Abraham Kuyper, Quidditch and a Velvet Elvis
It seems that even our little effort to deconstruct the assumptions of what is or isn’t “Christian art” or what faithful citizens should or shouldn’t be advocates for (imagine! not all Biblical Christians are part of the ideological right) or why showing interest in contemporary thought forms like postmodernism and cultural forms (like blogs) just doesn’t catch on. People who we thought understood our vision, our story, that we have this “in the world but not of it” culturally-relevant, uniquely Christian worldview thing going on are shocked—shocked---about our little stock of Potter. (When I hear how many thousands (!) some of the big chain stores have sold in a few days, I am shocked, shocked.) Or fairly loyal customers got it somewhere else because they just didn’t think of us. We’re a “Christian” bookstore, after all. Why do many good Christian folk have these assumptions? (Did you ever hear me tell of the time a customer was perplexed that we carried a Christian children's picture book about animals and their God-given habitats? That is new age enviromentalism that lady warned me!)
I am letting you in on this little irritation not to show myself as a money-grubbing retailer who has sour grapes about not adequately milking the Potter cash cow. It is the deeper, bigger question of my life---how to help those whose primary loyalty is to the Kingdom of God to more robustly serve our living Lord in such a way that it makes us more human, not less, better citizens, sharper artists, more aware of current events, engaged, alive and evaluating all of this in light of our deepest convictions. (I like the nice, basic, new John Fischer book, Confessions of a Caffienated Christian, which not only riffs on the coffeehouse culture, but invites us to a very hipster play on John 10:10. And of course the title I often mention in this regard, Charlie Peacock's New Way To Be Human.) Indeed, from the arts to the sciences, politics to business, education to entertainment, questions of global politics to questions of what books we read to our children, all of this can be joyfully pursued not out of fear of this world, but out of a keen sense that, as the old hymn puts it, “This is our Father’s World.” The Potter question, like the question of the third world debt or Live 8 or fair trade that I wrote about at the Hearts & Minds July column, are just examples, case studies, daily quandaries of what it means to be faithful in living out the implications of our confessions in everything.
So, thanks to those who recommended some nifty articles and good websites. There are just tons of resources that help us “think Christianly” about pop culture, film, media, the arts, and the like. One very helpful site is the blog from the Student Activities board at Calvin College, where some of the lectures from the scrumptious “Festival of Faith and Music” conference are downloadable. Hear talks by performing artists like Bill Mallonee, David Bazan or Sarah Masen, or cultural critics like David Dark or Steve Stockman. It was a gathering that was (and their lectures are) as their main man Ken Heffner likes to say, “a signpost of the Kingdom.”
One book that helps us get beneath the popular culture controversies and probe more deeply into the deepest theological underpinnings of common grace ministries and finding God in the ordinary comes from the pen of T.M. Moore. Moore (who himself wrote a book called Redeeming Popular Culture: A Kingdom Approach, which is not unlike my old house-mate Bill Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God In Popular Culture) just released Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology which were lectures given at the Jonathan Edwards Institute conference in Annapolis a few years back.
(We just came back from selling books at that event a couple of weeks ago and we commend their website to you ---the recordings of the lectures from previous JEI events are available as are the stellar ones from this year’s event. They are excellent, especially those done by good friends and former CCO staffers, Dale Westervelt (On Callings and Vocations) and Steve Garber, who did two excellent and moving, intellectually rich keynotes.) Our friend the Jolly Blogger also has some nice notes from the conference as he gave his day-by-day impressions and summaries of the main talks.)
Consider the Lilies by T.M. Moore essentially explains how a high Calvinist regard for the doctrine of creation gives us the basis for not only the obvious—caring for the ecology of creation---but for exploring the vast array of possibilities God put into the creation. He does this, not surprisingly to those who know these things, by exploring some of the teachings of 18th century Puritan leader, preacher, philosopher and President of Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards. In T.M.’s capable hands, Edwards is shown to unlock the grand notion of God’s sovereignty over God’s world, holding before us the obligation to care, to open it up, to explore and (as Genesis 2 puts it) to “tend and keep the garden.” An odd century or so after Jonathan Edwards, Dutch neo-Calvinist Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper came to that same Princeton and delivered the “Stone Lectures” whose themes ring into the 20th century and into my heart through the likes of Francis Schaeffer or Charles Colson or Calvin Seerveld or the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference and animate our bookstore efforts that we ruminate about with you now. Kuyper insisted, in those lectures, that Christ is King of all creation, that the Reformation era emphasis of God’s sovereign grace has implications not just for salvation, election and assurance of eternal life, but for the implications of our daily thinking about commerce, the arts, science and politics. The Stone Lectures are still in print (Lectures on Calvinism) and although laden with a thick, late 1800’s rhetorical style, they provide a potent counter-punch to the lame religious attacks against Harry Potter; this whole-life vision of creation and redemption is a viable alternatives to the kind of piety that teaches us to run away from God’s good world or the complex issues of the day.
Not only have the ideas of those lectures and the Dutch revival/reformation that shaped them, influenced Beth and I and our team here at Hearts & Minds, but it has significantly shaped at least a few streams within contemporary evangelicalism. Peter Heslam, for instance, does an extraordinary job of documenting the vast impact of these amazing Princeton lecture of Prime Minister Kuyper in Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. It isn’t quite as thick as Harry P and it isn’t, I suppose, nearly as much fun---nobody plays Quidditch, I’ll admit---but it surely will bring you irrevocable insight about a movement of God that gives us good basis for the sort of cultural engagement friends of Hearts & Minds are all about.
If our story here is part of your story there, thank God with us for the likes of T.M. Moore who writes about God’s creation so nicely, and Peter Heslam, who unpacks the historical and cultural significance of Abraham Kuyper. And thank God that, in His mercy, Christ really does reign over a very good world.
You know somebody else who gets us to this kind of place, this Christ-honoring affirmation of a good, if considerably fallen and idolatrous, world, a world about which we are called to care? One wild and honest emerging church dude, Rob Bell, of Mars Hill Church and nooma video fame. Yes, we stock his nooma DVD’s and, happily, we announce---shout about, really!---his brand new book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Now that needs a blog or two itself. (He is, after all, the kind of cool guy who most likely does play Quidditch.) Order it from us right away if you dare—it is a refreshingly honest and creative and visionary work, packaged in a particularly handsome, innovative hardcover, which brings to mind the White Album---or hang in there with me here as I will surely be talking about it again.
Thanks for caring about these things, supporting our business and spreading the word about these little essays. We are very, very appreciative.