I’m not a “Christian” Writer: Revisiting the Secular/Sacred Split

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.


Universals vs. Particulars

A universal is something that is true of anything’s nature. For instance, a human is a rational-animal. That means, he can think in abstracts (he can think of “redness,” he can do things a computer or animal cannot do with his mind) and he is also physical (he has a material body, like other animals). So the thing that ties all humans together is that they’re rational-animals.

A particular is something that is particular to a nature, but not in the definition of the nature (a property). Then there are things that flow from the particulars that are called “accidents.” So let’s take John.

Universal – John is a rational animal

Particular – John can run

Accident – John can run faster than most men

If we look at David, we can see the following:

Universal – David is a rational human being

Particular – David cannot run

Accident – David must be in a wheelchair because he cannot use his legs

Now, while David might have the capacity to run (if his legs worked), he currently cannot. But when the universal is in the right place, he’s still a human being even if he doesn’t share in all the properties.

Continue reading

A response by Mark Scandrette

In my last post I wrote about a conversation I had with Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt and also alluded to the conversation my friend had with Mark Scandrette. Mark decided to respond on my friend’s blog and it was a very illuminating and helpful reply.

Even though it helps illuminate Mark’s viewpoint – and I think he was a bit too quick to say that we’re trying to fulfill a theological agenda – I’m still bothered by some things. For those interested, you can read his reply here (in fact, it’d make more sense to read his reply before reading my concerns). Continue reading

The sin of personal peace and affluence

Toward the end of his life and last of his published books, Francis Schaeffer began to argue against the attitude of “personal peace and affluence.” A man who had dealt with the hippie culture head – a culture of rebellion against ‘the system’ and plastic culture – lamented over what he saw occurring in the 1970’s. He believed that many of the young people of the 60’s were giving in and joining the system in the 70’s. He feared that this way of thinking would only continue into the 80’s. Schaeffer, in an interview with Colin Duriez even said, “As long as they [Americans] can have these things [personal peace and affluence], they will give up anything!

In our modern society, especially post-9/11, we look at these words and think that Schaeffer might have been a little off. After all, what is wrong in giving up some freedoms or giving up some moral ground, so long as we can live free of controversy and make money? I happen to believe that what Schaeffer feared did occur in the 80’s and early 90’s and has led to the nihilistic culture that is arising, a culture of empty selves. Continue reading

Existentialism: How it has affected modern Christianity

When one thinks of the 19th Century, one often imagines the end of the Enlightenment within philosophy along with scientific positivism as the grand utopian hope for Western people; however, Existentialism finds its roots in the 19th Century as a response to the rampant rationalism that was left over from the Enlightenment. Existentialism was born out of the mind of Soren Kierkegaard as a Christian philosophy. It places a high emphasis on irrational faith that one acts on and does not study, thus rationality is devalued in theistic existentialism. Though born out of a 19th Century response to rationalism, its impact has spread into the 21st century and is finding its way into popular Christian books. Though Existentialism is helpful in reminding Christians that rationalism is inadequate, it destroys the idea that Christians can truly have a relationship with God.

Theistic existentialism is a system that devalues the rationality of faith – sometimes to the point of denying that faith is rational at all – and places a heavy reliance on experience within the faith. Francis Schaeffer defines existentialism as a “…theory of man that holds that human experience is not describable in scientific or rational terms.”[1] According to Schaeffer theistic existentialism seeks to deny that “faith” is something that can be rationally explained or studied and instead seeks to have nothing but an experience. This seems to be in line with the Swiss existentialist Karl Jaspers, who believed, “the claim of philosophy to prove or disprove God’s existence and agrees with Kant in rejecting this. For ‘a proved God would be no God but merely a thing in the world’.”[2] Whereas the orthodox faith prior to the 19th century attempted to prove the existence of God through appeals to nature, ‘orthodox’ theology, through the existentialists, appealed to nothing other than experience arguing that nothing could prove God, because He is beyond understanding. Continue reading