Uncategorized

The Christian Assault on Christendom

broken-churches

The Lost Christendom

Nobody reading these lines has ever seen Christendom. Christendom began with Constantine’s public affirmation of Christianity in the 4th century; engulfed both Eastern and, later, Western Europe; and then shaped the European colonies in the New World. It was Byzantine and Roman Catholic and (later) Protestant.

Christendom died incrementally, first in Western Europe by the mid-18th century under the pressures of the Enlightenment and its subsequent reaction, Romanticism. In the United States after the Civil War, Christendom was shredded by Darwinism, higher Biblical criticism, and secular democracy. Christendom in the East was always subservient to the state, and when the state became atheistic (Marxist) in Russia in 1917 and in Eastern Europe in 1945–1946, Christendom simply collapsed.

What was Christendom? It was the visible, public affirmation of Christianity by nations and cultures. It was Christian civilization marked out by Trinitarian baptism, profession of the ecumenical Christian creeds, and allegiance to the Bible and to the Faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Christendom was a ubiquitous, transnational way of life shaped by the Bible and Christian tradition. National political leaders weren’t just Christians in their private lives ­— they were expected to apply their expression of Christianity (however warped and imperfect) in the state. Likewise, law, music, education, literature, science, technology, poetry — all aspects of life were expected to pay tribute to Jesus and Savior and Lord. Society was to be a Christian culture.

Christendom wasn’t perfect — far from it — but it was a concrete historic reality.[1]

Christendom has always had enemies — from outside it was assaulted by Islam. Even fringe sectors of Christians like the Anabaptists decried it. But Christendom’s biggest enemy became the Enlightenment. Make no mistake: some early Enlightenment figures like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson were Christian or at least Christian-influenced. Yet over time, the chief tenet of Enlightenment[2] — that no authority could sit in judgment on human reason, that man’s reason and experience were the measure of all things — suffocated Christendom. The earliest and most violent public exhibition of this suffocation was the French Revolution, which swept away a corrupt and tyrannical state along with a corrupt and effete church. What replaced a corrupt church and state was infinitely worse than its predecessors — as the Parisian guillotine could attest. The French Revolution was the mother of all violent secular revolutions — in Russia, China, Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam. Wherever those secular revolutions prevailed, Christendom vanished.

In established liberal democracies like England and the United States, the revolution was not violent, but it was no less successful. Secularization won out by gradually (democratically, culturally, subtly, peacefully) capturing the public schools and universities, the major foundations, the arts, and politics.[3] This means of cultural take-over was no less effective than violent revolution — just as Hitler’s democratic election in the Weimer Republic installed him no less securely than a revolution would have.

Today Christendom is a distant memory — or no memory at all. Secularism is an “invisible ideology”; it’s a way of life almost nobody questions and almost everybody takes for granted. This aversion to or ignorance of Christendom is understandable — secularists want a secular world, not a Christian world — and they’ve got one.

Christians and Christendom

What’s harder to understand is the Christian assault on Christendom. After all, wouldn’t you think that Christians would want the Gospel to change the world and for Jesus to be Lord of all things everywhere? Yes, you’d think so. But you’d be wrong. Large sectors of contemporary Christianity deplore Christendom — they think the church took a disastrous turn with Constantine and that in many ways secularism has saved the church from Christianity’s long-time civilizational dominance.

If that idea sounds perverse, it’s because it is. Here are two recent examples of this perversity.

Brian McLaren’s Emergent Masochism

Brian McLaren, noted pastor and godfather of the Emergent Movement, rightly intertwines Christendom and Western civilization — and laments both. He deplores “Western Christianity’s dark side,” by which he means its colonialism, market economics, white privilege, institutional racism, militarism, and so on.[4] This is common liberal and secularist drivel. Of course, Christendom was far from perfect (lamentably there were [for example] racists in Christendom, just as there were — and are — racists among secularists). But, by and large, Christendom brought to the West (over time) political liberty, individual rights, economic prosperity, protection for minorities, and artistic excellence. To secularists who scoff at this assertion (“Wasn’t Christendom rife with religious persecution, political tyranny, poverty, and retrogressive culture, until secularism liberated the world?”) the answer is simply, No. These tragedies did at times exist in Christendom — and it was in Christendom in which they were mostly abolished. Christendom doesn’t eliminate sin, but it does have recourse to the sources that mitigate sin — namely God and His Word.

