Saturday, December 05, 2009

ECUMENICAL POLITICS
...by Phil Johnson

Charles Colson and co-author Anne Morse returned to "The Back Page" column in August's Christianity Today. They picked up right where they left off in the April issue—hammering Colson's favorite theme: "engaging contemporary culture."

"Engaging the culture" is Colson's pet euphemism for ecumenical political activism. He has been campaigning for years to persuade evangelicals to tone down or set aside what makes us evangelical, because he wants us to join hands in the public arena with an interfaith posse of political cobelligerents (including devout Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and other religious traditionalists)—to lobby for reforming society's values through legislation.

That seems to be the only strategy Colson is willing to consider as a remedy for the moral rot of postmodern culture. He is convinced that those who don't share his commitment to ecumenical politics cannot possibly "engage the culture" in any meaningful sense. In other words, he clearly does not believe the gospel itself can transform culture. As a result, Colson doesn't seem to hear the actual concerns of evangelicals who are hesitant to join the ranks of his ecumenical moral crusade. He recounts how one "confused" pastor recently asked him, "Won't engaging the culture this way interfere with fulfilling the Great Commission?"

The question seems fair enough. "Engaging the culture" by Colson's preferred strategy demands, for example, that we downplay or silence the message of justification by faith alone—or risk alienating Colson's Roman Catholic allies in the culture war.

Of course, historic evangelicalism has always regarded the principle of sola fide as the very essence of the gospel message. That's what the Protestant Reformation was all about.

But if the very notion of "saving faith" must now be relegated to questionable or secondary status in order to keep peace in the religious right, how does that not "interfere with fulfilling the Great Commission"?The more cobelligerents Colson embraces, the bigger the problem becomes. As his circle of allies grows broader, the movement becomes less and less tolerant of gospel distinctives. You simply cannot solicit the support and partnership of Jewish leaders in a moral crusade if you're clearly and forcefully declaring the exclusivity of Christ. Colson's broad ecumenism is simply incompatible with the politically incorrect (but biblical, and essential) truth that explicit faith in Christ is the only way of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). As we pointed out in this column a few months ago, Colson himself has already endorsed Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft's call for Christian culture warriors to forge alliances with Muslims, Hindus, Confucians, and others who defend "traditional values" for religious reasons. How much will the Christian message need to be toned down in order to hold that kind of coalition together?

Will the price of membership in the religious right ultimately require Christians to cease mentioning the name of Christ completely for the sake of political appeasement? Are any of the moral issues on the agenda of the "religious right" (or even all of them combined) worth that kind of compromise? We think the pastor who challenged Colson was raising a perfectly valid question.

But Colson just doesn't get it. "That people still raise this question surprised me," he writes. In his view, the Great Commission is only half of the church's mission. Here's how he says he answered the anonymous pastor's question: "Of course we're called to fulfill the Great Commission," I replied. "But we're also called to fulfill the cultural commission." Christians are agents of God's saving grace—bringing others to Christ, I explained—but we are also agents of his common grace: sustaining and renewing his creation, defending the created institutions of family and society, critiquing false worldviews.

Colson goes on. He alludes to Genesis 1:28 as the biblical basis for a "cultural commission" ("Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.")

"When we are redeemed," he says, "we are both freed from sin and restored to do what God designed us to do: Create culture." Of course, we don't deny that Christianity ought to shape culture, as it has, historically, whenever the gospel has been preached effectively. But we think it's a bit of a stretch to find a "cultural mandate" for political activism in Genesis 1:28. And we certainly don't see any model for the sort of political activism Colson favors anywhere in the biblical record of apostolic activity. If Colson's strategy is the right one, why didn't the apostles forge political alliances with the Pharisees and the Zealots—not to mention the Stoics, who championed high ethical values and opposed the moral decay of Roman society?

