A student of statistical probabilities would undoubtedly have predicted that the combination was bound to turn up one of these days. Plastic dashboard madonnas and rear-window stickers displaying the Playboy rabbit are both plentiful enough that it was perhaps only a matter of time until some car would carry one of each. But when I finally saw the combination on a Chicago expressway I was unprepared for it, and was immediately thrown into a frenzied attempt to absorb it into my theology. Only the kind of dullard who is totally insensitive to eschatological tensions, or who thinks of the old Brooklyn Dodgers’ infield when he hears the name “Cox,” would take refuge in the too-easy hypothesis that one was merely witnessing the resultant compromise of some intra-family generation gap. No, this had to be one of those “revelatory events” that contemporary theologians are always talking about, one of those symbols, or combinations of symbols, through which one can grasp the Spirit of the Age—or, more literally, the pregnant meaning-centers of our history.
But what message was this Oldsmobile mediating? My first thought was, of course, that the coexistence of the Blessed Virgin and the Playboy Bunny calls for a new chapter in the analysis of possible Christ-culture relationships. What we have here is the Mother of Christ and the Pet of Hefner standing in a relatively stable confrontation within a single organism (sort of), with neither one being quite dominated, or transformed by, or exalted at the expense of, the other. But the more I think about it, the more it looks like the old Lutheran business; and one would hardly expect that a contemporary kairos would be a mere replay of the fifth chapter of H. R. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. ...1
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