The last couple of nights I happened to watch two famous television specials on DVD: A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I pity any members of younger generations who have not seen them. Today people like Andy Crouch and Gabe Lyons have been recommending that Christians, instead of taking a political-adversary stance toward culture, create positive culture. And C. S. Lewis long ago wrote that it was not books about Christianity but books about all kinds of subjects from a latent Christian viewpoint that changed minds and prepared the way for the Gospel. And we have James Davison Hunter, in his new work, To Change the World, encouraging us to follow a pattern of “faithful presence” instead of whatever else we might have been doing.
Well, we can turn to a man who might have been America’s most quoted living author in the 60s and early 70s. Charles M. Schulz was the author of a comic strip called Peanuts that ran for exactly fifty years, plus many spinoffs from the strip in terms of television specials and stage plays. He was a Christian believer, with some heterodoxy; assuming he agreed with Robert L. Short, who wrote books about the theology of Peanuts, Schulz was a Barthian universalist – universal salvation is because of Christ not because of our merit – which seems to me an error, but not a heresy of the kind where we are all saved because of our goodness. And Biblical themes and references are a staple of Peanuts, but the strip was never preachy. In the 80s and 90s the quality and cultural power of the strip declined a little, but not as radically as did Mad Magazine, another cultural icon of the 50s and 60s.
So, when we talk about “faithful presence” or “creating culture,” we can be assured that the younger generations don’t have to create the whole concept from scratch. It’s been done! And done in a way that reached an entire society.