First, some links:
Scott Klusendorf draws our attention to "Mr. Calvin Goes to Washington". I think it provides an interesting perspective on the ECB dispute. Keep in mind that people like Steve Camp have taken to calling themselves "Protestant Reformed Christians," rather than evangelical, which is ironic indeed.
Russ/Sosipater provides an interesting quote on religion and politics from a noted Reformed Baptist critic of theonomy. (Yours truly also manages to get into Russ's quote of the day.)
I want to take some time to deal with some scattered replies to my various recent blog entries, mainly authored by Phillip Johnson.
Phil replies to my "Slippery Slopes and the Genetic Fallacy" with four complaints on the subject of political activism:
"My first gripe is with ostensibly Christian organizations and ministers of the gospel who in any degree dilute, suppress, deflect, or confuse the simple, pure gospel message they are called and ordained to preach, and either substitute or blend into their "gospel" a political message instead.
My second gripe is with those who think (or act as if) political remedies for society's evils are more effective instruments for the improvement of our culture than the gospel message itself.
My third gripe is with those who make politics a higher priority than evangelism in their dealings with unbelievers.
My fourth gripe is with those who think political activism is a duty incumbent on all Christians."
I largely agree with Phil's four points above. I'd just register a few caveats. Re: his first point, I'd just say that there is a difference between a "Christian organization" which simply articulates a political message, and an organization which "blends into their 'gospel' a political message". There is a difference here, and it ought to be respected. I have yet to find a significant ECBer organization which actually espouses the view that political activism is part of the content of the gospel message itself.
Re: his second point, again, I have yet to find any ECBers who do "think (or act as if) political remedies for society's evils are more effective instruments for the improvement of our culture than the gospel message itself." Rather, this is often an unwarranted conclusion drawn by critics of ECB about anyone who spends any time involved in political activism. I'm not saying Phil has done this, but I have seen it done (repeatedly, in past entries on Steve Camp's blog, for instance).
Re: his third point, I'm not quite sure how to apply it to anyone in particular. That's because, for just about any ECBer I know of, it is next to impossible to know whether they "make politics a higher priority than evangelism in their dealings with unbelievers". After all, to the extent that we know anything about an ECB leader, it is ordinarily only through their publicly accessible writings and speeches, and therefore we have little idea how they interact with unbelievers in their daily relationships with them. For instance, despite reading both Phil Johnson's and Al Mohler's blogs rather faithfully, it would be a total non sequitur to infer anything at all about "their dealings with unbelievers" on a regular basis, much less their "priorities" with them. Nevertheless, Phil's third point here is a good one in general, although ordinarily the only people we're in a position to apply it to, are ourselves.
Re: his fourth point, as I've already repeatedly made clear, I agree, assuming that I understand what he means by "political activism". I do think there are basic duties of Christian citizenship in a democracy that ought to be taken seriously, however. And my main point throughout this extended exchange is whether cooperative political activism is permitted for individual Christians, not whether it is obligatory for all and sundry.
Phil says, in the link above:
"And I hate to see the very people who ought to be teaching Christians Scripture and sound doctrine wasting their energies instead trying to organize evangelicals to maximize the clout of the American political right."
This, of course, presupposes that energy spent on political activism is by definition "wasted energies". You see, it's comments like these which lead me to think that Phil really thinks, in his heart of hearts, that it is forbidden for individual Christians to spend any time whatsoever in political activism. Phil of course expressly denies that he thinks this. But on the other hand, it's a clear implication of what he says above. For Phil, by definition spending time on political activism is a waste of energy.
It's an open question, of course, as to whether every Christian is called to be a teacher of Scripture and sound doctrine in the first place. Is Phil speaking of an informal calling, or a full-time, formal calling? Informally, with respect to our individual relationships with other Christians and in our families? Yes, but then there's little evidence that ECBers contravene that responsibility. Formally, with ongoing teaching ministries in the church that involve public exposition of Scripture and time devoted to little else? No, I don't buy that; not everyone is called to that. Dobson is a psychologist and pediatrician and Colson is a lawyer. Is Phil really saying that he can lay down the law as to what these individuals ought to be doing, with respect to their individual callings? Is the Christian doctor "wasting his time" because he could be teaching Scripture instead?
Sure, Phil says that political activism is legitimate for the individual Christian, but when it comes down to it, when they spend any time doing it, Phil emphatically thinks it's all a waste of time. This isn't a consistent position on Phil's part, unless Phil thinks it's legitimate for Christians to waste their time. So it certainly looks like Phil subscribes to the very prohibition that he otherwise denies.
Moving along, Phil Johnson replies to my "Interesting Question" post. Since Phil has earlier accused me of injecting irrelevant parties into the discussion, I suppose turnabout is fair play :-) Suffice it to say that the 'interesting question' was being posed for Steve Camp, not Phil Johnson. And from what I can tell, Camp's and Johnson's positions are somewhat distinct, with Camp's being the more radical and implausible. For instance, Camp believes that evangelicals do compromise the gospel when they work along side Roman Catholics to reform culture on moral evils like abortion and judicial tyranny. It's a fair question, then, whether Camp thinks that evangelicals also compromise the gospel when they work alongside Roman Catholics with respect to military purposes, and if not, why not?
Johnson posts a reply, but he doesn't bother to answer the question. Indeed, he doesn't think this is a very good question at all, but that's only because he's completely misconstrued the parallel that was asserted. He asks:
"You seriously think that's a good question?
