18 September 2010

Advancing the Kingdom- (Part 3) The Sacralist Hybrid

 Now, these have been general outlines of the two extremes. There's actually another camp which represents probably a much larger number of professing Christians.

The only name I can come up with is Pietistic Transformationalism, a hybrid of the two. A Sacralist hybrid.

This seems to be where most American Evangelicals find themselves, though the present manifestation can be pinpointed to the late 1970's. These movements are always grounded in a specific historical context. In a later post I hope discuss an earlier historic parallel which generated a similar response from Sacralist Protestantism. Our present form has been shaped by the American context in general, but more specifically it represents a reactionary response to the cultural revolution originating in the 1960's.

From the 1930's to the 1960's, the Church was largely at peace with the mainstream culture. Of course there had been troubles in the past, and already there were other dissenting groups derived from earlier cultural crises. You had the Amish protesting modernity, Holiness and Pentecostal groups protesting the societal changes in the early 20th century. Fundamentalists (I'm using this as a social category) were a distinct group throughout this period who were suspicious of modernity in relation to ethics, but modernity as a social movement was something they more or less embraced. Fundamentalists were not necessarily tied to old rural ideals, they were often more than happy to live in the new suburbs. They were rejecting the social changes of the 20th century in many ways similar to the Holiness groups but culturally they were more a working and middle class movement, while the Holiness groups tended to be more rural. There are exceptions of course, one can immediately think of the very urban Salvation Army. Perhaps it would be better to classify the Holiness movement as more of a rural/working poor demographic. There are exceptions to all these models, but I'm trying to focus on general trends and patterns where they can be found, and to some extent still exist. These two strains, subjective individualist Pietism, and a very objective social Transformationalism surge back and forth throughout post-Reformation history, but more often than not, the lines are not clear. There are reasons for this, but that's for the other article I mentioned. Basically we all tend toward inconsistency in how he we think and apply our beliefs, and so there are always conflicting ideas even within ourselves. We've looked at the two hardline or if you will, more consistent camps, and now I'm trying to develop a flavour, a picture of what it looks like for the mainstream of the Evangelical world where the two camps come together and overlap.

Today we will find certain camps particularly in the Reformed wing which adhere to a hard Transformationalism, and we will find some among the Holiness-type groups which hold to an extreme Pietism, but most Evangelicals represent the position I'm attempting to explain here, the overlap, the hybrid. And I'll emphasize again, though there is this overlap and sometimes a seeming inconsistency… there is in fact a unified root cause common in both camps. It is a fundamental misidentification and misinterpretation of the Biblical message related to the Kingdom of God, its nature and its means of growth and advancement.

The two extreme camps seemed to divide after the 1920's, with Fundamentalists and Pietists being accused by Transformationalists of retreatism and the establishment of a Christian ghetto or sub-culture. The Transformationalists were marginalized and reduced in number to some of the Reformed denominations. Dispensationalism turned Evangelicals away from cultural endeavours and the Dutch Reformed who carried the Transformationalist banner were too isolated, mostly in ethnic enclaves in the Midwest. It would take a generation and a cultural crisis to revive interest in their vision. Beginning with Elvis and The Beatles, things began to change. By the time Ayatollah Khomeini was parading across our television sets, the Fundamentalists and Pietists were ready to listen to the likes of Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell. Transformationalism was about to be revived and with a vengeance.

The process began in the late 1970's, and as has sometimes occurred in the past, the two groups or traditions continue a process of coalescence. Even though they are generally anti-Pietistic, the Transformationalists have largely won the ideological battle, at least that is the assessment some have made and I tend to agree. Though they continue to work on disseminating their view of the Christian life, men like Rushdoony and D. James Kennedy expressed contentment with what we could call a Big Tent philosophy of cultural transformation. They knew that even though the majority of the Pietist wing was from their standpoint in error, the cultural mission could be accomplished, especially if increasing numbers of Pietists embraced Transformationalist ethics and Kingdom vision. Powerful attempts had been made before and with considerable success, and these earlier victories at the time of the Wesley's and certainly in the Victorian and Progressive eras experienced success minus the driving consistent theology of modern Dominionism.

Mixing the general currents found in Dominionism without the powerful re-casting of Postmillennialism brought by the Theonomic movement has energized the extreme Transformationalist wing and their works and ideas are continuing to trickle down to the mainstream. What does this look like? Baptist and Charismatic-type Evangelicals holding onto their old legalisms and taboos, but now talking in terms of Cultural Mandate and Christ's Lordship of Culture (confusing reign and realm by assessment), and a hard turn toward social and political activism. The current Tea Party movement has had great success among Evangelicals largely due to this theology. Admittedly there are many who are simply social conservatives and thus quite patriotic, but the language coming from the leadership in pulpits, radio, and in their writings is grounded in the ideas of Kuyper, Rushdoony, and Schaeffer. These ideas are disseminated by the likes of Dobson, Perkins, Colson, and Cal Thomas, though the latter tries to deny he supports it by speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The older Postmillennialism is derided by Theonomists as Pietistic Postmillennialism. This is because the older variety embraced by the Puritans, and many through the 19th century looked for an ushering in of the 'golden age' the fullness of the Kingdom by means of great revival. By contrast the 20th century version of Postmillennialism advocated by the Theonomic movement envisioned not merely a spiritual revival but a full-orbed legal and cultural revival given considerable teeth by applying the Mosaic administration to the nations. When I'm speaking of a hardline Transformationalism, we could point to Theonomy as a prime example. But the theological basis for this view of culture and the rejection of subjective Pietism stems particularly from the Dutch Reformed tradition, and more than anyone Abraham Kuyper is responsible for this. He's a towering figure in those circles. He was a theologian and pastor, headed a university and led a large group to form a new denomination. And in 1901, he became the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Dutch Reformed influence must be taken into account to understand both modern Holland where it has succumbed to accommodation, and Apartheid South Africa where the other side of the Sacralist coin played out…Fascist-like Totalitarianism, at least for those not in the ruling class.

