Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Marsden on Culture vs. Faithfulness

Not long ago I finished reading George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870–1925. It was not a light read, but it was definitely far more intriguing than you might guess from the title. I've not heard as much comment on Marsden as I might have expected. Perhaps I'm just too young to have read many of his books when they were fresh and under discussion.

I doubt that I will ever delve into blogging about the book, mostly because I'm an admitted church history dunderhead, and I don't feel qualified. (I should admit that most of the quotes in my guessing game were from this text.) Perhaps, however, some of you might appreciate the final few sentences of the book. If I ever were to write a book, I hope I could sum up my thesis as well as he has.
Christians' trust in God may be mingled or confused with some culturally formed assumptions, ideals, and values. Inevitably it will. The danger is that our culturally defined loves, allegiances, and understandings will overwhelm and take precedence over our faithfulness to God. So the identification of cultural forces, such as those with which this book is concerned, is essentially a constructive enterprise, with the positive purpose of finding the gold among the dross.


Michael C. said...

Excellent quote.

With the completion of Marsden's book is a celebratory guessing game in order?

Ben said...

I've got one I've been kind of sitting on. It's not from Marsden, but I think I cleaned him out on the good ones. I don't think this will disappoint, even if it's too easy.

Keith said...


Do you take from Marsden's quote that he is "uneasy" about influencing culture?

(The following is written seriously but with a smile): To avoid a charge from Dave that I am assuming something, let me be clear, I am just asking IF you think that. You definitely don't say that, and I am not sure you even intended to imply or suggest that. I am honestly curious about your position.

(Still writing with a smile): My view, for the record is that Marsden is not opposed to cultural influence.

Marsden taught for many years at Calvin College which is unabashed in its commitment to "The Cultural Mandate." That school was founded by Kuyperians and is still committed to a type of Kuyperian worldview Christianity.

Some of the current Calvin College Kuyperians are "uneasy" about equating mainstream American culture, or "conservativism" with Christian culture. However, none of them are uneasy about the need for Christians to influence and impact culture.

Marsden now teaches at Notre Dame University. I suspect that one reason he does so is to make an impact on culture.


Ben said...


I don't take that from this quote at all. I don't know well enough to say authoritatively, but I suspect that your estimation of Marsden is correct.

That said, this quote and this book as a whole are not primarily about whether fundamentalism should influence culture, but how it has and how culture has influenced it. So Marsden isn't saying here that he is uneasy or comfortable with influencing culture.

I will probably say this again on the other thread, but I have never suggested that I don't want the church to influence culture. My purpose is to argue that influencing culture is at most an indirect result of the church fulfilling its mission. Influencing culture should not be at the top of the church's priority list.