The Crusades and Culture: Imbibing, Baptizing or Transforming?

The impact of the changing cultural scene has caused us as Christians to ponder the gospel afresh. This is a good thing. But it also has challenges. With these incredible changes there are often two responses. On the one hand, there is a temptation to separate from and form holy huddles of protection from the culture and those makers of the contemporary, secular culture. On the other hand, there is the temptation to accommodate, to update biblical truth, to become progressive in our understanding of doctrine.

As a parallel historical referent, consider the speech that launched the Crusades, which most conclude today was a failure: “The Speech that Launched the Crusades.”

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II delivered the speech that launched the Crusades. According to Dan Doriani, some call it the most influential speech in human history. Everyone today agrees that the Crusades were a disaster. So is there any point in revisiting them?

Yes, states Doriani, because the case for the Crusades was so well-suited to the culture that almost every major Christian leader of the age fervently endorsed them. How did this happen? Why did most agree with Urban when most everyone today looks  back at the Crusades and see how wrong it was and conclude it was a failed attempt at Christianity and how to be in the world but not of the world. According to Doriani,

Every theme of Urban's speech resonated with his listeners: pilgrimage, honor, land, brotherhood, knights of Christ, and remission of sin. Urban's speech had unprecedented effect because it combined familiar and widely accepted themes, in a fresh way, for an exalted cause. . . . The answer is that he and his contemporaries baptized notions from their culture that are alien to Scripture: pilgrimage, the need to forcibly avenge affronts to the clan's honor, the idea that works of penance are instrumental to salvation.

This raises important questions for Evangelicals. What elements of contemporary Christian culture are we imbibing and baptizing for a spiritual effect? What of that former culture are we attempting to salvage or recreate thinking it is biblical with no cultural accoutrements? What are at odds with the Word and character of God? How do we create another gospel which is no gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)?




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