What we really object to in Colson's rhetoric is his assumption that preaching the gospel and "engaging culture" are two distinct activities. Although he says he believes the Great Commission and the "cultural commission" are "inseparable," he clearly regards these as disparate endeavors, with completely different aims. He treats "redeeming people and redeeming culture" as two discrete projects, the former to be accomplished by evangelism and the latter to be accomplished by political means. That is a serious mistake. There is no mandate anywhere for the church to "redeem culture" through the apparatus of democracy. The gospel is the only message of redemption (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:17-25), and pagan societies are transformed for the better only as individuals respond to the gospel and experience the new birth. It is no part of our calling to cultivate a higher standard of external morality among pagans. Colson misses the point completely when he writes, "If we're tempted to ignore the great moral issues of our day, or dismiss them as 'just politics,' we are betraying our biblical mandate and our own heritage."

No one is arguing that Christians ought to "ignore the great moral issues of our day." What we're saying is that there are no effective political remedies for sin. The gospel is the only true answer to "alien philosophies" and worldviews that are hostile to righteousness. The proper way for Christians to "engage" and refute the wisdom of this world is by preaching "Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Colson quotes part of 2 Corinthians 10:5 to make the point that we need to apply Christian thinking to all of life. Bingo. But Colson misses the real significance of the text. The verse is Paul's prescription for spiritual warfare against false doctrines, and it gives the method he employed for the defense of the gospel: "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." That strategy, rightly understood, would keep us from setting aside major gospel truths in order to gain non-Christian compatriots in an ill-advised political campaign for mere moral rearmament.

If we lose sight of the fact that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19)— including the "wisdom" of conservative politics and religious moralists—we have already capitulated in the culture war. If we silence parts of the gospel in order to gain lobbying clout in the political arena, we will forfeit the only message that can "redeem the culture."

Colson comes close to the truth when he writes, "Real Christianity invariably provides a healthy influence on society." That's certainly true. So why not devote our best energies to evangelism, the only legitimate means of spreading "real Christianity"? At one point in his article, Colson writes, "I wish we had the courage of some of our Catholic brethren who've threatened to withhold Communion (and implicitly, votes) from those who flout biblical teaching."

Admittedly, we find it hard to work up much enthusiasm over what (so far) have been pretty much empty threats. Meanwhile, we wish Colson and his evangelical companions had the courage (and confidence in the power of God's Word) shown by those first-century Christians whose preaching and evangelism "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6)

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an encore presentation

11 comments:

Broken Messenger said...

That seems to be the only strategy Colson is willing to consider as a remedy for the moral rot of postmodern culture. He is convinced that those who don't share his commitment to ecumenical politics cannot possibly "engage the culture" in any meaningful sense. In other words, he clearly does not believe the gospel itself can transform culture.

This truth cuts both ways. Ecumenism is a problem to be sure, but so is legalism which it rears its ugly head when we begin to splice salvation into this ritual, that theology or only possible within this group. While pomo ecumenists “do not believe the gospel itself can transfrom the culture”; legalists profess belief of it and then deny it by their actions.

It would be nice to see a more balanced discussion on this, but unfortunately, our churches are staunchly rooted in one camp, while blind to the other. This “go for broke cling to ideology at all costs,” just for the sake of our theology and for the maintenance of church attendance is a pride that continues to divide the church and focuses its concerns to the infighting while society continues to spin into moral decay. The Gospel must be believed and practiced as the apostle James states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so decieve yourself, do what it says” (James 1:20, if I remember correctly)

Jeff Blogworthy said...

You simply cannot solicit the support and partnership of Jewish leaders in a moral crusade if you're clearly and forcefully declaring the exclusivity of Christ.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin seems to think so - and he does it with the full knowledge of who Jesus claims to be, and what Christians believe about the gospel. Mr. Lapin is an extremely insightful man, in large part of course, because he embraces Old Testament wisdom and means it.

We can only pray that he will one day open his heart to Jesus as God and Messiah. Until that day, I certainly do not think it is doing him or other Jews any harm to associate themselves with Christians or vice versa.

Personally, I am quite comfortable associating with Jews, or those of other faiths, while discussing both our differences and our agreements. Boldly proclaiming the Word does not mean we have to be confrontational about it. It says what it says.

I recognize that I am the dog that eats crumbs from the Jew's table. It is not a hard thing to swallow and I gladly do so. Too bad there are so many Jews who ignore the full feast set before them. However, I do not see how Christian seperatism is going to help them.

Bhedr said...

