Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Uneasy Conscience of a Modern Paleoevangelical

During my recent trip, I heard the beginning and ending of an address by Nancy Pearcey to a group of Christian day school teachers. Pearcey is the co-author of Total Truth (which I am sure makes some excellent arguments) and is recognized for her insight into confronting modern culture with a Christian worldview. She began her lecture by relating a recent e-mail conversation with a self-professed “fundamentalist, dispensationalist seminary professor” who said he “didn’t even believe in all this worldview stuff.” She did not offer much detail about the professor’s point, but it was immediately clear that she viewed his argument with some incredulity and that it would serve as the foil for her discussion of misconceptions about worldview.

Although I don’t have enough context to know exactly what the professor was intending to communicate, I suspect that I would agree with much of it. All this trendy talk of “worldview” is well-intentioned, but, I believe, misguided.

The Christian mantra is that we are “in the world, but not of it.” We ought to invade the world, not evade or pervade it. Yet it seems that a variety of factors springing from the fundamentalist/neo-evangelical controversy of past decades have pushed many Christians to one of two extremes—world evasion and world pervasion. Too many professing believers either run from unbelievers or simply act like them. I have heard youth leaders and young people themselves say, “I don’t know any unsaved teenagers.” That kind of reality reduces conviction of the responsibility to invade the world in order to conquer it with the gospel to mere theory.

Those who have made “worldview” a buzzword among evangelicals are critical of this state of world evasion, and their criticism is just. When she says, “We are still coming out of this fundamentalist era when we isolate ourselves rather than bringing Christianity into the world,” Pearcey is wrong to suggest that fundamentalism is equivalent to isolationism, but she is right to the degree that fundamentalists do isolate themselves.

Adaptation to or conciliation with modern culture are not the alternatives I’m suggesting. Seeing evangelicals jump predictably on the every cultural bandwagon that rolls around the bend grows wearisome. Remember all those predictions that “The Passion of the Christ” would change the world? Yeah, me too. I think everyone remembers them but the people who pronounced them. You’ll remember who they are because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

The worldview alternative purports to strike a balanced view, ambitiously setting forth to win culture. “We are called to have an impact on culture,“ Pearcey said. Now, it is impossible to deny that if all Christians lived like first century Christians, our culture would be impacted. But is impacting culture what we are called to do? How do we “win culture”? Through politics? By infiltrating Hollywood with Christians? By creating a separate culture that tracks a couple decades behind the culture of the world? I cannot remember much in Scripture about winning culture, but battling spiritual powers and evangelizing unbelievers seems to be a fairly consistent theme. Maybe I’m missing something, but political influence, movie production, and even slick apologetics strategies do not strike me as promising platforms for proclaiming the gospel and bringing in the kingdom. It seems as though worldview in this mindset has ceased to be something that results from the work of the gospel, and has become the gospel itself.

So I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy because the distasteful options that have been most common—isolation from the world and solidarity with it—are now augmented by a third that seems just as misguided. As C. S. Lewis said it, “We will never save civilisation if civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.” What do we want? A nice, shiny, Christianized culture? Yikes, I’m scared to think what a mess we would make of that project. Or maybe it's more important to win Christ or those who need to know Him. We can and must find beachheads to invade.

9 comments:

Keith said...

Once you’ve invaded your beachhead, then what? I'm sure Christians will make many messes on the way to living in a truly Christian culture. However, your comments make me wonder, "Would he rather have the cultural messes created by non-Christian worldviews?"

To refresh your memory, here are some passages of Scripture that require us to impact, and indeed win, culture:

Genesis 1:26-28 . . . God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (dominion over every living thing would seem to require culture).

Exodus 20: 1-17 – The Ten Commandments (don’t steal, don’t murder, etc. seem to be laws that establish culture).

Colossians 1: 15-20 . . . Whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him . . . (all things, including culture, are for Him).

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (discipling nations and teaching them all things would seem to include culture).

Here’s what the Puritan minister Thomas Case said about our responsibility to culture before the English House of Commons in 1641: “Reformation must be universal . . . reform all places, all persons and callings; reform the benches of judgment . . . reform the universities, reform the cities, reform the countries . . . reform the Sabbath, reform the ordinances, the worship of God . . . you have more work to do than I can speak . . . Every plant which my heavenly father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”

The gospel IS a worldview. Therefore, it is missing the point to debate whether the gospel produces a worldview or a worldview is the gospel itself. Some worldviews are not the gospel. No human perfectly and fully comprehends the worldview which is the gospel. Nevertheless, the gospel is a worldview – C.S. Lewis said it this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Finally, the cultural and worldview options you propose are not the only ones possible. Who said a culture truly impacted by the Christian worldview should be “shiny” or “slick” in any pejorative sense? Who said anything about following the current cultures a few decades behind?

Keith E. Phillips

Irenaeus II said...

Keith, how about mixing in a few verses that actually deal with the issue.

First, man's dominion over the earth was over all of creation. If that verse was supposed to support your thesis, please explain more in detail.

Second, the 10 commandments were the summary of the old covenant, which was for a particular people, during a particular time, neither of which are still binding.

Third, the scriptures also say that Christ will have the heathen as an inheritance. Does that mean we shouldn't evangelize at all so that heathen peeps will still be around?

Fourth, Christ's promise to be with his people to the end of the age isn't about a military conquest. He has given us his authority to go out and follow his command.

Fifth, I don't think the puritans, and their view of church and state are relevant here. They believed the two should be wed. That idea led to catholicism.

Basically, our existence in the world should be what the N.T. actually deals with: holiness in life and evangelism.

Amazing how the N.T. is silent on political activism and 'changing culture for Christ'.

I agree what this idea of a 'christian worldview' is a buzzword. What it really is is some king of attempt by well meaning peeps to change society through legislation instead of evangelism.

Keith, I encourage you to adopt a biblical view of society.

Keith said...

Dear T.J.,

Every verse I listed deals with the issue. As I read them, their relationship to cultural formation is plain. However, since it is not as plain to you, I will respond to some of your comments . . .

>First, man's dominion over the >earth was over all of creation. >If that verse was supposed to >support your thesis, please >explain more in detail.

To have dominion over all of creation seems to require some sort of culture. How else will we exercise this dominion? No single individual or nuclear family alone can establish dominion over all of the earth. It will take a group effort. The command is being given to God’s people.

We see this command given again to Noah, after the fall, in Genesis 9:1-3 and we see it still maintained in N.T. passages like Hebrews 2:5-10.

Therefore, God’s people must work as a group. Groups form cultures –whether they think they are or not – whether they conciously try to or not. Of course, even as a group, they should work Christ’s way – “Through and in Him.”

>Second, the 10 commandments were >the summary of the old covenant, >which was for a particular >people, during a particular time, >neither of which are still >binding.

Do you really believe that the 10 commandments are not binding? Do you really believe that Polytheism is now acceptable? That Idolatry is acceptable? That Blasphemy is acceptable? That we can neglect Rest and Worship without consequence? That Disobedience and Disrespect of Parents and rightful authority is acceptable? That Murder is acceptable? That Adultery is acceptable? That Theft is acceptable? That Dishonesty and Bearing False Witness is acceptable? That Coveting is acceptable?

Everyone lives according to their worldview, and as they live, they impact culture. Those who think that God’s moral laws are no longer binding produce cultures like modern America and worse.

Jesus came to fulfill the law not to abolish it. He upheld every one of the 10 commandments in the New Testament. They are true for all times, all places, and all people.

>Third, the scriptures also say >that Christ will have the heathen >as an inheritance. Does that mean >we shouldn't evangelize at all so >that heathen peeps will still be >around?

It is by evangelization that they become His inheritance.

>Fourth, Christ's promise to be >with his people to the end of the >age isn't about a military >conquest. He has given us his >authority to go out and follow >his command.

I don’t think I said anything about military conquest.

>Fifth, I don't think the >puritans, and their view of >church and state are relevant >here. They believed the two >should be wed. That idea led to >catholicism.

I’m sure the Puritans would be quite surprised that their efforts let to catholicism since they were speaking out against both Roman and Anglo Catholicism. Furthermore, Catholicism existed for quite a long time before the Puritan movement.

>Basically, our existence in the >world should be what the N.T. >actually deals with: holiness in >life and evangelism.

Yes, holiness in life and evangelism result in a certain influence on culture.

>Amazing how the N.T. is silent on >political activism and 'changing >culture for Christ'.

Again, who said anything about “political activism?”

Even so, if you think the N.T. is silent about politics and changing cultures, I would encourage you to read it again.

Politics/Government has a proper place in this world. So does military action by governments. Nevertheless, political activism and military action are not synonymous with culture. They will impact and be impacted by culture. Why, though, do you seem to equate them?

>I agree what this idea of >a 'christian worldview' is a >buzzword. What it really is is >some king of attempt by well >meaning peeps to change society >through legislation instead of >evangelism.

“Christian worldview” may have recently become a buzzword in fundamentalist circles, but the concept and reality are anything but new or trendy. The concept and reality of it are ancient. Furthermore, the concept has been clearly recognized and specifically dealt with by Bible believing Christians throughout the 20th century.

For example:

Abraham Kuyper who lived from 1837-1920 said: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over ALL, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

C.S. Lewis, who I’ve already quoted dealt with this reality in the 50s & 60s.

Francis Schaeffer wrote in 1981: “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so . . . is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals . . . They have failed to see that [our current problems have] come about due to a shift in world view – that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.”

A worldview is not an attempt to do anything. It is a way of thinking/believing that, of necessity, results in “doing things.”

Christians, who because of their worldview evangelize, will do things that have one set of results. Pagans will do things that have another set of results.

>Keith, I encourage you to adopt a >biblical view of society.

I encourage you to do the same and to realize that the gospel will succeed in redeeming God’s people, society, and the world.

Keith E. Phillips

Ben said...

Once you've invaded the beachhead, keep engaging in spiritual warfare. But the battle is not for "culture." It's for souls, not power or influence or decency standards.

Concerning the texts you cite, none of them refer directly to influencing culture. Most of them imply that there seems to be an indirect influence on culture when we reach individuals with the gospel, but I already agreed that "it is impossible to deny that if all Christians lived like first century Christians, our culture would be impacted."

My point is that impacting culture is not what we are called to do, and the strategies that many Christians now apply to impact culture either cheapen the gospel or are wholly devoid of it.

I don't deny that worldviews exist or that we shouldn't have them. I am suggesting that the common way the term is being used and applied by professing Christians has little do to with the gospel and much to do with adopting strategies for gaining power and influence from forms that are rooted in a worldly system that will never be brought in subjection to the gospel before Christ returns.

I'm also suggesting that people's worldviews don't change until God changes their hearts. Those are the beachheads we need to invade, not studios in Nashville or Hollywood, newsrooms in New York, or Congressional offices in Washington.

Keith said...

Dear Paleoevangelical,

Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I have responded to your comments below:

>Once you've invaded the beachhead, keep engaging in spiritual warfare. >But the battle is not for "culture." It's for souls, not power or influence or >decency standards.

I would argue that the battle is for souls and for culture and for worship and for everything else that God has declared good.

Of course, we should not work for vainglorious power or ill-gotten influence. Those aren’t good. Those aren’t a part of a truly Christian culture.

Nevertheless, we are to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-17), and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 19:19). A Christian culture would be far better for our neighbors – saved and unsaved alike – than a non-Christian culture.

>Concerning the texts you cite, none of them refer directly to influencing >culture.

If you really think that a command to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it does not refer directly to culture, I’m not sure what else to say. How can we obey this command – what many Christians for many years have called the “Cultural Mandate” – in the absence of culture?

>Most of them imply that there seems to be an indirect influence on >culture when we reach individuals with the gospel.

I don’t see how the Genesis passage says anything – let alone anything directly – about “reaching individuals with the gospel.”

I also don’t see any direct mention of “individuals” in Matthew 28:19-20. The passage directly says, “make disciples of all the nations.”

I would agree that these passaged indirectly require working with individuals. However, the direct refernce is to groups.

>but I already agreed that "it is impossible to deny that if all Christians >lived like first century Christians, our culture would be impacted."

