As evangelical christians living at the dawn of the 21st century, we often lack a method and a language for addressing the challenges of our current age. Yes, we have the will and the passion to defend our faith, the biblical knowledge to support our arguments, and often the Christian charity to couch those arguments in love. Yet for all our passion, knowledge, and love, something in our approach is lacking; something about our vocabulary is deficient. We seem powerless to convict, engage, and transform the secular world. Consider three examples:
The word reaches our churches, colleges, and seminaries that a resurgence of paganism is sweeping the country, that New Age philosophies are rampant and that the serious worship of Sophia (Greek for wisdom) is chanted in the not-so-hidden recesses of our mainline denominations, and we are unsure of how to respond. Many evangelicals can expose the heresies that lie behind such practices; of apologists we have no lack. But how adept are we at identifying the deeper spiritual needs that the New Age seems to be meeting? How well-versed are we in the tenets of paganism and their challenge to the early church? And how well do we understand that the mythical corn god of pagan ritual represents a yearning that should end its fulfillment in the historical, incarnate God of the Bible?
The scientific community joins forces with the academy and the media to ridicule us for our belief in God's creation of the world, and perhaps to sigh together in disbelief that modern, educated men and women could accept as literal events the miracles recorded in the Bible. Certainly we've gotten better at answering such critiques; we tend to be less insular than we were in the past, and we sometimes manage to move from defensiveness to shaping the debate. But we're still fighting our battles on "their" turf, on a scientific and philosophical groundwork that was defined during the Enlightenment and all but completed by the end of the Victorian Age. Scientists such as Michael Behe have done a remarkable job at countering modernists' data, and law professor Philip Johnson has exposed the flaws in their logic, but we've yet to shift the playing field from the theories to the competing assumptions that underlie those theories. We've yet to educate ourselves, much less the culture, that many of the "givens" we take for granted (most notably, that the foundation of all true knowledge is material, empirical, and quantifiable) are as recent as they are unproven.
The modern and postmodern literati are fast dethroning language and the arts as bearers of divine meaning—or, for that matter, of any meaning. As Christians we answer by producing our own works of art: some of them original masterpieces of lasting value, but most of them short-lived cannon fodder for a Christian subculture with plenty of surplus capital. But, again, we persist in speaking their language, in accepting their dichotomies, their theories, their values. The few literary and theoretical critiques we do produce are often too arcane to reach a broader public, and tend to be intimidated by, and even adulatory of, the academy they are critiquing.
A brave few are breaking from this tendency and are championing a more traditional view of art that is grounded in the Incarnation. However, the necessary link between what happened once for all in a stable at Bethlehem and what occurs on a lesser level in the creation and appreciation of great art is little explored by evangelical critics and even less put into practice by evangelical artists.