Thursday, March 29, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

"What, then, is the position of the thinking Christian, face to face with the cultural situation which I have described? As he reads the things worth reading, whether imaginative or polemical, he is continually meeting with accounts of the human situation or with critical analyses of man's current lot, which make him sit up and say: This is profound and penetrating. This represents a deep and wholly human response to present-day life. It is so crucial, fundamental, and illuminating that it cannot be overlooked. It touches me pre-eminently as a Christian. Yet this writer is not a Christian. I share his vision for a moment over this issue or that, and the next minute I am jerked back into awareness that he and I are poles apart, separated by a chasm, by a contradiction in our most basic presuppositions. But (and this is the tragedy) the only way I can pursue this vital current of thought further is by more reading of non-Christian literature written by sceptics, and by discussion of it within the intellectual frame of reference which these sceptics have manufactured. In short, there is no current Christian dialogue on this topic. There is no Christian conversation which I can enter, bringing this topic or this vision with me.

"There is no Christian dialogue in which the issues are being thrashed out that disturb the rebellious artist and the rebellious prophet. Thus the thinking Christian who is concerned over these issues finds himself fitfully and perversely at one with fiercely - and even blasphemously - non-Christian writers and, at the same time, mentally out of touch with his fellow-Christians. And he scarcely dares to say (how difficult it is to clinch the thing in words anyway) exactly what it is, hidden away among the rabid obscenities of a Henry Miller or the irritable resentments of a Martin Green, which hits him in the eye and searches him out, not just as a man but as a Christian."

Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should A Christian Think? (Servant Books, 1978), 11-12


Milton Stanley said...

Blamires's TCM is a thoroughly insightful book and one that had a profound impact on me in the early days of my faith.

Since Blamires wrote the first edition of the book, in the early 1960s, the religious climate has changed somewhat, at least on this side of the Pond. Christians, at least, have begun again to talk about ethical and moral matters from a Christian perspective. That's a function of the evangelical revival of the '70s and '80s and is fueled by the Internet, on blogs such as this one.

At the same time, the wider culture has fallen even further from understanding matters of Christian faith. At least where I grew up, most of my generation (I was born in Tennessee in 1963) either attended church or had some vague sense that they should be. In my sons' generations (born in the '80s and '90s), many more people not only have never been to church, but have no idea or interest in what it's about. The Internet, by the way, is accelerating this chasm between the culture and what the church should be.

Thanks for the Blamires quote and for all your work here, Keith.

KP said...

Thanks for your comments and encouragement, Milton.

It is good to see Christians thinking "Christianly" (to use Blamires'phrase) about ethical and moral matters. But Blamires seems to me to have been concerned that Christians not limit their thinking to the realm of morals and ethics but that they reflect on the implications of revelation for all domains of thought and life.

In his first chapter ("The Surrender to Secularism"), Blamires writes:

If only there were an inhabited field of discourse where Christians were thinking christianly about everything, there would be something nutritive for Christian minds to feed on. But Christian personalities are being truncated and deformed by the fact that men and women have to leap about from one tradition of discourse to another as they move in thought and discussion from moral matters to political matters, from ecclesiastical matters to cultural matters.

Christians are most comfortable in the realm of ethics and morality but when it comes to the intellectual implications of the faith for various disciplines (e.g., psychology, aesthetics, technology, etc.), I think Blamires' assessment remains accurate over 40 years later.

I think this is one of the reasons the church loses so many of our young people. We often offer them the faith primarily as a system of ethics and assurance of eternal salvation but we do not present them with a faith big enough to encompass and explain all the areas of their experience including the artistic and intellectual leading to the mistaken conclusion that Christianity is largely irrelevant to most of life. Many parachurch organizations are doing an excellent job of addressing this deficit but I would very much like to see this become an integral part of the local church's discipling efforts.