Christmas, the incarnation, and the culture war
December 22, 2003
Is Christmas an appropriate time to be discussing the culture war? Yes! Christmas is an opportune time for seeing the culture war in theological and historical perspective. Christmas takes us to the manger scene where God miraculously dwelt in the body of a helpless baby. It tells the story of how God came down from heaven to walk the earth as man — to join us in our mortal ordeal. This message to the world changed the course of history and revolutionized human culture. The incarnation of Christ was to deeply inform the world view of the west — a world view which is now under challenge. (To incarnate means to dwell in the flesh. Jesus Christ is "God incarnate" or God manifest in the flesh.)
Iron Mixed with Clay
There was a time when nearly all the members of western culture shared the same general world-view. Whether or not one had personal faith in God, a world view influenced by the doctrine of the incarnation was taken for granted. Colorful examples of this abounded during the Italian Renaissance when worldly men lived in a nominally Christian but essentially humanistic society. They had some worldly popes which were more interested in art, luxury, grandeur, war, and politics than in religion. This society had a flowering culture of immense creative energies — inspired by the pagan classics of Greece and Rome. However, the whole culture operated within a general world view developed from assumptions drawn from the core doctrines of Christianity. These assumptions were taken for granted. To question them was considered unthinkable.
This situation has interesting similarities to secular America during its Modernist phase. America's prevailing public world view prior to the crack-up of Modernism was a curious blend of Christian, Humanist, and Modernists assumptions. The Christian and the humanist-modernist elements adhered together like the iron mixed with clay — like the feet of the colossus in Nebuchadnezzar's dream which was interpreted by the Prophet Daniel.
The Great Betrayal
The theory of natural law served as a bridge between Christianity and the secular world. This bridge enabled Christians and secularists to agree on a universal moral law and fundamental concepts of good and evil. Therefore, most Americans were usually able to live together in approximate harmony. They had a free, orderly, and essentially secular Republic yet they cherished the ideal of being a Republic under God. America had a spiritual environment in which religion flourished as it did in no other western country of the time. Natural law was made of tough philosophical stuff and made a good binder for the American Republic. In those days there was a real measure of truth in the statement, "...one nation, under God, indivisible..." No amount of harping upon our nation's flaws, and the embarrassing chapters in her history can nullify the fact that we had a social contract of sorts, based upon an essential set of ideas which most people agreed upon.
The Postmodern left threw out natural law, and replaced it with "tolerance," a vague word of indeterminate meaning, which they applied selectively at the expense of the Christian world view. This had the defacto effect of nullifying the implicit social contract which had united Christians and humanists in a body politic since the founding of the Republic. This shattering of the social contract was the great betrayal of our age.
Postmodern America no longer has a common public world view. It split into opposing camps. As Daniel warned, iron and clay does not adhere for long. The Postmodern left aggressively rejected the assumptions drawn from a Christian world view. The culture war began. The left began to use its institutional leverage to drive the Christian voice out of the public square and to nullify the assumptions of the Christian world view.
The Foundation of Social Order
Thirty years ago I read the book, The Foundation of Social Order by Rousas John Rushdoony. The book was about the various counsels and creeds of the church of the second through the fourth centuries . The doctrine of the incarnation of Christ seemed to be perpetually attacked by the heretics of those days. The church leaders always seemed to be able to rally in time, put together a council, refute the heretics, establish a creed, and vindicate the doctrine of the incarnation. "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary..." The Apostle's Creed. (Credo means, "I believe.")
Rushdoony never explained in his book how or why the doctrine of the incarnation became the foundation of social order. But as I read the book, I could not help but notice how urgently persistent Satan was to discredit that particular doctrine. The satanic energy expended in the attempt to nullify the doctrine of the incarnation is reminiscent of the satanic energy which motivated Herod to murder all the babies of Bethlehem — lest the incarnate Christ be born and bring light to the world.
My favorite commentator on art history laughed at the immense intellectual labors which the church councils expended and the ferocious polemical wars they waged over what seemed to him as minor technical quibbles of theology. But it slowly dawned upon me how momentous were the things at stake in the outcome of those "quibbles." 1) The unique character, remarkable vitality, and brilliant cultural flowering of a future European civilization were at stake! 2) The salvation of souls was at stake! No incarnation, no Savior.
