The Humanitas Forum
Christianity and Culture
MySpace. The brain-computer interface. Eminem. Postmodernism.
Prozac. American Idol. I-40. iPod. Cloning. Instant messaging.
Oprah. Wal-Mart. Blue states, red states. Viagra. “Whatever!”
does America hear the Gospel in light of contemporary culture? What
does it mean that the God of the universe became human and lived on
the earth some two thousand years ago? That he was crucified and
buried and rose bodily from the grave to provide salvation from sin
and suffering? How is this message heard in a culture that envisions
salvation in terms of a beautiful body, longer life, perfect health,
and pleasant moods?
does America hear the Gospel?
American society has become indisputably secular, the historic
influence of Christianity has ceased to be a significant factor in
any segment of contemporary culture. None of the major public
sectors of our society—the arts, the media, medicine, law,
education, popular culture, government, business, science, industry,
or agriculture—are shaped in any meaningful way by the worldview of
have arrived at this post-Christian moment as the result of a long
and complex process. The diminished cultural impact of Christianity
cannot be adequately explained by simply blaming aggressive
secularists or competing religions and philosophies. Much, perhaps
most, of the marginalization of Christianity has resulted from the
church’s abandonment of its foundational beliefs and its cultural
cultural observers speak of a “naked public square,” they obviously
do not mean that religion has disappeared from American society.
Rather, its ideas and practices have been relegated to the private
lives of believers. For most Christians this means that, beyond
their private lives and personal conduct, they operate by a frame of
reference that reflects a secular perspective. Faith has become
privatized; it no longer guides the public lives of its adherents.
As one theologian pointed out many years ago, “There is no longer a
Christian mind”—a mind that makes sense of all of life from the
vantage point of historic Christianity.
is no longer a Christian mind.
need for Christians to “make sense” of the world from within the
framework of a Christian mind has never been more critical. The
optimism and self-assurance of the modern age has given way to the
uncertainty of a postmodern era that is skeptical about the
possibility of truth and meaning. Throughout the culture, this
skepticism translates into unease about the prospects of meaningful
individual or societal accomplishment, despite the enormous
scientific and technological resources at our disposal.
does it mean to follow Jesus in contemporary, post-Christian
question was posed, somewhat differently, many years ago by the
retired missionary and scholar Lesslie Newbigin: “Can the West be
converted?” Of course, this question relates to the salvation of
human souls, an integral part of Newbigin’s work as a missionary in
India. And it includes a concern for how to prepare Christians for
living in a culture that is indifferent, skeptical, or even hostile
to the commitments of historic Christianity.
more profoundly, Newbigin’s question addresses our confidence, as
Christians, in the power of the Gospel to provide answers and
alternatives to the skepticism, relativism, and uncertainty of our
postmodern moment. How do the teachings of historic Christianity,
such as the Creation, the Image of God in Man, the Incarnation, the
Trinity, Revelation, and Redemption, speak to the burning issues of
our day? How do these doctrines help us address deeper cultural
currents—individualism, the loss of community, the loss of
historical memory, the possibility of truth, the promotion of
self-fulfillment as the highest human value, the changing definition
of what it means to be human—that undermine the possibility of
Christian faith, practice, and witness?
Can the West be converted?
purpose of The Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture is
to provide a venue for wrestling with many of the profound issues at
the intersection of faith and culture. The mission of The
Humanitas Forum is deliberately broader than that of The
Humanitas Project, which focuses on bioethics education as an
increasingly critical area within Christian discipleship. While the
fall 2007 lectures, with Dr. Peter Lawler, will range across several
issues in bioethics and biotechnology, the foundational themes will
be human dignity, human enhancement, and individualism, all of which
have much broader implications in the lives of Christians. Future
Forums will address a wide range of topics such as education,
entertainment, vocation and calling, Christian discipleship in a
secular culture, science and religion, and human suffering.
sum, the mission of The Humanitas Forum on Christianity and
Culture is to address both the need for an accurate understanding of
contemporary culture and the requirements for engaging the culture
on the basis of historic Christian convictions. Again, what does it
mean to follow Jesus in a post-Christian culture?