Friday, November 09, 2007

Schaeffer and Schaeffer

http://www.newstatesman.com/200710250048

Not sure I take the article hook, line, and sinker but it would not surprise me that Francis Schaeffer was as conflicted as any of us. What drew me into his work was not the exposition of doctrine, which frankly now seems a bit simplistic fifteen to seventeen years after I read his famous trilogy; or even his assessment of the arts. It really is possibly he completely screwed up Kierkegaard, for instance. His failure to grasp the difference between atonality and polytonality is understandable.

But in the end what still appeals to me about the work he did is that he bothered ... and by that I mean AT ALL to not just "engage culture" the way his self-appointed or somewhat more literal disciples have, he actually immersed himself in it. He obviously enjoyed all of the arts and did so as a Christian. There were times when he decided he had to not like things for what might be dubbed "theologically correct" reasons. I have had no problem enjoying the works of some modernists Schaeffer felt obliged to dislike. I don't necessarily enjoy the content of all of Dali's paints but his style was something else.

But where I DO agree with the gist of the article is that the Schaeffer that inspired me is obviously not the same Schaeffer that has inspired Tim LaHaye and others who have been identified with the religious right-wing movement. Schaeffer pretty much WAS drafted into a culture war--yet Schaeffer had already warned people in his prime had this culture war been so completely abdicated by Christians fifty years earlier that the battle was not to reclaim the culture for the Christian faith but to understand the culture and speak to it, to even begin to be able to speak to it.

It seems paradoxical for Christians to talk about engaging the culture because the separatist impulse is so strong for some of us that we are trying to reach into the culture while simultaneously pulling ourselves out of it. And in order to do that we have to be some Christian Mr. Fantastic with ever elongating arms.

We aren't in a cultural milleu where Christianity as a culture movement defines much of anything except reactionary and vestigially progressive politics. By so utterly subordinating any sense of art to another goal we get what one of my professors would have called, unflinchingly, ersatz. And it's true, that's what a lot of "Christian" art is, and a lot of Christian "cultural engagement".

Well, I don't feel like blogging THAT badly. :) Sure, I have a couple of lengthy treatises I'm considering that probably won't even turn into very lengthy treatises at all. I'm toying with an examination of Takahashi's comedic staple, the embarrassment of attachment she pins on to all of her characters. And I am still interested in writing a potentially windy treatise on depictions of child abusive dynamics in Eureka Seven. Hey, I freely admit to being a total nerd.

Now, see, the reason I feel okay saying all this is because I really think that what Schaeffer did so well that most of his self-proclaimed heirs really stink at is studying culture with an eye for the Gospel, finding places where they are not only speaking "to" the world around them about what is merely a presuppositional grid of what is or isn't great art and great philosophy or theology, but to actually LEARN. I have learned some rather startling things about myself and people around me through some of the things I have watched and read in the last year, stuff I never would have expected. If Christians of a broadly evangelical stripe and a cultural warrior bent can stop attempting to war with the culture they might find a few snippets of it to quote to the Athenians. It's possible to go so far that direction as to assimilate but then as Koholeth put it in an entirely different setting, it is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other and the man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

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