Brian McLaren’s hatred (the word is not excessive) for Christendom seems a form of spiritual masochism. He wants a weak, marginal faith.[5] He rightly knows that Paul said that God’s strength was perfected in Paul’s personal weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), but McLaren seems to miss the King of kings and Lord of lords who rules the world in might, judging his enemies (Rev. 11–21) and vesting his saints with godly, humble dominion and stewardship of the world (Eph. 1:15–23; Rev. 2:26; 3:21; Dan. 7:18–27). Brian opts for weak-kneed Christianity, which he equates with real Christianity. Christendom isn’t compatible with weak-kneed Christianity, so Brian simply jettisons it.

David VanDrunen’s Reformed Anti-Christendom

A second example of aversion to Christendom is David VanDrunen, professor at Westminster Seminary California, an avowedly Reformed institution. The historically alert reader may be scratching his head. Has any sector of the church (aside from Roman Catholicism) so stressed Christendom than Reformed Christianity? Wasn’t Calvin committed to a distinctly Christian Geneva? And did not Zwingli and Bucer and Bullinger and Knox affirm Christendom? They did. But Dr. VanDrunen isn’t happy with this.[6] Christian culture is the visible exhibition of Christendom, but David opposes Christian culture, or, rather, radically redefines it as the church.[7] VanDrunen wants a churchly Christianity and no distinctive Christianity outside the church. He mildly criticizes Calvin, who “was living in the midst of Christendom”[8] mistakenly assimilating Christendom at times. But VanDrunen’s bigger targets are Abraham Kuyper and the “Neo-Calvinists.”[9]

Kuyper, a towering figure in Reformed history,[10] was a pastor, theologian, university president and for a time even prime minister of the Netherlands. He was an unflagging advocate of Christian culture and, therefore, of Christendom. His heirs (the “Neo-Calvinists”) are even worse, according to VanDrunen, for wanting to redeem all of culture and subordinate it to Christ the King, Christianizing everything. This is the Christian cultural mandate, God’s original commission to Adam and Eve to steward the earthy for his glory (Gen. 1:28–30), taking humble dominion in the earth, though this commission has now (since the Fall) been adapted to account for sin and redemption. VanDrunen holds that this program is wrong on three counts.

First, it devalues the church, since the Neo-Calvinists believe the kingdom is bigger than the church. If the kingdom is bigger than the church, then Christendom is a distinct possibility.

Second, Neo-Calvinism swerves from the New Testament, which is mostly about the transitory nature of life, heavenly citizenship and suffering, not about Christianizing culture.

Third, Christians shouldn’t take earthly stewardship or exert godly dominion as Adam was commanded to do since Jesus, as the Second Adam, has already done that for them.

What do we say to these objections? They are wrong.

First, the kingdom is bigger than the church. Jesus preached about the kingdom all the time (Mt. 3:2; 4:17; 6:10; 18:3; 19:14; 21:43; 25:1, 14, 34; 26:29) and only rarely talked about the church, at least in his utterances recorded in the Bible (Mt. 16:18; 18:17). Of course, Jesus didn’t have to use the word “church” to refer to it, but nobody reading the Gospels would get the impression that the church is identical to the kingdom. The kingdom is God’s reign in the earth now centered in the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:24–28). The church is his body of believers in the earth (Eph. 1:22–23, 5:22–32). The church is a critical aspect of the kingdom. Both church and kingdom are vital; but the kingdom is bigger than the church.

Second, the New Testament talks plenty about the transitory nature of life, heavenly citizenship and suffering, but these aren’t its only life orientation, and, after all, the Bible, not just the New Testament, is our source of authority. Jesus assures his disciples that the obedient will be blessed in this life (Mk. 10:30); he calls his followers to disciple all nations, not just individuals (Mt. 28:18–20); and he promises that all those united to Jesus are heirs of the entire world, not just heaven (Rom. 4:13). The New Testament promises temporality, heavenly citizenship and suffering, as well as godly dominion, blessings, and Gospel success.

Third, Jesus did indeed take dominion, but his faithful followers join him in his dominion task (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 2:26; 3:21). Jesus’ obedience in taking dominion as the Second Adam was not in order that we need not obey in assuming Adam’s task. Jesus’ initiatory, redemptive obedience makes our responsive, non-redemptive obedience possible (Rom. 5:12–6:1–23).

