14 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Five

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

At the end of this posting I raised the matter of educational philosophy. I don't want to take up the subject at length, but it occurs to me, as I continue to reflect upon evangelicalism's coming collapse, that before a Christian can do educational philosophy he needs to have done his philosophy. And I think that's a large part of evangelicalism's problem: too many of them haven't really done their evangelical philosophy. That is, many of the Christians who do philosophy take up questions being worked on by non-Christians, not entirely out of line, one could say, but perhaps not the best use of limited time and resources. Alvin Plantinga noted over two decades ago that philosophy is a social enterprise; and this fact has implications:

Christian philosophers...are the philosophers of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian philosophers to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research program. Christian philosophers ought not merely take their inspiration from what's going on at Princeton or Berkeley or Harvard, attractive and scintillating as that may be; for perhaps those questions and topics are not the ones, or not the only ones, they should be thinking about as the philosophers of the Christian community. There are other philosophical topics the Christian community must work at, and other topics the Christian community must work at philosophically. And obviously, Christian philosophers are the ones who must do the philosophical work involved. If they devote their best efforts to the topics fashionable to the non-Christian philosophical world, they will neglect a crucial and central part of their task as Christian philosophers. What is needed here is more independence, more autonomy with respect to the projects and concerns of the non-theistic philosophical world.
Plantinga extended his remarks to all Christian scholars.

One might say evangelicalism has been poorly served by its scholars, who seem by and large to have been concerned to stake out claims in topics of interest to Princeton or Berkeley or Harvard. That is, after all, how one earns respectability. Perhaps. But neither has evangelicalism been very willing to be served by her scholars. Reducing the Christian life in the world, for the most part, to evangelism, evangelicals have asked their scholars, in varying ways, "How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls? How can you be so wasteful of your time as to think of anything but evangelism and missions?" So, as Spencer observes, evangelical educational institutions have done little but staff their own needs. I know this: I have been the recipient of this attitude. Invariably, in talking to some evangelicals about my university studies as an undergraduate, I was asked how I, as a Christian, could justly study philosophy. One person, but only one, flat out told me there was no way I could be a Christian if I was studying philosophy. Hadn't I read Colossians 2.8? (In fact I had, which is why I felt comfortable studying philosophy and telling this gentleman he, not I, was the one who did not understand St. Paul.) For a time I was involved in the Christian Education at an evangelical church. Time out of mind I was chastised by parents for attempting to turn their children into philosophers, rather than Christians. (On a proper conception of philosophy, there isn't a difference.)

Incidentally, in those times I found encouragement in a passage from C.S. Lewis's, 22 October 1939 sermon, "Learning in Wartime":

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now -- not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground -- would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age. ~ In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
It is important to note, given that my topic has been Christian education, that Lewis preached that sermon to answer the question, "When the world is advancing to heaven or hell, when liberties hang in the balance, how can students and faculty spend time on what seem to be trivialities in comparison?"

In the previous posting, I asked, "What is the student 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.?" Presently, I think the question is being answered better by the Orthodox, than by evangelicals. I think we should say that the student will be a knower of God when he completes the curriculum at his Christian educational institution. Does this mean that I think Christian schools should teach only Bible, theology, and so forth? Not at all. That would be to focus only on that form of God's revelation theologians call Special Revelation. There is also God's General Revelation -- his creation. As a revelation of God, the creation is also a means of union and communion with God. This is why Gentiles do instinctively the things contained in the law, why St. Paul could affirm that all men know God (even though they refuse to acknowledge and glorify him as God [Romans 1.18ff]).