The Light of the World
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) This can only be true of one who is fully God and fully man. If He were not fully God His candlepower would be too weak and too limited in time and space to illuminate the whole world. If he were not fully man he could not shine upon men with the kind of light which penetrates the human heart in all the dimensions of its human hungers, human needs, human sicknesses of soul and human longings and aspirations. The Apostle john reminds us, "...that was the true light which lights every man..." (John 1:9) The incarnation of Christ would bring some measure of light to everyone. This is precisely why everything must change after the babe is born in Bethlehem.
The prophesied Messiah who would come and give us light was the most hoped for and longed for event in history. This brings to mind the words of the old hymn, "Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free."
The following words were written 700 years before Christ was born. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined....For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9: 2, 6) The great One who was prophesied to come to bring light to a dark world would be a child who is "born to us" human beings and also one who would be called "The Mighty God." The Messiah would be God incarnate. As God incarnate he would bring light to a humanity plunged in darkness. "He left heaven's glory to enter this world's dismal gloom." (Paradise Lost.)
I love Christmas lights, especially when they twinkle brightly on a very dark night. It was a very dark world which the baby Jesus was born into, but that lowly manger in Bethlehem had a spiritual light emanating from it which would bring light to the whole world. "...Yet in thy dark street shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
Light conveys Truth and reveals what is hidden in darkness — it exposes evil. A number of verses in the New Testament describe Jesus as the revealer of Truth and the exposer of evil. As such, He was the ultimate "politically incorrect" person who has no "tolerance."
Two ideas that the Postmodern left steadfastly resists is that Truth exists and that evil exists. Truth includes the idea of a universal moral law. Evil consists of those things which a healthy conscience cannot tolerate. They are exposed as abomination by the light given to all people by the incarnation. The doctrine of tolerance requires men to deaden their consciences and to plunge the intolerable abominable things into darkness to hide them from sight. One must flee the incarnate "light of the world" to do this.
The idea that there is no objective truth and that there is no moral evil can only be sustained in a state of moral darkness and blindness. But these ideas of denial cannot endure in the light of the incarnation. That is why the left is so eager to drive the tokens of the incarnation out of the public square and out of the public forums of discussion.
The ACLU is currently fighting against three things. The manger scene, the ten commandments, and the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The manger scene reminds us of the incarnation. The Ten Commandments embody elements of the universal moral law. The words "Under God," reminds us of the old social contract in which the secular and the religious live together in a Republic under God. The rejection of the manger scene pushes aside the incarnate One who gives us light concerning Truth, morality, and evil. The rejection of the ten commandments bans that universal moral law we used to agree upon as part of an implicit social contract. The phrase "under God" reminds us that it is God that is holding the Republic together. It is Christ as God incarnate of whom Isaiah said, "...the government shall be upon His shoulder."
Take away the doctrine of the incarnation and the lights go out. When men are plunged in darkness, they rebel against the idea that evil exists and that objective transcendent Truth exists. They deny their responsibilities as members of a body politic. They wage a cultural war. The Republic begins to unravel, strand by strand.
As Christmas comes around again, let us have the incarnation of Christ on our minds, in our hearts, and on our tongues. Let not the manger scene fade from our memory. Let the glad tidings of the light which has come into the world — shining from the blessed incarnation — sound forth from one end of the Republic to the other. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Fred Hutchison, a Christian layman, has had a variety of opportunities to teach, ranging from pulpit invitations to being a banquet speaker. He has written hundreds of essays about religion, politics, history, philosophy, and science, and is the author and director of short dramas and comedies.
He has an MBA and a CPA and is retired. During his career, he was a technical specialist in governmental accounting and auditing, and he wrote technical literature, did research, taught classes, prepared training seminars, and performed quality review work.
Fred is motivated by the pursuit of truth, and is fascinated by how we can abstract information from many fields to assemble a framework of ideas with which to understand the world. However, he believes that scriptural truth is the essential foundation for wisdom and knowledge and an indispensable antidote to self-deception. His book The Stages of Sanctification is the product of twenty years of intermittent study and meditation on the subject.
Fred is working on another book, which will be titled, The Rise and Fall of Western Culture. Later chapters in the book will examine the roots of Postmodernism and our present culture war. Fred was the first "Christian intellectual" selected by the Talbot Department of Philosophy, of the Talbot School of Theology, for a special program. Talbot seeks to network with Christian intellectuals for cooperation in fighting the culture war and to build up the intellectual discipline of Evangelicals.
© Copyright 2003 by Fred Hutchison
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