalty causes one And that is why Christians should be leery of tribalism.

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  14. Good point.

    That said, since Dreher was mentioned, I have a hard time figuring that guy out. He doesn’t seem to work from an intellectually coherent thesis. At best, he seems to have little more than an emotive affinity for some world where women, blacks/browns, and gays/lesbians knew their place.

    He talks a lot about liquid modernity. But sometimes things need to be liquid. If an institution no longer provides benefits in excess of costs, we should want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. As a conservative, I believe in letting the past have its say. After all, institutions don’t generally arise unless they serve to effect some measure of transactional efficiency. But if economic and social conditions have changed, and such institutions no longer serve that useful purpose, we should want to rid the world of them. Our Puritan and Dutch forbears would want nothing less of us.

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  15. evan773. . . I think sdb has nailed it when he writes above, “Dreher was raised nominal mainline (Methodist), converted to RC , and then EO. His background is not evangelical. The emphasis on lay spiritual formation that is distinctive to evangelicalism was not part of his experience.” Although Dreher now participates in the Eastern Orthodox communion, I am not convinced he understands that tradition. Plus, so much of his writing comes out of the lens of his own experience, especially his middle two books about his sister, Ruthie, and then his encounter with Dante.

    I wish he would have an encounter with Machen!

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  16. @Curt

    “And the Benedict Option is about picking some form of the monastic way of life rather than loving one’s neighbor in the world that exists.”
    No it isn’t. This is false. You should read the book. There is no way that one can read this book and conclude that he is calling for any kind of form of monastic life much less as way that absolves one of loving one’s neighbor.

    “Why attack social justice when that point in brought out?”
    Because the point isn’t serious.

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  17. Mark,

    I agree. I’m not sure that Dreher understands Orthodoxy at all. I’m not even sure that he understands Christianity, for that matter. His version of the Gospel gives little weight to Heaven and a lot of weight to making sure that he and his fellow travelers can be comfortable in the here and now.

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  18. sbd,
    What I wrote is true. IN fact, a monastic approach is a model for the Benedict Option. It doesn’t advocate the same kind of monastic as was practiced in the past, but it is ca call to a monastic form of life because the real world is out of control.

    Finally, D.G. attack on social justice is meaningless. For one thing, it was factually wrong. But social justice is not meaningl

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  19. Curt,
    “What I wrote is true. IN fact, a monastic approach is a model for the Benedict Option. It doesn’t advocate the same kind of monastic as was practiced in the past, but it is ca call to a monastic form of life because the real world is out of control.”

    This is false. It does not call for retreat rather than loving one’s neighbor as you asserted above. Nor is it a call for any kind of monastic form of life (not that there is anything wrong with that). It is a call to form intentional communities of spiritual formation in order to strengthen and propagate one’s faith. As Dreher says in his book, you can’t give what you don’t have. From his perspective, many Christians expected the culture to propagate the faith for them. Whatever truth there may have been to that assumption in the past, it is clearly not the case now. Intentional community is necessary to resist the onslaught of “liquid modernity”.

    Like I said, there is plenty to criticize in the book and with his thesis. From the perspective of evangelicals/fundamentalists, we have been singing this tune for over a century (God has many children, but no grandchildren, etc…). That isn’t Dreher’s background though.

    Whatever the case, your construal of his thesis (namely that “the Benedict Option is about picking some form of the monastic way of life rather than loving one’s neighbor in the world that exists”) is false and uncharitable.

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  20. dsb,
    Yes it does call for a Christian retreat of sorts in order to preserve Christian thinking and traditions. Why? Because the world, according to Dreher, is too corrupt and corrosive to work with and remain among. And what qualified the world, at least the American port of it, for that diagnosis is the changing sexual mores of the nation including the Obergefell decision. And so one reats from the world until it corrects itself and it becomes safe to venture out of those communities. That Dreher, I believe, is at least partially fashioning is proposal on a monastic community tell us that what he is proposing is at least a sem-monastic approach to Christian living.

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  21. Curt,
    “That Dreher, I believe, is at least partially fashioning is proposal on a monastic community…”
    This is incorrect. He is fashioning it after Alasdair MacIntyre’s book “After Virtue”. MacIntyre writes, ” We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.” The problem in Dreher’s mind is the enlightenment and the consumerism and individualization that followed. The culture is not now (and hasn’t in a long time) been supportive of the sort of moral realism that he believes undergirds Christianity. He writes, “The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents. ”

    He is not calling for a retreat from the world. Rather he is calling for the formation of intentional communities within the world in order to resist the effects of corrosive “liquid modernity”. Responding to uninformed critiques such as yours he writes,

    Do you really think you can just run away from the world and live off in a compound somewhere? Get real!
    No, I don’t think that at all. While I wouldn’t necessarily fault people who sought geographical isolation, that will be neither possible nor desirable for most of us. The early Church lived in cities, and formed its distinct life there. Most of the Ben Op communities that come to mind today are not radically isolated, in geography or otherwise, from the broader community. It’s simply nonsense to say that Ben Oppers want to hide from the world and live in some sort of fundamentalist enclave. Some do, and it’s not hard to find examples of how this sort of thing has gone bad. But that is not what we should aim for. In fact, I think it’s all too easy for people to paint the Benedict Option as utopian escapism so they can safely wall it off and not have to think about it.

