Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

Invitation to the (Devotional) Classics – De Contemptu Mundi

June 21, 2013

The first duty of man ordained and brought forth into this world for that end, — my most dear Valerian! — is to know his Creator, and being known, to confess Him, and to resign or give up his life — which is the wonderful and peculiar gift of God, — to the service and worship of the Giver.

Eucherius was bishop of Lyons from around 434 till his death in 449. His most famous work, De Contemptu Mundi (On Contempt for the World) has enough nuggets for the devotional prospector.

Eucherius advocated the ascetic lifestyle of the Egyptian hermits, but remained connected to a life of learning and active service. On Contempt For the World has much more to say on loving God than it does on bodily mortification. The theme of this epistle to Valerian is essentially 1 John 2:15 – to love not this world.

For Eucherius, that meant a two-pronged approach: seeing the pain and inferiority of a life lived for this world alone, and meditating on the far greater reward that is God Himself and Heaven.

“And indeed I know not which should soonest or most effectually incite us to a pious care of life eternal, either the blessings which are promised us in that state of glory, or the miseries which we feel in this present life. Those from above most lovingly invite and call upon us; these below most rudely and importunately would expell hence.”

While exhorting Valerius to do so, Eucherius wrote words of admiration and praise for God that will make the heart of any worshipper rejoice:

“But if pleasure and love delight us, and provoke our senses, there is in Christian religion, a love of infinite comfort, and such delights as are not nauseous and offensive after fruition. There is in it, that which not only admits of a most vehement and overflowing love, but ought also to be so beloved; namely, God, blessed for evermore, the only beautiful, delightful, immortal and supreme good, Whom you may boldly and intimately love as well as piously; if in the room of your former earthly affections you entertain heavenly and holy desires. If you were ever taken with the magnificence and dignity of another person, there is nothing more magnificent than God. If with anything that might conduce to your honour and glory, there is nothing more glorious then Him. If with the splendour and excellency of pompous shows, there is nothing more bright, nothing more excellent. If with fairness and pleasing objects, there is nothing more beautiful. If with verity and righteousness, there is nothing more just, nothing more true. If with liberality, there is nothing more bountiful. If with incorruption and simplicity, there is nothing more sincere, nothing more pure than that supreme goodness.”

Of course, we wish that Eucherius had seen the manifold ways in which we can worship God and glorify Him in this world and in this life. But we don’t read Eucherius for earthy, everyday piety. We read Eucherius to remind us that this world, as good as it is, is not our home. We read this short, dense work (less than 11 000 words) to be reminded that the Christian faith is not merely a means to earthly ends. Instead, God Himself is the quest of the human soul.

“Take up your eyes from the Earth and look about you, my most dear Valerian; spread forth your sails, and hasten from this stormy sea of secular negotiations, into the calm and secure harbour of Christian religion. This is the only haven into which which we all drive from the raging surges of this malicious world. This is our shelter from the loud and persecuting whirlwinds of Time. Here is our sure station and certain rest; here a large and silent recesse, secluded from the world, opens and offers itself unto us. Here a pleasant, serene tranquility shines upon us. Hither, when you are come, your weather-beaten vessel — after all your fruitless toils — shall at last find rest, and securely ride at anchor of the Cross.”


Why We Need The Worship Wars

April 26, 2013

Unless you believe in orthopathy as essential to Christianity, the worship wars are much ado about nothing. They represent the dying thrashes of hide-bound traditionalists, raging against the waning popularity of those songs most familiar to them. They represent the immature clamour of people who do not understand the Romans 14 principle, and want to elevate their preferences to the level of orthodoxy.

If you believe, as I do,  in the very notion of orthopathy, then the worship wars are a natural, and indeed, essential part of church life. While no Spirit-filled Christian delights in conflict, no Spirit-filled Christian doubts that some conflict is inevitable and necessary. Consider how important doctrinal conflict has been.

We should be very thankful for the heretics and their heresies. Without them, we would not know all the ways that Christian orthodoxy can be denied and twisted. Before the heretics come along, orthodoxy is assumed, without clear definition. Through the heresies of Gnosticism, Ebionism, Apollonarianism, Eutychianism, Nestorianism, Arianism, and Sabellianism, the church hammered out orthodox Christology and trinitarianism. The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds represent responses to heresies, and defining points for orthodoxy. The creeds represent points of definition. After the definition, deviations represent heterodoxy. A certain amount of vagueness or imprecision is expected before the point of definition that becomes intolerable after the point of definition.

