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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"

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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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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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. []