Originally published in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism provided a manifesto for evangelical Christians who are serious about bringing their Christian faith to bear in contemporary culture. In this classic book, Carl F. H. Henry, the father of the modern evangelical movement, pioneered a path forward that avoids, on the one hand, the error of disengagement and apathy towards today’s social ills, and, on the other hand, the error that is the social gospel. In our current cultural climate, in which evangelicalism is still wrestling with how to engage social matters, this book is as relevant as ever.
In this one-day Training Seminar lead, we examined some of the core framework, analytics, and ideologies that serve much of our culture’s current political and social justice engagement. The aim is to look at these things from a Biblical perspective with the goal of better equipping ourselves to navigate the climate in which we live.
Due to the unfortunate volatile and seemingly unproductive nature of current public discourse around these matters, I have decided not to make this material open to the public. However, if you would like to request a copy of my notes for this Training Seminar, you can email my church here.
A Dysfunctional Social Order (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)
CrossWay Community Church
November 17th, 2019
Preface: I’ve recently inherited and am now assigned to lead a small group at my church assembled around the topic, “Christ in Culture.” The nature of this group, among other things, involves coming together to discuss and think through hot button social issues to ask, “How should we as Christians engage these things? What can / should we do?”
I plan on beginning this year’s small group by taking time to have us evaluate our “grids” — the assumptions and paradigms we use when considering these topics. Towards that end, I’ve quickly composed a list of questions that I believe get us to those “foundations.”
I thought I’d share here as well. (Feel free to comment with any suggestions, additional ideas, etc.)
Revelation – What “sources” do we use to think about these things (e.g., scripture, but also — experience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, political science, etc.)? And what are the interplay among these things? In other words, theologians often distinguish between special or supernatural revelation (e.g., Bible) and general or natural revelation (i.e., other sources of truth). What sources should we use? And how do they relate? What happens if they seem to conflict? Do we give precedence to any? Do we ignore everything but scripture? If we use sources outside of the Bible, does this imply a rejection of our belief in the sufficiency of scripture? What does it mean for Scripture to be “sufficient”? When using scripture in these discussions, how do we move from scripture to these contemporary issues? In other words, how are we to “apply” scripture to these issues?
Mission – What is the mission of the church? Is it our responsibility to engage in these things, or are these simply “worldly” affairs? Are they distractions from evangelism? When these issues get political, how does the church intersect with government and/or participate in politics? Are these things we should address as a whole church, or just on an individual level — as persons who make up the church?
Gospel – What is the relationship of the gospel to these things? (1) Often times people speak of these things as “gospel issues.” But what does that mean? Are they implications? Entailments? Or the essence (“heart and center”) of the gospel? (2) What is the role of conversion and regeneration in seeing “social justice” come to fruition? Does/can true justice happen outside of people being converted/saved? And if not, what can we accomplish in society among those who are not saved, and is it still worth pursuing?
Cultural mandate – Genesis 1:28 gives us what has been called “the cultural mandate” (“Be fruitful… multiply… have dominion”). (1) How does this mandate impact our responsibility to engage culture? (2) How does this affect our view of culture? Is it all good? All bad? Somewhere in between? How so?
Image of God (Imago Dei) – The doctrine that we are all made in God’s image would seem to have a significant impact on how we should approach these things. (1) That humanity is the image of God grants each person irrevocable dignity. How does that affect our social engagement, particularly with regards to how humans are to be treated? (2) Creation in the image of God would also seem to imply that humans, whether they believe in God or not, have an inescapable sense of God — we were made to know him — and therefore retain “glimpses” of truth and righteousness in their affairs. How does this affect the way we partner with them in these areas? Our expectations for them?
Sin; depravity (hamartiology) – At the same time, the Bible teaches us that outside of Christ, humanity is wretchedly sinful. (1) Theologians have historically spoken of the “noetic” effects of sin — sin affects our ability to think and believe rightly about God and his world. For example, in Romans 1, Paul says that sinners “suppress the truth.” How might this reality affect our expectations about engaging and partnering with non-believers? (2) How does the doctrine of sin impact of expectations about culture (e.g., it’s goodness/badness)? (3) How might the doctrine of sin affect our pessimism regarding human nature, and the need for certain regulations (“checks and balances”) — whether in government or business (market)?
End times (eschatology) – How does our view of the end times affect our social engagement? Are we generally optimistic or pessimistic about what change we can bring? Can we bring about God’s kingdom here on this earth? And, if so, how, or in what sense?
Compassion & justice – Often times debates among Christians clash on the juxtaposition and tension between principles of justice and compassion. How do we promote policies that are both just and compassionate? And what do we do when the two appear to be in tension? Do we prioritize one over the other?
Government – (1) From a Christian perspective, what is the role of government (see Romans 13)? In other words, what is government supposed to do? (2) Should we engage in politics, or withdraw? (3) If we engage, should we attempt to legislate our morality? If not, then how do we determine what to legislate? If there is no such thing as moral-less, value-less, legislation, then what values do (should) we use? In other words, if we desire “righteous” (socially just) legislation in our government, from where are we getting our standard of justice, if not the Bible?
Now that some of the tense political posts have subsided a little, allow me to make a sincere appeal to my lesser-of-two-evils, evangelical Christian, Trump-supporter friends:
(1) If Mr. Trump was in fact, as you believed, the lesser of two evils, than I can understand your pleasure that one perceived evil was avoided; but do not rejoice that another — even a perceived lesser — was elected.
(2) Notwithstanding the question of whether it was legitimate in the first place, any appeal to a lesser-of-two-evils argument is now assuredly moot. In other words, one can no longer attempt to justify Mr. Trump by means of an appeal to a perceived worse alternative, because now there is no alternative.
As such, join us as the church in our testimony to truth, compassion, and justice in respectfully calling out this administration if/when it violates our Lord’s ethic to love neighbor. My fear is that in a self-righteous attempt to justify one’s past vote for Trump, many evangelicals will feel it necessary to defend him while in office, and, as Jesus might say, “The latter state will become worse than the former.”