Transformationalism and Foreign Policy

Why does the language of cultural engagement for Christians come from the terms used to describe U.S. relations with other nations? Notice what Damon Linker writes about President Trump’s “engagement” with North Korea:

Peace is nearly always better than war. Talking is nearly always better than silence. Engagement is nearly always better than enforced isolation. We don’t know quite what might come from Trump’s strange, seemingly arbitrary affection for Kim Jong Un. But the early signs, especially concerning relations between the North and South, are encouraging. Might the conflict be brought to an official end? Could the two countries establish something approaching normal diplomatic relations? Might American troops, or at least the lion’s share of them, be able to return home after nearly seven decades? Every one of those possible consequences of our negotiations with the North would be an improvement over the longstanding status quo.

This may explain why two-kingdoms comes across odd. If the choice is between engagement and isolation — “forced isolation” even — then of course, choose engagement.

But why would language from the world of politics determine how Christians think about “culture” (scare quotes for an awfully squishy word)? “Be not conformed to this world” sounds awfully restrictive. “Set your mind on things above” sounds a tad otherworldly. “Do not love the world or the things in the world” sounds way too fundamentalist. “As sojourners and exiles… abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” sounds ascetic.

But what? Relevance is working so well?

The Abraham Option (or been there, done that)

Kuyper, that is.

Rod Dreher leaves another hint that he has no real feel for the fundamentalist or confessional Protestant world:

That said, I think lots of Christian parents are going to have to make some hard calls now and in the years to come about moving for the sake of educating their children, and raising them in a peer environment where they are more likely to absorb the faith, or at the very least not have their faith leached out of them. Radical times call for radical measures.

Granted, the world of Dutch-American Calvinism is small and so faulting Rod for not knowing the Christian day school phenomenon is misguided. At the same time, when Abraham Kuyper is largely a household name to cultural conservatives in the U.S., you would think that Rod might know something about the tradition of family-run schools and its history that goes back to the 1850s!!!

At the same time, Rod’s proposals for the Benedict Option sound, as I’ve indicated before, like a person who has been part of mainstream churches and identified with the establishment for all of his spiritual life. For those of us who grew up on the other side of the spiritual tracks, whether fundamentalist or ethnic Protestant, we’ve known for a long time that worldliness is a danger and its a besetting sin of establishments, political and ecclesiastical.

Did Evelyn Waugh Write Brideshead Revisited to Transform Culture?

In case anyone wondered what happened to Rick Santorum, the once rising-star of GOP politics from the virtuous commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a news story puts those questions to rest. He’s starting a movie company.

“For a long time, Christians have decided that the best way to fight the popular culture is to keep it at bay, to lock it out of their home. … That’s a losing battle,” Santorum said in an interview at America’s Center Convention Complex, where he was attending the International Christian Retail Show.

With “the pervasiveness of (media) right now, the content just seeps through. The only option is to go out into that arena and try to shape the culture, too.”

Santorum said one problem with Christian-themed films was that they’ve traditionally been aimed at just Christian audiences, rather than attempting to appeal to audiences that don’t necessarily share the movie’s messaging going in.

He blamed that limited appeal on what he said were often the “hokey” and “cheesy” feel of such films, with all the filmmakers’ attention focused on the message and not enough on artistic quality.

“Quality. Quality acting, quality directing, quality scriptwriting. That is going to be a watchword for me,” Santorum said at a news conference talking about the studio’s pending projects. He said the goal was to produce movies “that rival any good Hollywood film.”

Aside from the entertaining thought of inserting Santorum into Barton Fink, I am snickering at the proposition that the better way to respond to worldliness is by making the worldliness wholesome rather than fleeing it. I understand that the petri dish that produced Mrs. Hart and me, the fundamentalist mentality of not drinking, dancing, smoking, or going to movies, is a tough sell. It was tough even in the 1960s and it had limited success (obviously) since I became a film studies major. Major DOH! Still, even if the prescriptions weren’t air tight, we did have a sense that worldliness existed and that it was something to avoid. (Just as when it came to worship we had a sense that God could be offended and that we shouldn’t offend him — a sense seemingly lost on worship leaders and members of their bands.) And we also had productions that some believers thought could compete with mainstream culture. (Seriously.) Aside from Billy Graham’s production company, Ralph Carmichael‘s musicals, like “Tell it Like it Is” which Wikipedia describes as a “folk musical about God” (Laugh track, please) were the occasions for relief from not having to endure a sermon.

So I have serious doubts whether Santorum and company will figure out the right mix of piety and entertainment. A major reason is that producing quality rarely is so self-conscious. If you are committed to producing the best thing possible, you are not also calculating its broader effects on society. I can’t prove this but it does seem self-evident about most creative efforts. Only after finishing such a work do its wider consequences become evident. But if you start with the idea of influencing society, you’ll end up not with The Wire but The Restless Ones.

Better to stick with the catechism (especially one that comes in less than 140 questions — that way, there’s time for milk and cookies).