Some while back I wrote a couple of blog posts that reflected on some ideas from the book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition by the British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. Many readers of this blog have benefited a great deal from reading one of the more than fifty books Scruton wrote during his lifetime. Scruton passed away on January 12 after a six-month battle with cancer. He will be sorely missed by conservative evangelicals as well as others in the conservative movement.
Roger Scruton didn’t talk a lot about theology per se, although he did write a “personal history” of the Church of England and spoke often about the importance of Christianity both spiritually and culturally, and the problems our culture is encountering because of its decline. I could point out numerous points of difficulty with his theological views. But his Christianity was of the old, Tory, Anglican kind, and when it came to questions of morality, culture, and public life, he shared with conservative evangelical thinkers an affirmation of the broad outlines of the cultural and intellectual commitments of the Christian Tradition. So he was a sort of “co-belligerent” with conservative evangelicals whose theological commitments have driven them to defend the Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral foundations of the Christian West in the face of the erosion of that consensus.
I had heard of the legendary Sir Roger many times before I ever read a book by him. This Cambridge-trained analytic philosopher was prolific in writing books and articles on a breadth of topics. He wrote on economics, postmodern intellectual trends in the universities, sexuality, and politics, but mostly art and culture, with his most well-known popular contribution being his BBC documentary Why Beauty Matters.
When we began to revise our general education curriculum at Welch College more than a decade ago, to help it more consistently to reflect the Christian intellectual tradition that has always been at the college’s heart and core, Scruton’s Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Beseiged, was one of the books I asked the committee to read. Before that book, I had benefited from his masterful An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, a tour of the problems that beset the culture of modernity and the erosion of the culture it is fast replacing. I have also enjoyed his How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism; his critique of postmodern critical theory and other brands of intellectual leftism, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left; and later some of his reflections on art such as Music as an Art, and several lectures he gave on representational art at the TRAC2014 conference.
Theologically conservative Protestants like us need to listen to Roger Scruton. We won’t agree with everything he says about religion and theology, but we will find in him an ally against the acids of modernity and secularism that are eating away at our culture, and we will see in him a penetrating intellect rooted in the broadly Christian intellectual consensus of which conservative Protestants are heirs.
We evangelicals today are faced with a deeply entrenched temptation to separate the mind and the heart. And, ironically, the more educated and sophisticated we become, the more it seems we are tempted to succumb to an anti-intellectual approach to our spirituality and its implications not only for how we approach the faith and practice of the church but how we engage culture. This is robbing us of our nerve, and we need all the help we can get in getting it back, in regaining, as David F. Wells calls it, the courage to be Protestant. While evangelicals will have their differences with him, I believe that engaging Sir Roger as a serious conversation partner will help us go a long way in doing that.