    Like I said, there is plenty to critique about his understanding of the Benedict Option, but is clear you have neither read nor understood what he is arguing. So what is he arguing for? He writes,

    “As we try to determine which forms of community, which institutions, and which ways of life, can answer that question, we should draw on the wisdom of St. Benedict and his Rule. We should innovate ways to adapt it to forms of non-monastic living in the world.

    What are the principals Christians who adopt the Benedict Option would find innovative ways to adapt? Order, Prayer, Stability, Hospitality, Balance, and Community. Why should we do this? “The Benedict Option is about forming communities that teach us and help us to live in such a way that our entire lives are witnesses to the transforming power of the Gospel.”

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  22. @ Curt: The difference is between those who isolate themselves from “others” and those who seek out like-minded fellows to support them in interacting with others.

    Dreher wants the second, not the first.

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  23. I don’t understand why people have such trouble getting Dreher. All he seems to be saying is “Don’t count on the culture to be supportive of your faith or to pass it on. Instead, the church needs to focus on spiritual formation.”

    Basically he’s advocating for what most traditional Presbyterians call for—intentional Christian living, education, and worship focused on catechesis—even if he doesn’t call it that.

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  24. sdb,
    Our respective readings of Dreher are resulting in different interpretations. And he is not as concerned with American imperialism, if at all, as he is with changing sexual mores which have prompted him to conclude that Christians cannot win over the culture. His perspective is that of what to do when one’s side loses the culture war. He does not consider the possibility that fighting culture wars in order to gain some measure of control is a problem in the first place.

    Today’s culture is not much more difficult than the culture that the 1st Century Church experienced. Only the historical context has changed.

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  25. Jeff,
    The isolating of one’s own group in a political system that calls for participation is inappropriate to say the least. That is especially true when we are called to share the Gospel.

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  26. Robert,

    If that’s what Dreher is saying, then I fail to see why that requires a much-publicized book and a worldwide tour. That averment seems rather obvious to me, unless one’s practice of Christianity was limited to a kind of vacuous civic religion with no Christian content. Thus, Dreher chiefly seems to be mourning the loss of a 1950s-era civil-Christian cultural hegemony. But let’s be clear. That was never “small-o orthodox Christianity.”

    Also, he’s too hung up on same-sex marriage. The eschatological purpose of marriage was fulfilled in Christ. Conjugal marriage is a feature of Catholicism that Protestants long ago rejected, and rightly so. Marriage in this eschatological age is a civil institution governed chiefly by pragmatic concerns. If extending the legal benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples provides some benefit to them at minimal cost to the rest of us, I have no reason to oppose it. That said, I mainly see same-sex marriage as a reaction to an earlier redefinition of marriage that over-scripted it and made “heterosexuality” the chief precondition of entry into the institution. The “nuclear family” is not biblical. It’s a social construct borne out of twentieth-century Freudian social theory. If our culture moves away from its love affair with “heterosexuality” and the rigid gender-role scripting that goes with it, I suspect that “homosexuality” will disappear too.

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  27. Evan,

    The continued association of conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics in this country with the idea of “taking America back” demonstrates that it’s not so obvious that what we need to be doing is intentional catechesis and discipleship. In fact, the only people I know of who understand this are Reformed people with a good ecclesiology and perhaps some traditionalist Roman Catholics. Neither group is a majority.

    Dreher is also fixated on homosexual marriage because it’s the tip of the spearhead for people who want to destroy the ability of Christians to earn a living and catechize. Make it orthodox and put everyone opposed into the same category as Hitler, and you can destroy lots of people.

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  28. D.G.,
    One has to be Jewish to be prophetic? Can’t one become prophetic by read Jewish guys such as those who were prophets in the OT? Or can’t one become prophetic by reading more modern Jewish guys like Chomsky and Zinn or those from the other Israel?

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  29. D.G.,
    How good a theologian can one be when they respond by insulting others? I know that insulting others isn’t a good sign according Galatians, but theologians often forget about that while they are trying to imitate their heroes from the past.

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