For that matter, we can be thankful for the heresies of transsubstantiation, indulgences, baptismal regeneration, Mary as co-redemptrix, and others, for leading to the Reformation with its five solas. In many ways, our propositional statements of faith, as ornate as they now appear, partly represent a kind of timeline of doctrinal combat.

What has been true in the area of orthodoxy, has also been true in orthopathy. The affective domain of the faith, which is not merely what we have said, but how we have felt, how we have responded to those truths, has had its heresies, and its turning points of definition. If we are orthodox in doctrine, we should expect that we will respond to the truth as other orthodox Christians in history have, not an identical reaction, but an equivalent one for our place and time. And in two thousand years of doctrinal development, there has also been two millennia of affective, aesthetic development.

Steve Miller, in his masterful misrepresentation of liturgical history in The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, enjoys surveying the worship wars of previous centuries, in hopes of persuading us that sooner or later, the critics of CCM will get with the times, as did the critics of Watts’ hymns, or the critics of the organ, or the critics of a liturgy in the vernacular. That these debates existed, we do not doubt. That the modern worship wars are simply the contemporary version of these discussions, we do not dispute. That they represent nothing more than initial alarm to what will become standard orthopathy in one generation, we vehemently dispute.

Certainly there have been overreactions and over-corrections. Certainly, novelties are often regarded with suspicion, and once they become normative, the previous objectors seem amusingly alarmist. But what we often miss is that through the debates over orthopathy such as conflict over polyphony, original (that is, non-psalmic) hymns, or the gospel song, the church was doing in the affective domain precisely what it had done in the doctrinal domain. Doctrinal controversies said, “We speak of Christ like this, and not like that.” Affective controversies said, “We respond to Christ like this, and not like that.” And before the nearly wholesale abandonment of traditional worship forms in favour of entertainment at the end of the 19th century, Christian worship represented an inheritance of hundreds of years of corrections and refinements.

We should not be surprised that there exists in our era contention over proper sensibilities toward God. The truly alarming thing would be if there were none. What is somewhat different in our era is the post-modern mood that despises debate and clear definition. This pseudo-tolerance has long ago compromised the doctrinal integrity of professing Evangelicals. The same worldly mood that abhors necessary conflict and clear definition in doctrinal matters, is even more incensed at the thought of anything similar in the more subjective realm of orthopathy. In some ways, the most problematic people are not the combatants in the worship wars, but those who insist there should be none.

Why Church Feels The Way It Does

November 25, 2011

All cultures and subcultures move through stages, and evangelicalism is, among other things, a distinct subculture of Christianity. In cultural terms, a classical period is a time when all the parts of a community’s life seem to hang together, mutually reinforce each other, and make intuitive sense. By contrast, a decadent period is marked by dissolution of all the most important unities, a sense that whatever initial force gave impetus and meaningful form to the culture has pretty much spent its power. Decadence is a falling off, a falling apart from a previous unity.

Inhabitants of a decadent culture feel themselves to be living among the scraps and fragments of something that must have made sense to a previous generation but which now seem more like a pile of unrelated items. Decadent cultures feel unable to articulate the reasons for connecting things to each other. They spend a lot of time staring at isolated fragments, unable to combine them into meaningful wholes. They start all their important speeches by quoting Yeats’s overused line, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Decadents either fetishize their tribal and party distinctions or mix absolutely everything together in one sloppy combination. Not everybody in a decadent culture even feels a need to work toward articulating unities, but those who do make the attempt face a baffling challenge. At best, the experience is somewhat like working a jigsaw puzzle without the guidance of the finished image from the box top; at worst, it is like undertaking that task while fighting back the slow horror of realization that what you have in front of you are pieces that come from several different puzzles, none of them complete or related. Evangelicalism in our lifetime seems to be in a decadent period. In some sectors of the evangelical subculture, there is not even a living cultural memory of a classical period or golden age; what we experience is decadence all the way back.

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 109.

There Must Needs Be Divisions

August 5, 2010

John Calvin on 1 Corinthians 11:19 (“For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”):

“Heresies are when the evil proceeds to such a pitch that open hostility is discovered, and persons deliberately divide themselves into opposite parties. Hence, in order that believers might not feel discouraged on seeing the Corinthians torn with divisions, the Apostle turns round this occasion of offense in an opposite direction, intimating that the Lord does rather by such trials make proof of his people’s constancy. A lovely consolation! “So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, we ought to remain firm and constant. For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had assumed the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.” 

Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy

February 20, 2010



The Forbidden Book  by Karel Ooms portrays a Protestant man and his daughter during the time of Roman Catholic persecution. They are studying the Scriptures together, and have just heard a knock at the door.


Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:36-38)


The Greatest Church Musician

February 8, 2010

Bach’s greatness is compounded of many elements. He could combine the sacred and the secular without jeopardizing the mystical wonder of the one or the dramatic intensity of the other. He could fuse in one the popular elements supplied by the chorales and the aristocratic elements represented by consummate technical skill. He could carry realism to its utmost limits, yet he never overstepped the bounds of liturgical propriety. He was at once a daring innovator and a ‘perfect formalist’ – the master of both his subject matter and his form. He showed that Palestrina’s beauty (always mystical but often vague) and Handel’s vigour (forceful but somewhat material) could be fused in an art which surpassed the farthest reach of either. He accomplished it with an authority which imparted a touch of finality to almost everything he wrote. The firm assurance is more than a product of supreme skill. Bach offers an interpretation of life which transcends the limitations to which the work of lesser men is subject. The central thread which unifies the amazing skill, subtlety, and penetrating insight of his works is the motif of faith. He was fundamentally a religious man. To compose music was an act of faith; to perform it was an act of worship.

Bach was the greatest of church musicians. In a sense he was also the last…In religious music Bach represents the summit of achievement; after him the descent was rapid.

 Gerald R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason (pp 277-278)

Pilgrim and the Movies

August 5, 2009

As Christian and Faithful journeyed on, they saw an elevated wooden stage built in the centre of a large field. Around it were gathered the town folk of nearby Endless Distraction. They were seated on chairs they had brought out, and chattered happily before the show began.

Christian and Faithful were curious of this scene and paused to consider it.

“Come and watch, weary travellers!” said a rather overweight man walking up to them, whom they later found out was named Flippant. “When you have been taking life so seriously, you need a bit of relief.”

“Relief and rest are indeed promised by our Master, but watching others pretend at life is surely not one of the ways He desires us to do so,” said Christian.

“Ah, but none can engage himself incessantly in the pilgrim life, without growing morbid. Afford yourselves the chance to rest your eyes and ears and receive a story without effort.”

“Yea, stories we treasure, for therein our hearts are fired to persevere. Yea, parables and portraits of truth are much to be desired. But these lawful things do first require our girded minds to consider. They must first pass the gate of the mind, before being allowed into the banqueting hall of the affections. What you offer us rushes headlong into that banqueting hall uninvited. Before we can take our thoughts captive for our Master’s pleasure, they have already been wedded with affections and eloped with our hearts.”

Flippant looked them up and down. “Ye have been heeding too many voices of the past. Methinks ye have sat at the feet of such fanatics as Augustine, Tertullian or Cyprian. These primitives had many blind-spots, young sir. Beware of zeal without knowledge.”

“Zeal without knowledge is indeed a curse, and we would desire to escape it. But the three giants you mention are but three links of a chain of voices that has never ceased condemning the thing you invite us to partake of,” Christian replied.

Flippant did not give up. “See here, Master Pilgrim. It was good and fitting for pilgrims like yourself to condemn such things when the plays were bawdy, vile, rowdy or when such plays mocked us pilgrims. But see, this play has none of those elements. It is actually a story of how to be a good pilgrim.”

A wave of doubt seemed to flicker across Christian’s face, but it passed and he remained resolute.

“Nevertheless, your shows teach us insincerity and hypocrisy. For what profit is it if a man and a woman pretend at prayer, play at piety and act holy without being so? What gain is there if those souls do but feign gracious affections for the pleasure of the spectators? Does this not teach both your actors and your audience to regard it all but lightly?”

“Nay, good sir, but the opposite. For rising from this show, the audience is provoked to be better pilgrims. Their hearts are warmed.”

They are zealously affected, but not in a good thing. The warmth you speak of may be a fire in the bosom. For if inordinate passions are stirred up together with what seemeth to be godly desires, who can say what those desires are of a truth? Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? And if the affections are raised by things feigned, of what nature are those affections?”

A silence followed Christian’s words, and Flippant’s expression hardened. “I see you are a contrary man, with a melancholy disposition. If ye would walk a path of bitter cheerlessness, be it upon your own head. I know the Master well, and He greatly blesses and uses our stage plays.”

Christian marvelled at the throng that was gathered around the stage.

“We will not watch your drama, sir, but we will watch those who watch it, to test the truth of your words.”

“As you wish, sirs. Good day to you.”

Christian and Faithful moved to where the stage was out of their vision, and the faces of those who gazed were plain and discernible.

The play began. The expressions of the crowd seemed to be connected to marionette strings held by the Stage-master, Manipulus. He could tug up and down, and change them as he wished. At his chosen moment they would laugh. At his chosen moment, they would cry. At his chosen moment, they would tremble. Faithful wondered at how powerful the stage was.

