“Culture Wars”, Tribalism and the destruction of American Evangelicalism

There is a common belief that the left is destroying American Christianity.  I believe there is such a thing as the “liberal agenda”.  I have experienced it firsthand actually.  At the same time I think evangelicalism’s zealous crusade against the big bad left is doing more harm than good.  I also believe that there is a time to call out heresy or create distance from a group of Christians.  I have experienced that before too, but I think this has turned into cutthroat tribalism in conservative Christianity.  The secular left is harming American Christianity, but I believe that the participation in the so called “culture wars” and a culture of heresy hunting tribalism is actually doing more harm than any number of atheists who intend on destroying Christianity could do.  The war rhetoric that has come out of these two phenomenon have destroyed love our neighbor and our ability to see others as made in the image of God.  It has destroyed our ability to think and have an open mind.         

 

Culture Wars

Anthony Bradley was right when that “there is no culture war in America that Christians are called to enlist in as soldiers.”  I think I am allergic to the phrase “culture wars.”  I start getting hives and my heart starts beating fast whenever they are mentioned. The “culture wars” are a mixture of bad politics and bad theology.  It is a figment of the fundamentalist imagination and unfortunately has leaked into evangelical thinking.  It is Eurocentric American Nationalism.  Many involved are racist neo-Confederates.  It is a form of idolatry holding a political ideology above the gospel.  It has reduced people from image bearers of God to their political positions.  It is dangerous.

 

First of all it has united a set of political beliefs with the gospel.  Christians are free to hold political stances and there are some things we can assume from the Bible (like that abortion should be illegal), but there is no specific political ideology that is Biblical.  Equally committed Christians can come different conclusions regarding almost any political issue.  When we equate a specific ideology with the gospel we commit idolatry.  Lesslie Newbigin was right when he said

“This confusion of a particular and fallible set of political and moral judgements with the cause of Jesus Christ is more dangerous than the open rejection of the claim of Christ in Islam” and that “The ‘Religious Right’ uses the name of Jesus to cover the absolute claims of one national tradition.”  

Russell Moore has pointed out that “too often, and for too long, American ‘Christianity’ has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.” Christians got all out of sorts when A&E suspended Phil Robertson because they felt like it was part of the “liberal agenda.”  Well guess what Phil Robertson is at best heterodox and at worst is heretical.  Look up what he believes about baptism and justification if you are curious as to why I say this. Glen Beck is a Mormon.  Pat Robertson believes in a type of the prosperity gospel and has said many unsavory things, and Bill O’Reily has also said heretical things about justification, but these are the people we are supporting.   Gavin Ortlund said that “the gospel is not identical with either a conservative or progressive ideology.  It will at times correct both.”  We need to do a better job at correcting conservative ideology.       

 

Second, war rhetoric has lead us to dehumanize people and reduce image bearers of God to their political ideologies.  When we speak of a “liberal agenda” or “homosexual agenda” we lose sight of the humanity of our opponents.  We lump all liberals or members of the LGBT community together and throw verbal grenades at them.  When we do this we are no longer able to love those who disagree with us.    C. John Collins wisely said that “The image (of war rhetoric) is a dangerous one… because it can lead us to look at everything in combatant terms: people who disagree with us become our enemies, and we have to defeat them…. We must never use the weapons of unbelief—dishonesty, slander, name-calling, and so on…the unbeliever is not the person we’re fighting against; rather, he is the person we are fighting for.”

 

Third, America is not a Christian Nation, and I am very glad that it is not.  We do not need to reclaim America for God. AMERICA WAS NEVER A CHRISTIAN NATION.  NEVER.  PERIOD. UGH. PLEASE STOP.   Most of the founding fathers were deists, not Christians.  The idea that the founding fathers were attempting to create God’s kingdom or a “city on a hill” is purely fictitious. America is not the new Israel. America is not in a special covenant relationship with God. And while we are talking about Israel, Israel is no longer in a covenant relationship with God either. This is dispensational nonsense. Christians do not need to unite for Israel.  Okay, back to the United States. I am glad that America is not a Christian nation because if it were, the church would be the one that lose out, not the state.  American would probably be fine, but the church would not.  Any time the church has united with the state, the church becomes corrupt.  Crusades. Colonization. Manifest Destiny. Slavery. Jim Crow. These were all done by the state in the name of God.                        