Good post!
It is intresting to see that this same view of Colson existed long ago in scripture.
King Asa played politics but what was more important to God?
"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars." Wow YHVH promised war in light of this co-belligerance. I Pray you take time to read 2 Chronicles 16

Bhedr said...

Phil said: If Colson's strategy is the right one, why didn't the apostles forge political alliances with the Pharisees and the Zealots—not to mention the Stoics, who championed high ethical values and opposed the moral decay of Roman society?

How Ironic and dichotic this relationship with Rome is.
What is the answer? Think!

"If we let Him(Yeshua)thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation."John 11:48

*think* There is only one commission. *think* If only we would let Him thus alone. *think*

As Campi has so often rightly said,"The cross must wave higher than the flag."

Bhedr said...

Yes, I am Brian and I have changed my user name to bhedr.

1. There is a Brian on Phil's blog and I don't wish to give him a bad name as Jus is hot on my trail:-)

2. I have sharpened my sword and wish to bhed any thought or imagination that exalts itself against the glory of God.

3. My first name is Brian and last name Hedrick.

I am not trying to be sneaky.

Rob said...

Do not redefine balance to mean compromise. Any discussion should be based on Scripture, not ideaology or tradition.

God is the judge of an out of control society, He even turns them over to further sin, that will lead to further judgement, even wrath.

No one has said not to ascociate with jews or muslims. It has only been said that there will be no movement toward the stated goal of activists if they form alliances with non-believers to try to reach those goals.

donsands said...

I think leaders like Colson see good works as evidence for one being a Christian. Of course this same person will say they are a Christian, but they may also say, God allows others to have eternal life, who don't believe in Jesus.

These will look at how nice and caring a person is more than what that same person believes to be essential doctrine.

If you want to serve society with a Muslim, a Jew, and a Catholic, and even a Mormon, and perhaps fight against abortion as an example, I would say you begin with proclaiming that you are a Christian. And that you are a Christian by the grace of Jesus Christ, and He is the only Way to the Father, which means Jesus is the only way to eternal life. All other ways are on the broad road to destruction and hell. And this grace alone saves, through faith alone, without works.

If these persons would be willing to work with me, after I shared how they are condemned, then that would be fine with me. I am to love all people, and as much as possible live at peace with all men.
And I am to become all things for all people, so that i may be a light, and salt, in this dark sinful world, and so bring glory to our Father in heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thanks for the good post.

I like Chuck a lot, but he has a mind set that the gospel is proved by good works more than the Gospel is what it is alone: Christ crucified and risen.

Have a blessed Lord's Day.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"ECUMENICAL POLITICS...by Phil Johnson"

I've always enjoyed this exchange from a post called "Witch-burners for Christ."

Phil Johnson: "You seem to deduce from your theonomic beliefs an implicit imperative for political activism and aggressive, formal co-belligerence (where evangelicals join cartels and forge yokes with anti-Christian religions to campaign for moral causes)."

Steve Hays: "There are two separate issues here. Let’s deal with one at a time:

First of all, as regards political activism there are three possible options:

1.A Christian is duty-bound to participate in the democratic process.

2.A Christian is duty-bound not to participate in the democratic process.

3.Political activism falls under category of the adiaphora.

Now, there are arguments for and against (1). And it isn’t essential to my position to argue for (1). At least, not here and now.

However, some of the critics of ECB talk as though they espouse (2). They regard political activism as a false priority. For them, preaching the gospel should be our priority, and since political activism necessarily diverts time and resources away from that endeavor, it is wrong for Christians to invest any time in political activism.

As to (3), this can be taken in more than one way. As I’ve said before, I think the proper way to establish Scriptural warrant operates not on a one-to-one correspondence between a specific injunction and a specific practice, but on a one-to-many correspondence between a general injunction and a variety of special cases which adapt and apply that general injunction to our particular circumstances.

Now how, exactly, we apply the general norm is, in some measure, a matter of Christian liberty. There may be more than one way we can do it. But whether we do it at all is not a matter of Christian liberty.

