I have always been of the opinion that the Reformed communities which I have encountered have much more in common with Southern fundamentalist culture than is commonly recognized. This is surprising and counter intuitive. The level of scholarship demonstrated in the Reformed wing of the hallway of faith is impressive. And when it comes to the exposition of the text of Holy Scripture, the amount of intellectual firepower the Reformed bring to the text can be overwhelming.
But in spite of it all, they essentially move in the direction of “Christ against culture,” even in spite of their firm belief in the cultural mandate and much of the postmillenialism in the camp.
The recent Ligonier Conference is a case in point. I watched a bit of it online. In a panel discussion RC Sproul, Michael Horton, and others were quite critical of technological sophistication in online communications, such as twitter, texting, email. They seemed to rejoice that they were out of touch in this way. One of the panelists seemed quite pleased that he did not ever answer emails in a timely fashion. I think they were making the case that this enabled them to hear God better or something of the sort since they are not subject to the rush of instant communication.
Of course, what was surprising about this is the level of technology that both Horton’s and Sproul’s ministries bring to the table. They serve it up in heaping bundles of technology. And here they are as if they eschew the very thing that their very ministries are doing. Are these things being done behind their backs?
It’s a pose. Their niche is “contra culture.” Believe me, there is plenty to be concerned about in modern cultural development. But that’s different than the Reformed spiel. They seem to tap into the same kind of cultural fears I was used to from the Bob Jones branch of Southern religion. For all their criticism of Baptists, they often sound like Baptists to me.
Tim Keller is a Reformed guy who has distanced himself from this isolationism, it seems to me. He offers sophisticated critiques of culture without descending into paranoia. Note his recent work on idols, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. This is a sophisticated culture critique that demands the intellect without pandering to the thrill of world view collisions. His thoughtful engagement with evolution theory, the historical existence of Adam and Eve as first parents, etc., are exemplary in style even if the conclusions might not be mine.
Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship does the best job I know of both cultural openness and cultural critique. They look for signs of Christ’s presence in the fallen world. In other words, even though our race is fallen, we continue to bear the image of God and inevitably live and work and play in ways that affirm God is yet among us, leaving His calling cards in all sorts of places in the culture building enterprise. Identifying these allows us to build bridges as the Christian community to culture builders in the arts, sciences, humanities, government, and politics. I have observed, however, that some of the most popular of Reformed writers and speakers–John Piper, Al Mohler, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, Mark Dever–do not speak at IV events. I am not sure who is excluding whom. Perhaps these speakers’ public position excluding women from pastoral ministry is the ultimate factor. But I suspect it goes deeper than that to a more visceral conflict of world views. I am an IVCF guy and after 45 years of involvement with the movement have a sense that they have more of a balance. Of course, they are not a church and skirt a lot of the issues the church cannot avoid. It is much more self-limiting and therefore less susceptible to firestorms of clashing views.
Cultural isolation is easy. Cultural accommodation is easy. Aristotle taught us that the Golden Mean is the better, though harder, way.