Why Atheists Follow Christ Better than Christians, and What to do About it.

Western culture is permeated by Christian values. That is to say, though the culture is not submitted to God, it mostly behaves as if it is.

Consider the history of the West. It began with various groups of pagans: Romans, Greeks, Celts, Germanic tribes, and the like. In many regards, these groups valued things diametrically opposed to Christian values, and their practices followed. Famously, it was not unheard of for Romans to leave infant girls out to die of exposure, because boys were valued more than girls. Gluttony to the point of vomiting was acceptable, even classy. Torturing an accused criminal was the default practice in various situations. Dozens of examples like this could be found. Clearly, the society was fundamentally opposed to God.

When the Church dominated Western culture for over a thousand years, things changed. While it is possible to see the influence of these earlier societies on Western culture, the dominant force is Christianity. This was even clearer before the Enlightenment. The Church conquered the pagans and took over.

When the Enlightenment occurred, it reinforced Christian values. Sure, it ignored the Christian source of these values, but be sure that the values themselves were mostly taken straight from Christianity. Enlightenment thinkers had no other sources to draw on, except their own culture! There are a few things that came more directly from pagan thinkers than Christianity, such as the total trust in rationality (which is still not incompatible with Christianity, but misfocused), but by and large the values the Enlightenment embraced were taken from Christianity 101: Human rights, the value of the individual, the importance of law, etc. Therefore, the culture, in practice, remained basically Christian, though it was unaware of this.

Today, Western culture still basically values the same things Christianity values. Whereas Paul was able to almost totally condemn the Roman world (though a careful reading will show that he did not actually do this), the situation is not so simple for us. It is as if a cat was raised by wolves. Sure, the cat would act in many ways like a dog, and there would be much to correct to restore the cat to its rightful state. However, the cat would still be obviously a cat: it would prefer to be alone to being with the group, it would hunt alone, it would spend time in trees, etc. In the same way, the culture has forgotten what it truly is (Christian), and so has learned to be act, in some ways, as if it is fundamentally different, but it is not.

The Church ignores this at our own peril. Other are incredulous when we use Paul’s condemnation of heathens to condemn our neighbors, who behave essentially as good Christians behave. It is true that these good people do not follow God as faithfully as they should, but that is not what we accuse “the world” of doing. We accuse them of being the most ungodly period in history. We imply that the world is consistently getting worse, implying that our neighbors are increasingly bad people. Nonsense. When we talk like this, some in our churches accept it. Many do, in fact. But many of us who daily interact with these people recognize the foolishness of this train of thought. This underlies many of the most important reasons Christianity is not doing well in certain age brackets. If we can’t learn to discuss the world around us in some complexity, we will continue to lose credibility, and Christians.

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  1. “Therefore, the culture, in practice, remained basically Christian, though it was unaware of this.”

    I think this might be my primary argument with this whole piece. I am not sure that I agree that a society or culture can be ‘basically Christian’ without being aware of such a thing.

    The distinction here is between morality and Christian orientation. It is pretty clear even as culture moves away from the Church’s influence for the last thousand+ years that many people still live ‘basically moral’ lives. But ‘basically Christian’? I don’t think so.

    I think to be ‘basically Christian’ you have to not only be striving to live moral lives, but be living in relation to the Triune God. The Nicene Creed may be a good place to go for the ‘Do you assent to this?’ test.

    The point being that there is a huge difference between ‘basically moral’ and ‘basically Christian.’

  2. I think Stephen’s usage of “Christian” is loose and indicates a collection of behaviors and values that we would associate as having come from a Christian system of values and beliefs.

    Some of our ideological “bad guys” are talking about taking care of the poor. They are talking about preserving freedom. There are worse bad guys to have!

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 9th, 2011

    N. Bennett :

    I think Stephen’s usage of “Christian” is loose and indicates a collection of behaviors and values that we would associate as having come from a Christian system of values and beliefs.

