Cigar Smoke and Mirrors and Transformation

Cigar Smoke and Mirrors and Transformation

How does one judge that one is growing old?  In Britain, it is typically thought to be when the policemen start to look younger.  Over here, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is when you read cigar aficionado D. G.Hart and find yourself nodding in agreement.  Like admiring Simon Heffer, it is one of those things a young person should never, ever do.

Yet his recent post over at Old Life is most apposite, along with certain related parts of his history of Calvinism (at least in the expurgated version I have, without the chapter on Jeremy Walker).

DG's critique at Old Life of the bombastic claims about transformationism is akin to one I have made frequently in the classroom about talk of the [singular] 'Christian worldview': such things are, by and large, code for the expression of the concerns of the middle class chatterati in a blandly Christian idiom.  As far as I know, for example, no conferences on the transformation of Christian toilet cleaning or turkey rendering have yet been successfully organised.

This is where DG's history of Calvinism is interesting.  I was struck by his account of Abraham Kuyper.  Here was a (probable) genius and (definite) workaholic who had at his personal disposal a university, a newspaper and a denomination, and also held the highest political office in his land.  We might also throw in to the mix that he did this at a time when European culture was far more sympathetic to broadly Christian concerns than that of the USA today.   And Kuyper failed to effect any lasting transformation of society.   Just visit Amsterdam today, if you can bear the pornographic filth even in those areas where the lights are not all red.

Forgive me for sounding curmudgeonly here but I heard last week from a PCA friend who cannot find space to rent for his church on a Sunday because of the PCA's stand on gay marriage.  And this is south of the Mason-Dixon, not Boston or Seattle or New York. Yes, it is great that stockbrokers are finding Christ; and I am sure there are some for whom the fact there are Christian artists and Broadway producers is also an encouragement (are there any Christian loo cleaners out there in the Big Apple? );  and Tim Keller's occasional spot on Morning Joe is an interesting, if somewhat harmless, phenomenon.  But the culture is not being transformed at any point where it really counts, where it makes a real difference for pastors and people on the increasingly mean streets of the secular world as they seek to be quietly and peacefully faithful to the Lord.  If anything, it is accelerating in the wrong direction.

This is hardly surprising to anyone with any sense of history.  Keller is no Kuyper and does not have at his disposal any of the institutional or political or cultural resources of which the Dutchman had so many and so much.  And, to put it bluntly, Keller is the transformationists' best shot today.   It does not matter how often we tell each other that our celebrity transformationists are making headway, such claims are only so much delusional hype.  A Broadway play and a couple of nice paintings do not help the man who cannot rent space to worship on the Lord's Day.  Indeed, I wonder if any of these transformationists have ever asked themselves whether what we are seeing are not in fact transforming inroads into the culture but the modern equivalents of bread and circuses designed to gull the gullible -- meaningless trivia, conceded by the wider culture, that make no real difference; where and when the stakes are higher and actually worth playing for, no quarter is, or will be, given.

Surely it is time to become realistic.  It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies.  It is time to look again at the New Testament's teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home.  The psalms of lament teach us that it is only when we have realistic horizons of expectation will we be able to stand firm against what is coming.  If we do  not understand that now, we are going to be sorely disappointed in the near future.