5 Quick Takes For The New Culture Wars
This is the last in a series on the rise of the religious neo-right, in which I have sought to explain and describe some of the historical and contemporary characteristics of this movement, as well as some caveats and concerns that I ai for young evangelicals. go forward. (A full list of previous columns is provided below.) In this final episode, I would like to offer a potpourri of additional thoughts that can help us in a time when we need truthful witness in the public square. .
1. Don’t overestimate the power of politics.
First, let’s make sure that in all discussions of culture warfare and cultural engagement, we don’t prioritize the political sphere of life to the exclusion of other important parts of the good life. Government is important, but it is not God. As gospel-centered evangelicals, we must “dethrone” politics. We must promote the political sphere but put it back in its rightful place. Indeed, politics is not ultimate. This acknowledgment is essential for truthful testimony in the public square.
This way, let’s make sure we don’t focus so much on Washington, DC, and the drama shining on our social media apps that we forget about our calls. We are called to be members of communities, and we must serve these communities and be exemplary citizens. We are called to marriages and families, and we need to cultivate healthy relationships within them. We are called into local churches and we are to exercise faithful and meaningful membership. We are called to workplaces (located in various spheres of culture such as business, education, science, technology, art, law, politics or hospitality), and we are to fulfill our vocations in a way that honors Christ.
In other words, we must not shy away from witnessing the truth in the political sphere, but our political witness must not surpass or be eclipsed by our witness in all these other spheres, and the impact of these other areas must not not be underestimated.
2. Play the political “long game”.
It may take years for political change to occur. I’m reading Matthew Continetti’s new book, The right, which traces the modern conservative movement from its origins a century ago to the present day. One takeaway is how long it takes for ideas to progress in society, and how networks and think tanks and finding the right messenger are all key to seeing political change happen.
In the midst of today’s culture wars, we must be wary of the temptation to compromise our beliefs in order to secure a short-term victory for our chosen political party. We can convince ourselves that now is the crucial moment, and this is the most important election of our lifetime (something I’ve heard every four years in my entire life) that we hand over our birthright for a plate of soup. Political parties and leaders must earn a living and be prepared to accept our constructive criticism if they want our full support. Political parties should be informed that they cannot expect our full approval or vote simply because of their party affiliation.
3. Stand out by demonstrating unfailing impartiality.
Truthful testimony requires truthfulness, so we must avoid the temptation to portray our political opponents in the worst possible light. When we criticize the ideas of someone on the other side of a political issue, it is important to find the common ground or basis for that criticism, to show that we can agree on the same concerns. but differ as to the solutions. Often, this makes it possible to affirm the aims of our adversaries, while strongly opposing their proposals. (It doesn’t always work, because in some cases there is even a difference in what goals we should be pursuing. But most of the time, just differentiating between goals and solutions and acknowledging an adversary’s good intentions would bring new healthy atmosphere to our politics.)
Unfortunately, instead of being fair, it’s all too common for culture warriors to find the silly or terrible things the worst actors across the aisle have said – to go “picking nuts” and then react to this madness. Over time you make the wickedness you see in crackpots seem like an integral part of anyone on that side, and then you fail the second commandment because, while you want to be distinguished from the crackpots on your aside, you deliberately tar the people opposite with all the worst examples of their party.
4. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
As Christians, we can easily be fooled into thinking that those who give us time and attention really care about the same things we care about. Most of the time this is not the case. You are wrong if, for example, you think that the Republican Party today is going to be some sort of bulwark against the excesses of the sexual revolution, or that the Democrats seek to put in place policies that will ultimately “reduce abortion “.
Whether or not we decide to take a “seductive” approach, we should above all seek to be wise, and part of being wise is recognizing the motives of political parties to colonize the Church for their own gain. Partisanship has its place for those called to serve in the public square, but we are first and foremost members of a kingdom that spans the globe, rather than cardholders for the agendas of donkeys or elephants.
5. Keep your hand open and your fist closed.
Finally, consider Description of Bone Guinness of the two approaches of the early church to defending the Christian faith: persuasion (the “open hand” way, which involves creativity, finding common ground, seduction, etc.) and deterrence (the “closed fist” way, which involves fierce defenses of Christianity, the destruction of ideological strongholds, etc.). The people of God must use both approaches simultaneously.
In recent conversations online, it seems Christians have reacted in a way that emphasizes one or the other, rather than keeping them together. Some think the previous generation was too open and too reluctant to clap their fists, and perhaps that criticism is appropriate, at least on some issues. But the answer must always and always seek to find the right way to stand versus the world for the good of the worldbringing together the two elements of a truthful witness, in dialogue and debate with brothers and sisters across the country and around the world.
So in all, let’s give space and grace to believers who can approach some of these questions in different ways. We are in uncharted territory as we move into an increasingly post-Christian environment. Assume the best of your siblings trying to figure out what fidelity looks like. And trust that God is going to make the most of all our clumsy attempts at truthful testimony, that he will accomplish his plan and build his church. Negative world or not, no weapon formed against its people will stand.
This is the ninth column in an ongoing series. If you would like my future articles emailed, along with a curated list of useful books, podcasts, and links I find online, enter your address.
1. The return of the culture wars
2. The tearing of condemnatory civility
3. Navigating the (new?) negative world
4. Didn’t I grow up in the negative world?
5. We need to complicate the negative world
6. Contextualizing Tim Keller
7. Encouragement and caution for culture warriors
8. Truthful witness in the public square
9. Five quick takes for new culture wars