    Some of our ideological “bad guys” are talking about taking care of the poor. They are talking about preserving freedom. There are worse bad guys to have!

    Yep. I would have said the same thing myself. I used language much too loosely for an examination of my views. I think, and I’m not sure of this, but I think I used language as I expect the “christian on the street” uses them. If that’s true, it’s not a genuine excuse, since there would be ways, were I more careful, to speak in a way that is understandable by the average believer, but also specific enough that my ideas can be engaged with more critically (critically in the friendlier sense). 🙂

    But yes, Nathan hit the nail on the head.

    -Stephen

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 9th, 2011

    J.F. Arnold :

    “Therefore, the culture, in practice, remained basically Christian, though it was unaware of this.”

    I think this might be my primary argument with this whole piece. I am not sure that I agree that a society or culture can be ‘basically Christian’ without being aware of such a thing.

    Ok, I’m taking one thing you said out of context a bit, but I think I’m only highlighting a detail, not distorting what you said. But I’d like to highlight this in case you think this doesn’t represent your actual thoughts well.

    This statement reminds me of what Lewis described in…one of the Narnia books. A soldier dies who fought for the enemy (this was in Prince Caspian, wasn’t it?) and faced Aslan after death. Aslan forgave him, and basically said “all the good you did, you did to me, you just didn’t know it. You weren’t really serving evil, you were serving good as best as you knew how in a situation that kept you ignorant.”

    I haven’t thought this out in any depth, but I wonder how true this is. We often use this idea as a potential answer for what happens to those who never hear the Gospel in faraway lands, but I wonder if there is an equivalent category here in the United States. If there is, I wonder what level of ignorance these persons would have. They would have, at least, heard the name “Jesus.”

    You shouldn’t think TOO hard about what I just said. Like I said, I haven’t thought it out much farther than the previous paragraph. I probably just said most of what I’ve thought on the topic. 😉

    -Stephen

    • “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” -Hebrews 11:6 [ESV]

      I can’t speak to the Narnia quote from experience (I’ve only read the first one), but it is certainly an interesting idea. The concept is definitely one that is common, especially when asked ‘What about people who legitimately never heard the gospel?’

      What makes it more difficult is the passage from Hebrews quoted above. Faith seems to be a necessary, and not just important, ingredient for pleasing God. I’m open to other interpretations of that passage, as I have not studied it in-depth, but it appears fairly straightforward to me.

      Also, for the record, I kind of figured you were using ‘Christian’ in the loose sense that Nathan describes, but I wanted to be sure. If you were basically equating Christianity with moralism, I was going to be concerned.

        • Stephen Hale
        • February 24th, 2011

        James:

        I think you’ve found a great verse. I think it raises more questions than it answers, though, especially today.

        Today, something like 85% of Americans are nominally Christian. They believe in God in some form or another. Now, inside that 85ish% you’ve got a ton of variety. You’ve got orthodox Christians (Catholics, E. Orthodox, orthodox Protestants, etc For the present purposes neo-orthodox probably fit here quite nicely), you’ve got people who believe essentially in a personal God who is a creator and more or less revealed in the Bible, you’ve got Liberal Christians (using the term technically, as in post-Schleimacher), you’ve got your postliberals, your “four men in a room all claim to hold an elephant” pluralists, etc. All sorts of different views, but most of these views have faith in God. Do they differ substantially on the nature of God? Yep.

        But all this verse says is “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Ok, so far we’re ok, since most of these people have faith…”for whoever would approach Him…” well, this filters out a few of these people who have no interest in approaching God, but that’s not very many, I would argue “must believe that He exists…” and here we have the crux of it. This is a pretty vague statement. All it CLEARLY demands is a basic faith in the existence of YHWH. Might it demand more? Sure, it MIGHT. But one would be hard pressed from this passage to demonstrate one needs to hold to a particular theology. Abraham and most of the other early Hebrews/proto-Israelites (in this passage) was a polytheist (probably a henotheist, to be precise), which is not substantially different from the “all religions have a hand on the elephant” group.

