No Stinkin” Geologists

We are going to get to some significant disagreements, I promise. But Chapter 3 was another pretty good chapter, with many trenchant observations about how contemporary Christians tend to look at the outside world. At least thus far, Stellman is great in stating and confirming his premises, and only off in what he thinks those premises entail. This chapter discusses the countercultural nature of the church, and our status as resident aliens.

In this he leans heavily (as he should) on Peter’s description of us as sojourners and pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11). That is exactly what we are.

The rub comes when we start to discuss what that means, when we start to discuss what a pilgrimage should look like. There is one passage in this chapter where Stellman draws the kind of conclusion that is going to lead to much discussion later in his book.

“Demands for ‘Christian’ art, music, or dentistry are both an elevation of those legitimate pursuits above their proper station and a debasing of the label Christian by applying it to areas concerning which it has little or nothing to say. Hence, culture is sacralized and cult is trivialized, all in the name of a notion of relevance that God has nowhere promised to bestow” (p. 32).

But what is it about a pilgrimage that excludes Christian art, poetry, or music? Some of the greatest statements of an earthly longing for transcendant, heavenly realities are found in Gothic arches. Great Christian art identifies the still point of a turning world. And what is it about a transit to heaven that requires us to take care of teeth the same way unbelievers do?

Whenever you have two cultures side by side, which Stellman and I agree that we do, one of them will exercise dominant influence on the other. One of them will be the head and the other will be the tail. To refuse, as a matter of principle, the idea that our Christian values should influence architecture, and poetry, and music is to insist, as a matter of unwitting principle, that their values will be transmitted to us. We will either have a spiritual trade deficit or we will not. We will either export more than we import or import more than we export.

Neglect of this principle is what causes some significant inconsistencies in the radical two kingdom interaction with the outside world. Stellman tags, as he ought to, the importing of worldly techniques of marketing, entertainment, and so forth into the broader contemporary world of evangelicalism. And I am right with him when he does this. But radical two kingdom theology has no problem with bringing worldly standards of science and academic history into the church, for example. Why is that?

When someone says that we need to take full account of what the old earth scientists say, or that we need to accept what professional historians say about the period of Second Temple Judaism, why does Stellman not reject this out of hand, on the simple ground that we are sojourners and pilgrims? If we don’t need no stinkin’ church marketers because our congregation is a mere band of wayfaring pilgrims, then does it not follow that we don’t need no stinkin’ geologists either? Or astrophysicists? The outside world is still outside whether it is the world of hustling businessmen, religious entrepeneurs, or high level academic scientists. If Stellman’s “wall of separation” between the two cultures is as high as he claims, then what unbelieving scientists and historians have discovered should never, ever show up in a Christian pulpit.

But if there is legitimate kind of traffic between the cultures, then two things follow. First, our position on imports needs to become more nuanced than the view Stellman is presenting here, and second, our position on exports needs to be examined as well. But if Stellman allows us some latitude on the exports, then the first thing that will happen is Christian schools, teaching Christian kids about everything in the light of God’s Word.

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