Peter Ould has written an interesting and provocative piece in which he urges the Church to stop fighting the old culture wars, which he asserts are lost, and concentrate on preaching the Good News of the Gospel.
If you have not read it yet it is well worth reading ”here”
There is much to be said for his reminder that however beneficial to society an Institution may be, whether marriage, or family, or the Established Church, it is not in itself the Gospel, and he writes his thoughts having read the books of the Acts of the Apostles in their entirety at one sitting.
That is doubtless a useful spiritual discipline in itself, and it has plainly highlighted and sharpened for Brother Peter the contemporary issues of the early church, helping him to look again at how we need to see our mission as redemption first, and compliance second.
If Brother Ivo were to condense the argument, it might be thus; – “It is the grace of God that will save us and our response should be to shine as a light to the world which will, in time, bring our values and priorities into alignment with Gods will.”
Brother Peter identifies this as the approach which served the early church well in transforming a pagan society into a Christian one, and that is the model he urges us to follow today.
If that is not a fair conclusion, Brother Ivo will apologise and stand corrected. The post stands for itself, commended and approved so that you may read it uninterpreted and judge for yourself.
Brother Ivo does not disagree with Brother Peter, but writes to extend the conversation in the context of his own modest mission statement which is to “write social commentary as if religion really matters”.
We are called to stand apart from the world and to speak of eternal verities, and yet at the same time the sower must have understanding of the field in which he sows, the fisherman experience of the waters in which he fishes, and the preacher close fellowship with the sinners with whom he breaks bread.
“In the world but not of it” is a tricky position in which to find oneself, and often when we tentatively attempt to follow bold souls into difficult places we find ourselves on thin ice. Many of us dare not make the attempt.
To change the metaphor Soren Kierkergaarde wrote that sometimes a man of faith may be likened to a tightrope walker; what he does may seem impossible and yet it is done, and so there may be a hope amongst us that men like Brother Peter can engage with the world whilst not tumbling into its controversies.
And yet, engaging in those controversies is not entirely ignoble either
We need the purists and the best examples to anchor us to that early Church model, but in a fallen world isn’t some messy engagement with the everyday world going to engage many of our number?
If the old culture wars are over, will there not inevitably be new ones?
Brother Ivo highlights three current news stories without attempting analysis in depth.
A Hollywood “star” dies of a drug overdose leaving a young family behind. The beneficiary of Government preferment laments that she is not to be re-appointed to her post when her contract expires. The Education Establishment is stung that its ways of doing things is coming under review by a radical approach of an outsider, forgetting that it too was radical, once.
The Church cannot help but be cognisant of these events and inevitably it will hear its members engaging with the controversies, and probably be asked to pass comment.
Just as Brother Peter was wise enough to look back at historical context, so we might highlight to this present age, that as Christian “hegemony” has been challenged and overthrown ( to use the language of Gramsci) a new set of orthodoxies have held sway for the last 50 years.
Just as Church Orthodoxies acquired a historic record that could be examined and used to challenge it from a worldly standard, so the victors of the culture wars referred to by Peter Ould are now coming increasingly under the same process of evaluation and judgement.
We should not be surprised, for were we not taught that “by their fruits ye shall know them”?
The secular world view may not recognise the Christian standard but the Marxist world view that informed much of the cultural attack on the old traditional model, had its own principle which leads to the same disturbing outcome.
Marx’s dialectic predicted the sequence of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
We had antithetical change when culture wars defeated Christian values; we are living in its synthesis – but life goes on and we are surely seeing once victorious mindsets, having since become the new Establishment, facing a cultural backlash of their own.
We may be entering the times of renewed intellectual turmoil as the chickens come home to roost.
With every drugs death we approach the time when people may begin to ask if the ” naughty but nice” approach to drugs, is actually worth the pain of the children losing their father. Nick Clegg may claim the drugs war lost; Brother Ivo suggests that the time for declaring the failure of such hedonism is about to arrive ; surely the misery that drugs cause cannot not stand unchallenged by the culture for long.
The problem with acquiring cultural hegemony is that with it, comes the loss of other people to blame. We may hear Hollywood lamenting the loss of Mr Seymour Hoffman’s talent, yet Christians, sympathetic to his family, can and should be challenging his selfish values and those of the the new Establishment; values which left his children fatherless.
It may not be our first priority as missioners for Christ, but neither is it unchristian if we take responsibility for such tragedies back to those who won the culture wars. It is perfectly proper to “reprove with judgement”.
That is not fighting the old culture wars, it is however opening a new perspective on the fight against the hubris of fallen man.
The story of Lady Morgan may be more obviously political but that is not to render it immune from Christian evaluation.
We often say that part our mission is to comfort the discomforted and discomfort the comfortable. Who is more complacent and comfortable than those who live their entire lives within the Westminster confines of approval by their fellows , funded by the little people.
We have seen that for some years the number of holders of highly remunerated public offices have been overwhelmingly from one political party. Fraser Nelson has explained it clearly ”here”
Lady Morgan’s imperious sense of entitlement to continued office is little more than the familiar process of the Establishment objecting when its ways, and abuses, come under scrutiny. The biter is being bit.
As yesterday’s post makes clear, in such matters Brother Ivo calls “a plague on all your houses”, believing that there should be fewer sinecures, fewer political appointments and more public service. Christians have often been in the forefront of demonstrating such self sacrifice. We should be doing so again, and if that upsets either the Labour politicians in place or the Conservative aspirants then so be it.
In these matters we should be genuinely counter-cultural to the venal spirit of the age, and if this means confronting those who once regarded themselves as” anti-Establishment” and “counter cultural” themselves then we may indeed be engaged in a new culture war.
There are many other examples, but Brother Ivo cannot fail to mention the very considerable irony that within the world of Education, a generation of movers and shakers has marginalised Christianity within our schools and promoted “political correctness ” as an alternative. Brother Ivo cannot but smile as the current Education Secretary is criticised for introducing political ideology into our schools.
Given the name of what went before ( the clue is in the title) one cannot help thinking that the objection is not to a heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom, but rather, someone else’s heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom.
We do not have to take sides in the minutiae of the issues, but we can speak up for a degree of integrity and self awareness which is seemingly lacking in the current dominant ethos of much public life. We are called to be salt, and salt can be irritate.
So the problem is, that no sooner do we walk away from one set of culture wars than we shall find ourselves embroiled in a new set.
Yet in this new round, accepting the thesis of Peter Ould is interesting and challenging.
When the Labour Government took office in 1945 the cry went up “We are the masters now” and soon they found themselves judged on their record.
Once we concede that the secular radicals won the culture wars, they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending the consequences of their actions.
In this Peter Ould and Brother Ivo’s analyses converge. Whether we speak in terms of the spiritual or the practical aspects of Christianity, we are back with the early church in a much more familiar and life affirming position.
“We are the insurgents now!”