There is always a lot of talk here and there among Christians, Christian leaders, and Christ pundits concerning the so-called “culture war.” Most of it is disappointing at some level. Much of it is filled with pessimism and is deeply discouraging. Just a few comments for today:
Not too long ago, Todd Starnes published a column asking, “Have Christians Lost the Culture War?” Based upon a Lifeway Research survey, Starnes’s answer, while not definite, seemed to be “Yes.” The Southern Baptist survey reveals that 70 percent of pastors say religious liberty is on the decline, and 59 percent of Christians in general agree.
I can’t imagine this defeatism has anything to do with the far-prevalent eschatological view which expects Christian to lose, secularism to prevail, and Christians to be marginalized persecuted. More on that at another time, save to say sometimes ideology ought to be accounted for in opinion polls.
There is plenty of obliviousness in the report. Ed Stetzer, president of the survey’s research center, confessed he never saw this coming, and in fact thought just the opposite ten years ago. If so, it was only because such guys won’t listen to those who knew better all along. It was the hard-core Christian right that warned them all long ago. In 1999, after years already of religious right activism with his Free Congress Foundation, Paul Weyrich cried uncle:
I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. . . .
I don’t have all the answers or even all the questions. But I know that what we have been doing for thirty years hasn’t worked, that while we have been fighting and winning in politics, our culture has decayed into something approaching barbarism. We need to take another tack, find a different strategy.
Weyrich believed fifteen years ago that the titans of political correctness and “Cultural Marxism” had won, and that Christians could only at this time drop out of culture and begin rebuilding alternative institutions. He saw great promise in the homeschool movement. I suggest you read his whole letter for historical reference.
At least Weyrich still had a forward-looking view. My views in Restoring America are an essentially modified, though independent, version of some of his, with a bit more optimism for the long-run.
But men like Starnes seem to have no answer at all. It’s decline, marginalized and persecuted Christians, and nothing besides. No alternative, no vision. Starnes provides a long list of abuses of religious liberty—some exaggerated, but most obvious—in which Christians are indeed marginalized by public policy and court rulings. In the end, he echoes Reagan’s famous dictum: “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” He concludes, “I’m afraid we may be ‘gone under.’” This is Titanic eschatology.
He’s not alone. One of the bigger disappointments I have witnessed in this regard was a talk given by Roman Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft, entitled, “How to Win the Culture War.” In an attempt to mimic C. S. Lewis, Kreeft pretended to speak as Screwtape to his audience. Not thirty seconds into the talk, Kreeft informed his audience that his topic was in fact not how to win the culture war, but rather how to lose the culture war.
Now that’s a significantly easier task, and is akin to pretty much everything else conservative Christians are selling and buying these days: just complain about every little advance of the enemy, and then raise moans of helplessness to each other. Do this very long and pretty soon, these Christians have compiled a pretty impressive resume for the enemy. They then cower in fear of his prowess, oblivious to the fact they have done his service and propaganda for him. Make a product out of it, and some Christians will pay richly to read or listen to it! Negative headlines are even a path to wealth for some Christian leaders.
I have to admit, however, Kreeft did come up with one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while: Judas Iscariot was the first bishop to accept a government grant. It was 30 pieces of silver. If Kreeft would develop this theme, we might be getting somewhere.
Kreeft’s Screwtape informs Kreeft’s Wormwood that Christians (in his parlance, “Catholics”) will continue to lose the culture war as they have been spectacularly for the past five decades because of seven principles. Without rehearsing them all, many of which I appreciate, the first is, “Politicizing their faith.”
There is a good bit of his presentation with which I would agree, but I have issues with this number 1. Even here there is agreement, though. For example, it is wrong to relativize religious teachings while consequently absolutizing politics—especially a political party. To do so is to commit a form of idolatry. But given this proper insight, I am astounded that Kreeft can only a few sentences later denounce those who “use their religion to justify their political goals.” And this includes those who fight for right in regard to abortion, marriage, etc.
Now, again, I agree with much of what Kreeft critiques under this heading, but the point just made seems to me to introduce a particular contradiction from which many Christians suffer. That is, how can we on the one hand be guilty of diminishing religion because we “absolutize” politics, and yet on the other be guilty of subjecting politics to religion? Those are mutually exclusive efforts, and yet one of them must always be true. I would submit that political goals ought always to derive from religion—that is, from biblical law.
Perhaps Kreeft would say that by “using religion to justify their political goals,” he had in mind those who simply try to leverage the authority of religion in order to advance their pet political agenda which does not glorify God or line up with true religion. If so, then he has still admitted, implicitly, that there is indeed a political agenda that does line up with Scripture—there are political goals that are in fact justified by religion. It just so happens that those he’s criticizing are askew from those proper goals. But truly godly politics does exist. This ought to be the subject of elaboration.
