Among those who comment regularly on my blog, I have a bullpen of sorts, made up of astute volunteers, who are good and faithful readers of what I write. In the enormous comment thread that broke out under my Cinder Block post, I wanted to highlight one of them. This is from Gianni, who gets — exactly — what all of this talk about beautiful women is all about.
“People, don’t miss the point. Keep notes on who is saying what. All this is really about whether the Christian faith makes any waves in the actual physical world. It’s really about culture, sports, art, politics, astronomy, legislation, poetry, economics, geology, moviemaking, journalism, jurisprudence, music, and why not, fashion.
Pastor Wilson keeps shooting down, from any angle he can . . . any incarnation of the widely popular but biblically inept and eschatologically-impaired assumption that what we have here is all a state of mind, an invisible spiritual aura hidden between heaven and your heart, which you are supposed, like that Eleanor, to keep home in a jar by the door, and at church events only, and which refuses to intersect, by design, at any point with the actual world between your home and your church. You are really watching a war on the practical denial of the doctrines of regeneration and of progressive sanctification. And it’s a marvelous thing. So pay attention.”
As I am fond of saying, theology comes out your fingertips. And to apply it to the case in hand, some of those fingertips should be adorned with fingernail polish, those little red markers that are as much as to say, “here endeth a beautiful woman.”
The issue before us is a simple one. Does the Lordship of Jesus Christ extend over absolutely everything? And, if it does, does it make any difference to the good?
Now I am not asking if the name of Jesus Christ can be extended to any topic by any party. All kinds of people want a divine imprimatur for what they were wanting to do anyway. That would saddle us with Osteenian best-life-now-ism or lame critiques of free markets from the current pontiff.
Since we don’t need that kind of thing, we should rather ask if the widespread embrace of a genuine, robust orthodoxy necessitates a robust way of being human, in all the areas where humans are humans. I mean the way we make boats, the way we compose poetry, the way we dance, the way our women adorn themselves, the way we brew beer, the way our men fight, the way we cook pancakes, and so on. Once we grant the salvation of an individual person, what actual difference does the Christian faith make in the outside world? How does his saved soul integrate with his body and his world?
Henry Van Til said — rightly — that culture is religion externalized. When the true religion takes on its cultural shape, what does it look like? Moreover, since this is a slow process, like yeast working through the loaf, what do the intermediate cultures during the intermediate centuries look like? If the process extends across centuries, as I believe it does, how can we distinguish the gold of Egypt that may be kept, the dumpster scrapings of Egypt that should not be kept, the new work of the Spirit that is still immature and needs to be nurtured along, and the completed work of the Spirit that is to be defended and preserved?
Ironically, one of illustrations that the early fathers used for this kind of cultural engagement was from the Mosaic law, concerning a beautiful pagan woman taken captive in war.
“When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife” (Deut. 21:10–13).
Of course there is the problem of how the Israelite men could possibly have found out which captive women were in fact the beautiful ones. But Scripture is full of mysteries . . .
But that aside, the image for cultural engagement was this. There are things worth preserving from every human culture. The gospel is not coming to tribes of orcs. By God’s common grace, unbelieving nations and tribes were capable of producing truly beautiful things. So when the Christian faith supplants the older, idolatrous faiths, how much stays, and how much goes? The beautiful woman stays, but she must put off that which pertained to her old way of life.
Now I do not want to pretend that all the details of this are simple. It really can become a complicated problem. But the larger task is not complicated at all. Jesus said to disciple the nations, not most of the nations. He said to teach them all that He commanded, not some of what He commanded. And He said that it would be a long, slow process, which means that patience is required.
But abandonment of the task is not the same thing as patience. Compromise with the Egyptians is not the same thing as plundering the Egyptians. A retreat to a very committed ghetto existence is not what the Great Commission required.