David writes that God never designed Christianity to build civilizations,[11] but he hasn’t offered a persuasive Biblical case for this view, and he has implicitly verified that he is breaking with significant elements of his own tradition in assaulting Christian civilization.

Rebuilding Christendom

If Christians are charged with stewarding the world for God’s glory; if we are commissioned to disciple all nations; if Jesus is Lord of all things, not just the family and church — then rebuilding Christendom must be an objective of Christianity. I said “rebuilding Christendom,” not resurrecting Christendom. Constantinian and medieval and Reformation Christendom had their day and made their contribution. What we must be after today is a new Christendom built on the best aspects of the past but open to new ideas and practices in line with the Bible.

But it’s premature to start rebuilding Christendom full-tilt as long as the vast majority of Christians are assaulting or oblivious to it. As badly as we need a revival of fervent prayer and holiness, godly parenting in the family, a church drenched in devotion to Jesus Christ and powerful preaching and communion, and the Christianization of art, education, politics, science, law and so on — we need as much for Christians to radically reorient themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his comprehensive claims on us that require Christendom.

When Christians return to the idea of Christendom as an operating assumption and not merely a pleasant historic artifact or even an objective, we’ll be on our way to a restored godly world.


[1] Christopher Dawson, The Historic Reality of Christian Culture (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960).
[2] Peter Gay, The Age of Enlightenment (New York: Time-Life, 1966).
[3] For a sympathetic treatment of a principal recent, and the most pervasive external, enemy of Christendom, marinated in both Enlightenment and Romanticism, see Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2008).
[4] Brian D. McLaren, “Church Emerging: Or Why I Still Use the Word Postmodern but with Mixed Feelings,” in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, eds. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 148.
[5] Ibid., 151.
[6] David VanDrunen, “Calvin, Kuyper and ‘Christian Culture,’” in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey, eds. R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim (Escondido, California: Westminster Seminary California, 2010) 135–153.
[7] Ibid., 149–152.
[8] 140.
[9] 141–153.
[10] Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).
[11] Ibid., 151.
Standard
Uncategorized

Equality: Enemy of Christian Culture

communism-fascism-democracy-1917-1939-41-638

If you want to understand cultural equality, or egalitarianism, you might want to think of the legend of St. George and the dragon.[1] St. George devoted his life to killing dragons, and when he’d killed them all, he lost his life’s passion, so he invented new dragons. St. George, you see, needed his dragons. In the same way, the political Left began by killing the dragon of arbitrary state authority, but quickly moved on to slay alleged arbitrary church authority and fascist authority and, more recently, Caucasian authority and family authority and paternal and maternal authority and capitalist authority and, in these last decades, male and “heterosexual” authority. The Left are liberators eternally in search of the oppressed whom they must liberate. They are on one huge liberation crusade, and if there are no oppressed, they must invent them. This is what Kenneth Minogue terms “the oppression-liberation nexus.”[2] While the Right in recent times has won political elections, the Left has at this point won the culture and wants to keep winning, and this means, above all else, an eternal liberation crusade. Communist Revolutions are simply one major example: to liberate workers from employers. The broader agenda is social liberation of all kinds, and Western Leftist elites differ from Lenin and Mao only in degree and in methods employed, not in principle. Mao used the end of a gun barrel; Western elites use public schools and major foundations and TV and art and music. The objective is identical: liberation of the oppressed, “oppressed” meaning any class that can claim social inferiority.

The Left’s Liberation Crusades

In this liberation crusade, classical liberalism has been gradually transformed in its views of equality, from equality of processes to equality of results.[3] The early liberals, influenced by Christianity and its view of law, wanted a level operational field. The law cannot privilege once class over another. This is just what the Bible teaches. You aren’t penalized or rewarded for being white or black, or rich or poor, or young or old, or male of female. You get equal treatment under the law.

The Left soon discovered that this procedural equality didn’t create equal results. If procedural conditions were equalized, some people got more than others. They knew the reason for this: the law may treat people equally, but people are not equal. That is, equality isn’t a fact of nature. To a dragon-slaying liberation crusade, this natural inequality was unacceptable, so they declared war on nature. They did this by equalizing results. They used confiscatory taxation to equalize economic results, hiring quotas to equalize sexual and racial results, non-winnable games to equalize youth athletic results, abortion to equalize childbearing-responsibility results, and, now, same-sex “marriage” (SSM) to equalize marital results.

