Archive for the tag “culture war”

Launch the counter-revolution

Timothy Dalrymple writes on patheos.com:

There is a growing genre — call it Progressive Christian Scorn Literature — about the scorn progressive Christians have for conservative evangelicals. It seems to be celebrated on the Left as a kind of righteous comeuppance for the Christian Right, and it wins the applause of the Left for the Christian Left. But it’s wrong and it needs to be called out. It’s neither winsome, nor loving, nor constructive, nor right. It will not improve our witness because it’s soaked through with bitterness and rancor. I hope that people of good heart and mind, like Evans, leave it behind.

We cannot get beyond the culture wars by simply joining one side and lobbing bombs against the other. We cannot improve the reputation of the church by throwing half of it under the bus.

Read the full article here.

What Mr. Dalrymple says is true enough. Unilateral withdrawal wouldn’t be any more redemptive a solution for the culture war than it was victory in Vietnam or Iraq. If you won’t stand up for the implications of your faith’s worldview, your faith isn’t much.

At the same time, the fact is the culture war is lost for conservative evangelicals, not because the politics failed — indeed for a time they were successful — but because the culture of promiscuity and self-indulgence won the hearts of the people. Political involvement is crucial, but the culture war was fought in the arena of popular culture — TV, movies, music, etc. Conservative evangelicals failed to present as winsome a case for the biblical worldview as unbelievers did for theirs. People were persuaded. One wonders whether it was ever even possible to win, but the fact is we didn’t step up to the challenge when it mattered.

None of that is to say conservative evangelicals should stop advocating passionately for the biblical worldview. Scripture is clear that we are engaged in a battle declared against righteousness and justice, but it also reminds us that the weapons of that warfare are not flesh and blood tools like political power. The battle is spiritual, more about ideas and values than winning elections.

The battle will eventually be won. Jesus Christ is Lord. For our part, we can continue to make movies like Courageous that tell winsome stories full of God’s righteousness and justice demonstrated in loving lives. We can build deep relationships with those around us by caring about their day-to-day struggles. We can listen to the Lord’s heart for the poor and oppressed and stand with them in multiplying justice.

I’m not sure the day will ever come when Jesus’ values will be honored by the large majority of this country, but we can change our strategy for persuading the people. We can launch the counter-revolution.

What if the ‘culture war’ never happened?

Timothy Dalrymple writes at Patheos:

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “culture wars” and their legacy and what damage they have done to the witness of the church. The problem with many of these arguments is not that they’re too critical of the culture war, it’s that they’re not critical enough of the “culture war.” In other words, they accept — lock, stock and barrel — the conceptual construct of the “culture wars” that was developed in liberal lore and passed on to a new generation. There is a kind of liberal orthodox view of what the culture wars are, who are the culture warriors, and why we need to leave the culture war behind — and this view (really a caricature) has been accepted too uncritically by too many young evangelicals today.

Dalrymple makes five points:

1. The “culture warriors” did not choose this fight.

2. The notion that the “culture war” is driving people from the church is overblown.

3. What kind of a follower of Christ was someone who leaves because he sees other Christians conflating worldly and religious power?

4. How much should we really care what the world thinks?

5. The term “culture war” is typically only used by the Left, to cast aspersion on one side of the struggle.

Dalrymple concludes:

When people on the Left, Christian or not, wish to move beyond the “culture war,” they are really wishing that one side would simply lay down its arms and stop fighting. That’s not moving beyond the culture wars; that’s just joining one side and wishing defeat upon the other. Besides, no true “culture warrior” will lay down his arms. Lives are at stake. Fundamental religious and social institutions — the kind that hold a society together — are at stake.

We can have strategic discussions; we can adjust our approach, our language, our arguments; we can work harder and harder to express our convictions in ways that are winsome and culturally relevant. We can deal with the hypocrites in our ranks and expel the charlatans. What we cannot do is simply abdicate the fight.

Read the full article here.

Not a choice to stay silent

Jonathan Merritt responds to an open letter by David French:

George Washington once said, “To acknowledge the receipt of letters is always proper, to remove doubts of their miscarriage.” I was reminded of his words recently when I clicked the link to David French’s Patheos post, “An Open Letter to Young, ‘Post-Partisan’ Evangelicals.” Though I don’t know Mr. French personally, I want to acknowledge receipt of his letter since he seems to include me in what he calls “fed-up idealist.”

In his letter, Mr. French tells of his political journey from “despising my elders” to “encountering life” to “becoming my elders.” The voyage of the founder of Evangelicals for Mitt unravels with a pendulum-like rhythm that might leave a reader dizzy were it not clear from the beginning where the letter would finally land. Mr. French is now “completely ‘religious right,’” and he holds that position on principle. That’s fine by me.

But I am most troubled by Mr. French’s promotion of a popular false choice rampant among many partisan Christians today. He writes, “So, ‘post-partisan’ Christians, please ponder this: First, as the price for your new path, are you willing to forego any effective voice at all for unborn children? Are you willing to keep silent when the secular world demands your silence?”

According to Mr. French, Christians today have two options. We can either continue to fight the culture wars as some conservative American evangelicals have done for more than three decades, or we can retreat from the public square, abandon the unborn, and “keep silent.” But I don’t know anyone who advocates for the latter.

I believe that continuing to fight the culture wars will be a destructive choice for Christians. I’ve outlined the reasons for this position in multiple outlets and most completely in my book. Here are a few:

  • Culture warriors overestimate the power of government to change the hearts and minds of the people it governs
  • Culture warriors operate on a faulty and unbiblical definition of power
  • Culture warriors have adopted a tone that is utterly foreign to the one we find modeled by Jesus himself
  • Culture warriors allowed the Christian church to be reduced to a voting bloc and the handmaiden of a political party
  • Christians who fight in the culture wars have produced an anemic, partisan church that is driving away non-believers in record numbers

Further, a choice to abandon the culture wars is not a choice to stay silent, as Mr. French assumes. I’m a vocal advocate for the unborn and will never attenuate my commitment to that position. I have worked on a number of political issues—from caring for creation, to protecting the poor, to promoting peace—without apology. But I believe that Christians can be good citizens without enlisting ourselves in a war drummed up by politicians and lobbyist and advocacy groups. We can hold passionate positions without adopting the sour tone and nasty tactics that reflect the values of Washington rather than the Kingdom of God. There’s nothing redemptive in Christian leaders and pastors advocating for their values by resorting to name-calling, angry rhetoric, and ruthless marginalization tactics. This is the legacy of the culture wars.

David French ultimately suggests that we keep fighting the culture wars. He wants to continue to implement the tactics and tone that have failed us so miserably. But, as the saying goes, when you continue to do what you’ve been doing, you’ll continue to get what you’ve gotten. In this case, what we have is a failing church with a dwindling population of young people who see the institution as little more than, well, “Evangelicals for Mitt.” It’s a Christian movement with a waning influence not just in the public square, but in the culture as a whole.

I hope that Mr. French and others like him will abandon the false dichotomy of either fighting or staying silent. We must wake up to the destructiveness of the culture wars and the ways in which it has compromised the Christian witness. This is the only path forward I see if we desire to revitalize the American church in the 21st century. As H.G. Wells famously noted, “If we don’t end war, war will end us.”

Jonathan Merritt is the author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars. He blogs at  jonathanmerritt.com.

Read the Christianity Today review of Merritt’s book here.

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