December 17, 2016

There is no “Christian Culture,” though Christianity can Affect Culture

By In C.Jay Engel

It’s important not to confuse the effects that Christian ethics may have on a society with either an expansion of the kingdom of heaven or widespread believe in the gospel itself.

Christianity, being a philosophical system which, among other things, has a theory of ethics, can affect culture in such a way that the moral habits of individuals in society reflect the same principles that are discovered in the Bible. Western Civilization has been very clearly impacted by the Christian religion and this can be recognized in almost all eras since Constantine.

But as our present and loathsome western culture shakes off the last remains of centuries of Old World customs and social norms, it is important to not see this as per se a shaking off of the gospel or a rejection of the true church. Of course, these things are constantly rejected and mocked. But they have been rejected and mocked since Constantine. There have been eras of reformation. Both in Calvin’s time and later in England with the opposition to the state church. And even later with the efforts of Old Princeton and then with Machen and the battle against Progressivism.

But in general historically, an actual gospel-believing and church-embracing group of people within society is a rare event.

The dismissal of the cultural effects of Christian ethics in our time does not mean that true Christianity is just now being opposed. Christianity was rejected in our era long before the cultural remains of its impact were led to the slaughter.

The cultural effects of Christianity can exist- and have existed in the United States– without there actually being a majority of Christians, defined as one who adheres to the gospel and is therefore saved.

As Brandon Adams wrote a couple years ago: “The myth of a Christian nation was the residue of sacralism that is only now being washed off 17 centuries after Constantine hijacked Christianity.”

Just because a nation of people culturally appreciate religious traditions and adhere to social norms and habits that have resulted from a heavy Christian presence, does not mean that the nation is “Christian.” A Christian can only be an individual.

And believe me, I’m a huge fan of Old World customs and social habits. As well, I believe Christianity had something to do with these mannerisms in the Western World. I constantly criticize the state, media, education, and entertainment avenues of cultural destruction. I long for the days of the Old Culture and freedom from leftist claptrap in all its forms.

But the gospel is a set of propositions relating to the work of Christ and the church is the collection of God’s elect. Christianity as a worldview can be related to and have an affect on, but not to be confused with, the culture around us.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to
  • Brian Hawkins

    Great post right to the end, then I got confused by the second to last paragraph, summarized: “I’m a huge fan of Old World customs and social habits.”

    I’m not sure what you are referring to here—would you mind elaborating? What customs? What social habits?

    • C. Stayton

      I don’t want to put words in the author’s mouth, but my guess is that by “Old World customs” he is referring to traditional Western bourgeois culture, which was conservative (society as properly grounded in family and property), individualist, capitalist (savings/investment-driven rather than consumer-driven), and opposed to moral nihilism/relativism. It was concurrent with the rise of classical liberalism (rooted in the works of John Locke, Adam Smith, etc.). Some of its theories of beauty/art can be traced back to the classical Greek tradition, and in general the concepts of symmetry and the “natural state” of things factor heavily into its definitions of moral and artistic beauty.

      Basically it means any customs and social habits arising out of a family-based, property-rights-based society, and hence a society of “natural aristocracy” (to borrow a phrase from Hoppe).