The play came to an end. The crowd cheered, wiped their tears, and shook the hand of Manipulus.

“Now,” said Christian to Faithful, “let us behold what affections have been stirred up, and whereunto they do lead.”

As the town folk departed, they talked longingly about being faithful pilgrims. They spoke of their deep admiration for fearless and guileless travellers to the Celestial City. They agreed how helpful it was to view such things for their inspiration.

And then they all returned to the town of Endless Distraction.

Apples and Oranges – 2

July 24, 2009

I have argued that if the similarities between historical worship wars can be shown to be greater than the differences, we must concede the point to advocates of Contemporary Christian Music that our problem is merely one of slow adaptation, fear of the unknown and traditionalism. On the other hand, if the differences are far greater than the similarities, then while those similarities might be instructive, we must deal with the fact that we have an altogether different battle on our hands, requiring something more than the sentiment of “Just adapt or die!”

Let me begin by noting the similarities.

Certainly, we still have hard-bitten traditionalists, who take refuge in the tried and tested. This is not always a bad thing, either. However, there are still some who defend ‘the old hymns’ even if those old hymns are impenetrable or even inferior in quality. Theirs is not a defence of piety, but a defence of a methodology they are comfortable with.

We also still have those calling for music and the lyrics to be accessible and plain to the common man, some moderate, and some radical. In moderation,  this is not a bad thing, either. However, the radicals want to replace tradition with contemporaneity as if older hymns are like worn furniture, an embarrassment for a generation high on novelty. There are also some who, like the unthinking traditionalists, defend ‘the new songs’ even if those new songs are trivial, unhelpful to piety, and inferior in quality. Once again, theirs is not a defence of piety, but a defence of a methodology they are comfortable with.

In fact, both groups should begin to focus attention on the matter of piety: what is appropriate to say or sing to God? Who, in fact, is God? How did the Christian church for two thousand years express their devotion to Him? What affections are appropriate? How do we express those affections artistically? Once we are approaching some kind of agreement on the nature of our God and meaning of poetical or musical idioms, we can examine songs, new and old, and see if they reach the minimum standard.

These similarities exist, and perhaps always will.

However, my contention is that the differences between our worship wars and the previous ones are far greater than the similarities, making the situation not parallel, as Miller insists. If the situation is not parallel, then the force of his argument ceases.

 First, what is being borrowed is a very different animal. To point out that Christians were borrowing from ‘secular sources’ attempts to say too much. It attempts to say that the act of borrowing music from non-church sources is essentially the same act, whenever it is performed. But that is like saying that borrowing a neighbour’s lawnmower and borrowing his wife are both essentially the morally neutral act of borrowing. Here the emphasis is on the act of borrowing, and the source of the lending: the neighbour. This is precisely wrong. What matters always is what is being borrowed. Borrowing a man’s lawnmower can be acceptable; borrowing a man’s wife is always immoral. It is inconclusive to say that Christians have always borrowed from secular sources. The important question is: what kind of music were they borrowing when they did so?

Well, consider Luther. Of his many hymns and other compositions, Luther used one secular tune for a Christmas hymn, which he later replaced, embarrassed over its associations. Indeed, Luther himself said that he wanted to write music that would attract young people “away from love songs and carnal pieces and [would] give them something wholesome to learn instead…” (Paul Jones, Singing and Making Music, p172). Luther did borrow from folk tunes and Gregorian chant, a common practice, even in the Baroque era.

This leads us to a second, and perhaps even more significant difference. To have borrowed from a ‘secular’ culture during the Patristic era, the medieval era, or even the early Enlightenment era was a very different thing from borrowing from the secular culture of our era. This is the major flaw in Miller’s argument. He does not define ‘secular’. It seems to be a vague category of ‘whatever is outside the church’. In fact, secularism as a true system of thought and belief is a product of the Enlightenment, so it isn’t entirely accurate to speak of Luther or Bunyan borrowing from ‘secular sources’. Secularism as we know it didn’t exist then.

Prior to the Enlightenment, high culture was effectively controlled by the Roman Church. This did not make it all perfect, but it did make it at least theistic. Music, art, philosophy, poetry, literature was created, sanctioned and controlled in this kind of environment. Folk culture was the culture that grew up amongst various languages, regions and localities and reflected a trickle-down from high culture. The music, poetry and traditions of villages and towns was simpler and more accessible than high culture, but it was largely influenced by its categories. That did not mean it did not contain anything objectionable. The point is, when Luther, Calvin, Wesley or Watts borrowed from non-church sources, they were borrowing from a folk culture still largely riding the wave of 1000 years of Christian expression.

