06 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Four

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

Among many other things, I'm sure, I think evangelicalism's failure to withstand the rising tide of secularism is, paradoxically, rooted in the fact that it eventually set itself the task of defeating secularism in the first place. Ironically, it set itself to execute this mission by first accepting (as I mentioned here) secular presuppositions about Man and his epistemological norms. It's a fight-fire-with-fire sort of a thing, I suppose. The difference between Liberal Protestant scholarship and Conservative Protestant scholarship is, therefore, not one of presuppositions; both seek to engage in "scientific" Bible scholarship, and have the same conception of how the scientific task is to be completed. The difference is simply how consistently those presuppositions are applied. Frankly, the Liberals more consistently apply those presuppositions. It should surprise no one, then, that subsequent generations of Conservative evangelical scholars are increasingly more liberal than the preceding generations. Those of us who have studied the matter all know that it is only a matter of time. Shared presuppositions about the nature, task and methods of scholarship will have that effect. How can evangelicalism have withstood the siren call of secularism?

But the ultimate concern -- the matter of life and death -- of the Christian is not the crafting and promulgation of an ideology, not even a system of theology, with which to defeat secularism, or any other religious outlook. The ultimate concern is the worship of the Triune God. It is true that Abraham Kuyper, a hero to many evangelicals, said that, in the confrontation with secularism, principle ha to be carried against principle. But Abraham Kuyper, for any and all flaws and inconsistencies, desired first to worship the Triune God. The principles of the Christian worldview have, as I've said, no transformational power in themselves. Evangelicalism suffers, I think, because it has failed accurately to define the conflict. Its program (if its ad hoc approach to public theology can even be called a program) for the last several decades has seemed to assume, in the end, something we ought to reject. It has assumed that the conflict is between a schools of thought (rival worldviews) called "Christian" and "secular", where the end game is the latter's defeat, or, at least, the former's ability to withstand the latter.

On this issue I think the past holds a clue to both the present and the future. Many people, perhaps rightly, like to look to the experience of our Christian ancestors in the Roman world as a secondary guide to our own contemporary experience of life in Christ. That's a great idea when thinking about the "confrontation" with secularism. So, let's recall that Christians didn't turn the Roman world upside by trying to turn the Roman world upside. The Christians turned the Roman world upside down by doing one simple thing, and -- apparently -- by doing it well: they worshiped the Triune God.

That last point is important. For only the Second Person of the Triune God -- the Word become flesh, the true God-Man -- could nourish the Christian soul in a world which worshiped the Roman Emperor (i.e., a false god-man) as the expression of the divine on earth. What defeated the Roman world was the turning of a significant number of people in that world from the worship of a false god-man to the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true God-Man.

The same is true today: either The State is god or God is God. Now, as then, the issue is worship. Unlike Liberal Protestants, I am not minimizing the importance, or the truth of the Christian worldview. But as I said previously, the Christian worldview gives no power to the Christian to resist or overcome sin, which is what secularism is. The only worthwhile reason for holding to that worldview is not because by it, and with it, we can defeat or withstand secularism, but rather because first of all we hold to Christ, without whom the Christian worldview is no more than the words used to define, explain and defend it. There is no Christian worldview without Jesus, first and last. There is no power in the Christian worldview, against any other worldview, apart from union with Christ.

Perhaps evangelicals have over-looked something in the haste to win the world. Perhaps they have overlooked the possibility that the way to win the world, like the way to keep one's life, is to give up on the world, and everything associated with it. (See John 12.25, among others.) That may mean, getting back to the subject of education, which started this stream of consciousness blogging, re-examining how we do education. Aping the secular counter-part may not be the best way. And I mean aping the secular counter-part in just about every way, especially since one of the obvious goals of the Christian school is to compete with the secular school. Clearly, the best way to do that is to offer the same product, with a big difference, of course. It is, as I've already said, an essentially secular product.

For example, and I know I'll sound prudish, or worse, in saying this. But, really, even if we grant the necessity (which, by the way, I do) of school athletics, do we really need cheerleaders? Maybe we do. I don't know. What I do know is that I have yet to hear an explanation. It is, apparently, an unquestionable given. Whether the school is secular or Christian, if you have athletics then you have cheerleaders. And that's the end of it, I guess. There could be a good reason; after all, as I've said, the Spartan's included dance as part of warrior training. I just don't know, yet, what that reason is, except that if the secular counter-part has it then so must Christian schools, in order to offer a comparable product. A comparable product is the reason, I think, why as Spencer asserts, evangelical education cannot withstand secularism.

I just wonder if Christian educators have really devoted hundreds of hours of attention to the question not what do students need to be taught (largely determined by the state anyway) but rather, what is the student going to be when we're finished with him. I mentioned Spartans learning dance, here. When the Spartan lad was finished with the agoge he was a soldier, a Spartan; that is, he had earned the right to be called a Spartan. When the student finishes law school he is, hopefully, a lawyer; or he will be if he passes his bar exams. When one finishes medical school, and passes the board examinations, he is a physician. But what is he when he finishes the course of instruction at a Christian school? Other than qualified to go on to college or get a good job, be a good citizen of the U.S. Needful things, I agree, but available -- free -- at secular schools. (Well, at the better secular schools, anyway.)

But this is to turn from evangelicalism's demise to educational philosophy.

Part Five

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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