Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

November 14, 2004

Food for Thought

There has been much consideration lately, in the media generally but perhaps especially among bloggers, of the role of Christians in the "public square" in America. Several things I've read in the past few days have highlighted that topic in interesting ways.

The latest issue of Cutting Edge came in the mail yesterday. Cutting Edge is a magazine published by the Association of Vineyard Churches/USA. This latest edition includes a very interesting interview with Alan Wolfe, who is a sociologist at Boston College, and who has written a book called The Tranformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. Now, Wolfe is not a Christian, but has taken a very hard and (it seems to me) unbiased look at the church in America. His thesis seems to be that the church is more shaped by the culture than perhaps it cares to admit. Here's a quote from the article:

He [Wolfe] candidly admits that his deepest commitments lie with the American ideals of liberal democracy (ideals that, in a post-Christian society, seem increasingly less hospitable to religiously-grounded public truth claims). The book, therefore, is a carefully researched, extended plea to two groups of people: Wolfe wants evangelicals to realize just how deeply American culture has shaped them—far more so than the distinctives of their faith—and he admonishes them to celebrate instead of lament that fact. ... At the same time, he pleads for greater tolerance of evangelicals from his secular friends—suggesting that when it comes down to how they actually live, the lifestyles, concerns, and aspirations of evangelicals are remarkably similar to those of their secular counterparts.

What Wolfe means to be reassuring, however, some evangelicals have taken as an indictment. A recent article in Christianity Today suggested that Wolfe says to evangelicals, in essence, “People like me can live with people like you because you do not truly take yourselves seriously.”
The interview is very interesting, and makes me want to have a closer look at the book (ah, the benefits of library-work).

The issues of concern to Wolfe are also, very often, the issues of concern to David at Jollyblogger, although obviously he comes at them from a very different perspective. In a recent post, for example, David notes the re-emergence of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority (only this version is called the "Faith and Values Coalition"). Falwell is a bit of an icon, in the eyes of some, for all that is problematic about Christian political activism. But Wolfe says,

Based on my research, the days in which there is an automatic identification of evangelicals with Jerry Falwell are over. I’m not saying that evangelicals will suddenly vote Democratic or swing to the Left, but I wonder if they will change the Republican party, and the compassionate side of conservative politics will be forced to become much more prevalent if they are going to hang onto evangelicals instead of just taking them for granted.
Finally, another blogger who's been pondering the intersection of faith and politics [BTW, pondering the intersection is far safer than pondering IN the intersection, especially during rush hour!] is Phil at Another Man's Meat, who says:

In the aftermath of the election there is, unfortunately, a militancy rising up. It may be the flush of victory, a way of flexing muscles that have been long dormant. I suppose that’s understandable. I just don’t know if it’s entirely wise. Christians will never legislate the Kingdom of God in through political institutions. We’ll never be able to legislate sin out of society. And we’ll never be able to legislate righteousness in.
Read the whole post here.


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