Another Two Cheers for Secularization

What a great achievement the United States is and the entire process of breaking up Christendom into nation-states with their own sovereignty, based not on Christian teaching but on the give and take of practical politics. Gary Welton sees secularization as a problem but his reaction to the Paris killings actually shows the value of secularization:

I understand that much of the world sees the West as Christian, yet it can be argued that Christianity is on the decline in the West, while it is expanding in Africa and China. It is a stereotype to think that the West portrays the essence of Christianity. In fact, the West provides for a rather free expression of faith. Granted, Christianity has been the dominant faith in the West, but I am not willing, as a Christian, to take the blame for Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo is a reflection of the secular West, not particularly a reflection of Christianity. I am not Charlie Hebdo.

If Europe and its off shoots around the world were still in the mold of Christendom, Mr. Welton would not have the option of distinguishing between his temporal and spiritual identities. Again, the Crusaders did not fight as Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, or Irish. They fought as Christians. But by distinguishing Christian identity from a political one defined by a nation (as problematic as that may be), Mr. Welton and I have the advantage of dissenting from our countries’ policies and distinguishing Christianity from politics. But if we get rid of secularization, then Christians need to fight in the name of Christ. And that doesn’t make any biblical sense. Just ask Peter, the first pope.

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27 thoughts on “Another Two Cheers for Secularization

  1. Michael Wittmer’s Worldly Saints (Zondervan, 2015) begs the question. p 156—“We cannot separate our human and Christian lives without producing a sacred-secular split.

    So what?

    p 157—“If churches cannot organize against racism or abortion without violating the foundational principle of the two kingdoms, that is a problem..

    Because Abraham Kuyper and Al Wolters say so?

    The cultures of this age are temporary—those cultures will come to an abrupt end, when Christ returns to this world and the lasting age to come begins. Not everything in creation will be redeemed, because Christ’s enemies will perish.

    Romans 8: 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.

    ..

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  2. I don’t think of a religiously free society as secularization. I think of it as a society where all citizens share society as equals. Of course, we haven’t reached point yet and it isn’t just for religious reasons that we haven’t.

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  3. Mark,
    DId you ever consider that when people, including churches, organize against racism, abortion, and such, they are doing out of love for the victims? And those who are keen on the Gospel can also do it out of love for the victimizers because one can preach repentance and the Gospel to them. And perhaps this is a missing ingredient in the practice of disengagement from public life?

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  4. Is refusing to kill the bad guys “disengagement”? How do we get good enough not to be the bad guys?

    If not everything in culture can be redeemed, are there some things that can be turned Christian?
    Like making killing a honorable vocation? And is it enough to be an average plumber and pay the bills, or is our duty to redeem that “specialization of labor” so as to turn it into an art form?

    Work is the opium of Marxists.

    not Piper who forbids retiring but Pieper on Leisure–“The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this— man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble— he refused to have anything as a gift.”

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  5. But if we get rid of secularization, then Christians need to fight in the name of Christ. And that doesn’t make any biblical sense. Just ask Peter, the first pope.

    That’s one way of interpreting Jn 18:10

    Then Simon Peter, whaving a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant3 and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

    however, it might not be the right interpretation. [One of the problems of every man being his own pope.] The passage–in context–could merely be Jesus saying that this is His Father’s will.

    To sniff at “just war” may be the correct Jesusian theology–or it might not. Curt Day is quite reasonable in asking

    DId you ever consider that when people, including churches, organize against racism, abortion, and such, they are doing out of love for the victims? And those who are keen on the Gospel can also do it out of love for the victimizers because one can preach repentance and the Gospel to them. And perhaps this is a missing ingredient in the practice of disengagement from public life?

    For the Bible does not read “And if a man rape your wife, give him your daughter as well.” That’s the Gospel According to St. Bastard. Go ahead, leave your ox in the pit because of your religion. Idiot.

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  6. CD: DId you ever consider that when people, including churches, organize against racism, abortion, and such, they are doing out of love for the victims? And those who are keen on the Gospel can also do it out of love for the victimizers because one can preach repentance and the Gospel to them. And perhaps this is a missing ingredient in the practice of disengagement from public life?

    Not quite. The key point here is found in the revealing slip: “people including churches.” Because of course, the church isn’t a person, but an organization.

    When Christian people organize against racism, abortion, and such, they may freely do so out of love for their victims. And their organizations are now political organizations, as in “working to better the polis.”

    Those organizations are not the church. Different mission, different leadership, different calling.

    So yeah, Christians can be culturally engaged. They just do so under the jurisdiction of their organizations, not under that of the church.

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  7. “their victims” was unfortunate! “The victims” was intended. And as you pointed out, “the victimizers” as well.

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  8. Did you ever consider that when people, including churches, organize against racism, abortion, and such, they are doing out of love for the victims? And those who are keen on the Gospel can also do it out of love for the victimizers because one can preach repentance and the Gospel to them. And perhaps this is a missing ingredient in the practice of disengagement from public life?

    Curt, sure, but have you considered that there are ways love works other than through political organization? Have you considered that what you might call “disengagement from public life” is some seeing a better way in the mundane and ordinary life, that attending to those ordained to one’s immediate space makes more sense than trying to save far flung strangers? It’s like Cheryl Barnes said, “How can people be so heartless, especially people who care about strangers, evil, and social injustice? Do you only care about the bleeding crowd? How about a needing friend?”

