August 29, 2008

Understanding the Particularity of the Gospel Through the Correction of Liberalism and Reactionism

This is a fun little comparison of liberalism and, basically, fundamentalism, focusing more on its reactionary elements. The comparison isn't perfect, mostly because this statement isn't intended to be very deep. Still, I think the analysis accurate, if not taken to strigantly. I first published this August 31st, 2005. I might add that there in the syllagism section, I've used some formatting that I'm not sure will end up right. It is fine in the editor, but looks off during the preview. Since I am scheduling this post, I may not be edit to fix the error until later. Please forgive me if it looks a little sloppy.

Where do the lines between legitimate Christianity and American culture begin and end. Today, we think this task is easy, due to the "culture war" taking place between the conservative Christians and the secular society. But life isn't as simple as all that, and there is no positive way to determine this.

This post is about accommodation of the gospel to the culture around us. By accommodation, I mean the acceptance of secular axioms which force a reorientation of the Christian faith. In order to come to terms with actual Christianity, we must allow it to define itself, thus rejecting all axioms which run counter-intuitive to the gospel, regardless of whether we like it or not.

Liberalism is best defined in this context as any movement within any culture that attempts to appease the world through a reduction of Christian theology. In other words, a liberal Christian is one who believes in Christ, but also loves the culture in which they live. Thus, they attempt to modify Christianity to make it "relevant" to their culture. This is not the only definition of liberalism, but it is the one we are using here.

Hence, accommodation is the principle activity of the liberal. A liberal Christian would see Christ and his message as light snow, which covers the landscape with a white glistening purity but makes no actual alteration to the landscape. Such a stance is dangerous, especially to the vitality of the Christian message. Alister McGrath said, "A theology grounded in values, whether radical or conservative, drawn solely from the secular world becomes powerless to criticize that world." (A Passion for the Truth)

If Christianity is merely a snow which makes the world look better, but has no effect on that world, then what good is it? I would also like to note that this is not political liberalism, for neither socialism nor capitalism is inherent to the gospel. The gospel is counter-cultural. There exists no culture in man's history or future so perfect that it does not need correction by the holiness of the gospel. It is the Church's responsibility to be something else; something better; "in the world, but not of the world". All the liberals today who see modern culture as having the moral integrity to have a right to be a medium through which we interpret the gospel needs to look through history to other instances where the church has done likewise. For example, let us again look at McGrath:

We criticize the German Christians for obeying Hitler in the 1930s, conveniently choosing to overlook that they were simply submitting themselves to the prevailing cultural norms. We are doing the same today, by allowing ourselves and our churches to follow societal norms and values, irrespective of their origins and goals

This is not to say that simply because something is other than the culture, it must be Christian. Reactionism is also a form of accommodation. Instead of adjusting the gospel to being like the culture, you are adjusting to gospel to be other than the culture.

I would also argue that Reactionism is still adopting axioms from that culture which they are attempting to reject. They tend to externally diverge while internally converge. Let us look at the homosexuality debate and consider two syllogisms:

Homosexuality is bad if and only if homosexuals are innately evil

Some homosexuals aren't bad

Therefore, homosexuality isn't bad
Homosexuality is bad if and only if homosexuals are innately evil

Homosexuality is bad

Therefore, homosexuals are innately evil

One must remember that the world defines who we are by what we do. This is an axiom. Apply this to homosexuality and you get the first premise on each line. However, this axiom is counter-intuitive to the gospel which states that all have fallen short of the glory of God and that all can be saved. If you listen, almost all of the discussion between these two groups involve either the second premise or the conclusion, because that is where they diverge. But where liberalism actually diverges from traditional Christianity is the first premise, and here fundamentalism also diverges. In traditional Christianity it makes sense that some homosexuals are good people, but the homosexual activity which they engage in is bad.

This is what Reactionism tends to be: the acceptance of some sort of undercurrent philosophy, the acceptance of a singular Christian truth, and then a radically errant conclusion.

We must remember that due to the presence of sin, all cultures have evil aspects; and due to the presence of the Spirit of God, all cultures have redemptive aspects. The only sifters we have is God's Spirit and the Bible. Nothing else can be relied on. Whenever entering into any debate, one must first understand all the premises that both sides have, determine which premises are Christian and which are not, and then come to a purely Christian response. Usually a belief that is dependant on something feeling right or sounding rational is based on a cultural axiom. We must be careful of our tendency to accommodate.

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