Dawson & McAtee on the healing of the West

“In the modern world, and especially among the Protestants, the church has become a secondary society, a kind of religious auxiliary or dependency of the primary society which is the state; and the secular and economic sides of life are continually encroaching upon it, until the Church is in danger of being pushed out of life altogether.

How is this state of things to be remedied? How can Christianity once more become the vital center of human life?

In the first place it is necessary to recover the ground that has been lost through the progressive secularization of modern civilization. We must transcend the individualism and sectarianism of the post Reformation period, and recover our vital contact w/ Christianity as a social reality and an organic unity. And this is impossible unless we transcend the subjectivity and relativism of nineteenth-century thought and recover an objective and realist sense of spiritual truth.

But even this by itself is not enough. It is merely the foundation for the essential task that the modern Christian has got to face. What the world needs is not a new religion, but a new application of religion to life. And Christianity cannot manifest its full efficacy either as a living faith or as an organic social reality unless it heals the maladies of the individual soul and restore the broken unity of man’s inner life. As we have seen, human life today is divided against itself. But this division is not simply due to an opposition between the religious faith that control his external activity. It goes much deeper than that, since it also springs from a disharmony and contradiction between the life of a spirit and the life of the body. Spiritual life and physical life are both real and both are necessary to the ideal integrity of human existence. But if a man is left to himself, w/o a higher principle of order — w/o Grace, to use the Christian term — this integrity, is not realized. The spirit fights against the flesh and flesh against the spirit, and human life is torn asunder by this inner conflict.

The oriental religions attempted to solve this conflict by denial of the body, and the radical condemnation of matter as evil or non existent. They won the peace of Nirvana by the sacrifice of humanity. The Western humanist, on the other hand, tried to find a solution w/i the frontiers of human nature by the elimination of the absolute values and the careful adjustment of man’s spiritual aspirations to his material circumstances. He pacified the revolt of the body by sacrificing the soul’s demand for God.

Christianity cannot accept either of these solutions. It cannot deny either the reality of the spirit or the value of the body. It stands for the redemption of the body and the realization of a higher unity in which flesh and spirit alike become channels of divine life.”

Christopher Dawson
Enquiries Into Religion & Culture

Now as we read Dawson we have to keep in mind that he was a devout Roman Catholic. As such we have to re-interpret somewhat before we can accept what he offers.

For example in this quote Dawson attacks the Reformation as sectarian and individualizing when in point of fact it was 16th century Roman Catholicism that was sectarian and Anabaptists who were responsible for individualizing. None of this would have happened had Rome been willing to repent. Second, we need to keep in mind the way that Medieval Europe developed organic Christianity was by bringing everything into the Church so that nothing could be Christian unless it was sanctioned by the Church. The return to a Christianity that ministers to the whole man can never find us returning to a place where all things have to be under the umbrella of the Church in order to achieve an organic unity. Part of what the Reformation did was to free different spheres of life to be directly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ so that all spheres could serve Christ w/o having to serve the Church. The Reformation delivered people from the mediatorial rule of the Church over their callings and occupations and set them free to place those callings, careers and occupations directly under the mediatorial Lordship of Christ. With the Reformation the Church went from mediatorial to ministerial in its role to the saints.

However, having given those qualifications to what Dawson offers, on the whole I concur w/ Dawson’s main thrust, which is the necessity for Christianity to once again provide a organic unity for man, considered both as spirit and body and considered both as individual and as part of society.

One means of doing that, I believe, is by the insistence that Christianity once again become totatlistic in its expression. Recently, I was reading an argument between two people. One person was arguing that Christianity is invariably a “political faith.” The other person — A R2k theologian — was arguing that Christianity as Christianity was not a political faith at all and that it was a bad thing to try and make it so. Further he was arguing that Christianity is a Spiritual faith. As I read the conversation I found myself thinking that the line of reasoning should really be that Christianity is a spiritual faith and precisely because it is a spiritual faith it invariably and inevitably develops political, economic, aesthetic, familial, educational, ecclesiastical, and legal faiths that are incidental extensions to that spiritual faith. If we really desire a Christianity that once again integrates all of life so that we once again have a organic unity to our lives we must understand that our undoubted Catholic Christian spiritual faith is a undoubted Catholic Christian faith that incarnates itself in every area of life. There is no way that the Christian faith and the implications that are derivative of it can be cordoned of so that it is directly applicable to only one narrow slice of life.

The fact that some Christians would argue that spiritual faith of Christianity is not totalistic in its implications so that it creates a political faith or economic faith or aesthetic faith that is distinctly Christian is more than passing strange. Does the Muslim argue that his faith does not impact the public square? Does the Hindu or the Humanist argue that his faith does not impact the public square? Is it only among some Christians that we here this argument that the Christian faith does not incarnate itself in order to create a organically whole Christian culture?

Dawson says that the Church has become a secondary society in danger of being pushed out of life altogether. I think it is much more serious then that even. I think that Christianity is becoming a fantasy faith that is in danger of being completely irrelevant because it is being amputated of its limbs — by its advocates, no less — so that all it can do is sit and stare as life goes by. Not having the arms and legs that allows it to move in the public square it lays lifeless developing the bed sores that come from pietistic inertia.

Dawson is right that we do not need a new Christian faith. What we need is a new application of the Christian faith. Christianity, by looking and learning from its long history must adjust and reinterpret and reapply our undoubted Catholic Christian faith to the times God has given us.

Dawson is right that however we do this, the end achieved must be the reintegration of the whole of man. Humanism has divided body from soul and has put in concrete man’s alienation w/ himself. Only the Christian faith can provide the organic unity that man cannot live without. Only Christianity can offer the Gospel which heals man’s alienation. Only a people who have been healed of their alienation from God, from others, and from self, can build Christian cultures where the institutions and spheres in those Christian cultures likewise know the relief that comes from alienation being eliminated.

All of this starts with the Gospel. Only a Gospel that preaches a Transcendent God and a Crucified Christ can heal individuals that are individually alienated and cultures that are organically splintered. Only in Christ is their hope for the West.

May God give us the Spirit of Christ to think God’s thoughts after Him and then the unction of the Spirit to articulate these truths in ways that people can hear them.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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