In my last article for First Things, I commented that the speed of cultural change, combined with our natural tendency to see things such as Supreme Court rulings or dramatic shifts in public morality as discrete phenomena, hinders us from understanding what is actually happening. In sum, I noted, the task at this current time is not so much to explain the faith to the world but to explain the world to the faithful. Only then will we cease to panic at the next surprise development in our culture and be able to respond with thought and care. For the days of religious conservatives being a significant force in American society, and having that coveted “seat at the table,” are gone. The table, if it still exists, is now reserved for a different, far more exclusive clientele.
We can, of course, spend our time lamenting the state of the world or polemicizing against it. Both surely have their place, as the writings of the Old Testament prophets make clear. But then there is a risk that all we are really doing is indulging our own version of the therapeutic by thanking the Lord that we are not like other men. Or we can become so focused on the particular problem of the moment that we are both caught in a perpetual game of whack-a-mole, always slightly behind the real action, and losing sight of the larger context behind the specific cultural phenomena to which we are objecting.
Now is the time for catechesis and for laying the broad conceptual foundations that allow us to address the specific issues with which the future will present us. Only with these foundations in place will we be able to handle with confidence whatever comes our way.
And that is why First Things remains important. The days when it carried weight with Washington insiders are gone. The needs of the faithful in this hour are different: thoughtful essays that expound basic truths and model how they can be applied to the big problems of the day. In a time where tweeted truculence is mistaken by far too many for real insight, and cheap outrage passes for true analysis, there is a need for thoughtful cultural criticism that models virtue even as it calls out the idols of the age.
That is why I like writing for First Things, because this is a vision to which I can subscribe. Please consider donating today.
Carl R. Trueman is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and senior fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. His forthcoming book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, is due to be published in November.
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