Second, I am also struck by how Christian talk of cultural engagement has coincided with a watering-down of Christian standards of behavior and, ironically, thought. I have lost count of how many times I have been told in recent years that Christians should be able to watch any movie, providing they do so with a critical, Christian eye. There are several obvious problems with that kind of statement. For a start, such a categorical, sweeping statement has little, if any, scriptural or exegetical foundation and indeed seems not to take any account of texts such as Mt. 5: 27-30, Eph. 5: 1-3, Phil. 4: 8, etc. Second, even those making the case rarely mean exactly what they say: ask them if Christians can therefore watch child pornography, and none that I have spoken to have been prepared to go that far, except in the necessary cases of those professionally involved in the detection and prosecution of paedophile crime. No, Christians shouldn’t watch child porn, they’ll say; but the problem, of course, is that definitions of what is and is not pornography, even child pornography, are changing all the time and are driven, by and large, by the wider culture which increasingly mainstreams such material. Witness the new Kate Winslet movie, involving a sex scene between her character and a fifteen year old boy. Specious distinctions involving the actual age of the actor notwithstanding, it is arguably child pornography. Frankly, there are films rated PG-13 today which my grandparents would have considered as porn. Is the standard of what is and is not obscene set by biblical truth or by cultural accommodation? Talk of `Christians can watch anything as long as they do it critically’ is as daft, unbiblical, soft-headed, ill-thought-out, and confused as anything one is likely to come across. In fact, I have a suspicion that for some it might simply function as a rationalization for watching whatever they like and not having to feel guilty about it, the Christian voyeur’s equivalent of the `I only do screen nudity and sex when the script demands it’ excuse of so many `serious’ actresses whose bank balances have been boosted by the occasional flash of on-screen flesh.
Thankfully, my piece had gone to the printer–and no, there is no end to my shameless self-promotion– before Trueman had posted this, as we touch on a few of the same themes. One of the points that Trueman hits on is that the emphasis on culture among evangelicals is grounded in a desire to “hyper-spiritualize” everything. He writes:
Third, I am convinced that much culture talk is driven by the need to hyper-spiritualise everything. Of course, I believe everything should be done to the glory of God; but that doesn’t mean I believe we need a Christian theory of movies any more than we need a Christian theory of cake baking, homebrewing, or street sweeping. When I arrive home at night, I sometimes just want to sit down, have a drink, and relax while listening to a piece of music or watching a movie or reading a good book. Pascal was right when he saw that such entertainment was perfectly legitimate in and of itself, when it helped one recover from the drudge and dreariness of the daily grind; when such things become an obsession, an idol, then, of course, they become a problem; but there was no need to specifically Christianise them at a theoretical or epistemological level. Strange to tell, the contemporary evangelical urge to Christianise everything is in itself arguably a form of the very pietism it seeks to reject, where only specifically and consciously Christian things have any legitimate place. Pietism has simply been broadened, not abolished.
Trueman is right to see the (re)new(ed) emphasis on culture as an expansion of pietism (though I might instead characterize it as a reintroduction of the idea of ‘Christendom’). Ironically, it is the lack of a robust natural theology and doctrine of creation that inhibits evangelicals from simply enjoying artworks or movies or culture without any other agenda or end. If we grant the point that evangelicals have been held captive by their political idols, it would be because their doctrine of creation is amiss, which prompts them to put too much emphasis–or not enough–on anything touching the created realm. That new evangelicals now do so with culture instead of politics does not mean they have solved the problem–they’ve simply transferred their allegiances to a different idol.
But then, I’ve said this all elsewhere. (At some point my sense of modesty and limitations will kick in, but not yet!)