        I think evangelicals are quick to ignore a few crucial ideas:
        1) Progressive Revelation. Abraham didn’t know much about God at all, but he was counted righteous. His intellectual assent was close to nil. He was more of a pagan, not opposed to human sacrifice, than our “hand-on-the-elephant” group. He certainly wasn’t a monotheist, much less a torah-observant Jew or a Christian. Pretty much all he had was trust in the goodness of this certain god. And yet he is listed in this passage of Hebrews, so I question how rigorous one can apply Heb. 11:6 as a minimum qualification for one’s Christianness.

        2) The otherness of God. We get so excited about the few bits of revelation we have, and the philosophical systems we’ve built on top of that revelation, that we assume we pretty much understand God. When you say it like that you’ll find many who will pay lip service to the unknowability of God, but in practice there aren’t many who really believe this. E. Orthodoxy has a proper appreciation for this, as does Neo-Orthodoxy and, to be honest, most of these religious people at the fringes of Christianity.

        Well!It’s probably fruitful to restate what I’m playing with in this comment, since I said a bunch of provocative things:

        I think it is quite likely that many who do not believe in orthodox Christianity will, at some point, still be found acceptable to God, provided they have not consciously rejected YHWH and/or Jesus. Or something like that.

        -Stephen

  3. Isn’t following Christian values fundamentally different than following Christ? (I just saw your Lewis quote, still thinking about that) And what about postmodernism’s effect on our culture? Moral relativism seems far from Christ’s values, i.e. John 14:6

      • Stephen Hale
      • February 24th, 2011

      Nope, it’s not the same. I think I made that point a few times in the post:

      “Western culture is permeated by Christian values. That is to say, though the culture is not submitted to God, it mostly behaves as if it is.”

      “When the Enlightenment occurred, it reinforced Christian values. Sure, it ignored the Christian source of these values, but be sure that the values themselves were mostly taken straight from Christianity.”

      “Therefore, the culture, IN PRACTICE, remained basically Christian, though it was unaware of this.” [emphasis new]

      This is part of my point: “It is true that these good people do not follow God as faithfully as they should, but that is not what we accuse “the world” of doing. We accuse them of being the most ungodly period in history. We imply that the world is consistently getting worse, implying that our neighbors are increasingly bad people. Nonsense.”

      I grant as a premise that the culture is only following Christ in deed, not in word. My issue is that the way we talk about the secularish people outside the church, most of whom are nominally Christian, is not realistic. Most of our rhetoric is complete rubbish.

      However, if you’re trying to point out the error/exaggeration in my title “Why Atheists Follow Christ better than Christians do,” then you’re correct: my title isn’t REALLY what I talked about; it’s mostly a provocative hook. 🙂

      However, even though it’s not what I really meant to say, I think it’s an interesting question: in a world where the Church follows Christ in word, and the world follows Christ in deed, which “follows Christ better,” as my title suggests? If you grant my premises, (and who can doubt they are at least quite often true?) then I think the answer is obvious:

      A man had two servants, and one of them refused a command, but then obeyed. The other accepted the command, but then disobeyed. Which servant is more pleasing to the master?

      As for moral relativism, I think I’ve missed the relevance that has to the post. I’m also hesitant to endorse (as if you asked for my endorsement!) your conflation of moral relativism and postmodernism. You’re fond of the apologetics programs at Biola, I suspect? 😉 This is a theme there, which, as you might have guessed, I think is unfair to the things most deserving of the label postmodern. That was hardly your point, though, so I don’t mean to get hung up on it, but looking back at the space I devoted to various things I’ve said, clearly I DID get hung up on it!

      -Stephen

      • I think the point here is that ‘following Christ in deed’ is different than ‘doing moral things,’ right? I think I would argue (I won’t speak for Katelynn) that even a person who does more ‘morally good’ acts, even acts advocated by Christ, with the wrong attitude is one who is not following Christ in deed.