Granted, Kreeft did shuck Screwtape two-thirds-way through his talk and instead proposed seven “Catholic” principles of how not to lose the culture war. But these were literally just the opposite as before. In fact, Kreeft even argues in such a way that makes the “How to win” a reactionary, defensive agenda compared to the enemy’s offensive. The “how to” points are mere attempts to negate the force of the enemy’s already establish points. In short, the enemy gets to set the agenda and terms of debate. Winning the culture war in this sense actually becomes merely surviving until we leave this realm and go to heaven.
There was nothing here about actually winning a “culture war” except following traditional Catholic ideas which involves an emphasis on separating between Christ and Caesar. As you may imagine, this involved the same dichotomies, and, in fact, added more. It devolves into Christ letting Caesar crucify Him not so Christ could win “this world” but “the next world.” We must not focus on the natural but the supernatural, not the temporal but the eternal.
With this type of focus heavenward, never-to-be-turned-earthward with any heavenly authority or expectation of accomplishment, there is no way anyone could even win a culture war. The theology, sovereignty, jurisdiction, mission, and eschatology are all neutered from the outset.
This type of dualism is little different than the most radical of “two kingdoms” theology; and as we may expect, the R2K proponents are just as unhelpful on the topic. Michael Horton, for example, argues that there really is no such thing as a culture war because “Christianity is not a culture.” Why not? Because there are these two kingdoms, and “culture” belongs only in the non-Christian “city of man” kingdom. Yes, it’s that bad: Horton literally argues, “Two kingdoms, two kings.” But this means Christ is not king in the earth! Horton writes,
There are two kings and two kingdoms, each ruling a distinct sphere. . . . In the kingdom of culture, what Augustine called “the city of man,” there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs which are regulated by human wisdom. In the kingdom of Christ, or “the city of God,” there is one ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he advances his kingdom, not through marketing, not through legislation or police force, but by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of his holy sacraments.
This dichotomous construct defies Matthew 28:18 where Christ says all authority over heaven and earth is given to Him. For Horton, Christ only has authority over His kingdom of Christian hearts and sacraments. Everything else—all other rulers and authorities—are separate from Christ’s jurisdiction. Of course this is total nonsense, and despite Horton’s appeal to Luther and Calvin, it is in defiance of the practice of both Luther and Calvin, not to mention the apostles.
Yet, Horton’s view is somewhat popular, as it presents many Christians with a reason to remain disengaged, inactive, detached from social concerns, indifferent to all political ills from poverty to tyranny, and blissfully ignorant—all the while assured of their heavenly reward. There’s really not a much better deal in Christendom.
Now I guess my overall point is this: With friends like these, who needs Screwtape?
Weyrich noted in his 1999 letter that Christians had done well in electing their guys to office, but the expected policy never seemed to follow. I would disagree with the first part to a large degree: it mistakes mere conservative politicians for devout men of God. But the overall sentiment is correct: even when we have good opportunities, “our” politicians have never truly served the interests of the Christian Right, and have never produced meaningful policy reflecting our values.
Again, that was 1999. But as long as we’re looking back, let us recall the real reason for this failure. Rushdoony provided the proper foundations for Christian Culture in 1973, in his sermons on the Ten Commandments which became The Institutes of Biblical Law. Since that time, few theologians, activists, politicians, policy wonks, pastors, pulpits, or Christian media have made biblical law the focus of their agenda. The few who have either did so only in a very shallow, nominal, or limited sense, or turned out to be frauds. Yet there can be no basis for Christian society other than biblical law. Aim anywhere else than here and you’ll miss the mark.
Christian activists and Religious Right proponents have instead maintained a program of “anything but” biblical law. They have reached for every program and compromise imaginable before they will embrace the Moses Christ ratified. They will even prefer alliances with non-Christian cults like Mormonism and Talmudism, and a million secularistic facades of “Evangelicalism” before they will face up to biblical law.
I could list the problems in detail, and indeed have done quite a bit of it in Restoring America. In the end, the major reason most Christians won’t make positive changes per biblical law is that they are bought off. The greatest impediment of our time is economic: government control of money and funding. States refuse to stand up to Supreme Court rulings because the first line of major sanctions would be refusal of major federal funding upon which people and businesses in that State are dependent. Counties cower to State governments just the same. Christians are every bit as devious social thieves as the rest, and they cannot bring themselves to part with their public schools, medicares, medicaids, snap and chip reliefs, social securities—and their pulpits refuse to tell them otherwise. What a mountain we are up against!
Given this, I believe Kreeft may really have been onto something. That whole government grant of 30 pieces of silver? Ha. Maybe we need a whole series of sermons on Judas, and who he really is.
Now that would truly be a cultural warfare endeavor, for Christians at least, wouldn’t it?
American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit www.AmericanVision.org for more information, content and resources