Having first recommended books which expound the strong foundation of our faith, I have moved on to recommending books which reflect upon the milieu in which we must live our faith. Godliness is the Scripture is never merely correct doctrinal statements, signed and sealed behind glass for all to see. It is also right living oriented by a right heart. In order to keep this right orientation, it is imperative that we understand something of the world we inhabit. The authors and books I have recently recommended are those that were able to critically evaluate and appreciate the contemporary West in light of transcendent truths. By listening carefully to them, even when we must correct some of their assertions by the Scripture, we will be equipped to wisely apply the Scriptures in our day.
Roger Scruton is in this class of authors. Perhaps the most widely known conservative British philosopher of our day, Scruton has written numerous books affirming and defending the best of Western civilization. Scruton says that T. S. Eliot taught him to “how to say ‘yes’ to old things by making them new.” This is not a popular position among the intelligentsia, and Scruton has had to bear his share of scorn despite his vast erudition. In reading Scruton, you will encounter an intellectually rigorous defense of many of the best things we have inherited in our civilization. By reading Scruton, you will gain conceptual clarity and learn to make proper distinctions.
A good place to begin reading Scruton is with Culture Counts, a slim and accessible volume published by Encounter Books. Here Scruton discusses what culture is and why it is important. As he says in the preface,
“[Culture] is a source of knowledge: emotional knowledge, concerning what to do and what to feel. We transmit this knowledge through ideals and examples, through images, narratives, and symbols. We transmit it through the forms and rhythms of music, and through the orders and patterns of our built environment. Such cultural expressions come about as a response to the perceived fragility of human life, and embody a collective recognition that we depend on things outside our control. Every culture therefore has its root in religion, and from this root the sap of moral knowledge spreads through all the branches of speculation and art. Our civilization has been uprooted. But when a tree is uprooted it does not always die….”
Christians of our day tend to share in the general nearsightedness which inflicts our society. We even read the Bible that way. But reading Scruton can supply some glasses which correct myopia and enable us to see how a host of cultural matters relate to God’s truth. For example, as I prepared for preaching from 1 Corinthians 8-10 on food offered to idols, I wanted to explore how idolatry manifests itself in “enlightened” and “sophisticated” 21st century America. As usual, Scruton provided some stimulating insights. Idolatry is not something confined to ancient times and barbaric tribes. Scruton sees this. Would to God that Christians saw it as well!
So, read Culture Counts. While you are at it, read Beauty and Understanding Music and more. You will find a congenial dialogue partner in Roger Scruton.