So I’ve have a strangely debilitating and demoralizing summer cold. No comments, please, about my lack of manliness in whining about something I should find easy to fight through and rise above. But I’ve started to work on my talk next week at the ISI honors program. It’s on American Exceptionalism and includes stuff you’ve already seen. Here’s a paragraph that you haven’t:
Why are heresies not all bad? They highlight something that’s been neglected by the tradition. They usually have a Christian point. When I watch a low-church movie starring Robert Duvall—Tender Mercies or The Apostle—I know I’m seen the portrayal of Christian truth, if far from the whole truth. The murderer on-the-run preacher in The Apostle who founds a church where class and status make no difference, a congregation of displaced misfits who are poor and poorer, dumb and dumber, black and white, male and female, and fatter and fatter still, is telling people who need to hear (because they can’t read) what they most need to know to turn their lives around: They can be saved, despite it all, if they believe in Jesus and “Holy Ghost power.” There’s something exceptional about a country that carries the truth about amazing grace in its popular culture and its country music. Conservatives often exaggerate what a techno-wasteland America is by denying that evangelicals and Pentecostals are really Christian. Sure, no other country is plagued so much by warehouse churches, touchy-feely platitudes posing as theology, and the soul-challenged music that’s called Christian contemporary, praise music, and so forth. But none of those criticisms get to the question of whether the low-churchers really believe or whether they really practice the virtues—beginning with charity—that flow from love of the personal God.