Writing, not reading, the signs

I’m paging through the most recent First Things (March 2010), which is the 20th anniversary issue of the publication devoted to “religion in the public square.” And yes, this does make me feel old, thank you for asking. In any case, the first part of the magazine includes brief quotes from essays written in the magazine over the years. I thought this one, from the August/September 1990 essay “Worldly Wisdom, Christian Foolishness,” by Peter L. Berger, was interesting:

In a recent conversation, a sociologist in Spain who has studied the great changes that have occurred int he Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council said something that struck me as very insightful. Christians who consider themselves “progressives,” he said, always tell us to “read the signs of the times”; has it never occurred to these people, he asked, that they might write some of these signs? At least in recent years, the stance of Christians (and by no means only Roman Catholics) in the face of the “wisdom” of the modern world has been largely passive, even supine–a “reading” rather than “writing” attitude.

The Gospel was subjected to the judgment of this or that worldly standard; rarely did the reverse occur.

There’s never been a time when the church didn’t have to engage the culture, obviously, but why is it that some people think the church should be following the culture and not leading it? You see the pressure to follow in many different ways. I couldn’t help but think of the above snippet when I read this recommendation that churches sort of follow demographic trends against childbearing — instead of leading the culture into a love of family, life, children, etc.


Writing, not reading, the signs — 4 Comments

  1. There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.
    –attr. to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin

    Whatever happened to:

    The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
    Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963

  2. At least in the more liberal and progressive denominations, I think they actually did lead society to where it is now in terms of contraception (and its logical conclusion abortion) rather than “caving in” to society. Before the Anglicans turned their back on the traditional Christian stance on contraception in the 30’s, mass society also didn’t embrace it. Fast forward to the early 90’s – if there wasn’t so much “dialogue” in the ELCA and its fellow travellers on the subject of homosexuallity would society have embraced homosexuallity the way it now does?

    Rather than being lead by the culture, I actually think that in many cases heterodox and apostate churches have lead the culture to see things as adiaphora that are to be condemned.

    Dialogue does not breed tolerance, it breeds ambivalence and gives the culture a sense of permission.

  3. In this discussion, do the words of our beloved leader, “it’s not your grandfather’s church” somehow fit? I think I see a connection, but then, what do I know?

  4. I think that the time is ripe for Lutherans to review what is meant by The Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. I see well-meaning confessional Lutherans even being led by the political right-wing agenda rather than the principles of Lutheranism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.