Wednesday, June 01, 2005

American Church Issues

Well, here's the initial post concerning the issues I sent the email about. To get things started, here's some reading material that I would recommend to, I believe, better understand the dynamics of what it means to be a Christian in America. These books will largely come from a theologically "conservative" perspective, yet not necessarily in a way that fits with other senses of the modern term conservative. A large part of what has made it so difficult to deal with issues accurately has been the degradation of the language and its misuse. Terms need to be explained more than ever if we are to clearly understand what is being said. In any case, here's a foundational article by Christian Smith that I believe helps tremendously in extricating us from our cultural blinders. A very helpful book that I recently read by conservative Lutherans called "The Anonymous God" opens up much of what the problem is in identifying the god of America with the God of Scripture. And while this isn't necessarily directly (though indirectly it certainly is) related to the issue of the church in America, I believe the book by Meic Pearse called "Why The Rest Hates The West", written from an evangelical Christian perspective, yet from Wales, provides a much needed outside perspective to what is facing our country and culture now. Finally, here's a document that is quite remarkable, in that, apart from its tired use of the 95 theses model (understandable though, considering the appropriate comparison to Luther's environment), actually presents a cogent explanation of what American Christians need to be most aware of, and beware of, in our national religious expression. I hope to soon start putting up my own words on these and other issues. But until then, I thought these links would be a good start.


Steve said...

Response to Christian Smith article:

- classical liberalism's emphasis on the individual is a source of family breakdown. Early teens are attracted to this definition contra their family, and parents let it happen.

- responsibility to society is important, though I have reservations about the environmentalism part of this. Haven't seen lots of stats, but enough to suggest that human negative contribution to environment is less than we tend to think. Could be wrong. Agree, though, that we are stewards. We tend creation to glorify God, just as God tends us to glorify Himself. We want to care for something God made for us. But we should not give creation a personality in our thinking; we are not pagans who remember Gaia.

- We pay for freedom with isolation. Right on.

- classical liberalism's overemphasis on self-interest: I think this eval is overdone. To be sure, cl lib can be wrested from a moral base to end up with selfishness at the center. But a Christian society can also function on the self-interest basis, just with restrained interests. The issue is, who shall govern my desires? Obviously, God first. Who's second? Family? Government? Self? If the baker's self-interest is to get shoes for his child, and the cobbler's interest is to get food for his family, this system works fine. It's all in the morals of the desires.

- materialism: again, I'm not sure if the system per se, of cl lib encourages this, or if there is something else going on. Certainly, the system allows it, but some other balancing force (taken away in recent decades) often restrains it. Coming back from 2 weeks in Israel and Turkey to Chicago was major culture shock - made me aware of the advertising we are inundated with. But ads are not inherent to cl lib.

- We need paragraph very good.

Would recommend Face to Face, by Steve Wilkins for a start on building community one by one.

Steve said...

Me again, on the 95 theses:

Agree with founding fathers depiction.

Agree USA is not a Christian nation today.
There is some misunderstanding here, though. #12: a national identity is formalized in laws, usually after the informal culture has been around long enough to endorse it officially. I would say there was a lot more faith in Christ's Gospel in 1776 than we give the colonials credit for. In this sense we *were* a Christian nation. That faith didn't not translate into law, largely due to issues of liberty and pluralism more in the fore, but the faith was still there.

Liberty over love in this country - very true.

19-22. Hmm. God calls on worldly governments to protect and defend its citizens (Rom 13:1-6). These statements seem to be discrediting that role. Any government has the duty to protect its citizens with force, if needed.

25-27. The salt and light piece is missing here. Yes, USA has distorted liberty to a higher value than it should have. But it is not necessarily idolatrous; Christians with a proper view of liberty can live faithfully and obediently as citizens and magistrates. The logic of these statements would forbid us to be part of any country, except God's Kingdom. 1 Peter 2:13-17 says otherwise, and even speaks of freedom fitting in to the gov't picture.

Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 23, para 2: "It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion." Paragraph 3 is also helpful on this subject.

Pride. Yes, we are proud. Yes, pride runs rampant during war. But those wars have typically been justified, for the good of others, whose governments have been derelict in protecting their citizens. Is it USA's duty to police other gov'ts? No, you could say it is the UN's. But you could also easily say the UN does not do that job, when you have Sudanese officials on Human Rights committees. And the USA has the ability to bring justice effectively to some places. To do this humbly and corporately is difficult, I admit, but consider the thousands, millions we have liberated in Germany, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.

37-38. Yes, God is our ultimate source of protection. But He often protects us with a worldly gov't (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2 again).

44-47. Very good. Heard once that Chinese unregistered churches are persecuted largely because they preach Daniel and Revelation - passages that tell of our duty to resist the state when it usurps God's authority.

48 - I saw some demonization in above statements... (22 and 28)

49 - wealth IS a sign of God's blessing. No denying that. Deut 6 and 8 and many Proverbs. But Scripture also points out the dangers of wealth. Don't know the source, but "Godliness begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured her mother."

50-55. Wealth is not inherently evil. Love of it is. A strong attraction, yes, but not bad in itself to be rich. But Scripture also tells us not to favor the poor or rich in judgments.

57. Hoo boy. First, it's difficult to judge national motives for war. Second, I acknowledge access to oil was probably a factor. Third, human rights for Kuwaitis and the evil of Hussein was also a factor. I would rather have the oil in *Kuwait's* hands (not ours; we buy it) than Saddam's.

60-64. We have not lived out democracy well enough to condemn it, it seems to me. Democracy is the best form of gov't for protecting the minority, but we're still human and find ways around doing it. Blame sinful hearts more than democracy. But I agree democracy is not divinely endorsed. Christians believe in a monarchy. Jesus is King.

65 - I see little difference between liberating Afghans from the Taliban and liberating Jews in camps from Nazis. If we are sure that people aren't living how they want to live, we should give them an opportunity to do so. On the other hand, maybe Russians don't really WANT democracy. We shouldn't pressure it on them, then. We DO have an empire mentality - spread democracy everywhere, whether people want it or not; why wouldn't they want it? This is the old Roman empire redux.

I would recommend the Thema article at this link, as a supplement to these theses:

Andrew said...

I must say that I downloaded the 95 theses, and I get ashamed by them. Sometimes I realize that my attempts to be an American conflict with my attempts to be a citizen of the Kingdom. What am I to do? Did early Christians deal with this problem? I could go Essene- but that seems to raise its own problems. My idolatry would be my beliefs rather than the object of my beliefs.

I'm going to drop a bomb here- let's try our best to stop fighting the church/nation battle, whatever side we are on. Let's fight the good fight of faith and unity in Christ, and not fight the adequete fight of "In God we Trust" written on the idol of money.

Irenicum said...

Thanks to both Steve and Andy for your comments. I've been moving in the last week from my old address to my new one, and I'm waiting for phone service to be hooked up, so my own responses may be somewhat spotty. On one point: Colonial America was not more devout than we are now. The evidence is that we are much more religious than the people of the revolutionary period. I forget where I read the article, but I was really surprised at the findings. I always accepted the assumption that our forefathers/mothers were more devout than we are idea, but the demographics show that they were much less "churched" than we are today. I imagine those that were churched were probably more doctrinally grounded than most of today's church goers, but I'm not gonna bet the farm on that idea either. I think we always tend towards a "good old days" motif when we look at our current problems. And sometimes the good old days weren't so good. Anyway, thanks again for posting!