 

Fourth, it is built upon fear and deception, often leading to conspiratorial thinking.  Because we so fear the left, we believe anything negative said about it.  A recent survey found that fifty-four percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim.  This is laughable it is so stupid.  I believe he is a heterodox Christian at best, but he is not a Muslim.  It is just baffling to me that people actually believe these lies.  The left makes up lies about the right, but I do not think I have to spend much time convincing evangelicals about this, but the right makes up a whole lot of crap too.  Fox News correspondent and author of Godless America, Todd Starnes has found to have manipulated facts and exaggerated the truth.  Read this article/  from one of my favorite evangelical writers Alan Noble about Starnes for more. People like Starnes cater to their audiences and their audiences like hearing about the war on Christianity, so they manipulate the facts (or just make stuff up) in order to get viewers.

 

 We should listen to Anthony Bradley who said that “the resurrection means the ‘culture war’ is over.  Jesus has won.  No need to freak out about policies.”  No need to freak out or make stuff up to put fear into people.   

 

Tribalism

It is highly concerning to me that the reformed community will tolerate social ignorance and racial insensitivity in the name of good doctrine.   Rob Bell needed to be “farewelled” but if I had a respected and powerful voice in the reformed community I would have “farewelled” a lot of people with good doctrine as well.   Rob Bell and Joel Osteen may be heretics and doing more damage in the world at large than Voddie Bauchum and Douglas Wilson, but I don’t see many people reading Calvin’s Institutes along with Love Wins.  I do see reformed people reading Voddie Bauchum and Douglas Wilson. That is unacceptable in my opinion. Voddie Bauchum tweets links to right wing garbage on a daily basis.  If I want to laugh a little bit and get mad I just look at his twitter feed.  Wilson wrote two books that SEEMED to defend southern slavery.  He has referred to himself as a “paleo-confederate.”  He also seemed to blame Jim Crow on radical abolitionists.  Let’s just say that hypothetically he had a point. Even if he did I think he should have stayed silent.  I do not believe he is a white supremacist.  He has condemned racism and said that he is glad that slavery was abolished, but the way he wrote about it came off as insensitive in my opinion.   It is detrimental to the gospel.  I saw multiple reformed African Americans call him out, but no popular white reformed pastors or theologians. That is disappointing.  When people say that Christianity is a “white man’s religion” we shouldn’t be surprised.  Then we have Wayne Grudem, who on the whole I have a lot of respect for, but Grudem said that on the whole colonialism was a good thing, because the ends justified the means.  He also has said that America’s worldwide military presence is a good thing.   This might have some truth in it (the statement about the U.S. military, not the one about colonialism), but it is harmful to the cause of the gospel.  I agree with J. D. Greear who said “If you want to be an advocate for American policies, you likely will not gain much of an audience for the gospel.”  You can have “God and Country” or “Christ crucified”, but you can’t have both. 

 

Jonathan Merritt was right when he said that Reformed Christians publically criticize people on Twitter if they say something that they do not like as long as they are outside their Reformed “tribe”, but if a fellow Reformed Christian says something that they do not like, they will go buy them a latte and have a conversation about it.  We are quick to criticize those outside out\r “tribe” nut we turn a blind eye towards those who are in our “tribe.”  This tribalism is destroying Reformed Evangelicalism.  There are many things we can learn from those who are not reformed, but we are unable to because we obsess about finding flaws in their theology and searching for something we can call heresy.  We must no eliminate our distinctives, but we must, as Francis Schaeffer has said, throw love bombs over the walls that divide us, not verbal grenades.             

Conclusion

I don’t care if Douglas Wilson thinks I’m a feminist race baiter, John MacArthur or Al Mohler think I’m a liberal, Voddie Bauchum thinks I’m a Gramscian, neo-Marxist, James White thinks I’m too ecumenical, or Ken Ham thinks I’m a Darwinian. I have decided to stick with love.  The “culture wars” are too great a burden to bear.  I have decided to stick with love.  Tribalism is too great a burden to bear

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