Friday, October 6, 2006

Called back to pietism?

From Christianity Today, "Replacing Rallies with Revivals," a review by James K. A. Smith of a book which argues that the church should withdraw from the public square. He thinks the author goes much too far:
"The unfolding story of American evangelicals' involvement in politics has a certain rhythm to it. Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, evangelicals have swung from a kind of pietistic stance of withdrawal and suspicion to a strident, triumphalistic program for 'taking America back for God.'

The Myth of a Christian Nation, a new book by St. Paul pastor and former professor at Bethel College Greg Boyd, provides a sign that the pendulum might be headed back the other way.

But first we need to appreciate the story thus far. Once upon a time, evangelicals considered the Great Commission their primary mission and calling. What mattered was eternity. What was most urgent was the salvation of souls. While evangelistic work was often attended by charity and acts of mercy, few evangelicals could justify expending energy on 'worldly' tasks such as politics."
In fact, those then promoting more religious involvement in politics were usually liberals emphasizing the importance of speaking "prophetically" to poverty, or racism or war. Paradoxically, today it is the "Religious Right" that excites the greatest concern - and motivates Boyd's book.
"Boyd's stark dichotomies relegate politics to a realm basically untouched by the gospel. Though he draws heavily from Anabaptists, Boyd seems more Lutheran on this point, sketching a kind of two-kingdom picture that discusses politics with an apathetic 'whatever'—or, more specifically, 'however.' In a number of places, Boyd remarks that however we decide to think about legal and ethical issues, what really matters is 'our heart and motives.'...."

"Boyd's relegation of politics to a matter of indifference means that, ultimately, Christ's call to discipleship doesn't touch the public square. His constant refrain is simply to 'vote your conscience'—which points to the persistent individualism that dominates his account. While Boyd is eloquent about what the church can do to embody a sacrificial, 'power-under' love for the world, when it comes to politics, you're on your own."
Faith is lived out in the world and, especially in a democracy - where we can influence policy - we have a responsibility to affect the political environment for good just as we ought to do in every other aspect of our lives.
"Boyd employs a number of distinctions that amount to nothing more than old-fashioned dualism. In particular, he paints a stark divide between 'the kingdom of the sword' and the 'kingdom of the Cross' and between the 'kingdom of the world' and the kingdom of God. As he writes: 'The contrast is … between two fundamentally different ways of life, two fundamentally different mindsets and belief systems, two fundamentally different loyalties.' ...."

"Because of his dichotomy, Boyd must conclude that 'no version of the kingdom of the world is closer to the kingdom of God than others.' This saddles him with a strange sort of relativism that precludes any ability to judge whether one configuration of society is better than another. Boyd couldn't say, for instance, whether South Africa better reflected the kingdom of heaven during Apartheid or after Apartheid, or whether South Korea's democracy is a more just system than Kim Jong-il's tyranny. But can't we see in-breakings of the coming kingdom here and now, better in some places than others?"
The entire review.

1 comment:

  1. Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition have been minor players for some time now. The most influential Christian conservative today is undoubtedly Dobson.

    I am, and have always been, uncomfortable with political statements from the pulpit. The church ought to be a place for unity among Christians around the central doctrines of the faith. But Christian liberals [both political and theological liberals]have always exhorted Christians from the pulpit - and until twenty-some years ago conservative Christians were almost always apolitical, both in church and out. If the review is accurate, Boyd want to go back to that.


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