Fall 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 2 · pp. 136–137 

From the Editor: Christ & Culture

Vic Froese

In this issue we, again, look at issues related to faith and culture. It’s appropriate that we return to the “Christ and culture” topic periodically, since the relationship between the two keeps changing. In part this is due to the always changing Christian world and the ever-changing culture it relates to. New challenges arise while old ones morph into a different form, or recede into the background, sometimes only to emerge later with even greater urgency. Careful discernment is a perpetual need. If in particular cases we can say we’ve done the job well, it is because we’ve been able to see what we as a community of faith need to cling to and what we can let go of, and also detected what we should reject in the larger society and what we should embrace.

Paul Doerksen makes these points well in his article, where he suggests that many of the “Christ and culture” issues arise from two impulses arising from the gospel that seem at odds with one another: adjusting to a culture (the gospel as prisoner of culture), and transforming a culture to free it from harmful prejudices and practices (the gospel as liberator of culture). Not “balance,” he suggests, but keeping the two gospel tendencies in constant tension is more likely to enable us to live faithfully in an often overwhelming culture.

Harry Huebner’s article takes critical aim at various dubious types of spirituality offered by North American culture. Some may be easy to resist on account of their outlandishness; others appeal because they seem almost Christian; still others tempt us more relentlessly and gradually wear us down. But he helpfully goes on to explain how Anabaptist understandings of what it means to love and live faithfully before God can help us contend effectively with the temptations of facile spiritualities.

In Christine Longhurst’s research article, she challenges the legitimacy of common criticisms levelled against “praise & worship” music: that it is too individualistic, too intimate, too focused on ourselves, too repetitive and simplistic, and too unconcerned with the objective truths and too fixed on the subjective experience of faith. In short, it follows the pattern of popular music too much. While admitting that many church music leaders seem to prefer such songs, Christine demonstrates that the available repertoire of praise and worship music strikes a much healthier balance of the corporate and the individualistic, of the self-focused and God-focused, of objectivity and subjectivity.

C.S. Lewis, Christian apologist and patron saint of evangelical letters, was unique not only in critically analyzing the broader culture, but also in contributing to it with great imaginative literary works. It is interesting that many of these featured animals, raising the question of their significance {137} in Lewis’s thought. Michael Gilmour plays the sleuth in his illuminating article, which follows the trail of Lewis’s belief that our attitudes toward (real and imagined) animals have moral and ethical consequences.

The wildly popular Heaven is for Real is the subject of my (Vic Froese) article, which I claim is a “charitable” reading of the book. In part an essay on popular Christian culture, this piece demonstrates the difficulty of assessing judiciously the simple, uncommon claims of a young boy like Colton Burpo, who said he went to heaven while a surgeon removed his ruptured appendix. Could God be behind his extraordinary experience? My answer is a firm “maybe.”

Jon Isaak’s article on Mennonite Brethren and charismatic renewal movements suggests that remembering the “blended family” nature of the historical Mennonite Brethren church should play an important part in meeting the challenges it currently faces: it shows us what it means to be a Spirit-led church. He proposes that if we continue to promote the Good News of God’s reign, learn to live with differences, and bless the “apostle-prophets” to lead us at this point in history, the Spirit will not be hindered in directing us to ways of being the church that our changing culture needs.

The late A. James Reimer (d. 2010) was convinced that the Christian natural law tradition would greatly assist Mennonites in thinking through how best to participate in public life. His posthumously published book, Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology, documents his efforts to make that argument. The book is critically reviewed here by Anthony Siegrist, who finds Reimer’s political reflections provocative even as he disagrees with some of their main premises.

We are pleased that our Ministry Compass piece comes from the pen of Linda Mercadante, who sits on the Straker Chair of Historical Theology at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She draws on her extensive research into the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon in the fine sermon that appears here. Is it possible to have a meaningful and productive discussion with people who identify themselves in this way? She demonstrates quite ably that it is, and at the same time models how to engage a challenging cultural movement with sensitivity and love.

Also in this issue, our book reviewers offer their appraisals of recent studies of German Baptists in South Russia, Canadian churches during World War I, the Trinity, the doctrine of election, the myth of Bonhoeffer as assassin, and healing forgiveness.

There is much to mull over in these pages. May your mulling lead to wisdom.

Vic Froese, General Editor