And Now?

We have completed an eight-month journey studying conservative Christianity, using the categories described by Kevin Bauder. A conservative Christianity conserves the gospel, the whole body of Christian doctrine, biblical worship, ordinate affection, a strong connection to Christian culture and tradition, and the right view of the imagination.

So where do we find this kind of Christianity? I’m sorry to tell you, if you haven’t found out already, it’s almost impossible to find it all in one place. That includes my church, as much as we’re striving towards it. See, you cannot just step away from the culture you have been handed, like walking away from a hot-dog stand. Walking away from your culture is as impossible as walking away from your accent, or walking away from all your present likes and dislikes. And the Christian culture we have today does not resemble much of the conservative Christianity we’ve been talking about.

The Christian culture we have been handed is not a great one, but it is the one we’ve got. It’s the culture shaped mostly by Charles Finney’s innovations, and those of the men who came after him. It’s a culture shaped by modernism and post-modernism. It’s a culture shaped by pragmatism and populism. It’s a culture that has only the faintest idea how secular it really is. But it’s the Christian culture of today, and it’s the one we’re stuck with.

So when we talk about conserving Christianity, the truth is, such is our state that a lot of our work is actually restoring Christianity, or reclaiming Christianity. Not everyone thinks the situation is as dire as all that, but a little bit of reflection shows that God’s church is hurting, and when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

Lest I be misunderstood, let me emphasise that there are contemporary men who have been stalwarts and faithful guardians in one or more of these areas. For the sake of example, let me use some names that might be somewhat well-known. When you think ‘conserving the gospel’, think D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, Al Mohler and fundamentalists like Mark Minnick. When you think ‘conserving the whole counsel of God’, think of men like Mark Dever or John MacArthur. When you think ‘conserving biblical worship’, think Albert Martin, J.Ligon Duncan, and Paul Jones and Tenth Presbyterian, Scott Aniol, and Michael Barrett. When you think about restoring the affections to a central place in the Christian life, think John Piper, and when thinking of ordinate affection, think Kevin Bauder. When you think about a deepening connection to historical Christianity compared with our current state, think David Wells, Mark Noll, Iain Murray, A.W. Tozer (I know he’s dead – but he’s close enough to our era). When you think about a Christianity that cares about the meaning of all things and the centrality of the moral imagination, again, think Kevin Bauder, Doug Wilson (kinda), Ken Myers, the Touchstone folks, the First Things folks,  and if it’s fair for me to insert at least one more deceased author – C.S. Lewis. There are tonnes of dead guys I could mention for each category, but my point was to list the living people who are saying or seeking out the right things. The problem is, like all of us, many of these men are strong in some areas and weak in others. Some are great defenders of biblical doctrine, but give little thought to imagination or affection. Some are committed to biblical worship, but we would probably not agree on all points of doctrine. Some are focusing on imagination, but actually fail to draw the line of the gospel clearly enough. Some are reviving interest in the affections, but failing to emphasise ordinate affections. My point is, our state is such that we have to pick a bit here and there to try to piece together contemporary examples of conservative Christianity. A full-orbed conservative Christianity in one man or one church will be very, very hard to find.

That’s because around the time of the American Civil War, the power of Finney’s ideas combined with the growing popular culture effectively replaced the Christian tradition with a secularised version. That’s the culture we were handed. That’s the power of tradition.

So what do we do? We cannot simply turn back the clock. We cannot unlearn our tradition in one go. We cannot escape the affections we have developed over decades in our secularised Christian culture. We must start where we are. We must begin eliminating the false, the innovative, the inordinate, the pragmatic, the populist, and begin strengthening the true, the permanent, the ordinate and the beautiful. We must understand the difference between the culture we have inherited and the culture of Christianity pre-1800s. We must try to regrow the Christian culture that evangelical Christianity lost around that time. How long will that take? Longer than most think. Cultures are not things we make in a day.  T.S. Eliot probably said it best:

“If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy with it.”

If that is discouraging to you, remember that, as Eliot said somewhere else, sometimes we do not fight to win, we fight to keep something alive. You did not choose your birth date, and who knows if you have been born for such a time as this? Dark ages call for valiant souls, not slothful spectators.  It may be that if the Lord tarries, and we are faithful, our children may begin to see the revival of a Christianity not seen in its purity since before the 1830s.

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3 Responses to “And Now?”

  1. Todd Mitchell Says:

    This is the first post I’ve read since DRF told me you had a blog. Very well said, my friend. Kindred spirits are hard to find. I’ll be recommending this to my brethren.

  2. “Dark ages call for valiant souls, not slothful spectators.” | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] David de Bruyn on conserving Christianity. […]

  3. David Says:

    Thanks, Todd. What you’re trying to do at Granite Falls is likewise an encouragement to us.

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