Saturday, March 16, 2024

Christians in an anti-Christian culture

From Kevin DeYoung's review of Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture:
...Renn’s “three worlds” thesis isn’t a way to grade the overall Christianity of the country. It’s a framework for understanding how society views the reasonableness of Christian truths, the validity of Christian arguments, and the obligation we all have to live up to a basic standard of Christian virtue. Renn claims that we are living in a negative world, one that is deeply suspicious of Christianity (especially when it comes to issues of sexuality). He makes a persuasive case. ....

Renn argues that none of the familiar models of Christian engagement works in the negative world. The “culture war” strategy, as he calls it, specialized in decrying the erosion of our moral character. This strategy is truly effective only if our views are in the majority. In the positive world, it might be possible to raise the standard of Christian virtue and hope that a winning coalition will rally to our side. By contrast, the “seeker sensitivity” strategy argued for maximum personal and ecclesial flexibility so as not to turn off the suburban would-be churchgoer. This strategy often functioned as if aesthetic style and personal relationships were all that stood in the way of non-Christians’ embracing Christianity. Meanwhile, the “cultural engagement” approach sought to alleviate the concerns of educated city-dwellers: a kind of seeker sensitivity for skeptical cosmopolitan elites. Today’s cultural engagers, Renn believes, have morphed into another form of culture warrior, except that their war is not against the world but against other evangelicals. Renn acknowledges that all three approaches have something to teach us (insofar as courage, kindness, and understanding the people we mean to reach are Christian values); but as all-encompassing strategies, they are outdated.

I was also helped by Renn’s observation that Trump and wokeness are two key polarizers at work in re-sorting evangelicals. At least, if you take “Trump” to be less about voting for Trump (which some evangelicals may do while holding their noses) and more about an aggressive, populist, the-old-rules-don’t-work-anymore approach to cultural transformation, then Renn has hit upon an important point. Evangelicalism is being scrambled along those two axes: Are you opposed to wokeness, and are you opposed to Trumpism? It’s relatively straightforward to be opposed to one and for the other (or at least not terribly bothered by the other); the difficult space for Christians and churches is when you are opposed to both. ....

...[C]onservatives need a new way to talk to men and a new way to relate to the Republican Party. With both critiques, Renn doesn’t provide many answers, but he is right to highlight (concerning the former) how traditional complementarian discourse was tailored to second-wave feminism. Regarding the Republicans, he argues that evangelicals have gotten little for their political loyalty except pro-life judges. As he points out, the base of the Republican Party is increasingly made up of non-Christians and post-Christians, and gathers its energy from the dissident right—and from the growing ranks of “barstool conservatives,” who embrace coarse language and a locker room bro culture as much as they oppose left-wing hectoring and nanny-state conformity. This presents a challenge for conservative evangelicals who will never vote for Democrats, but who may find themselves in a party that pays lip service to the Religious Right while becoming more irreligious. ....

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