As I've said, though Theonomists like Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North, and I would argue Kennedy have decried the earlier Pietism, out of pure pragmatism they declared themselves ready to work with the Pietists, and they have.

The different camps by no means agree on the details. Theonomists would have no interest in banning the sale of alcohol, or shutting down movie theatres, but they're happy to sit beside other Transformationalists who share a common goal of political change and the seizure of political power. Some have pointed out the almost sinister aspect to this inclusive policy. Theonomists specifically argue for the implementation of the Mosaic Code with regard to modern nations. Some want this applied literally, others argue more in terms of general equity. Regardless they all agree that it is the duty of the magistrate to suppress false religion. Certain Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the language and balk a bit at the thought of the state persecuting other Christian groups, but they are quite content for the state to pursue Muslims, Atheists, or any other group incompatible with Sacralist goals. Cal Thomas the so-called retreatist recently said as much in calling for the 'bugging' of all mosques in the United States.

It is this common ground with brings them into league with Theonomic groups, or hardline para-church groups which do not openly advertise their specific theology. Theonomists and many Dominionists have been notorious for this. Go for example to the Vision Forum website. This group is Calvinistic or by assessment Hyper-Calvinistic, Theonomic, and Postmillennial, but you're hard pressed to find them expressing this openly. Instead we find American flags, romantic interpretations of American history which clearly drive the various legalistic positions they advocate. You find The Duggars, the 18 child family made famous for their reality television show. Hoards of Baptists, Charismatics, and others have flocked to this site and identified with them, but would be horrified to find out what theology the site-manager Doug Phillips espouses. Such controversial theological topics which in fact drive everything you find on their site and in their catalogs, are strangely absent. The praxis is there, but nowhere other than overt patriotism do you find any indication as to what is the theology behind it all.

In the end, their allies, these Arminians, Dispensationalists, and Charismatics who assisted them on the road to power would end up being persecuted for promoting a heretical form of Christianity. In this sense, the Pentecostals and other Holiness groups who ally themselves with the hardline wing of Transformationalism prove to be in the end, tools and dupes.

So how is it that such divergent groups are brought together? The Bible? Hardly.

By the most sacred symbol in all of American Christianity…the United States flag.

Let me re-visit my earlier point:

The 1960's was the big wake-up call for all forms of Sacralism. Their version or vision of America was in trouble. The younger generation had a different vision with different answers. The 1970's was a low point for Christo-Americans. Nixon whom they believed to be an ally, departed in disgrace, Vietnam was a debacle and in the end an embarrassing defeat. Ford was something of a joke. The economy was poor, the sexual revolution was in full swing, a crime wave erupted, America seemed weak and impotent in light of the oil embargo, and the Soviet Union ended the decade with the Afghan invasion. And by this time the Beatles seemed tame, and Castro? He was nothing. Now we had Khomeini in Iran to worry about. America seemed to be in decline.

These events pushed previously non-transformationalist mainstream Evangelicals into something of an identity crisis, and they found their new identity by affiliating with or at least supporting the Moral Majority, led by the likes of Jerry Falwell, who plainly and unashamedly stated the Gospel was not enough. This emergence of what we call the Christian Right helped propel Ronald Reagan into office. One must ask, is the Bible driving this theology, or is it being driven by the World via the culture?

And thus began a process which is now moving at a high rate of speed. The majority of Evangelicalism has morphed into a form of Transformationalism. In some ways it's been a long process and it's by no means finished. The Theonomists are still quite agitated that so many have not fully embraced their theological system. Nevertheless, one need only visit a so-called Christian Book Store or turn on so-called Christian Radio, and it becomes quite clear. Just today, I turned on a popular radio preacher, a Dispensational Arminian Therapy-type, and what did I hear? Cultural Mandate. Sure it was mixed with self-help psychology, but the core of the message was the need to transform culture and to view your work as worship, which implies it is holy/Kingdom activity. A holy view of culture translates into holy politics. And certainly I can also turn on more conservative Reformed type programming and find it there in a much more saturated form. This is why I really have very little time for most of the so-called Cultural Commentators and Discernment Ministries…they might be pressing for a more Bible-based type of Theology, but in almost every case they are pushing this very mistaken view of culture which confuses it with the Kingdom. They may be right in identifying cultural problems and indicators but due to their underlying Sacralist…they interpret it wrongly and certainly their calls to action are often very mistaken.

In several other pieces I argue our vocation is not our work, but to be Christians. Our work is valid, we must do it as Christians, but the work itself is Common, part of this realm which is to be burned up. We don't build the Kingdom by filling out tax forms, making pizzas, painting portraits, writing symphonies, legislating, or by filling teeth. We go about these tasks as Christians, but we must be careful to understand the nature of the Kingdom. By making the world better, we do a good thing, but that's entirely separate from the Kingdom. It is good to support the Common Grace order, to promote peace, to support a venue for the Gospel to work…but if we confused the Common Grace Realm with the Holy Redemptive Grace Realm… we're on the road to idolatry and ultimately apostasy. It's that serious.

So why do I find it particularly strange this radio preacher was teaching about the Cultural Mandate, a doctrine which urges the Christian to try and conquer every facet of the Earth?

To be continued.....

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