I try mightily to keep myself from having unexamined beliefs. I turned one up, though, in the last month or so, no doubt because of the writing contest and online apologetics conference I was working on. The writing contest, for example, is labeled as a Christian writing contest. I began to think about how an endeavor like writing, or any endeavor at all, could justify being termed ‘Christian’ and realized I had never really thought about it much before, and had rather accepted the presumptions that had been handed down to me. I hate it when I do that! Even if the presumptions are right!
However, what I turned up when I began my examination may surprise the reader. In Evangelical circles, the Christian sub-culture is a constant temptation and Christianese the prevailing language, which I myself attack in this post warning about Christianese and shibboleths. There is a silly sense within Christendom that you can slap the label ‘Christian’ on front of something and you’ve sanctified it. The truth usually is that it’s merely been rendered more marketable within the Church.
The reader would be wrong if he thought that the presumption handed down to me was the one I just described, however. The understanding that I had received regarding such things was that there was in many areas no distinctly Christian perspective on human endeavors. The slogan often is, “We do not need Christian X, we need Xers who are Christians.” (Where X is the activity in question).
You can see this perspective illustrated in this blog post I read at Christian-movie.com a while back, as well as in some of the comments. I may even be on record somewhere myself saying just as much.
So, does this mean that upon my re-examination I have decided we should embrace the Christian ghetto? Absolutely not.
In all things balance.
There is some definite truth and value to the view that I had received. Slapping a cross on a book or painting doesn’t render it magically ‘Christian.’ People who aren’t Christians produce quality stuff. And just how might one practice Christian medicine? A doctor is a doctor is a doctor, right?
Weeeeell… I think that is too far. We musn’t make the divide between the sacred and the secular so stark that in doing so we treat the sacred as mere personal belief. That is to say, Christianity exudes a belief system that insists that it is true across the board. Now, we all say that Christianity is objectively true. The death and resurrection of Jesus is, we contend, an objective historical fact that is as true for the atheist and Hindu as it is for a Christian. My concern is that our actions and behaviors trumps our contentions in practice.
For, if Christianity is true, then it is an all encompassing thing. To return to the question of whether or not there is such a thing as a ‘Christian’ doctor, let us consider the difference in attitude and approach when the doctor addresses the patient’s issues if he holds to a Christian world view compared to one who doesn’t. The ‘Christian’ doctor of course will be greatly concerned about the empirical data and will want to do that which has been shown to actually bring healing. However, the ‘Christian’ doctor also knows that before him is not a pile of matter, a deposit of atoms and molecules left by the universe in one particular arrangement that is nothing more than what can be measured and weighed. Real medicine will treat real patients, and if real patients are entities created in the image of God with a spiritual nature, then the real doctor will behave accordingly. On this view, then, ‘Christian’ medicine and ‘good medicine’ are one and the same.
If a non-Christian doctor holds to a different religious faith that nonetheless recognizes that humans are more than structured piles of pulp, is better, but still does not actually perceive what humans really are. At the far end of the spectrum are the philosophical materialists who view humans in purely mechanistic terms, thinking that every condition can be healed by some drug or what not and if the ‘mind’ of the patient ever comes into play, it is dismissed as mere placebo.
My point here is simply that the truest and most effective participant in any vocation- medicine, law, engineering, writing, music, teaching, etc- will be the one that is most grounded in reality. Christianity presents itself as a full and exhaustive description and explanation of reality and thus any Christian engaged in any profession or vocation will not merely be operating on ‘Christian’ principles as they carry out their activities, but at bottom will be acting in close(r) accord with reality itself. We are assuming of course that Christianity is true. 🙂
The reason why we fail to recognize this principle sometimes is because the consequences for not acting out on the Christian understanding of the world is not always apparent or severe enough to detect. Sometimes there is enough overlap between the Christian understanding and some other that there are fewer practical implications. For example, an engineer, who really does work with soulless objects will probably behave the same way whether he is a Christian or not, at least in regards to his building. And yet, even the engineer works with the laws of physics, logic, and mathematics- and many who consider the source and nature of such things infer the existence of God and find themselves finally as Christians.
To help illustrate this principle with more clarity, consider this quote from the blog entry at the Christian-movie.com cited above. The author says,
No, I don’t think “The Book of Eli” is a Christian movie. But I do think it is a good movie, and I think it is good art.
Up until recently, this is about as far as I would normally have gone as well, but now I see that it is incomplete. I think I’ve been dancing around the idea for awhile, as I reflect on something like my review of the movie, Shaun of the Dead.
You see, we cannot even say something is ‘good’ without finding ourselves willy nilly descending into a theological exploration of what ‘goodness’ means. It appears to me that ‘good art’ and ‘Christian art’ ought to be a redundancy, for Christians of all people are supposed to be more grounded in reality as it actually is than anyone else. I say ‘ought’ for a reason, of course.
It is also apparent that on this basis when we say ‘Christian art’ we must mean something much deeper than a painting with a cross in the foreground or a story with an explicit Gospel message. When this is what we mean by ‘Christian’ art, then we are playing only with the superficial trappings of Christianity. If Christianity is really true, however, Goodness and Beauty go all the way down to the nitty gritty of reality, for God is Good, and if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, surely it must be said that it is God who is ultimately doing the beholding, not us.
On this basis, there is really no vocation that cannot be approached or appreciated from a distinctly Christian point of view, for what we are talking about is our outlook on Reality itself.
Indeed, it could even be suggested that those in the Christian sub-culture who try to cloak their products and activities in Christianese actually serve to cement the notion that Christians are just acting out their own private religious beliefs, giving the impression that what they do has no bearing on the external world- the very opposite of what they believe!
So, we can still say that what we need in the Christian community are not Christian writers, but rather writers who are Christians (etc). We just can’t stop there, as though literature and the arts can possibly be conceived (by Christians) as a domain outside the purview of the Divine. According to Christianity, there is no domain outside of God’s sustaining power, and in this sense, no such thing- not really- of the ‘secular.’
Whatever else these ruminations mean, it surely means that Christians of all people will engage in the the highest quality work, wherever and whatever they are doing.
More contemplation of this to come.