23 November 2007

Carl Henry: Christians in the World or Worldly Christians?

I've been going to sleep to Mark Dever interviews lately. Last night I was listening to a 1997 interview he did with Carl Henry, one of the key pillars in the middle of last century of a new evangelicalism which was neither theologically compromising (liberalism) liberal nor culturally retreatist (fundamentalism), and a member of Capitol Hill Baptist for 40 years. One of the key books was his 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. His single point in that book is that Christians need to once again get out into the world to transform culture rather than being so fearful of being stained by the world that they lived with a basic aversion to all things non-Christian. A needed point for 1950's American Christianity. But he made a fascinating, backhanded comment at one point after describing this book. He said,

"The problem today is just the opposite. We no longer need to get the Christians out into the world. We need to get the world out of the Christians."

I have been wondering about this for a few years, as I try to understand the Emerging Church, some young church planting networks, and, I confess, many churches in my own denomination, the PCA. I think he is exactly right. The pendulum has swung the other way in much of American Christianity.


ErinOrtlund said...

Dane--how do you think the church would look different if the world was out of the Christians?

Dane Ortlund said...

Less trying to be like the culture in the name of winning the culture and more seeking holiness to win the culture. Robert Murray McMheyne won the people of his village in Scotland because he arrested people with his holiness, his otherness, his indifference to worldly or culturally trendy values. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the jokes we tell, the language we use, the shows we watch, and so on all, in my opinion, make it harder, not easier to commend Christ to others.

My point is not that any aspect of culture that is not operated by Christians is inherently defective. Good art is beautiful in God's eyes, because it is made by people created in his image, whether done by believers or not. And my point is not to be retreatist, nor to be obtuse, nor to make Christ hard to understand. Certainly we must cut out of our voabulary, when relating to unbelievers, 'Christianese.' Words like justification or atonement or perhaps even sin are loaded terms that mean one thing in sanctuaries and another in Starbucks. We should use language that is understood. My point is rather that in using that language we should be so uncannily loving, so confusingly kind, so counterintuitively gracious, so happy regardless of personal circumstance, that people wonder why we are the way we are. IN MY OPINION, and that's all it is, I think we Christians often compromise for the sake of building bridges into our culture, and the losses outweigh the gains. That's coming from someone who has a long way to go BOTH in understanding and reaching out to my culture, AND in personal holiness (as those who know me personally are painfully aware).

Dane Ortlund said...

McCheyne, not McMheyne!

ErinOrtlund said...

Thanks Dane. That makes a ton of sense.