Do you honestly see such a close parallel between individual Christians serving in a secular government's army, and evangelical churches, ministers, and media ministries who not only start their own parachurch politico-religious organizations (where doctrinal boundaries are deliberately erased for the sake of political harmony)--but also target the community of believers in their efforts to coordinate, recruit, and raise funds for various boycotts, legislative initiatives, and political campaigns?"
First, as I thought I made clear earlier, there is a distinction between 'individual Christians' and 'the church'. Just because someone thinks it's OK for individual Christians to do something, according to their gifts and opportunities, doesn't automatically mean that they think it constitutes the mission of the church. Phil is still stuck in his "mandate for the whole church" mode, where every endorsement of ECB constitutes a claim that "political activism is a 'kind of "ministry"' that ought to consume the energies of the church as a body." Once again, he persists in finding his favorite bogeymen even in posts that have little to do with them. Phil thinks I'm asserting "a close parallel between individual Christians serving in a secular government's army, and evangelical churches, ministers, and media ministries". But, of course, I wasn't drawing a parallel between the activity of individual Christians and the activity of the church as a whole, at all. I was drawing a parallel between individual Christians and individual Christians. What aspect of this is so hard to grasp?
Asking the question I linked to establishes a baseline for honest discussion, and that's all. If someone thinks it's OK for evangelicals to cooperate with Roman Catholics in a military endeavor, then it's utterly inconsistent to argue that such cooperation in a political endeavor is forbidden, or somehow compromises sola fide. Indeed, all of the factors which are usually said to condemn the cooperative political endeavor to illegitimacy -- Christian/non-Christian cooperation, fallible method, unsure outcome, aiming at nonspiritual goods, aiming at noneternal goods -- are present in the cooperative military endeavor as well. Getting both sides to at least acknowledge this is a good start. At this point, the issue of how you go about each activity, and in particular how local churches are to be related to it, has not so much as been broached. And a good thing too, because if there can't be any honesty about the basic inconsistency of the position just sketched, then there sure isn't going to be any profitable discussion of the wider issues.
Phil may say, "Hey, I don't believe that! I don't believe individual Christians are sinning by cooperating with non-Christians in political endeavors!" And maybe he doesn't. But again, the post to which he is responding wasn't directed at him.
Second, in his response above Phil has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink, and then attributed it all to me. Again, the question was a simple one: what are individual Christians allowed to do, and with whom are they allowed to cooperate? But where Scott Klusendorf phrased the question simply in terms of what Christians are allowed to do (is it "not OK" to work on pro-life causes?), Phil insists on reading into this simple question an obligatory agenda for what "evangelical churches" and "ministers" should do. Indeed, Phil seems to think that if you dare to say that "it's OK" for Christians to cooperate with non-Christians in pro-life matters, then you must be endorsing "media ministries" and "parachurch politico-religious organizations". Beyond this blunder, if Phil recalls, I've explicitly and repeatedly said that I don't think there's a need to call these organizations "Christian" or "ministries" anyway.
"In other words, how much does the legitimacy of our support for the war against terrorism justify the use of evangelical resources in pursuit of that war?"
Notice the equivocation on "evangelical resources". What is meant here? What ministers of the gospel do in their local churches? Or, what individual Christians voluntarily decide to do? Or what? On one reading of "evangelical resources," Phil would be saying that any expending of any efforts of any evangelicals, in cooperation with non-Christians, is an unjustified use of "evangelical resources". Sometimes I fear that Phil actually believes this (see above), but he seems to distance himself from this extreme view at times. On another reading of "evangelical resources," it is only when gospel ministers or local churches or Bible study radio ministries devote their time to this, that resources are automatically being misdirected. Which is it?
Elsewhere, Phil writes:
"Jonathan Felt wants me to answer his every argument in favor of turning the evangelical movement into a political lobby. (No, I'm kidding. I know he's not consciously arguing in favor of that. But he seems blissfully unaware and unconcerned that that's what in fact is happening.)"
I'm not "blissfully unaware" of it. But I do ask a simple question: What's wrong with turning the evangelical movement into a political lobby?
Such a question may sound shocking, even scandalous. But the problem with Phil (and Steve Camp too, BTW) is that the phrase "political lobby" or "PAC" gets thrown around like it's some swear word that ends all debate by its very crudity. Since this presupposes the very value judgment that is in dispute, I fail to see how it furthers the argument. If "political lobbying" were all that evangelicals in America ever did, then perhaps we might have a problem on our hands. But Phil has scarcely said anything to make that proposition tenable. Now, a case might be made that "political lobbying" is one among many things evangelicals do in America, but how this is scandalous, I have no idea.
Finally, Phil goes on about my wordiness, and prefers that I only post "just one or two main points at a time". Someone inform me when Phil actually adheres to that standard, when critiquing the fads of the day in his own blog entries. In the meantime, I thought I took the time to boil down this whole dispute to two simple paragraphs from me, and then suggested serious consideration of five simple questions from someone else. You'll find them about halfway through this piece. I said there, in part:
"But second, I wonder what Phil would say about the following two claims of mine:... [two paragraphs deleted] If Phil would actually agree with me that Christians cooperating with non-Christians in the activity of political activism is not forbidden, and does not undermine the sola fide essential of the gospel, then I think that what appears to me to be our greatest difference, would in fact fade away."I don't think it would take a whole lot of effort to confront these specific claims directly. As I've said elsewhere, any legitimate cause can be pursued with idolatrous priorities, such that the primary mission of the church gets undermined. But that's not the issue (if it were, I'd be presenting a completely different set of arguments, asking the critics of ECB to support their sociological generalizations about allegedly idolatrous priorities with cold, hard facts). Rather, I want to know if Christian/non-Christian cooperative political endeavor is acknowledged as permissible behavior, in any form.