Politics or Culture?

These are two recent articles worth considering. R.R. Reno writes “Culture Matters more than Politics”:

“These days, the ability to talk about politics in a knowing way is treated as a mark of sophistication, so much so, I think, that we’ve come tacitly to regard political analysis as the rightful domain of intelligence. If George Stephanopoulos were to make passing reference to John Milton or Henry James, the TV host would very likely treat it as a joke. But his slightest speculation about Barack Obama’s latest public statements are treated with high seriousness.

It was not always so. Far from indicating effete and irrelevant erudition, the capacity to talk about Jane Austen or T.S. Eliot or James Joyce was once seen as clear indication of a highly developed and socially relevant mind. Literature, theater, film, the visual arts—a certain acquaintance with and command of these domains made people intellectuals. For Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun and their readers, debates about novels and poetry seemed more fraught with public significance than the ins and outs of current electoral politics.”

“Nightmares about cancerous aliens made Nazi anti-Semitism seem plausible. And today it is the cultural imagination of the Islamic world—not its oil wealth or official foreign policies—that makes the region so volatile.

At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay.”

Tim Keller responds, “Politics and Culture

“James D. Hunter has been making the same point for years, though he invokes Nietzsche, rather than Marx. In On the Geneology of Morals, Nietzsche argued that Christian moral claims– of the primacy of love, generosity, and altruism–were really just ways for the early Christians to grab power from the people who had it. Christian morality developed out of the “ressentiment” by the weak of the strong and as an effort to wrest their position from them. This view will also lead to the conclusion that politics is what life is really about.

Hunter argues that ressentiment–”a narrative of injury”–has now come to define American political discourse. Both conservatives and liberals make their sense of injury central to their identity, and therefore in each election cycle it is only the group out of power, who therefore feels the most injured and angry, who can get enough voters out to win the election. Politics is no longer about issues but about power, injury, and anger. How Nietzschean! Hunter goes farther and argues that the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and even the neo-Anabaptist (think Dobson, Wallis, Hauerwas) are “functional Nietzscheans” in the public square, either because they see politics as too all-important, or (as in the case of the neo-Anabaptists) they think wielding political power is inherently non-Christian. In each case, Hunter says, Christians are being too shaped by Nietzsche’s view that politics and power is fundamental.”

Yet he concludes,

“Reno and Hunter warn that culture matters more than politics, and I agree with them. We must reject the growing belief that power politics is what really matters. Nevertheless, Christians must not over-react. The government is one of the key institutions among others that reflect and shape the underlying beliefs that are the deepest source of public life. I recently wrote an introduction to a book, The City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner. The authors plead with Christian readers to not under-value the role of politics in culture-making, even as they acknowledge the danger of over-valuing it. It’s an important plea. James Hunter makes the intriguing case that those Christians who counsel withdrawal from politics may have as nihilistic a view of power as Nietzsche.”

[Anytime I can put these tags on a post (Politics, FriedrichNietzsche, TimKeller, Culture), you know I’ll like it.]

Keller, "White Paper on Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople"

My friend Jon Jordan posted a link to Keller’s “White Paper on Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople” which is worth a read. Quote:

“In short, if I as a pastor want to help both believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently, I must read the works of scientists, exegetes, philosophers, and theologians and then interpret them for my people. Someone might counter that this is too great a burden to put on pastors, that instead they should simply refer their laypeople to the works of scholars. But if pastors are not ‘up to the job’ of distilling and understanding the writings of scholars in various disciplines, how will our laypeople do it?”

Should We Let Little Jane Do Special Music?

Our church doesn’t have special music. At least not yet. Tim Keller made an interesting point in a recent podcast I listened to. He said something to this effect: you wouldn’t put someone who wasn’t gifted to preach up in the pulpit, why put someone who is not gifted musically on stage? He also made the observation that the lower the skill level of the musician/artist the more narrow the impact their music/art will have. If we all know little Jane we’re more apt to be touched by her terrible solo. While if we don’t know her, we’ll wonder why she’s singing. Same goes for refrigerator art I suppose… He also added that he thinks perhaps professionalism (putting on a show) and colloquialism (letting Jane do the worship) are both extremes to be avoided. His church strives for ‘excellence’ (without using that term) without hiring-out professional musicians who would be performing rather than expressing worship.