        Maybe I’m just a closed-minded conservative, but I think there is more to ‘following Christ in deed’ than doing good works, even if that is what Christ taught us to do. To follow Christ, by very nature of the term, is to be on a path laid out by Christ and to walk along that path. To do good deeds, even those given to us by Christ, is to follow one’s own path with various influences (be that Aristotle’s ethics, Christ, or other religious influences).

        I’d also like to say that ‘generally good’ is different than following Christ’s teachings, in that there are (or should be) barriers between Christians and non-Christians. Some things that Christians (rightly) esteem, such as abstaining from pre-marital sex, are nearly completely ignored or even looked down upon by ‘the world.’ Granted, ‘the world’ is not full of people who are just sleeping with everyone, drinking till near-death, shooting people and other such crazy things. But it seems to me that you have swung to the other side of the spectrum in arguing that Christians are worse than atheists in many ways.

        This is such a fascinating topic.

        Also, don’t hate on the Biola/Talbot apologetics. Some terms have become buzzwords, its true, but not all things ‘postmodern’ are bad. A lot of postmodern thought can be harmful to the church, however.

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 24th, 2011

    I think the point here is that ‘following Christ in deed’ is different than ‘doing moral things,’ right? I think I would argue (I won’t speak for Katelynn) that even a person who does more ‘morally good’ acts, even acts advocated by Christ, with the wrong attitude is one who is not following Christ in deed.

    Maybe I’m just a closed-minded conservative, but I think there is more to ‘following Christ in deed’ than doing good works, even if that is what Christ taught us to do. To follow Christ, by very nature of the term, is to be on a path laid out by Christ and to walk along that path. To do good deeds, even those given to us by Christ, is to follow one’s own path with various influences (be that Aristotle’s ethics, Christ, or other religious influences).

    I’d also like to say that ‘generally good’ is different than following Christ’s teachings, in that there are (or should be) barriers between Christians and non-Christians. Some things that Christians (rightly) esteem, such as abstaining from pre-marital sex, are nearly completely ignored or even looked down upon by ‘the world.’

    You’ve switched to arguing about salvation, I think. Protestants too easily conflate the two: being good and being saved. This is something my post was careful to NOT do. It is true that being “generally good” will not gain anyone salvation (though we’re speculating about that in the question above about Narnia). However, I wasn’t talking about gaining salvation in my post. Different topic.

    Granted, ‘the world’ is not full of people who are just sleeping with everyone, drinking till near-death, shooting people and other such crazy things. But it seems to me that you have swung to the other side of the spectrum in arguing that Christians are worse than atheists in many ways.

    I intended my numerous qualifications to guard against that idea! For the purposes of the argument I’m making here, I’m only arguing that “atheists” (which I’m obviously using as a metanym for “the average american”) are not the caricatures we present in church. Further, these caricatures are VERY harmful to the spread of the gospel, both in the church and to those same average americans we think are as evil as the average pagan in Paul’s day.

    Also, don’t hate on the Biola/Talbot apologetics. Some terms have become buzzwords, its true, but not all things ‘postmodern’ are bad. A lot of postmodern thought can be harmful to the church, however.

    I didn’t mean to hate on the program in general, just their caricatures of postmodernism. Biola is committed to protecting foundationalism (re: modernism and the Enlightenment) as much as Dispensationalist Christianity. Some times that’s fine, but they do not give postmodern thoughts a fair shake.

    -Stephen

    • I think I only switched to talking about salvation in the way that it seems that the term ‘Christian’ should carry such a discussion. My point was only that good deeds are partially wrapped up in motives, and many atheists do not seek to do good for the sake of goodness or religious conviction, but rather for the sake of self-gratification. My point there being that in that sense, the distinction between the two is very real, though perhaps less visible.

      A really good view on postmodernism/modernism/premodernism that came from Biola (not specifically Talbot, though), can be found here: http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2009/12/22/premodern-vs-modern-vs-postmodern-what-does-it-matter-to-evangelicals/

      I tend to align myself with that view, give or take a bit of nuance.

