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Matthew Kaemingk

Bold, Beautiful, and Broken

The radical alternative of Abraham Kuyper.

Evangelicals in America have long debated the issues of Christianity and culture. These debates have all too often been founded on a series of theological dichotomies that stunted evangelicalism at critical points in its history. Consider the following questions the movement has wrestled with over the past fifty years. Should evangelicals either engage in culture or remain distinct from culture? Should they engage culture through evangelism or social action? Should their cultural weapons consist of prayer or politics, piety or publishing? Should evangelicals work to conserve a cultural past or to envision a new cultural future? The problematic either/or nature of these debates has plagued evangelicalism's approach to culture since its inception.

In his classic work Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton argues that Christian engagement with culture should reject both pure optimism and pure pessimism. What we need, he argues, is a third way. This alternative is not some sort of "moderate" or "measured" combination of the two options. Instead, Chesterton insists, a Christian must find a way to engage culture as both "a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist." In other words, "what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it." We need "a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent" with the world as it is. For Chesterton, the question before Christians in the world is this: Can you "hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?"

The prospect is enticing, but Chesterton's readers are left to try and imagine a real human being who could both love and hate the world with such vigor. What would such a life of radical optimism and pessimism look like? How could someone possibly sustain these opposing dispositions? Wouldn't such a paragon simply come apart at the seams?

In Abraham Kuyper: ...

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