Sunday, November 01, 2009

Culture wars:
Foolish Expectations

[Point one of Jared Wilson's criticism of the "culture wars": (Index)]

Jared Wilson: "The 'culture war' is going to Hell because . . ."

1. Its expectation is foolish. Whether you believe America was ever a Christian nation or not, it is theologically naive and demonstrably false to think laws or policies make anyone a Christian. You cannot create or recapture a people for Christ by illegalizing sin. (Which, by the way, is not to say that certain sins shouldn’t be illegal. It is only to say that, for instance, outlawing gay marriage or repealing Roe v. Wade won’t make anybody a Christian, much less make America “a Christian nation.”)
In my opinion, the expectations are not just foolish because they are about the kingdom of world instead of the Kingdom of God -- they are foolish because the struggles against abortion and gay marriage are not going to succeed even on a secular level.

In the case of abortion, even the overturn of Roe v Wade - throwing abortion back to the states - will not end abortion. Forty percent of abortions in the US are performed in the four states where abortion was legal before Roe; and there is no reason to believe that is going to change if Roe was repealed - unless there is massive cultural change. The hope of significantly reducing abortion lies in making abortion unchosen and not in making it illegal - and that comes from transforming people's hearts and their moral and ethical views.

As long as the predominate philosophy in the US is centered in utilitarianism and pragmatism - then women in significant numbers will make their decisions based on the worth and utility of the unborn child to them personally (and the way that child fits into their career, plans, etc); and not the child's intrinsic worth in God's eyes. That will be, as Paul said, foolishness to them.

In the case of gay marriage, the typical arguments ignore God's power to protect to what is important to Him. Frankly, I have lost track of why we care about secular gay marriage: it is adultery, selfishness, and rebellion - and the same utilitarianism and pragmatism - that is destroying marriage in the US; and not whether two men or two women get married. Beyond marriage, same sex attraction is complicated - and folks are going to go with what they feel is "right in their own eyes" unless they see it through the eyes of God (and that view matters more than their own). Without being willing to answer the call of Someone higher and outside of themselves they will do what they feel is best for them. That call comes not from the moralistic condemnation of those around them, but from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. How will they hear that call through the din of His followers?

However, this issue goes beyond just homosexuality and abortion. The entire theme of the Bible is that God gave us increasing amounts of legal direction (none, Noahide, Mosaic) until, as Paul points out relentlessly in Romans, it was proven that law could not make us righteous -- and that we not able to follow those laws. The law could only convict us of sin, rather than keep us from sin. Then, God gave His Son so that the laws could be written on our hearts, and we could have supernatural power to follow God's will in the form of the Holy Spirit. Yet, Christians still falter even with the Helper inside us and no law to bind us. Yet, we expect a law written in Washington or some state capital to hold folks to a righteousness pleasing to God.

This goes beyond just Christians on the political right and includes those on the political left. They expect God's justice to be done by the government in Washington or the various states. The Kingdom of God will no more be instituted by the moralistic expropriation of the wealthy to give to the poor than by the moralism of opponents of gay marriage: greed, selfishness, lack of concern for those around you, and laziness cannot be legislated out of existence. Every attempt to do so in the world has led to tyranny. As Allan Bevere noted in "On Why The Church in America Cannot Speak Truth to Power":

"And therein is the heart of the problem. That most Christians in America believe that the church's primary role is to affect policy in Washington DC betrays the mistaken belief that the primary political action in this world is to be found in the White House and on Capitol Hill, when the New Testament clearly indicates that the primary agency of politics is located in nothing less than the community of faith known as the church. In order for the church to speak truth to power it must recover its unique polity apart from the earthly polity known as the nation state; for it is God and not the nations who rules the world.

My great concern is that when Christians in America want to play the role of prophet in Pharaoh's court, they end up looking, not like the wise sage, but the court jester that gets used by the king for his or her own comical and unsavory purposes.

Certainly, Christians have a duty as citizens to pursue right order and justice to whatever degree is possible within the culture, but when we attempt to overlay our particular political ideology onto the Gospel we drive folks away who do not agree with our political ideology - and the Kingdom of God trumps the policies of the nation state. As Paul said:
1 Corinthians 9:19 For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. 21 To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. 22 To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. 23 I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.
Jared's wise expectation is:
I choose the gospel. Come hell or highwater, come a liberal administration in Washington for the rest of my life or actual suffering. My treasure is not Christianity, but Christ. My hope is not a Christian nation but a Christ-saturated universe. I trust not in princes but in the King of Kings. I choose war on hell and death through the liberating power of Jesus in the glorious gospel of the grace of God.

For the glory of God.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly