CULTURAL WARS IN OUR POSTMODERN CULTURE

 

 

 

Has The Mega Church Gone Therapeutic?

 

In 1990, Vice-President Al Gore declared that America had moved from a single culture to diversity for “all our separate identities.”  The generation of The Baby Boomers remembers the “white bread” and Ozzie and Harriet image of America in the 1950s and contrast it with the “multicultural” America of the 1990s, with its highly visible Afro-Americans, Hispanics and Asians.  But America has always been a culturally diverse country where deeply held differences on values have occasionally erupted into political and even military conflict.  Colonial America was peopled with Calvinists, Anglicans, Catholics, Mennonites and Jews.  “What has held Americans together,” writes historian, Robert Wiebe in his book, The Segmented Society, “is their capacity for living apart.”  (cf. see W.C. Roof, A Generation of Seekers (NY: Harper, 1993)

 

In an America where, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the 1803s, religion is “the first of political institutions.”  The religious and cultural values that made some Americans cherish and others abhor the French Revolution produced the bitter party divisions of the late 1790s.  In the 1850s, the values of reformers from New England (cf. Harriet Beecher Stowe) clashed with the culture of the South over slavery.  Northern values were embodied in the New Republican Party, when their southern-born candidate won the presidency and redefined the nation as he won the Civil War.  But the Progressive Era and, even more, World War I, showed that a powerful state could regulate conduct and WASPish elites decided to use government to advance cultural values.  The women’s movement got the vote but not equality.

 

Prohibition cut alcohol consumption in most of the country, but it was unenforceable in the big cities and was gladly abandoned in 1933.  Immigration laws from 1921-1924 were eased only in 1965, ‘86 and ‘90. The government grew more powerful still in World War II.  In this cultural maze Americans still shared a “civil religion,” a set of values geared to work, family, education and order that went largely unchallenged.

 

During the rise of the Boomer Generation there arose urban riots and student rebellions creating a sense of disorder (the backlash elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan).  Believers in anti-war, feminist and secular values (drugs, sex revolution, educational revolution, Spock, Derrida, DeMan, OBE) became postmodern prophets, and their space invaded the culture, thus creating our present cultural wars.  Feminists supply the dominant energy of the Democratic Party.  Meanwhile, believers in “traditional values” feeling the space invaded by hostile bureaucrats and media (culture resulted in ‘80s presidential election) today they supply the dominant energy of the Republican Party.  One issue after another--abortion, gay rights, race and gender quotas--the conflict between the values of the feminists left and the values of the religious right frames the political discussion.  Value politics will likely continue in our fragmented culture precipitated by cultural wars (see especially U.S. News and World Report, August 1, 1991, Michael Barone’s article, A History of Cultural Wars, pp. 40ff; voices like Jim Dobson, Bill Bennett, James Burkett, etc., need to come to grips with the origin of the cultural wars; they are fighting battles, not wars).

 

David Wells, of Gordon Conwell Seminary, for one rebukes the evangelical journal, Leadership, for the image that it consistently promotes.  In his book, No Place For Truth (Eerdmans, 1993), he states, “In the study the evangelical pastor is now the CEO in the pulpit.  The pastor is a psychologist whose talking is to engineer good relations and warm feelings.”  (Wells, p. 177)  The most positive evaluation of this fact stems from our search for memories in the therapeutic culture.  Robert Bellah directs us to consider the dynamic factor of memories in evaluating the therapeutic mode.

 

In his book, Habits of The Heart, Bellah strongly affirms that North Americans are losing their “communal memories.”  Human beings need to participate in “communities of memories.”  WE need both pleasant memories and painful ones, a healthy community will be sustained by stories not only of past successes but also past failures.  The Bellah team puts the past in strong terms: genuine communities “are constituted by their past.”  (Bellah, et.al., Habits of The Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985, p. 153).

 

We are becoming “spiritual amnesiacs,” people without memory.  We are losing our bearer of communal memories.  Paul Hiebert’s ‘middle range’ claims that we need a “theology of ancestors” with the loss of older ways of sustaining memories, people are looking for substitutes such as New Age “Channelling” and other occult rituals (e.g. Lord’s Table, old evangelical testimony meetings are all therapeutic).  Richard Mouw, in his response to Wells’ contention, argues for honest, charitable engagement between scholarship and popular culture (see his book, Consulting The Faithful (Eerdmans, 1994).  Our search for memories is therapeutic.

 

Regarding the conflict in the “Culture War Thesis,” the search for agreement in cultural value requires that we spell out the difference between proof, method and the mere sharing of horizons (which allow us to agree) and the act of reflectively grounding horizons in empirical performance which enables us to progress in truth.  Proof can only be treated reasonable without reference to the issue of horizon.  This is a fundamental factor in dealing with matters of method, in grasping the analogy of proof, and in making critical realism truly critical--horizons, proof and the possibility of “True Truth.”

 

If “the heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalms 19.1), a fusion of horizons is both possible and necessary (cf. in C.S. Lewis’ book, That Hideous Strength, Merlin the magician appears as a kind of messianic Christ figure.  In The Narnia Tales, one of Lewis’ characters refers to “Deeper Magic,” (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (MacMillan, 1950), pp. 159-60; esp. Paul G. Hiebert, “The Flaw of The Excluded Middle” Missiology and International Review, vol. 10, no.1 (1982), pp. 44ff. for the importance of The Middle Range between Truth and Falsehood).

 

TRACKING TRENDS IN OUR CULTURAL WARS

 

Will we “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have?”--or will we continue to be so caught up in moral and political solutions to this deep spiritual crisis that we end up ironically actually deepening the crisis? 

 

The Foundations of an excellent ministry in II Timothy 4--The appropriate goal is not success but excellence (see Jon Johnston, Christian Excellence: Alternatives To Success (Baker, 1985).  The gauge of success in ministry must be something besides material prosperity (Jeremiah 5.30,31).  Real success is doing the will of God regardless of the consequences.  Paul encouraged Timothy not to seek success; he was urging him to pursue excellence (John E. MacArthur, Ashamed of The Gospel; When the Church Becomes Like the World (Crossways, Wheaton, 1993).

 

Culture Wars in The Post Modern Culture: The User Friendly Church

 

(See my paper that traces the impact of Kant as the coming expression of the self as the origin of truth; Epistemology and True Truth, hermeneutics and relevance of the message to the listener/reader is the sole source of the meaning of any text.)

 

The Post Modern Church is undergoing a revolution in worship styles unprecedented since the Protestant Reformation.  The mega ministry and Church have married marketing philosophy and this is the monstrous offspring.  It is a studied effort to change the way the world perceives the Church.  Church ministry is being revamped in an attempt to make it more appealing to the unbelievers.  (U.S. News, Sept. 26, 1994, pp. 98ff. regarding the importance of marketing in the big universities as opposed to how it used to be, sitting and talking to kids.)  The Church Growth experts tell us that preachers and Churches who want to be successful must concentrate their energies in this new direction by providing non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity and always be positive and benevolent.  If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing.  Don’t be preaching anything authoritative.  Above all, keep everyone entertained.  Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we are assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline.  The style of preaching is frequently psychological and motivational rather than biblical.  Above all the emphasis is on “user friendliness.”  The rules for a user-friendly mode are--be clever, informal, positive, brief and friendly.

 

The Customer is Sovereign:  At the heart of the market-driven, user-friendly Church is the goal of giving people what they want.  Consumer satisfaction is the stated goal of the new philosophy, which structures the “Seeker-Friendly” mode.  One key resource on market driven ministry says “This is what marketing the Church is all about--providing our product (relationships) as a solution to peoples’ felt needs.”  (George Barna, Marketing The Church (NavPress, 1988), p. 51)  “Felt needs” determine the road map for the modern church marketing plan.  The idea is a basic selling principle--You satisfy an existing desire rather than trying to persuade people to buy something they don’t want.

 

Accurately assessing people’s felt needs is there fore one of the keys to modern church growth theory.  Church leaders are advised to poll potential “customers” and find out what they are looking for in a Church and then offer that to them.  Demographic information community survey, door-to-door polls, and congregational questionnaires are the new tools.  Information drawn from such sources is considered essential to building a workable marketing plan.  Worst of all, it seems people’s emotional “felt needs” are to be taken more seriously than real but unfelt spiritual deficiencies that Scripture addresses.  Felt needs include issues like loneliness, fear of failure, co-dependency, a poor self image, depression, anger, resentment and similar inward focused inadequacies.  Some of these are real and some are fabricated by psychological sales pitch.  These problems, not sin, lie at the heart of the new model.  The audience is regarded as Sovereign (See G. Barna, Marketing The Church, p. 33).

 

The market plan has become the authoritative guide for ministry.  “The marketing plan is the Bible of the marketing game--everything that happens in the life of the product occurs because the plan will its.”  (Barna, p. 45)  Therefore, the marketing model of ministry becomes the postmodern paradigm by which ministry is measured (cf. see Russell Chandler’s work and advertisement in Religious Broadcasting.  “Worship is a 24-hour non-stop Christian Church service; demise of fellowship.”

 

The Scripture says that the early Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6).  In our Post Modern era the world is turning the Church upside down.  Biblically, God is sovereign, not “unchurched Harry,” (cf. compare Acts 5 with the Post Modern Church Growth/User-Friendly theory (II Cor. 11.24-27; Paul’s trials and persecution, Gal. 3.1-4).--

 

Sin in the camp (Acts 5; Rom. 16.17,18; Gal. 3.1-4; Eph. 4.1-4

Sharing community (Acts 4.32-37)

They had true spiritual unity--“they were of one heart and soul” (Phil 1.27)

They shared all their possessions, all things were common property to them (Acts 2.40ff.)

Nourished by powerful preaching (Acts 4.30) “with just power the apostles were giving

witness to the resurrection.”

Positive role models (Acts 4.34,35)

Negative role models (Acts 4, Ananias/Sapphira (Acts 5.1-11)

Leaven of the Pharisees (II Tim. 6.10; Heb. 13.5; Matt. 6.2)

Peter’s response (Acts 5.3f; God’s judgment; Sapphira’s sin (5.6ff)

Judgment must begin at the house of God (Acts 5.11; I Cor. 11.31f; I Peter 4.17)

 

Where is User Friendliness taking the Church?  It can down grade worship, Scripture and theology; preaching about Hell is in poor taste--“Politically Incorrect,” (see James Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 40; G. Barna, The Barna Report (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992), p. 52.  One in every ten evangelicals says they believe the concept of sin is outmoded.  The user-friendly model is at its heart, a pragmatic, not biblical outlook.

 

“Gimme that show-time religion”--Biblical exposition began to pass at the end of the 19th century.  “Its replacement was to be the age of ‘Show Business.’” (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death (NY: Penguin, 1985, p. 63).  The 20th century was the age of emergence of entertainment at the very center of family and cultural life.  This trend saw the decline of what Neil Postman terms, “the age of exposition” marked by the thoughtful exchange of ideas through print and verbal means, preaching, debates, lectures, and it gave rise to the “age of Show Business” in which amusement and entertainment have become more important and time consuming aspects of human discourse.  Drama, film, and finally television have moved show business into the center of our lives, ultimately right into the middle of our living rooms.  In show business truth is irrelevant; what really matters is whether we are entertained.  Substance counts for little; style is everything.  In the words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message (massage).  Unfortunately, that kind of thinking now rules the Church as surely as it does the Post Modern culture (cf. R. Gustav Niebuhr, “Mighty Fortresses: Mega Churches Strive To Be All Things To All Parishioners”, in The Wall Street Journal (May 13, 1992, p. 6).

 

Driven by Pragmatism: Mega Churches have become meccas for students of Church Growth.  Charles Spurgeon’s prophecy about those who “would like to unite Church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments has become true in Mega Churches.  It’s Show Time!  (I Thess. 3.20; II Cor. 5.10ff.)  (See George Peters, A Theology of Church Growth (Zondervan, 1981, pp. 23,24); C. Peter Wagner, D.A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Eerdman, 1990, pp. 265-281); the only reference given to support these is Acts 18.4,5,9 which says nothing about setting of goals, numerical or otherwise (I Cor. 8.6,7).  The roots of Church Growth is unabashed pragmatism (see A.R. Tippet, ed., God, Man and Church Growth (Eerdman, 1973, p. 47); Donald McGavran’s Institute of Church Growth united with The Fuller School of World Missions; C. Peter Wagner is McGavran’s best known student--see his Leading Your Church to Growth (Ventura, CA, Regal Press, 1984).

 

We are no doubt living in the age of resurgent pragmatism in our Post Modern culture.  It has become popular in many evangelical churches.  The children of pragmatism have come home to roost.  It is the heart of innovative church growth techniques.  The Church Growth Movement has formed an unofficial alliance with those who believe evangelism is primarily a marketing venture.  Pragmatism in the Church reflects the spirit of our Post Modern Age (see my critique of James and Dewey).  Books with the titles like “Marketing Your Ministry” or “Marketing The Church” and “Development of Effective Marketing and Communication Strategies for Churches” are all the rage.  Christian publishing derives much from secular fields of study such as psychology, marketing, management, politics, entertainment and business while commentaries, Bible study help books or biblical themes are on the decline. The role model of a Post Modern minister is not the prophet or the shepherd, it is the corporate executive, the politician or worst of all, the talk show host (Kotter, et.al. and the Harvard Business School, the origin of the CEO concept (Chief Executive Office), is attempting to change that model of leadership to Discipling).  “Consecrated pragmatism” has once more entered the halls of many evangelical churches (Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publishing 1970, p. 70,71)  “The method works, ergo, it must be good.”

 

A Bankrupt Philosophy:  Is the pragmatic methodology of “Seeker Friendly Churches” undermining sound doctrine?  Pragmatism poses dangers more subtle than liberalism that threatened the Church in the first half of the 20th century.  Liberalism attacked biblical preaching (cf. Harry Emerson Fosdick was driven to his hatred of biblical exposition by the same pragmatic concern that has invaded evangelism today (“What’s the Matter with Preaching?”   Harper’s Magazine, July, 1928, p. 135).  What God’s Word declares is both true and relevant (II Timothy 3.16,17).

 

The radical pragmatism of the user-friendly school robs the Church of its prophetic roll (see G. Barna, The Frog in The Kettle (Regal, 1994, pp. 94,95).  The entire scenario of the ‘user friendly’ model is built on presuppositions that are patently unbiblical (I Cor. 12.27; Eph 4.12; Cor 14.23; Heb 10.24,25).

 

Good Technique and Bad Theology: The philosophy that nuances marketing technique with Church Growth theory is the result of bad theology.  It assumes that if you “package” the Gospel right, people will be saved (much of the discussion also centers around the alternative theological assumptions of Calvinism and Armenianism); I Cor. 1.21 approaches to get people saved).  The down grade controversy was raging in 1889.  Spurgeon saw the implication of the tendencies before our Post Modern invasion of the pragmatic Trojan horse. (Spurgeon, “A Dirge for The Down Grade and A Song of Faith” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Vol. 36, London, 1889), p. 267-278.  Romans 13.11,12, “Lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” 

 

Is engaging in Post Modern cultural wars Christian?  Joycelyn Elders, the Surgeon General a few years ago, called her critics among the Religious Right “Non-Christians with slave master mentalities” who can’t seem to get over this “love affair with the fetus.”  A Washington Post article arguing that opposition to the gays in the military was largely orchestrated by the Religious Right concluded, “their followers are largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”  What is wrong with cultural wars?  American society is becoming increasingly polarized and civil discourse is becoming increasingly uncivil (cf. note the words of James Hunter, David Martin, Peter Berger, public policy specialists such as Richard J. Neuhaus or commentators such as Gary Wills, Allen Bloom, et.al.)  The Church has chiefly abandoned the mission in our Post Modern culture in an effort to be relevant and practical in an age with little tolerance (politically incorrect of “true truth”).  The Religious Right is marginalized in the Secular City where everything is politically correct except classical Christianity (Hunter, Cultural Wars (NY, 1991); Randall Palmer, Evangelical Studies Bulletin (Spring 1993, vol. 10, no. 1).

 

Weary of the political correctness of the left and right, many Americans are looking for deeper spiritual solutions that transcend party ideologies.  Philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre observed that the sure sign that a new dark age is upon us is that “politics is civil war carried on by other means” (After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (South Bend: University of Notre Dame, 1984, p. 20).  Many on both sides of the cultural wars do not seem to understand that the deeper philosophical currents in society are decidedly anti-ideological.  With the collapse of Communism and with cynicism about the ability of American democracy (the Post Modern Pax Romana) to civilize the world, people are increasingly impatient with ideological rhetoric and political panaceas.  Having swung from contempt of the world in the middle ages to believing we could save it in the Modern Age, Post Modern Society is weary of both.  The Russian dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsen, told a Harvard University audience, “We have placed too much hope in politics and social reform, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession--our spiritual life.  It is trampled by the party mode in the East and by the commercial one in the West.”  (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1989, p. 19, Washington, D.C.).  We must not remain in a crusade mentality that both liberals and conservatives resent.  We must face the challenge of will we “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give a reason for the hope that [we] have.”?  (I Peter 3.15)

 

Christianity and Cultural Wars--How did we get there?  It was not so long ago that both fundamentalists and evangelicals lived on the margins of society.  From the Reformation until World War I most evangelicals shared an optimistic perspective in the future, not because of any belief in the perfectibility of human nature, but because of their view of eschatology (cf. the theme in Revelation is cultural temptation).  Where is history going?  All this Protestant hegemony began to unravel as the secularism unleashed in the Enlightenment gradually led the culture to doubt the authority of Scriptures and, therefore, of the institutions funded upon that authority.  In this milieu there were two basic Christian responses--either accommodating modernity or trying to escape it through radical separations.

 

Know-Nothing Party and Revivalism--Ideological shift:  A whole series of ideological forces swept the culture rapidly into a megashift that had earlier shaken Europe.  Away from belief in a sovereign God, who not only governs at a distance through providence, but interrupts history and the so-called “immutable” laws of science and reason to speak and to serve.  The Enlightenment notion of the role of religion is exactly what the leaders of the Religious Right and Left have been preaching for nearly two decades.  Political conservatives and liberals find a common heritage, as the evangelical movement itself created the Social Gospel.  The well of the “American Enlightenment” had little source for theology to drink the water of life (cf. J. Gresham Machen was expelled from the Presbyterian Church in the 1920s).

 

Those who did not accommodate to modernity in order to make the evangelical Church relevant to the modern world were expelled. Here the American dream and the social Gospel fused horizons (cf. The Scopes Trial in 1925; Tennessee law forbade the teaching of evolution in the public schools).  Dispensational premillennialism seems to fit the pessimism of the era.  Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?  Why go first class on the Titanic? (cf. M.A. Core, Back to Darwin, The Scientific Case for Destroying Evolution (University Press of Annapolis, 1994); John Bolte, ed., Chaos, The New Science (American University Press, 1993).  In the 1970s Francis Schaeffer awakened evangelicals from their otherworldly slumbers and apathy toward the world.  Schaeffer challenged the subculture of the 60s and presented Reformation insight as an alternative to the secularism that heavily influenced the “Boomers.”

 

Schaeffer’s rally called evangelicals to respond to the implications of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision opening the door to abortion on demand (cf. the earlier prophecy conferences were tuned to the new challenges of the Secular City.  The signal year, 1976, was dubbed the “year of the evangelical” by NEWSWEEK magazine.  Suddenly evangelicals found themselves the focus of media attention with the presidential election of Jimmy Carter, the publicized “born again” converting experiences of famous people and then the election and re-election of Ronald Reagan.

 

So, what’s wrong with the Cultural Wars?  What’s wrong with the Church engaging in culture wars over the values of an entire generation?  Why should there be a debate over Christian participation in the war for traditional values?  How could it be wrong for Christians to take sides in the cultural wars?  Rarely do we encounter danger because we have proclaimed the Gospel too clearly these days.  Are we suggesting that we impose “conservative” Protestant values?  This will only alienate a culture already fragmented.  It could be dangerous because we are unprepared for it.  John Dewey, the father of American pragmatic education, was raised in a very conservative Christian home and felt obliged to rid the world of this sort of religion (cf. he signed The Humanist Manifesto). The culture war is not between the culturally elite and the culturally impaired.”  (cf. Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, etc., orthodox Protestants created the great academic centers.  Oxford and Cambridge owed their cultural revival and physical restoration to the Puritans).

 

Christianity is not a culture:  Christianity is the only religion that cannot exist apart from the truth of certain historical events (cf. The Historiographical Revolution of the 19th century, I Cor. 15.3; note Machen and Warfield’s response to modernism).  Christianity is rarely defined in doctrinal terms today.  Rather, it is defined in experimental terms.  After all, doctrine is a distraction when there are wars to win.  Today the tie that bins is secular ideology, not doctrine.  Billy Graham concluded, “when I go to preach the Gospel I go as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, not America.  To preach the Gospel to any political system, secular program or society is wrong and will only serve to divert the Gospel.”  (cited in Modern Reformation, May/June, 1993), p. 2)

 

We must not identify the Gospel with a particular political or cultural agenda.  We have almost lost an entire generation of “Boomers” by identifying Christianity with WASP (white, Anglo Saxon, protestant) political establishment (see F. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1985), pp. 79,80; G. Barna, The People’s Religion, American Faith in the 90s (NY: MacMillan, 1989); Vital Signs: Emerging Social Trends and The Future of American Christianity (Crossway, 1984); Wade C. Roof, A Generation of Seekers (NY: Harper, 1993).  T.S. Eliot argued, “to justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality from the general culture instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity is a very dangerous inversion.  It is not enthusiasm but dogma that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.”  (T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture  (NY: Harcourt and Brace, 1949), p. 46); also Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind (I Peter 4.12-16; Matt. 13.24-30)

 

A Church, both conservative and liberal, that is so “enthusiastic” and eschews doctrine as a division needs to learn that lesson.  Secularistic humanism is a “genie” that will not be put back into its bottle.  The triumph of secularism is simply the effect of a Church that is weakened in its understanding, articulation, communication and living out of the transcendent Word of God (cf. “The Moral Majority achieved none of the legislative specifics it endorsed,” while the West slides deeper into paganism (C.F.H. Henry’s address, published in Evangelical Affirmation (Zondervan, 1991), p. 23).  At this dark hour where can we turn but to the Lord?  Having trusted too much in the idols of nations, pragmatism, ideology and secular power, the stage is perhaps set for a return to the “main message and mission of the Church” (cf. David Walsh, After Ideology, Recovering The Spiritual Foundations of Freedom (NY: Harper/Collins, 1990).

 

Five Myths we need to understand for engaging Cultural Wars:  Who are the “secular humanists?”  Beside this question, the world will pale in significance (Deut. 9.1-6--in spite of its foundations, Israel returned again and again to old patterns of pagan bondage; Eventually we will return to some form of paganism “ecclesia refomata semper reformanda,” (Luther and Calvin) The Church reformed and is always reforming.

 

1.  Problems of Reforming Humanism: we must correctly identify the enemy, the cultural elite/humanists.  We must not forget that the Protestant Reformers were trained in classical humanism “ad fontes” (back to the sources).  As J. I. Packer and Thomas Howard argued some years ago, Christianity is the true humanism and biblical Christians ought to be the most ardent defenders of classical humanism (cf. contra 20th century, The Humanist Manifesto). 

 

2.  The problem is the conspiracy of a “cultural elitism.”  The culturally elite have always been the handful of men and women who shaped the values, attitudes and the outlook of the society. The hermeneutic of suspension interprets so much of our interpretation of the movers and shapes of culture (cf. French Calvinists founded the Academy of Painting in Paris and the English counterparts led the way in science founding Britain’s Royal Society; leading evangelists were presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.  The Christian worldview was the accepted system and paradigm through     which even discipline was interpreted.  Christians must pay their dues, make their case and win their arguments in the libraries and lecture halls,, not just on CNN.

 

3.  American Culture is a Judeo/Christian Monolith:  Throughout Church History Christians have gotten tangled up in paganism.  Contextualization is not a new concept.  The challenge always lies in the influencing of the culture out of paganism, but the danger lies in being seduced by paganism ourselves.  It is a great mistake to assume that American culture was and is shaped exclusively by Judeo-Christian values (cf. the classical Flower Children--John Adams’ Constitution of 1776, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen said that “reason was the only brace of men,” (1784), Thomas Jefferson as the founder of the University of Virginia, refused to appoint a person to the religion faculty.  The university was the place the people could be freed from their outmoded ideas.

 

4.  Secularism could not exist in its present form apart from Christianity.  Liberals naively assume that modern nations of democracy (rule of the mob), liberty (moral anarchy) and justice (state oppression) were freshly discovered.  Atheistic secular humanism gets the brunt of evangelical criticism, but while atheism may be the logical effect of deism, both are a part of modernity that replaced the supernatural with naturalism.

 

5. The worldview of our Post Modern culture goes beyond the “self-evident” truth of our forefathers.  In the Secular City there are no “self evident truths.”  There are no truths at all other than culturally contingent ones!  (cf. Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivializes Religious Devotion NY: Harper/Collins, 1993; see my paper “Resurgent Spirituality in The Secular City”).  Once we see that the real problem is idolatry, not atheism, we recognize immediately our affinity with the early Christians and their mission.

 

Political and Educational Solutions are ultimate:  Postmodernity is in process of repudiating the modern myth that political solutions are ultimate and that humanity, being basically good, merely needs good social structures in order to accomplish peace, harmony, order, justice and righteousness.  Yet many evangelicals are still confident that the modern disciplines, psychology, the social sciences and politics are ultimate solutions. These areas cover wide sections of the evangelical community as newly discovered idols.  The honor of the Crusades pales into insignificance in view of the deaths of hundreds of millions in the Enlightenment experiment of building heaven on earth through self-confident rationalism and moralism.  Post Moderns have lost their confidence with the panic of modern science and its relatives, including politics, to solve the deepest conflict.  For the first time in two centuries, intellectuals are now talking about the spiritual roots of the crisis.  Post Moderns are declaring that they need religion not for salvation but for the social ballast (cf. resurgent Eastern religions in the West and New Age Pantheism).

 

Robert Dugan, director of the National Association of Evangelicals Office of Public Affairs, offers a strategy for “those who want to reshape society through political process.”  (Winning The New Civil War: Recapturing American Values (Portland: Multnomah, 1991), p. 88)  But how has this ever happened?  Has society ever been reshaped through the political process?  Politics is the place where the ideas that have already shaped society had their legislative applications.  Democracy was not legislated by a grass roots political movement; it was a philosophy of government whose time had come.  The two powers struggling in 1917 were the adherents of representative democracy (first in power) and the Marxist-Leninists who, of course, ended up in power.  The peasants could rise up, but it was the “culturally elite”--the university trained intellectuals, who moved then in various directions.  Democracy is weakest when the voting members of society are motivated at their deepest thoughts and instincts by secular conventions.  Political triumphs were first intellectual victories; history will bear that out at this point; it doesn’t matter what brand of politics one accepts, as both Marxism and Capitalism are cut from the same cloth of Enlightenment, Modernity.  Both systems stand under the judgment of God the Creator and Redeemer of the fallen universe.  We are engaged in a postmodern civil war, an “ideological war.”  The world’s competing system of control presuppose rationalism, human goodness and autonomy, and yet, at the same time, reduces man to a mere economic animal whose existence is nothing more than factors of production and consumption.  One rejects heaven and the other ignores it.  Man bears no evil within himself and all the defects of his life are caused by misguided social systems, which therefore must be corrected (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s response to Solzhenitzen at Harvard University).

 

Political solutions are not ultimate for the same reason that medical solutions are not ultimate.  In the end we all die from something.  To believe that political and medical solutions are ultimate is to agree with that other myth of modernity, that evil is the product of social structures, other than sinful human nature.  Government cannot make people good.  It cannot make them tolerant and charitable, as the left would have it; nor can it make us sexually responsible or God-honoring.  There must be an immediate resurgence of Spiritual Quest (but not in the New Age sense of spirituality).  We must identify the “enemy” in the   Cultural Wars.

 

Secular Humanist Dogma:  Man the Measure (resurgence of Protagoras and New Age Spirituality)  Evangelicalism is “geared” toward self-fulfilment (cf see Wade C. Roof, A Generation of Seekers (NY: Harper, 1993).  It is impossible to build a foundation from Judeo-Christian ethics in a culture on the basis of self-fulfilment.

 

a.  Law and Self Fulfilment:  God wants what is best for you.  If society is to survive it must be grounded in morality, which transcends any principle of “self interest.”  (Walsh, After Ideology (Harper, 1990), p. 200)

 

b.  Sin, Grace and Felt Needs:  Sermons used to focus on sin and grace but now they are often more concerned with addictions, recovery, felt needs, and other psychological categories (cf. the influence of Norman Vincent Peal, Robert Schuller, etc.).

 

c.  Authority of Scripture:  (Sola Scripture)  The pressures of Narcissism and subject vision (often cloaked in pious phrases) such as “personal relationship” over “dead doctrine” have not only replaced God with self as the object, but have replaced God with self as the authority for interpreting reality.  A rejection of theology is a rejection of scripture, inasmuch as the Bible is filled with propositional statements about the character of God (cf. see my paper “Linguistic Revolution and The Demise of “God Language;” Linguistic Analysis reduction of theological discourse to a non-cognitive status).

 

The scriptures make definitive pronouncements on the key questions of God, the self, the meaning of life and history.  If we do not care about theology we do not care about God or revelation and we are left to the newspapers and television to define our reality (cf. Matthew Fox, New Age mystic, “heart knowledge” is the basis of all true knowledge.  Jung and Maslov, the fathers of humanistic psychology, influence the preaching broadcasting industry, “the god within” inward experience.  Barna’s report concerning Evangelicals, is almost equally divided with the statement, “there is no such thing as absolute truth.”  Sin has become dysfunctional, low self esteem and unmet needs.  Therefore, the solution will be described in therapeutic rather than theological language.  This is not merely “contextualizing” the Christian message for a Post Modern audience; it is conforming the message to the Post Modern audience (David Wells’ treatment, No Place for Truth; M. Noll, M. Hatch and G. Marsden, The Search for Christian America (Crossway, 1983).

 

Too many evangelicals have been shaped by secularism in their theology while participating in the idolatry of their contemporaries.  Daniel Bell, Harvard sociologist, asserts that “to say, then, that ‘God is dead’ is, in effect, to say that the social bonds have snapped and that society is dead.”  (from David Gress in The World and I (May, 1990), p. 485; Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil: The Mega Church Movement Flirts With Modernity (Baker, 1993); also No God But God, ed. (Moody, 1992); and John Seels, The Evangelical Forfeit (Baker, 1993). The Church cannot “save America” from its moral confusion while it is itself operating at its very core with secular presuppositions.  Employing relativism and utilitarian pragmatism as the basis for arguing moral absolutes is about as silly and self contradictory as a relativist making absolute statements about the truth of relativism.  Evangelicals have accommodated too much to both modernity and post modernity (see Michael Horton, Made in America: The Shaping of Modern America’s Evangelicalism (Baker, 1991).  Too often Evangelicals have become their own worst enemies via assimilation of “secular humanism in thought and action.”  To engage constructively with Post Modern cultural wars the Church must arm for battle by knowledge of the shaping ideas in the Secular City.  Our task is not merely to reaffirm the past but to fuse the horizons between our classical past and prophets of Post Modern culture.

 

 

Dr. James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus

Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656