      You’re right when you say that caricatures of atheists as moral potholes are unhelpful, though. I wouldn’t argue against that, I don’t think.

      This post kind of became retro-actively popular. Or, rather, retro-actively controversial. Based on your title, maybe those are one and the same 😛

      Christ Abide,
      -James

  4. Stephen Hale :

    I didn’t mean to hate on the program in general, just their caricatures of postmodernism. Biola is committed to protecting foundationalism (re: modernism and the Enlightenment) as much as Dispensationalist Christianity. Some times that’s fine, but they do not give postmodern thoughts a fair shake.

    The British sitcom Yes Minister (and Yes, Prime Minister) has effectively become my go to reference on politics. There was a line from an episode about when the Prime Minister has to choose a new bishop: “An atheist clergyman could not continue to draw his stipend, so when they stop believing in God they call themselves ‘modernists’.” One of the controversies that stimulated the publication of the Fundamentals, a Biola-linked publication, was the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the early part of the 1900s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist%E2%80%93Modernist_Controversy

    If these “Modernists” were the principal ideological arch-rivals to the Biola founders, then it makes sense that tradition-holding Biola faculty might set themselves up to reject anything that even looks like “Modernism,” which rejects things like the virgin birth, the literal resurrection of Christ, purpose of the death of Christ, so forth and so on. Modernism questioned that we can know these things, so it rejected them. Apologists came up with answers to explain how we can know, and then postmodernism came along to question what we could know.

    From what I understand, we came into postmodernism as a result of doubting the notion that the world is getting progressively better and better. World War 1 and 2 happened at times that things should have been getting better. Now we struggle with the idea that things can be improved, if only in some small measure.

    I have been investigating a little more around the periphery of Christian Reconstructionism, which I wrote a little bit about maybe a month ago. Most of what I have learned is from what other people have said about it. The impression that I have so far received is of a sickening confidence that the world will get better and better and will become more and more Christian until Christ comes back. (Yes, a little judgment going on there!) While the world is not suddenly righteous, neither is it the job of Christians to politically conquer the earth.

    What if we re-examined Paul’s Mars Hill sermon as an approach to contemporary Americans? We never were God’s chosen people, so we have no covenant to “get back” to. God calls people to follow him today, not merely obey his call for the people who were here yesterday. Do American Christians have the notion that we have a special relationship with God? What if America is a sort of positive version of Babylon as an empire that God raised up for specific purposes?

    Perhaps a little bit of a tangent from the original discussion. Essentially I mean to agree with Stephen that postmodernism is not all bad.

  5. In response to the growing tangent of postmodernism in these comments, I wanted to say that I have been exposed to postmodern ideals in my critical theory classes here at Biola. People like Jacques Derrida began questioning is words really hold meaning, and his conclusion was deconstruction: everything we say or write (and maybe think?) can be broken down. Therefore, it doesn’t hold any fundamental meaning. Now, this is problematic for Christians in many ways because the Bible is a written form of communication, and if it can be deconstructed, then does it hold real meaning. I think a part of the response to this is to say that faith is what pleases God, and faith is needed to believe in the reliability and inerrancy of God’s Word. I’m seeming to sound like I don’t have an answer, and it’s true that I don’t, but I am wondering how Christians should respond to postmodernism, and in what ways can we use it since, “… postmodernism is not all bad.”

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 27th, 2011

    J.F. Arnold :

    This post kind of became retro-actively popular. Or, rather, retro-actively controversial. Based on your title, maybe those are one and the same :P

    I know, right? Fun! And yes, in my case those might be synonyms!

    -Stephen

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 27th, 2011

    N. Bennett :

    If these “Modernists” were the principal ideological arch-rivals to the Biola founders, then it makes sense that tradition-holding Biola faculty might set themselves up to reject anything that even looks like “Modernism,” which rejects things like the virgin birth, the literal resurrection of Christ, purpose of the death of Christ, so forth and so on. Modernism questioned that we can know these things, so it rejected them. Apologists came up with answers to explain how we can know, and then postmodernism came along to question what we could know.