SSM isn’t the ultimate battle in the left’s liberation crusade. It has been discovered that while homosexuals (for example) can be given the legal freedom to marry, they can still suffer social rejection or opprobrium. This inequality cannot be permitted. So, long-oppressed classes must have the right to approval. This is where speech codes and criminalization of “hate speech” come from. If you have a right to approval, you don’t have a right to disapprove of other people. This right to approval, like all rights, must be legally enforced. The rub comes when this right conflicts with other rights, like the right to religious expression:

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there.[4]

This was the Marxist approach. One of its maxims was, “religion is a man’s private concern.”[5] And it has increasingly become the Western democratic approach: your religious convictions regarding human sexuality are fine, just as long as you keep them in church, or, more preferably, between your two ears.

The State as Liberationist Enforcer

The mechanism for securing this liberation from disapproval is the state. It derives from the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose influence on the modern world has been incalculable. Rousseau made an interesting and novel proposition: “My views will liberate you from all the traditional authorities to which you have been subject. The only authority to which you have to be subject is the state.”[6]

In the medieval and Reformation worlds, there were all sorts of social institutions to which men belonged — the family (meaning the extended family, not just the “nuclear” family), the church, guilds, clubs, schools, and so forth. These had rules that bound individuals (non-coercively). While the state (usually) did not and (could not) enforce those rules, they were strong rules. For example: the church. The church had the power of excommunication. By the 18th century, many individuals were a little sick of these institutions, and they wanted “liberation.” Rousseau basically appealed, “Give me a state strong enough to wipe out the authority of these institutions, and I will give you individual liberty — except, liberty from the state itself.” This, in fact, essentially happened during the French Revolution. The Roman Catholic Church was gutted, the medieval guilds were destroyed, and the family was diluted. What became all-powerful was the state.

Why were so many individuals willing to make this trade? That’s simple enough. These other institutions, like the family and the church, demanded morality. The state doesn’t demand morality; it only demands subservience. Individuals were willing to give up political liberty in order to gain moral (=immoral) liberty. Or, more accurately, they were willing to enslave themselves to the state as long as they could emancipate themselves from moral standards. This, I suggest, has been the course of political liberalism over the last 200 years in the West. The state is the enforcer of the “oppression-liberation nexus.” Your freedom to practice homosexuality (including SSM) is protected; your freedom to start a degree-granting Christian college is not protected. Your freedom to abort an unborn baby and sell its residual body parts is protected; your freedom to pass on all your wealth to your heirs is not protected. Your freedom to produce and disseminate pornography is protected; your freedom as a pastor to endorse a Christian political candidate is not protected. Virtually any sort of sexual “preference” is permitted, just as long as you acquiesce to the state’s power.

Rousseau was willing to get rid of the family community, the church community, and the business community by empowering the political community. He was a communalist, but the only community he cared anything about was the state.

The Christian Alternative

This is in sharp counter-distinction to the Christian view of things. In the biblical Faith, the family and church and business are rather strong, but the state is rather weak. These so-called “private” institutions — family, church, business, friendships, and so on — are “buffers” between the individual and the state (sometimes called “civil society”). They are institutions that rival the state and compete for the individual’s allegiance. This is why a Rousseauian view of the state (that is, the Leftist view) despises these institutions. If people start relying on the family and the church, for example, for moral instruction, for health, for education, for welfare, and so on, if they commit themselves to these communities — they will not need the state. But the state is exactly what Rousseau’s view of the “good life” is all about. The state guarantees everybody’s “good life.” This is why political liberals, following Rousseau, want to subordinate all other communities to the political community. This is why they love politics. It gives them freedom from other communities that demand morality.

It should now be clear why egalitarianism is such a hindrance to Christian culture. Christian culture is all about various independent but overlapping God-created spheres (like family, church, school, business, arts, sciences, technology, and so on) each operating to glorify God in culture under his authority.[7] Egalitarianism prohibits by political coercion the life and development of these separate spheres like the family and church.

And there can be no Christian culture apart from the freedom of these institutions.


