Bags of Bran

Only These Square Inches
April 9, 2014, 1:04 pm
Filed under: Biography | Tags: ,

Since that fateful day in 1948 when Harold John Ockenga threw down the gauntlet and told the fundamentalists that they ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of lowbrow stinky-britches, the broad evangelical vortex has been searching in vain for some sort of boundary to hem itself in. Having found none in the Bible, despite Ockenga’s insistence that they wouldn’t cross that line, they felt free to do whatever they wanted as long as the Bible didn’t explicitly say they couldn’t. This freedom has expanded into all sorts of behavior that was formerly seen as vicious among polite company, and unheard of amongst redeemed folk. Nowadays, in fact, even Biblical prohibitions can be overcome by merely saying a couple of magic words over them. “Every square inch!” is one such formula, hearkening back to Abraham Kuyper’s famous sentence excised from a forgotten speech. It is interesting that evangelicals use this phrase, because their interest in geographical conquest is next to nil: what they mean, as anyone could gather in a few minutes’ sleuthing about in a Christian book store, is cultural conquest. And by cultural conquest, they primarily mean, by every evidence, imitation of fads.

The Bible is rather clear about what to do when confronted with unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), but it is a bit unnerving that these seem to hold a special attraction in the hearts of those evangelicals most committed to redeeming every square inch.

Even the most casual observer could detect an antipathy for expressions of high culture among evangelicals. We don’t see them trying to redeem, say, ballet; or sonnet-writing. The voices that command the most attention really don’t show much interest in culture outside of movies, beer, Top-40 music, video games, and whatever else the world is currently advertising; to say nothing of potent critique or penetrating analysis.

I would suggest to an evangelical who is bent on redeeming culture that he would need redeem all of that culture. That includes everything that the current culture is built upon, because manifestations of previous cultures are antecedent foundations of current cultures. I hope that makes sense: Without Baroque, no Classical; without Classical, no Jazz; without Jazz, no Rock; without rock, no boy bands; without boy bands, no__________. If you don’t redeem it all, you really don’t believe “every square inch.”

So if somewhere back in the roots of American culture Native Americans perfected the art of knapping spear points from hunks of flint for the hunting of wild game, serious-minded evangelicals are going to have to address that and redeem it. The same goes for pyramid-building, cannibalism, knight-errantry, cenobitic monasticism, aqueducts, cave painting, temple prostitution, dadaism, mummification, astrology, and every other cultural manifestation that has made its way into the fabric and foundation of Western culture. Every square inch: even the onerous, silly, banal, trivial, difficult, and self-defeating ones.

The square inches that evangelicals seem most interested in redeeming are few, ephemeral, and trivial, as any casual observer could discern. If they are merely trying their hand at indie rock, fashion, and cupcakes before they attack epic-writing (an evangelical Beowulf?) and cathedral-building, it is going to take them a while. I wonder if they would realize what they were losing in the process.


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