Interesting thoughts at least…

Sermon Subtexts

Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunes has posted a lecture series called “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World” featuring Edmund Clowney and Tim Keller that is worth a listen: CLICK (itunes required)

In one of the lectures titled “Adoring Christ: Spiritual Reality” Keller talks about the for subtexts of sermons. He says the subtext is what the sermon really communicates apart from the words that are said. The subtext is the real purpose of the sermon under what is said on the top.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the four subtexts. These will really make you think, especially #2. Keller himself said of #2 that he feels its very difficult to avoid this one right out of seminary but that recognizing the demon is half the battle.

1. Reinforcement – “aren’t we great” subtext, a ritual or stylized communication which is used to reinforce boundaries and contribute to a sense of security and belongingness…many churches are committed to a reinforcement subtext I’ll call ‘gatekeeping.’ These churches do not want to be challenged, stretched, convicted. What they want in a sermon is for you to say the things that we say because we are this kind of people who believe these kind of things. The stated purpose of the sermon is: “I want to teach you this.” But the real purpose is: We’re here to remind ourselves that we a neat people and we’re the kind of people who say these things and believe these things and we’re not like the people who don’t…The motive is to strengthen the ghetto.

2. Performance – “Am I ok? Don’t you think I’m good?” The purpose of this sermon is a performance goal. The speaker is seeking to exhibit his goals and promote the products of the church. The subtext of the sermon is: “Don’t you think I’m good? Isn’t this a great church? Don’t you want to come back? Don’t you think you should bring your friends?” At some level the audience will realize that the speaker is actually not concerned about them. The reason for this is mainly to win people over. This is a selling subtext.

3. Training – “Isn’t this a great truth?” – the purpose of my sermon is to train, to teach people what they don’t know. The average mature preacher in America is probably here.

4. Worship – “Isn’t Christ great?” The sermon subtext is: “Don’t you see how much greater Christ is than you thought? Don’t you see how all your problems stem from the fact that you didn’t see that?” The motive is to get people to worship.

The Preaching Notes Series

These are really interesting:

Mark Dever
Mike Bullmore
C.J. Mahaney
Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Tim Keller
Mark Driscoll

They are copies of the preaching notes from well known pastors. You have to look at Mark Driscoll’s… He preached for an hour. Here were Joshua Harris’ comments.


When I originally asked Mark to participate by sharing his preaching notes he declined. So I asked him again. He sent the following email explaining his initial reluctance as well as his unique approach to notes. Mark writes,

Josh, I have hesitated to send you my preaching notes because…they’re usually aren’t any. When I do a topical sermon there are some. But, when I’m working through a text of the Bible I pretty much scratch a few words on a sticky tab and maybe in pencil put a few words in the margin and get up and go for an hour-ish. Most of the jokes, cross references, illustrations etc. are made up on the spot while preaching. In that way I’m pretty Spirit lead. I study a ton going in to fill up, and then get up and preach it out. This is a copy of my Bible from my latest sermon on the first half of Jesus High Priestly Prayer in John 17. I used about half the stuff on the sticky notes and preached for about an hour. I would not commend anyone to preach this way as it’s the pastoral equivalent to driving blindfolded—exciting but dangerous. So, for what it’s worth here it is.

I agree with Mark’s encouragement not to follow his example in this regard. And that’s not because I don’t believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit. But I think Mark is uniquely gifted and has an ability to absorb and recall great amounts of what he has studied. I for one, don’t have this same ability. I say this only because I don’t want any young preachers to get up to preach with two sticky notes either having not studied and prepared enough or, lacking Mark’s ability to remember what they studied, to fall on their face and then blame the Holy Spirit. Repeat after me, “I am not Mark Driscoll.”

Here’s a PDF of two pages of Mark’s Bible and the accompanying sticky notes. And here’s the audio recording of the sermon he preached from them.