Two recent articles coming out of the US present contrasting visions of the Christian life in general, and the culture wars in particular. One laments the sad state of affairs found amongst young evangelicals, while the other calls us to re-examine Jesus, and develop some backbone.
The first piece, by Mark Tooley, contrasts today’s effeminate evangellyfish with the more manly and virile believers of not so long ago. He laments how so many young believers today have simply renounced political involvement and social engagement, because they somehow think it is not “Christlike” or “loving”.
Sadly this retreat should come as no surprise. When the surrounding culture emphasises a false notion of tolerance and acceptance, and the church simply soaks up what the world is doing and saying, such results are not unexpected. We have a generation of believers who are really wimps for Jesus, who would never dare rock the boat for anything.
Says Tooley, “Many young evangelicals today shun conflict – a posture at odds with evangelical history. A new generation of evangelical elites is imploring evangelicals to step back from the culture wars. Mostly they want to escape polarizing strong stances on same-sex marriage and abortion, and perhaps also contentious church-state issues, like the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.
“Purportedly the evangelical church is failing to reach young, upwardly mobile professionals because evangelicals, who now broadly comprise perhaps one third of all Americans, are seen as reactionary and hateful. On their college campuses, at their coffee shops, and in their yoga classes, among other venues, some outspoken hip young evangelicals want a new public image for their faith.”
Tooley has to remind these folks that culture warfare has long been a part of the American church scene. We are simply forgetting our own heritage. He says: “Most of these young evangelicals, and many of their older supporters, often seem to forget that culture wars are not new for Americans or its churches. America has had dozens of them, all of them with intense religious involvement.
“And some of them have exemplified some of religion’s finest moments in shaping America. Across several decades, the Civil Rights Movement, led primarily by clergy, was intensely gut wrenching and sometimes precipitated violence. Some churches, black and white, lost members over it. The push for women’s rights of the 1960s and 1970s that closely followed was also deeply controversial and was at least initially often rooted in faith before secular feminists took the fore.”
He offers more examples, including this one: “Recently I visited central New York to visit the home of William Seward, abolitionist, Republican Party founder, and most famously Lincoln’s secretary of state. Central and western New York in the early 19th century was called the ‘burned over’ district, having boiled over with revivalism and social reforms, including abolitionism. Seward’s home in Auburn, New York, also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Mrs. Seward was especially a fervent abolitionist, having been raised a Quaker. Sometimes she chided her politically pragmatic husband, an Episcopalian, for not being sufficiently zealous.
“But Seward’s anti-slavery speeches as a U.S. Senator about ‘irrepressible conflict’ and a ‘higher law’ helped to inflame the nation. Seward had been influenced toward abolitionism by the religious college he attended, headed by a Presbyterian clergy. The Sewards were close to freed slave and abolitionist leader Harriett Tubman, who bought land from the Sewards and built her home down the street. Besides religious influences, the Sewards’ anti-slavery stance was reinforced early in their marriage when they visited Virginia, witnessing young slave boys chained together and herded like cattle, later crying themselves to sleep when locked in a barn.”
He concludes, “Today’s culture wars over marriage, abortion, and domestic religious freedom seem terribly tame compared to the supreme culture war over slavery that concluded with Civil War. Even before the war, abolitionists, including Seward, often risked mobs and lynching, even in the north. In the interest of social harmony, should they have relented?…
“The non-confrontational, therapeutic evangelicalism that some young evangelicals, and their older mentors, seemingly advocate today as they denounce culture war is at odds with much of evangelical history, which has always thrived on conflict. No less important, it’s also at odds with much of American history, dating to the 17th century New England Puritan divines, who envisioned a righteous nation. Even supposed secularists of today often walk in that tradition as they demand contentious social reforms, including, in their view, same sex marriage.
“Hoping evangelicals and other serious religious believers in America will en masse shun social controversy as they retreat to quiet cafes to read the New York Times is not realistic. The antebellum Methodists and Baptists who abandoned earlier convictions to accommodate their culture’s acceptance of slavery purchased only a temporary peace. Today’s evangelicals who hope they can delete marriage, abortion, and religious freedom from their political menu might be similarly outflanked by irrepressible historical tides rooted in four centuries of American religion.”
Quite so. But much of this attitude comes from a wimpy – and unbiblical – view of Jesus. In the second article, Johnnie Moore says that “Christians should be tough – like Jesus”. Referring to a recent speech given by Donald Trump at Liberty University, he urges believers to drop spineless Christianity for the real deal.
He writes: “Read the Bible. It’s filled with God pursuing justice, settling scores with folks who messed with him, or who messed with his people, and – believe it or not – Jesus is ‘Exhibit A.’ The prevailing view of Jesus, mainly among liberal Christians, might be that he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed, fluffy little self-help teacher who spent lots of time tip-toeing through the lilies, doling out softly worded pieces of advice to children, and saying things like, ‘can’t we all get along.’
“However, Jesus was no ‘patsy,’ (as Trump might say) and being around him wasn’t always like being cuddled up in a nice, warm Snuggie. Jesus was a tough character. The same Jesus who preached compassion is the same Jesus who publicly embarrassed his nemeses (the Pharisees) by calling them ‘a bunch of snakes’ in front of a large crowd of people.
“The same Jesus who said, in a particular and oft-misunderstood context, that we ought to ‘turn the other cheek’ is the same Jesus who made a royal mess out of the temple by taking a whip to a bunch of moneychangers. Does that sound like a cuddly Jesus who lets people run all over him? Jesus didn’t float on down to planet earth like a deflating balloon. He dropped down like an atom bomb, and his very presence was a provocation.”
He concludes, “We must be wise about ‘when’ and ‘how’ we react when someone has treated us unjustly, but we mustn’t be fearful of standing up for ourselves. Of course, Christians shouldn’t treat people maliciously and they shouldn’t fight arbitrarily, but Christians – like Jesus – should pursue justice, and they should – like Jesus – not let people take advantage of them. Jesus might have been meek, but he sure wasn’t weak. He had a steel spine; he spoke boldly and strongly. In the end he had lots of enemies who nailed him to a tree to shut him up.”
Yes, being a wimpy hippy will not get you nailed to a tree. Only someone with backbone, authority and forthrightness will meet a fate like that. Perhaps that is why so many believers today have wimped out of the important social struggles of our day. They seem to prefer living a quiet and comfortable life instead of experiencing what Jesus and the disciples did: opposition, rejection and enmity.
No wonder Leonard Ravenhill could say: “If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”