    The funny thing is is that The Fundamentals and Fundamentalism are both reflections of Modernism. The renewed life in Inerrancy in the 19th century flared up because of Modernism, but because (this part is less sure than the first half of the sentence, but I’m convinced) Bible-believing Christians wanted to use the Bible Foundationally, as per Descartes. Fundamentalism (at least, intelligent Fundamentalism such as that in The Fundamentals ) is the daughter of this movement. This is the easiest example of how Fundamentalism and it’s daughter Neo-Evangelicalism are foundationally modernist.

    I have been investigating a little more around the periphery of Christian Reconstructionism, which I wrote a little bit about maybe a month ago. Most of what I have learned is from what other people have said about it. The impression that I have so far received is of a sickening confidence that the world will get better and better and will become more and more Christian until Christ comes back. (Yes, a little judgment going on there!) While the world is not suddenly righteous, neither is it the job of Christians to politically conquer the earth.

    I remember this, and thought it was interesting. The problem I see in this movement is not a belief in progress, which seems highly compatible with Inaugurated Eschatology to me, though probably not demanded. The problem is their lack of humility and appreciation for the fallenness that continues in Christians. This is a dangerous incarnation of the view that Christians are fundamentally better than non-christians. As you’ve probably noticed, I think it is a simple thing to observe that this is not true. Saved? Maybe. Forgiven? Ok. But do we actually behave any better, as a population? I doubt it. Not much, anyway. And we’re miles from being trustworthy sources of the will of God.

    What if we re-examined Paul’s Mars Hill sermon as an approach to contemporary Americans? We never were God’s chosen people, so we have no covenant to “get back” to. God calls people to follow him today, not merely obey his call for the people who were here yesterday. Do American Christians have the notion that we have a special relationship with God? What if America is a sort of positive version of Babylon as an empire that God raised up for specific purposes?

    What if we’re just the regular Babylon? 🙂

    I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately (I’ve got an exegetical class on the book), and one of the things that keeps jumping out is that the Judeans were convinced of their own special status. Makes sense: they had a covenant with God! They had a lot of good reasons to believe they were an exceptional people. And yet God still destroyed the country.

    American Exceptionalism has much less to go on. Oh, sure, you can find things in our history that seem like good candidates for divine intervention, but so can Mormons (remember their being fed by ravens on their trip out west?). That’s an unreliable test. Further, even if it is the case, God judges sinners, chosen or not. I think the whole idea of American Exceptionalism is pretty irritating. Maybe that’s not what you meant to talk about. Now I feel tangential!

    -Stephen

    • Stephen Hale
    • February 27th, 2011

    Katelynn Camp :

    People like Jacques Derrida began questioning is words really hold meaning, and his conclusion was deconstruction: everything we say or write (and maybe think?) can be broken down. Therefore, it doesn’t hold any fundamental meaning. Now, this is problematic for Christians in many ways because the Bible is a written form of communication, and if it can be deconstructed, then does it hold real meaning. I think a part of the response to this is to say that faith is what pleases God, and faith is needed to believe in the reliability and inerrancy of God’s Word. I’m seeming to sound like I don’t have an answer, and it’s true that I don’t, but I am wondering how Christians should respond to postmodernism, and in what ways can we use it since, “… postmodernism is not all bad.”

    The following comments should be read with more humility than is probably evident. I haven’t read as much Derrida as I expect you have, but I think yours is a reactionary reading of him.

    It seems to me Derrida questions a lot of meaning, but he doesn’t fundamentally reject that it is contained in texts. He insists there is meaning which the original author did not intend, which seems true enough. He makes lots of observations about how texts contain meanings unintended, and how they do not always contain the meaning intended, but I don’t think he destroys all meaning. Saying everything can be broken down and saying they don’t contain any fundamental meaning are different. In fact, I’m sure I’ve got a Derrida quote around here in which he says something to that effect.

