Christians as Light: the Urgency to Act

Each day, John Jay Fellows read dozens and even hundreds of pages of theology, philosophy, political science, and more--and write short papers reflecting on their readings. This is one such paper.

Ross A. Hougham '17

In “Christianity and Culture,” J. Gresham Machen offers a proactive alternative to the
failed responses of the Christian Church to modern culture. He begins by
emphasizing the way in which the practices of the Church have been prone to
separation from the world and from culture, leading to a status quo in which a
Christian’s devotion to his or her faith is limited to only one day of the week, while
the rest of the week is purposed for maximal removal from the faith. Moreover, due
to the secularization of education, research, and learning, a Christian’s Sunday
worship and preaching become as shallow as they are short, with no grounding in
proper study. This compartmentalization of the Church from culture (and by
culture, Machen is referring in part to academic study) has discarded any attempt to
explore the possible relationship between them.

Machen offers three disparate ways for Christians to handle this divide. First and
worst, Christians can treat their faith and religious practices are being subject to the
rulings of the culture. In this way, Christianity naturally (though usually
unintentionally) becomes a product of the culture, and by consequence subject to
human invention and tampering.

Second, Christians can believe that their faith exists to destroy culture as an intrinsic
evil. While this approach may be practiced in open and unintellectual war, it can
more commonly be seen in an equally unintellectual retreat from the world. Culture
is seen from this view as a necessary evil within which Christians must operate but
not engage. Tools for apologia and education are thus disloyal to God and contrary
to the gospel. This is, in essence, the stripping of Christianity of its intellectual merit,
and the reliance on unchallenged piety for Christian growth. Machen likens this sort
of Christian to the soldier who avoids the battlefield in order to hide in the comfort
of winter lodging. As with the Christian hiding from culture, this is the easy way out
of problems, but the soldier is rendered worthless in the fight. The more relatable
children’s maxim refers to this practice as hiding one’s light under a bushel.
Additionally, this second method is unnatural when viewing the good news of the
gospel. “Despite all we can do, the desire to know and the love of beauty cannot be
entirely stifled, and we cannot permanently regard these desires as evil.” In short, it
starves the Christian.

Third, and arguably most conducive with God’s directives, Christians should be
consecrated – set apart to work within the culture and bring it into accordance with
the will of God. Christians must engage the culture and study it. In so doing, the
church either proves ungodly parts of culture to be wrong, or it uses the culture to
defend the faith. In higher education, a dedicated Christian influence can bring a
fuller color and brilliance to everything being studied and taught, because those in
the culture begin to discover that everything they study in science, history, art, and
mathematics points toward Jesus Christ and the existence of an all-powerful God.
When Christians get their hands dirty and work within the structure of culture, they
complete the picture that culture is otherwise struggling unsuccessfully to paint.
This then empowers God’s work on Earth, and prepares the way for God’s kingdom.
There is joy in this pursuit, not the droll plodding of a life lived blind to God’s larger
timeline, or alternatively lived in compromise, never recognizing the fullness of
God’s perfect plan. The world and the culture is ready to be shown this truth that
has been kept under wraps, separated from culture for too long. It is the
responsibility of the Church to reconnect the culture to its ultimate aim, and so give
reason for the hope that is within them while God opens the hearts of those in need.
After all, there is a great God that needs to be loved and a war that needs to be won.
There is the urgency to act.