A couple of weeks ago I wrote several posts encouraging Christians to stop investing in what I termed ‘top-down’ approaches to cultural transformation. Instead, I argued that cultures are transformed from the ‘bottom-up.’ Only when virtue is cultivated, faith is engendered, and the hearts of the people are changed, shall we see true cultural transformation. Today I’d like to examine another facet of the problem of cultural transformation which is intimately related with the above issue: the so called secular/sacred split.
The late Francis Schaeffer often spoke about modern man’s unfortunate tendency to compartmentalize life—that is to separate, or segregate, the various fields of knowledge and human experience into non-overlapping boxes. We see this problem among the various academic disciplines which are often taught as if they were completely isolated subject matters. Consequentially, many scientists fail to understand the philosophical underpinnings of their discipline, many artists and musicians know absolutely nothing about the scientific aspect of their work, and so on and so forth. When we become so specialized that we fail to see the intimate connection points between the various fields of knowledge we have fallen victim to this harmful form of compartmentalization.
The secular/sacred split is somewhat similar to this. Evangelical Christians often segregate the things they perceive to be ‘secular’ and the things they perceive to be ‘sacred’—and act as if there are some things which are ‘spiritual activities’ and others which are simply neutral or ‘non-Christian.” For instance, many would consider going to church on Sunday morning a ‘sacred’ activity—in contrast, few Christians would consider going to eat at McDonald’s ‘sacred.’ Now, I’m not arguing that these activities are one and the same (clearly there are huge differences); however, there is a problem when we fail to see the sacred aspect of even the most mundane parts of our life, like going to McDonald’s. We are still Christians when we go to McDonald’s, we are still called to live out our faith at McDonald’s, to honor God at McDonald’s, to respect and love people at McDonald’s . . .
This split happens in other more subtle ways too. For instance, Evangelicals have created their own subculture by attaching the label ‘Christian’ to art, music, film, and literature. For many Evangelicals music, to use an obvious example, is ‘secular’ unless we attach the descriptor ‘Christian’ to it—hence, we now have Contemporary Christian Music. The same has happened with all of the above categories—we now have Christian Fiction, Christian Movies, and Christian Artists. We’ve created our very own subpar, subculture.
When I was a teenager I used to be proud of the fact that I didn’t listen to ‘secular’ music. I would tell my friends that I only listened to ‘Christian’ music. The truth is, however, music is neither secular nor Christian—people are. That is to say, people can be Christians not music (although, I would add that music, by nature, is a great good, in virtue of the fact that God created it). Christ calls people, like you and me, to help redeem the culture through living out our faith in the culture.
To redeem a culture, to transform it from the bottom-up, we have to break through the secular/sacred split and allow our faith to penetrate every aspect of our being. This takes far more than merely “Christianizing” the arts and sciences—that is, duplicating what the general culture is doing, badly, and attaching pithy scripture verses to it to make it sound spiritual. Rather, it takes Christians approaching their individual vocations with the heart and mind of Christ. It means striving for excellence, striving to attain virtue, and striving for truth in all that we do. Most importantly, it involves doing this in the general culture.
A Christian who is a musician should not, by default, assume the only way he can pursue his vocation is by writing and performing “worship” music. Rather, he should strive, first and foremost, to be a good musician. He should seek to cultivate virtue through his music. He should think about and theorize about music through the lens of the Christian worldview, he should develop his skills and abilities (striving for excellence), and honor God through the work of his hands (or mouth if you sing or play a wind instrument). He should conduct business honorably—with honesty and fairness. He should use his music to support the weak and less fortunate. Music can be, and should be, sacred even when we don’t sing the words “Jesus loves you.” And this is true of all of the arts and sciences.
Christians should be on the New-York Times Bestsellers list, not as “Christian Authors,” but as authors who are Christians. Their faith should be evident in the quality and depth of their work, in the nobility and justness of their business practices, in the way they treat others and use the money they make, etc… Christians should be at the top of their academic field, not because they are “Christian Biologists,” or “Christian Psychologists,” or “Christian Philosophers,” but because they strive for excellence in all they do, live lives of holiness and virtue, and bring their faith to bare on every decision they make or theory they propound. Christians who are artists should strive to have their work on display in the world’s top galleries–not merely paint quaint landscapes to be sold as household decorative items at Lifeway Christian Bookstore.
If we truly want to transform our culture we’re going to have to break free from our subculture—tear down the divide—and allow the Holy Spirit to use us as a source of renewal and life.