The relation between Christian education and the coming anti-Christian spirit Spencer writes of is not forced. In this posting I asked what makes an education Christian other than the fact that it goes on in Christian schools, is provided by Christian teachers to Christian students (or the children of Christian parents) and includes chapel services once a week and a handful of Bible, theology, or Christian worldview classes. Someone who was opposed to "Christian" education could be made quite happy if a school would simply do away with its chapel services and its Bible, theology and Christian worldview classes. So when one thinks of this anti-Christian spirit one has to wonder: What is it that will make the object of this opposition Christian? It's one thing for Spencer to write of "intolerance of Christianity", but it is important to know whether the "Christianity" for which there will be this intolerance is characterized by careful devotion to Christ or by careful devotion to other things (such as "reclaiming" America for Christ). I suppose there are some who might argue that careful devotion to Christ has to mean, on some level, claiming (or reclaiming) America for Christ. In a sense that is true, if by "claiming" we mean something synonymous with evangelizing, which, by the way, is what I would mean. But, what with the "Dominionist" scare and all, I think people can be forgiven if they understand "claiming America for Christ" to mean getting legitimate control of the apparatus of the state and using that apparatus for Christian purposes (whatever "Christian" means, in that context) -- in other words Christian statism. (And I don't care if the personification of this Christian statism is Jim Wallis or Jim Dobson.)

If the intolerance of Christianity is, in fact, an intolerance of Christian statism (and I don't mean only Dominionist or Reconstruction varieties) I find myself being all for it, frankly. For me, Christian statism seems to have the same vision of an unfederal central government, promoting a utopian vision of "unity" over "disunity", engaging in just as much centralized control over public education as the current crowd, imposing its morality (however much I happen to agree with it) with same verve and gusto as liberals have done for decades. We'll probably be just as over-taxed to pay for the Christian state as we are to pay for the secular state. In other words, the Christian statism seems to me to be different from the secular statism in that it is Christian statism rather than secular statism. (But remember my question: What makes Christian education Christian?) Let me put it this way: I've always been bothered by the fact that the Roman Empire continued to be an empire after the Christians took it over. An empire is still an empire; and I don't like empires, no matter how benevolent. So if intolerance of Christianity is really, as I presently suspect, intolerance of Christian statism, then all we have here is one group of statists not tolerating another, rival, group of statists. Help me, Jack Bauer!

Of course, Christianity as careful devotion to Christ can be just as intolerable to statists as the other variety of Christianity. In the end, a statist is one who, as I mentioned here, worships man through the state. The Christian whose Christianity is careful devotion to Christ is perhaps even more intolerable to a statist (especially, perhaps, the secular statist) than the Christian whose Christianity is marked by careful devotion to "reclaiming" America for Christ. Statists cannot permit much in the way of loyalty to something higher than the state, so there is that possibility.

But I just don't think that our devotion to Christ is what's causing the problem right now. Yes, Jesus did say that those who hate him will hate his followers. But it is logically fallacious to believe that everyone who hates us does so because of him. When you see sad stuff like this (and we know that's just a sampling), in addition to acknowledging that evangelicalism seems to have difficulty giving its adherents resources to fight indwelling sin, you have to think, "It could be us." St. Peter said: "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter" (1 Peter 4.13). It is possible for Christians to suffer persecution for reasons other than devotion to Christ. When evangelicals appear to care more about whether unbelieving Heather has two unbelieving mommies than about whether believing Juan Alberto Ovalle is trying to hook up with underage girls, one has to understand how devotion to Christ seems to be a bit lower on the order of business than it should be. It would be well for evangelicals to take that to heart.

I suspect, however, that when the difficult times Spencer discusses come, the vast majority of evangelicals will take comfort that the rapture is upon us. So persecution prone are they that they will take comfort in the fact that "so persecuted they the prophets" (Matthew 5.12), and so forth. (Some of the comments here bear this out, I think.) Their disdain for the spiritual disciplines as well as the charismatic thirst for spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecies, miracles, healings, pre-occupation with eschatology, etc, have left most of them (it appears to me) without the tools or the patience, for the introspection, the self-examination, the soul-searching necessary to revive themselves. Indeed, most seem likely to blow all that off as wasteful navel-gazing, or, worse, legalism.

I also suspect that those of us who would suggest that the coming suffering may not be, or may not entirely be, suffering for simply being a Christian, will be treated like those who suggested that perhaps some elements of U.S. foreign policy played a role in the 911 attacks. (I was not one of those, for whatever that's worth.)

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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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