    I think that, even in questioning meaning inherent in things (which is basically foundationalism), one does not throw out all meaning. Meaning can also be determined in networks and relationships. Is it harder? Sure it is, but it’s still there!

    It seems to me deconstructionism (I prefer this term, and am delighted you know it!) is a very useful tool in reading Scripture. It is connected to the idea of Speech Acts, which makes a coherent reading of Scripture, in my mind, so much simpler. Instead of asking “What precisely did Paul say” which leads to inevitable confrontations between Paul here and Paul in that other letter, the question of Speech Acts treats Paul like a human being who communicates like the rest of us. Here he is making a point similar to one over there, but the focus should be on what he is trying to communicate, not some positivist word-for-word analysis of the text.

    Foundationalism, and with it a pseudo-positivist view of Inerrancy have made fools out of Christians in places where they could have pointed to the glory of God.

    I think I probably said a few things tangential in here, and didn’t say some things clearly…hopefully a reader can make sense of it, or ask me to clarify!

    I’ve enjoyed your comments, Katelynn! You’re a thinker!

    -Stephen

  6. The funny thing is is that The Fundamentals and Fundamentalism are both reflections of Modernism. The renewed life in Inerrancy in the 19th century flared up because of Modernism, but because (this part is less sure than the first half of the sentence, but I’m convinced) Bible-believing Christians wanted to use the Bible Foundationally, as per Descartes. Fundamentalism (at least, intelligent Fundamentalism such as that in The Fundamentals ) is the daughter of this movement. This is the easiest example of how Fundamentalism and it’s daughter Neo-Evangelicalism are foundationally modernist.

    I entirely agree.

    I remember this, and thought it was interesting. The problem I see in this movement is not a belief in progress, which seems highly compatible with Inaugurated Eschatology to me, though probably not demanded. The problem is their lack of humility and appreciation for the fallenness that continues in Christians. This is a dangerous incarnation of the view that Christians are fundamentally better than non-christians. As you’ve probably noticed, I think it is a simple thing to observe that this is not true. Saved? Maybe. Forgiven? Ok. But do we actually behave any better, as a population? I doubt it. Not much, anyway. And we’re miles from being trustworthy sources of the will of God.

    Entirely agree again. I might have to do one or two more specific posts about Christian Reconstructionism.

    What if we’re just the regular Babylon? :-)

    I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately (I’ve got an exegetical class on the book), and one of the things that keeps jumping out is that the Judeans were convinced of their own special status. Makes sense: they had a covenant with God! They had a lot of good reasons to believe they were an exceptional people. And yet God still destroyed the country.

    American Exceptionalism has much less to go on. Oh, sure, you can find things in our history that seem like good candidates for divine intervention, but so can Mormons (remember their being fed by ravens on their trip out west?). That’s an unreliable test. Further, even if it is the case, God judges sinners, chosen or not. I think the whole idea of American Exceptionalism is pretty irritating. Maybe that’s not what you meant to talk about. Now I feel tangential!

    I once read something like this: “America is special but not exceptional.” American history also contains Christian history. If Christians are one of God’s instruments to effect change in this world and if Christians are part of the nation states in which they reside, then God has used America (in whole or in part) for good purposes in this world. I cannot deny that Americans and their leaders have done or fostered evil in this world, and indeed I repudiate American exceptionalism.

    Augustine in City of God talks about the Roman Empire and its place in the world. He says that many have praised it on the earth for extending peace, law, order, and all sorts of other good things that Rome is remembered for. He also cites Matthew 6 to say that when people have praised Rome, the Romans have “received their reward in full.” They did good on the earth, and for it they are remembered–on the earth. America has done good on the earth, and I think that is precisely where it will be remembered.

    Perhaps for now, America is receiving its reward. Perhaps rather than commenting that America is receiving too much, we can be astonished that what it now receives is all that it will receive.

  1. February 2nd, 2012

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