Challenging the notion that such systems are inevitably ordered by the “ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy,” Baker reminds us of the role of the church in culture and political life. Rather than simply deferring to and relying on the “internal logic” of various societal spheres, Christians are called to contribute something distinct and transcendent in its arc and aim — whether in business, politics, science, academia, or otherwise.
“The church is the soul of the system,” Baker writes, and springing from that root is a notion of freedom and the good that “transcends our worldly instrumentalities and principalities.”
As Baker explains:
Why not just leave out the church? Why not leave out that Christian particularity that you insist is so important to culture? Why can we not just have the freedom and democracy and ignore the rest? Fine, the faith may have helped us reach this point, but I do not know why we need it now. We have evolved socially and politically.
The simplest answer is to invoke Elton Trueblood’s magnificent metaphor of the cut-flower civilization. A flower grows and becomes beautiful because it is rooted in the ground where it can access the things it needs to live, such as nutrition and water. The roots are life. If you cut the flower at its stem and put it in a vase, it will remain beautiful for a time, but it will die and decay. What was beautiful will be lost.
Our civilization is like the flower. The flower did not simply arrive fully formed and beautiful. It grew and developed over time in response to certain events (such as rain, sun, and wind) and in connection with a source, which was the fertile ground. The things that we value in our civilization also grew and developed in response to certain events and in connection with a source, which in the West has largely been the Bible. If we separate ourselves from that source and simply declare ourselves to be appreciators of things like freedom and democracy, a question arises: Why do we believe in those things and not in others? What were the reasons that we came to believe in those things in the first place? If we no longer believe those reasons to be valid, then are the concepts we embraced valid?
Civilization, particularly our kind of civilization, is far more vulnerable than we would like to believe, especially if we turn our backs on God—especially if we turn our backs on a God who intervened in history.
You can purchase the book here.
Listen to Baker’s recent discussion of the book on the Research on Religion podcast.
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