[1] Kenneth R. Minogue, The Liberal Mind (New York: Vintage, 1968), 1.
[2] Kenneth R. Minogue, The Servile Mind (New York and London: Encounter, 2010), 296.
[3] Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions (New York: William Morrow, 1987), 121–140,
[4] Benjamin Domenech, “The Future of Religious Liberty,” http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2013/06/26/the_sexual_revolutions_consequences.html#.Ucvh4aEmFKM.facebook, accessed June 27, 2012
[5] Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 81.
[6] Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973), 148, 268.
[7] Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 41–61.
Standard
Uncategorized

The Cultural Cost of Economic Rigging

lazyteenager

We live amid an economic revolution. The fact that it has engulfed us only gradually does not make it less revolutionary. It is equally a moral revolution. Economics is a moral issue. It’s not an issue over which good Christians can simply agree to disagree. It’s remarkable how many Christians oppose abortion and same-sex “marriage” but who refuse to oppose Obamacare and state welfare programs. Apparently they’re willing to defend the fifth commandment, “You may not murder,” and the seventh, “You may not commit adultery,” but not the eighth, “You may not steal.” Theft is not somehow sanctified merely because it is practiced by the state or federal government. All property belongs to God ultimately, but the Bible clearly demands the inviolability of personal property.[1] Taxation is legitimate to the extent that it funds the legitimate role of government. The problem today, of course, is that government has greatly expanded its role and, therefore, extracted — that is to say, stolen — money to support itself.

As our culture becomes more secular, it becomes more socialistic. Socialism is a form of secular providence. When we no longer trust God provide for us, we turn to the state as our all-sufficient deity.[2] This is why increasingly secular societies are always increasingly socialistic societies, as much as our secular libertarian friends my resent that fact. Secularization of society does not produce the secular free-market society envisioned by the Ayn Rand variety. It produces the socialist society closer to the Karl Marx variety.

But there is a moral cost of economic rigging no less offensive than state theft: the quest for utopia.[3] Leftists always seem busy coercing tax revenue in order to create the just, or equal, society (by their definition, of course). Some citizens are too rich, and others are too poor, and the job of the state is to create greater equality. This is the fundamental tenet of atheistic Marxism that even professed Christians (like Jim Wallis and Sojourners) have purchased stock in. It is a form of economic rigging that the Bible prohibits. And it has costs, and I don’t mean principally the cost to hard-working people who must fork over their hard-earned money to the government to be used by elitist bureaucrats. The problem is even deeper than that.

Angelo Codevilla’s book The Character of Nations[4] shows that a nation’s laws and customs tend to create (over time) a particular kind of citizen. Codevilla argued, and provided evidence, that people in the Soviet Union, for example, had different aspirations, behavior and habits than people in the United States. This is not a racial issue, but a cultural issue. The laws and customs of the United States incentivized and de-incentivized forms of behavior different from those that the different kinds of laws did in the old Soviet Union. The Soviet culture created a different kind of human. Over time, behavior instilled by a government becomes ingrained in a culture.

Economic rigging in the United States is now gradually creating a new kind of individual. This individual, from his and her childhood, feels entitled to a certain lifestyle, to a specific level of education, and to a particular quality of healthcare. In previous generations, within a Christian culture, it was understood that these enjoyments of life were the benefits of hard-working, wise investment. Today, however, they’ve simply been reduced to entitlement; hard work and wise investing have been pulled out of the equation. Since economic rigging has delivered on these benefits, for the time being, anyway, individuals have come to expect it. But not just come to expect. Economic rigging has created a new kind of individual, one for whom wisdom and intelligence and delayed gratification and pride of ownership and concern for future generations are largely irrelevant. It’s easy to blame the twentysomethings who refuse to leave their parents’ home and get a job and support themselves while expecting free cable TV and Internet access and tickets to the latest Coldplay concert. And, yes, they do carry their share of responsibility. But much of the blame must be laid at the feet of our culture and its government: economic rigging had a hand in creating these twentysomethings.

I suggest, therefore, that the most pernicious cost of economic rigging is not economic stagnation, which is truly burdensome, but ontological stagnation — that is, this policy, over time, creates a different, and morally inferior, kind of individual.


[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2008), 797–798.
[2] P. Andrew Sandlin, Economic Atheism (Mount Hermon, California: Center for Cultural Leadership, 2011), 7–12.
[3] Thomas Molnar, Utopia, The Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967).
[4] Angelo M. Codevilla, The Character of Nations (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
Standard