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The Relationship between Cultural Conservatism and Theological Conservatism

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series

"Preserving the Truth in our Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

What I have described in this series is nothing more than historic conservative Christianity—Christianity that aims at conserving God’s truth both doctrinally and aesthetically. It is popular today to speak deridingly about “cultural conservatism” vs. “theological conservatism.” Most evangelicals and increasing numbers of fundamentalists claim that cultural conservatism is at best unnecessary and at worst legalistic. For example, Mark Driscoll has proudly claimed to be “theologically conservative and culturally liberal,”1 and more and more fundamentalists are trying to distance themselves from so-called “cultural fundamentalism.”

On the contrary, my argument here is that theological conservatism is impossible in the long run without cultural conservatism. Theological conservatism alone may be able to preserve orthodox doctrinal statements, but that is not all there is to truth. It is only when we commit to preserving certain forms of expressing those doctrinal ideas that we will successfully preserve the truth.

This is why our worship forms are so important. Many of the songs hailed today as those rightly expressing biblical orthodoxy are little more than systematic theology set to a catchy tune. Such worship forms, I am arguing, do little to successfully preserve truth rightly imagined, and may actually hinder such preservation.

Therefore, if we desire to preserve the truth of Scripture by being both factually accurate and faithful to the way biblical truth is imagined, I offer the following suggestions:

  1. We must commit to preserving not just factually accurate articulations of biblical doctrine but also forms that express that doctrine in the same kinds of ways that Scripture does.
  2. We must choose worship forms that shape the imagination in the same kinds of ways that Scripture does.
  3. We must nurture and cultivate the Judeo-Christian worship tradition rather than allowing secular or pagan tradition to inform our worship.
  4. We must transfer that tradition to our children by immersing them in our worship as early as possible.
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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 138. I would suggest that this is a key distinction between historic fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. While fundamentalists have never been perfectly conservative culturally, they have always been more cautious in adopting the most novel cultural forms. []

4 Responses to The Relationship between Cultural Conservatism and Theological Conservatism

  1. While I appreciate your passion I feel that by making such a bold statement you and those with your views are causing Christians everywhere a lot of heartache and confusion on topics of music. I too am from a conservative church and appreciate those who have conservative values and beliefs…BUT I think that we should start fighting battles that we know are morally right from wrong instead of this music bandwagon. If we would focus more on our Lord than the music we think He likes it would do our culture more good than anything.

    I went to a very conservative Bible College like Bob Jones and learned that it was okay to play Classical music, and mix it with hymns in arrangements. I know Bob Jones students do the same. There are tons of approved classical/Christian pieces that are so called great for our Worship service, but do you think Christ can be honored by sexular music in the Worship service. I feel that mixing absolute secular music in the church service would far more outweigh the new worship/hymn combination in being inappropriate. Most authors of classical music were outright haters of God…yet some think its okay.

    I think any Christian on either side needs to be careful the way we approach this topic. So many from conservative Christian collages make this such an issue that Satan in really using this to divide the Lord's children. We should approach our brothers always in love and this also applies to music.

    I love the Lord more than anything in life and want to serve Him with all that I have, but it grieves me to see us put God in a small box. 1 Corinthians 13:12 – For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as alsoI am known." I think we may just be very shocked when we stand before the Lord and learn what He really likes in our music. Surely it will be that we have a heart of worship for Him.

  2. Hi, Valerie. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I would encourage you to read the entire series if you have not already. As you do, you will understand better, I think, what I mean by conservatism. Additionally, Michael Riley has just begun a series here in which he will further develop the foundational principles of conservatism that we feel best help preserve biblical Christianity.

  3. " It is only when we commit to preserving certain forms of expressing those doctrinal ideas that we will successfully preserve the truth."

    Do you have any Bible examples or commands to validate this assertion?

    Thanx

  4. Hi, Will.

    Have you read the whole series? I think if you do you will at least understand my argument better, even if you don't agree with it.

    My argument is not based on a chapter and verse per se, but rather taking into account the reality of biblical inspiration itself, with a view that The Bible is a collection of inspired literary forms that shape the moral imagination in certain ways. My argument is that it is only when we continue nurturing similar kinds of forms that the truth of Scripture will be preserved, especially in terms of the affections and imagination.

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