So, for example, look at what Paul has to say about the civil or political use of the law in 1 Tim 1:9-10. How, exactly, we implement that standing obligation varies with our opportunities and circumstances. There is more than one way of enacting and enforcing this moral norm. But we are certainly not at liberty to disregard it if we are in a position to honor and uphold it.

Secondly, there is the question of what associations are licit and what are illicit. Are we talking about first-degree separatism, second-degree separatism, or what?

For example, critics of ECB are critical of alliances between Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals. This would be a prescription for first-degree separatism: don’t associate with non-Evangelicals or unbelievers.

But they are equally critical of those who, while Evangelical in their own profession, associate with non-Evangelicals. Dobson and Colson are favorite whipping boys in this regard.

That would be a prescription for second-degree separatism: don’t associate with those who associate with non-Evangelicals or unbelievers.

And although critics of ECB are fond of quoting 2 Cor 6, they don’t explain how their apparent endorsement of second-degree separatism is consonant with 1 Cor 5:9-11.

Thirdly, critics of ECB are not only critical of cobelligerence, but they are equally critical of political activism per se, on the grounds that it diverts time and attention away from the only real solution to crime and moral decline, which is the gospel.

But if that is the case, then the objection to ECB is secondary. For even if such political alliances were limited to fellow Evangelicals, whether in the form of first- or second-degree separatism, critics of ECB would still disapprove on the primary grounds that we should not lobby for legislation anyway; since legislation treats the symptom rather than the cause."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Gay Activists Target Signers Of The Manhattan Declaration

By Susan Brinkmann, For The Bulletin

Monday, December 07, 2009

Same-sex marriage proponents are threatening to cause disruptions in the diocese of every bishop who signed the Manhattan Declaration, a statement calling on Christians to stand up for their belief in the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.

A post appearing on GayBuzz.blogspot on Nov. 28 calls upon gay activists to punish Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Ca., for signing the declaration.

“It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”

After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.

The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.”

From here.

TerrierGal wrote:

“I see both sides, and it is nearly impossible to force someone to go against their conscience on an issue of this much import. What I don’t understand however is that we cannot cooperate with leaders who have a different message but want to promote the type of society that is in more conformity with God’s laws… but … we *can* somehow (via Romans 13) cooperate with and submit to unbelievers and power grabbers and oppressors who are neither trying to promote Godly laws nor God’s gospel. This is what confuses me. It seems like a choking on gnats/swallowing camels thing.

If we can cooperate as police officers, firemen, doctors, EMT’s, soldiers, seamen, marines, airmen, with unbelievers to defend this country, to save lives, why not in this limited endeavor? If someone was attacking my neighbor, unjustly taking his belongings or killing his children, and my other neighbor called me to help stop it, would I refuse to help because my neighbors are Catholic or unbelievers? Would I even bother to ask? Wouldn’t this be the point at which a pharisee might say I can’t help you pull your donkey out of the well on the Sabbath, lest I violate my God’s command?”

Darlene said...

"Ecuminism is a problem to be sure, but so is legalism which it rears its ugly head when we begin to splice salvation intothis ritual,that theology oronly possible within this group."

Broken, your point is well taken and very valid. There are those legalist Christians, who hold to such a strict confession, that they wouldn't stand outside an abortion clinic, work in a soup kitchen, and in some cases, send their children to any school, where there are others who hold to what they perceive to be a different understanding of the gospel. They wouldn't openly oppose abortion with Arminians, or Wesleyans, or Freewill Baptists, or the Brethren, or Pentecostals.

There are those who have to continue creating new schisms to claim they are most faithful to the pure gospel. It is these same kind of Christians who, during the Communist reign, more than likely would have protested being thrown into the same prison cell with Christians who didn't belong to the same faith tradition as they themselves.

"I refuse to share a cell with a Pentecostal" they would exclaim. While this atheistic gov't considers us both Christians, such is not the case. I refuse to even budge when it comes to such a vital distinction and give a wrong impression of what a Christian really is."

"Put him in the cell with the Mennonite," the warden would retort to the guard. "Well sir, I'm afraid he would refuse that as well. He has clearly stated to me that he only wants to share a cell with Christians from his faith tradition," the guard explained.

The warden would roll his eyes and say, "Very well then. Put him in solitary confinement!"

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