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  9. Zrim,
    You ask as if I know no other love than political love. To prove you wrong, I did not contact my congresspeople or political parties in determining how the wife and I would celebrate Valentine’s Day.

    Realize that not all political actions and speech include a political organizations. And also realize that when you share society with unbelievers, not all change has to be religious. What King realized is that real charity involves more than just giving to beggars. It also requires that one reflects on the structures that cause so many to be beggars and look to change them. But that is only a part of life, not all of it.

    It is public disengagement not to step out of your own world to help others with their worlds. Otherwise, the only help you are offering is for those who are sharing your space. Though such help is important, it is not the whole picture.

    I learned my perspective from my best friend, a nominal Roman Church person. Her circle of compassion is still deep and wide. And it would be a shame if us Reformed people logically rule out embracing such a circle of compassion. It would be a shame because those of us who theologically have a better idea of what God’s love in Christ is, are not the ones who best display that love to the world.

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  10. Curt, I’m sure you do, but with all the social justice stuff one really can’t tell. It’s getting in the way of your humanity.

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  11. Curt, the point is that social justice types seem more aware of so-called victims (and their victimizers) than the actual human beings around them. I’m not sure how much more detail you need.

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  12. Zrim,
    First, that is not always true. Second, an more importantly, are those who are either apathetic to or rejecting of social justice aware of the humanity of either the victims or the victimizers?

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  13. Curt, yes. In fact what you call apathy might be skepticism about how their humanity being used to score social and political points.

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  14. Zrim,
    So in other words, people like you are aware of the humanity of the people around them but social justice people are not and possibly because they are using them? Please tell me what victim group do you see who are not really victims but are being used?

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  15. Zrim,
    Are you saying that those who have been aborted are not victims? Or are you saying that their plight has only been used, and not legitimately advocated for, by pro-life activists?

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  16. Curt, I’m saying it’s complicated and that while some may have good intentions and even do the quiet and unheralded work of actually helping all involved (both in and ex utero), still many others seem to use the humanity of all involved as ways to score points in the moralizing of politics and the politicizing of faith (i.e. culture war and social gospel).

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  17. Zrim,
    Not sure what you mean by moralizing the politics. For it seems that with the world the way it is, we need more moral politics. In addition, it seems that your starting point is that the Social Gospel has no merits. As for the culture war that our neocalvinist brethren so eagerly engage in, don’t you think that it is possible for the Church to speak to society and culture without committing the errors of the neoCalvinists?

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  18. Curt, we’ve been here. I recall being explicit about a categorical denial of social gospel, and I think you already know the answer to that question. About the only error you’ve ever conceded of neo-Calvinism (and commended about 2k’s corrective) is its privileging of Christians in wider society–you haven’t seen the connection between that and social gospel, and you want politics to be even more moralized. That’s the heart of culture war, which you seem to think is just ducky so long as long as Christians join with non-Christians in waging it. Not only will that never happen because religious warriors see religion as key to it, 2k will always be opposed to culture war. It’s a helluva pickle you’re in.

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  19. Zrim,
    And that is the problem, if you remember the Martin Luther King Jr. quote:


    The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just

    Now, let’s replace the word Western with a blank and see what we have:


    The _______ arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just

    And then let’s see if the statement is true if we fill in the blank with Reformed Theologians and then with Social Gospel people.

    Yes, I know your answer to the question. But when I see the Biblical support for the Social Gospel (for my definition of social gospel, see http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/2013/05/is-social-gospel-biblical-enough-for.html ), I am inclined to ask how is it that you can’t admit to the existence of any truth in the Social Gospel. Because to categorically deny it is to say you have nothing to learn from it.

    I know the answer to the question. The answer is that us Reformed Theologians–yes, I included myself–are inclined to think in systems. And because we think in terms of systems, we are inclined to think in all-or-nothing terms. In addition to that, we would like to think that the system(s) we’ve embraced answer all questions that can be answered. And so not only do we think in all-or-nothing terms, we think with our loyalties.

    So while you fault me for not criticizing NeoCalvinism’s guilt by association with or participation in the Social Gospel, your categorical denial that any good can come from the Social Gospel makes your thinking circular.

    Finally, politics can’t escape morals. What does Romans 13 imply about those whom God ordained over us? If those who are in authority are charged with punishing the evildoer and protecting the innocent, then how can all politics escape being moral?

    See, not all who see morals as being a part of politics are rushing into the culture war. Those who seek a privileged position for their group are so rushing–rushing is not the word I would use for the NeoCalvinists here. Everybody has a basic set of morals which they demand their gov’t to keep. At least for some 2Kers, the same-sex marriage issue showed that those who opposed its legalization because of natural law were involved in a culture war. They were so involved because they were using the Christian’s view of natural law. Many nonChristians used a different view of natural law to defend the legalization of same-sex marriage.

    People like me are not into a culture war, we are into is a cultural coexistence. But that coexistence does not ignore injustice. It seems to me that 2kers want the Church to withdraw at the sight of injustice. That is a worse pickle than you think I am in. In addition, I’ve seen plenty instances where people from multiple religions join hands and work for common justice goals. And the biggest threat we face is not from those who are hyper-zealously religious. Rather, our biggest threat is from the apathy we see in people who are materialistically too comfortable to care not knowing that their apathy is driving them toward a cliff.

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