For those of us who have an interest in an older conservativism--of the Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and Edmund Burke variety, an essay I have been reading by Richard Bauckham is fascinating. Bauckham's essay is "Tradition in Relation to Scripture and Reason." About p. 134 Bauckham begins to discuss the way in which a traditional Christian might draw upon the theological past (in this instance, Scripture). The question is: how is one to draw upon the theological past/Scripture in a culture which has--in principle--left behind any sort of interest in, and adherence to, the Christian tradition (including its charter documents, Scripture).
Bauckham seeks to avoid two twin errors: (1) a "catch-up mentality in theology" (seeing how fast you can discard the past in favor of the latest fad); and (2) "mere conservative traditionalism" (essentially, living in the past).
Some of Bauckham's insights are wonderful (pp. 135 and following) . . .
"In such a context [i.e., traditional Christianity existing amidst a culture which has in principle left it behind] the place of Christianity is that of a 'productive non-contemporaneity.' By drawing on the resources of a tradition outside the parameters of contemporary thought, it can offer alternatives which are not available from within the historically limited world of the present. It shows up the historicity of modernity [emphasis mine]."
"If, as a tradition superseded by modernity, it must allow that modernity has rendered it questionable, no longer to be accepted simply as given, it may also, as a past tradition which can prove itself to be not simply used-up, but as productive past, render modernity questionable, not to be accepted simply as given."
"The dismissal and suppression of questions of transcendent meaning--by Enlightenment rationality and its 'postmodern' succesors alike--can be rendered questionable not simply by listening to a tradition of attempted 'answers' to such questions, but discovering, first by observation and then by experience, how the appropriation of such a tradition enhances human life and opens up prospects for meaningful living beyond the increasingly closed options of modernity."
Finally: "The point to be maintained is that 'producitve non-contemporaneity' [i.e., Christianity's situation vis-a-vis contemporary secular culture] is not backward-looking. Its resort to the tradition is not in order to reproduce the past, but to find future in the past, the possibilities which have been left behind but can be taken up in a creative way. Not that the tradition is merely to be plundered for what, judged from the standpoint of modernity, seems useful. It must be listened to attentively in its deepest dissent from modernity for precisely that may be its relevance."
Henri Blocher once called this essay the finest he had read on the question at hand. Now I see why.