Here, I think, we largely agree. Although, I would say, “If all Christians lived like faithful Christians, our culture would be impacted.” I don’t know that the first century Christians were any better than Christians of other ages. Have you read some of the letters that the Apostle Paul had to write? But no need to quibble here at the moment.

>My point is that impacting culture is not what we are called to do, and >the strategies that many Christians now apply to impact culture either >cheapen the gospel or are wholly devoid of it.

Here, again, we agree. What many do in the name of cultural impact does, in fact cheapen or abandon the gospel. And, some people just use the word “worldview” to sound bright or hip. That doesn’t mean cultural impact is invalid or that developing a Christian worldview is unimportant.

In your original post, you wrote, “Pearcey is wrong to suggest that fundamentalism is equivalent to isolationism, but she is right to the degree that fundamentalists do isolate themselves.”

I think the same idea applies to worldview/cultural impact Christians. I would say, “Paleoevangelical is wrong to suggest that worldview Christianity is equivalent to cheapening or abandoning the gospel, but he is right that a good many Christians using worldview terminology actually do things that cheapen the gospel or are wholly devoid of it.”

>I don't deny that worldviews exist

If you did, your denial would be part of your worldview.

>or that we shouldn't have them.

Even if someone thought we shouldn’t have them, they would have one. They would have a worldview that thinks worldviews should not be had.

>I am suggesting that the common way the term is being used and applied >by professing Christians has little do to with the gospel and much to do >with adopting strategies for gaining power and influence from forms that >are rooted in a worldly system that will never be brought in subjection to >the gospel before Christ returns.

Just as the common way fundamentalists use the term “gospel” has little to do with the gospel and much to do with adopting strategies to insure that very little will be brought into subjection to the gospel.

Contra common fundamentalist thinking: The gospel does not just offer the salvation of our souls, it offers the salvation of our souls, our bodies, and our world (see Romans 8:21, Philippians 2:9-11, and I John 4:14 for example). Christ saves us FROM sin and its consequences TO life under Christ’s lordship.

Also, are you entirely sure the worldly system will never be brought in subjection to the gospel BEFORE Christ returns? Isn’t it possible that Christ is already ruling over all?
"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

>I'm also suggesting that people's worldviews don't change until God >changes their hearts.

True. However, this statement is also true of evangelism. Souls will not be saved until God changes their hearts. So, why bother evangelizing?

>Those are the beachheads we need to invade, not studios in Nashville or >Hollywood, newsrooms in New York, or Congressional offices in >Washington.

Why not invade all of these beachheads? Why not work for the conversion of the lost AND then instruct the converted to transformation of everything they touch?

Sincerely,
Keith E. Phillips

kevin mcfadden said...

Good thoughts Ben, or neoevangelical, or whatever I'm supposed to call you here.

Ben said...

I'll interact more later if I can. In the meantime, here are some relevant thoughts from Piper that a friend just reminded me of.

Paul said...

Keith,

I am interested in your response to the Piper article paleo linked above.

Keith said...

Paul,

I mostly agree with Pastor Piper.

I agree that swaggering triumphalists are mistaken.

I also agree that “We are happy because there are merciful foretastes everywhere in this fallen world, and God is glad for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:3; 6:17). And we are happy because we know that the exiles will one day inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Christ died for sinners so that 'all things' might one day belong to his people (Romans 8:32).”

It is agreement with this point that causes me to argue in defense of Veith’s praise of the LWW movie. I think the film will be a merciful foretaste of the time in which we will inherit the earth (note: it is inherit the earth not inherit heaven). And, I fully concur that one day all things will belong to God’s people.

I also agree that “being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying 'good riddance' to godless darkness. ”

It is agreement with this point that causes me to think it is a good thing that good films are made – where we can we save and season, we do not withdraw.

In the context of the current discussion, I would rephrase the sentences, “It labors to illluminate. But not to dominate.” I would say, “It labors to establish godly dominion through illumination not manipulation or coercion.”

Again, in the context of the current discussion, I would rephrase the following: “The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service.” I would say, “The greatness of Christian exiles is success through service.”

I agree with Piper that we can and will lose certain battles. However, we can’t and won’t ultimately lose the war. Jesus is King, and he will rule over his people in his culture.

Keith