The debate, as such, has little or no bearing on me here. I certainly don't want to get into it right now. I think (a) a lot of the debate there is going to end up being fruitless, (b) I don't have much exposure to the emergent church, and (c) I'm more interested (now anyway) in one of the underlying points.
My concern is more with cultural engagement in the abstract. I said in an email to one of the people running Slice that "I am very wary of Christians who have a knee-jerk "anything about this culture is evil" reaction. It is simply uneducated and worse, illogical...I think the fundamental concern I have is Christians who take to heart only the verses pertaining to how the gospel will seem foolishness to the world, and then use that as an excuse to be foolish." This seems, sadly, to be the case for many of the readers of that site. They excoriate musicians who try to make Christian rap, not on the merits of their artistry, but on the basis that rap music is itself evil. And the readers of that site are by no means singular. Now rap may be a bad form of art, or even a construct solely for the purpose of making money off white suburban kids, and Nameless, the Christian rapper castigated in Slice, may not be great rapper, but it is more important to address him on the terms of his art. Call him derivative, critique his poor production, but don't dismiss him before listening. I don't think there are many (if any) forms of art that can be called evil in the abstract, and the role of the Christian in art, in science, in medicine, accounting, or any other sphere of human endeavors ought to be to redeem it for Christ.
To the credit of Slice, the reply I got from Jim Bublitz was on target, and he said (replying to my suggestion of reading J. Gresham Machen on the subject) "Be careful not to go off the deep end with cultural relevance. I'm familiar with Machen, and I know that he had a good balance on this...I agree with your statement that the foolishness of the Gospel should not be used as an excuse to be foolish. Your reasoning (and logic) can be taken to an unbiblical extreme however, to the point where cultural demands out-weigh scriptural demands."
Certainly an understandable and reasonable response. But without understanding (a rare gift, to be sure) this attitude is taken by many to be carte blanche to treat the world as latter-day Gnostics or Manicheans and see anything that doesn't take place inside the walls of church to be evil. It isn't. We are all part of the world, and though it must always be viewed through the lens of Christianity, we cannot help viewing it. Machen puts it thus:
[W]hat more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experiencewhat more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error?
Are then Christianity and culture in a conflict that is to be settled only by the destruction of one or the other of the contending forces? A third solution, fortunately, is possiblenamely consecration. Instead of destroying the arts and sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time consecrate them to the service of our God.
This, I think is the attitude Christians ought to be taking. It is not an easy path, but nothing worthwhile is easy. And though I don't know that rap music is a worthwhile enterprise, I do know that monasticism is not the solution, and neither is angry denunciation of anything that doesn't come straight of the Bible.