On the other hand, the Enlightenment was a conscious jettisoning of Christianity, beginning in philosophy and extending to music, poetry, literature and the plastic arts. With the development of mass media, folk culture began to evaporate. The culture spread through the mass media is true secularism: a worldview where God does not matter. Furthermore, it is an unprincipled secularism: a secularism that lives on mass appeal, fuelled by advertisement revenue, leading to a cycle of debasement to reach the appetites of consumers.

This is a very different culture from the Christianised culture of Luther, Wesley or Watts. To say that borrowing from the folk culture of Medieval, Renaissance or early Enlightenment Europe is the same thing as borrowing from 21st century pop culture is comparing apples with oranges.

Culture has changed. It has not merely changed its ‘style’. It has changed its view of reality. We live in a post-Christian era. I might borrow a cup of milk from my unbelieving neighbour. But should I borrow his DVD collection for my personal devotions?

Few informed Christians would contend that Western culture has not declined in Christian sensibility since the Enlightenment. However, we are far more apathetic than any generation prior to ours. Ancient Christians were willing to vigorously contend for what they thought was sacrilege; we’re content to hold two services.

Apples and Oranges – Part 1

July 18, 2009

Church music has always been controversial.
Church music is still controversial.
It’s just more of the same. Right?

Well, maybe. And maybe not. There is no doubt that church music has been controversial throughout the ages. Looking back, many of the conflicts now seem trivial or even silly to us. We tend to assume such conflicts seem ridiculous to us because we are more advanced in our thinking about music. We seldom assume it is because previous ages of the church were more serious about worship than we are.

Steve Miller, in The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, makes the case that we are slow to learn from church history, and do not realise that our ‘worship wars’ are just the next phase of the church reacting against novelty, being slow to accommodate itself to popular musical idioms, and treasuring tradition as an end in itself.

 On the surface, the argument seems compelling. Consider some of the previous conflicts:

*The early church wrestled with the problem of using musical instruments in church. Many felt they had no place. The Council of Laodicea outlawed them in A.D. 367.
*The Moravians, as dissenters, published their own hymnbook in 1504, drawing great condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church.
*Martin Luther set about writing songs and hymns in the simple and common language of the people. Luther drew on popular folk tunes and ballads, and set sacred words to them. His hymns were seen as a sacrilege as great as his German translation of the Bible. The Bohemian Brethren also used ‘secular’ (as Miller uses the term) tunes.
*Bach’s use of the organ, as well as his use of counterpoint was considered by many to be worldly and irreverent.
*John Calvin opposed anything reminiscent of the Roman Church, so he outlawed all non-Scriptural songs, and taught that musical instruments were for the immature Old Testament believers. Calvin’s churches sang only the psalms, set to metrical tunes, and did so without instruments. To this day, many Reformed churches practise exclusive psalmody.
*Isaac Watts fought against the Anglican use of exclusive psalmody, and insisted that hymns should be written in the modern language of contemporary Christians. When he eventually published his first book of hymns, he was vilified as profane, and even arrogant, thinking himself ‘a new King David’. The pressure nearly destroyed him.
*John Bunyan’s attempt to introduce hymns into his church nearly split it.
*Charles Wesley followed Watts, to the same reaction. He used popular English folk tunes, borrowed from Handel, and filled his lyrics with the warmth of Christian experience. Wesley’s hymns were likewise attacked and hated.
*Horatius Bonar’s hymns were banned by the elders of his own parish.

From all this evidence, it seems as simple as connecting the dots to see the parallel with our era. All the same characters, circumstances and plot twists seem to be in place: traditionalists bent on preserving older forms, innovators insisting upon contemporary music or lyrics, one side arguing for reverence and elevation, the other side arguing for accessibility and comprehension, either side calling the other side names. So, it is fairly easy to smile a smug smile, and say, “We just never learn, do we? It’s just more of the same!”

But is it?

Let me suggest that there are undeniable similarities  between previous worship wars and our own, but there are also considerable differences. The real question is whether or not the similarities are greater than the differences. For if the differences are greater than the similarities, then Miller’s argument falls down. Those who want to dismiss the whole argument as simply a rehashing of an old war must demonstrate that there are no significant differences between previous worship wars and the present one. Conservatives, on the other hand, must demonstrate that this is not merely a variation on the same old battle, but a far more serious battle than ever before, indeed, a different kind of battle altogether.

In the next article, I’d like to explain why I think Miller is wrong, and why the situation is an altogether different kind of conflict than the ones fought previously.

And Now?

June 28, 2009

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.