Evangelicals Must Adopt Christian View of Leisure to Influence Culture, Says Scholar

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Acton Institute Speaker Seth Bartee cutline No. 1 Seth Bartee: “One of the ways we can change the culture is taking this concept of leisure seriously.” Seth Bartee is confident Russell Kirk is not a household name for many Protestant evangelicals, which is one reason he believes the United States' Christian moorings in floundering.

Bartee, who teaches intellectual history at East Tennessee State University and is a visiting scholar at The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Mich., spoke recently at the Acton Institute's Lecture Series, said despite all the good works evangelicals perform in the U.S. and world (international adoptions, volunteering at churches and political activism, for example), they have failed at changing America's predominate culture.

That's where the Plymouth, Mich.-born Russell Kirk (1918-1994) comes in. He provides a biblical framework for work and leisure that is worlds apart from today's popular notion of the two, according to Bartee.

Kirk's lengthy career includes American political theorist, moralist, historian, literary and social critic and fiction author known for his influence on the 20th century American conservatism.

His understanding of leisure has nothing to do with recreational activities, said Bartee.

A path to flourishing Christian intellect

Kirk's 1953 book, "The Conservative Mind," gave shape to the post-World War II conservative movement.

"Russell Kirk gives us a path, an example of a flourishing Christian intellect and also a real mission driven life," said Bartee.

"Kirk is a conservative for the soul. It's more organic, more genuine. He talks about leisure in keeping with our vocations close to the heart of God. Leisure is something that has to be in culture. It's about protecting religion from humanism. One of the things Russell Kirk is thinking is protecting ourselves from what we academics call neo-liberalism."

Studying 'intellectual engagement'

Leisure, as Kirk defined it, is taking the time to immerse oneself in "intellectual engagement," including, but not limited to, reading the works of philosophers such as Plato, Homer and delving into "a real Christian classical education."

Churches and universities play a key role in battling against the ongoing secular, cultural wars, said Bartee.

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"During the cultural wars that we generally think of taking place in the United States in the late 1970s — mostly 1980s and 1990s — it was actually a prolonged reaction to the 1960s," said Bartee.

"On one side, here's the conception of the normative American creed we think of as the Protestant version, and the other side during the cultural wars, we have a group that wants to broaden the American creed, make it more fluid."

No post-9-11 revival

Some evangelicals believed the 9-11 terrorists attacks would usher in a revival — a return to God. Instead, it primarily raised patriotism to a new fervor, but even that didn't last all that long, according to Bartee. In fact, domestic violence in schools and movie theaters, including the 2007 shooting deaths of 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, is a startling realization of the need for a godly revival.

"9-11 does not produce revival," said Bartee. "And we have not found that perfect balancing point between foreign missions and domestic missions. We are actually losing our influence. We really have to do something if we want to have an impact."

Bartee urged churches to rethink their Sunday schools if Christians ever hope to influence the prevailing culture with an understanding of what "leisure" can bring to the table, and get a firmer grasp of a conservative, biblical worldview that can be seeded throughout society.

He exhorted church leaders to follow the examples of "saints of leisure" that impacted culture, such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Flannery O'Connor and Pope John Paul II.

Moreover, churches should help fund the education of young Christian scholars and send them to various fields that will impact society the most, including government and universities.

"I'm asking the local churches to begin to reallocate many of their funding for board missions in a different way," said Bartee. "Why? As a 21st century world begins to change, we absolutely have to get people in places where culture is created if we hope to have an impact."

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, NC is a prime example of infusing its congregation with a classical Christian education, said Bartee.

"They're reigning in Christians from all walks of life and pulling them in where they're reading Plato and Homer and getting a real Christian classical education," said Bartee.

"One of the ways we can change the culture is taking this concept of leisure seriously."



Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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