Beaver Cleaver Was Lost in His Trespasses and Sins

Trigger warning to self: you’ve engaged Carl Trueman critically before and it did not go well. So be careful, be very careful.

The reason for bringing up Dr. Trueman again, even if ever so gingerly, has to do with his recent evaluation of Rusty Reno’s new book about prospect for a Christian society. Trueman writes:

I simply am not convinced that change can be achieved on any significant scale. The causes of the modern malaise are complicated, and their solution must be equally elaborate. For example, as George Grant and David Schindler have shown, technology brings with it a different view of reality from that of traditional Christianity. This mindset is now deeply embedded in our world. The entertainment industry mediates much of what is taken for reality and grips the moral imagination of the masses. The globalized economy has transformed communities and community expectations in ways we have yet to fathom. To borrow that hackneyed but poetic phrase from Marx, all that is solid melts into air. Zygmunt Bauman’s argument, that we live in a time when even the most longstanding and reliable social structures are in permanent flux, seems to me compelling. It must be accounted for by any hope that depends upon the solidity of concepts or institutions from the past. How does one reform or recapture or rebuild that which has been robbed of solid existence?

I generally agree.

But where I push (not shove) back is with the idea that modernity alone has these problems. Ever since the fall, it seems to me, the possibilities of pursuing lives of holiness and passing on the faith have been hard. Just remember what Paul warned Timothy about the “last days”:

understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3:1-8)

Was Paul predicting a time when Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche would dominate understandings of human nature and the created order, or was he talking about life in the Roman Empire circa 60 AD? My understanding is that he was talking about life in the Mediterranean world then.

So why do Christians believe modernity is so much worse than any other time? Well, it sure seems that Roman Catholics have a certain nostalgia for the Christian society of medieval Europe, neo-Calvinists for the Christian society of the Kuyperian era of Dutch history, evangelicals in the U.S. for the First Pretty Good Awakening that of course led up to the Christian founding of the United States. Here Protestants want to recalculate critiques of modernity since Kuyper and George Whitefield both fall on the modern side of the divide between medieval and modern periods. In other words, Protestant critiques of modernity play into the hands of certain Roman Catholic apologetics (even if nostalgia for the flourishing of the Middle Ages seldom extends to the Crusades or the Inquisition).

But surely anyone with eyes and ears has to admit that we are living in worse times than 1950s American when Ward and June Cleaver reared Wally and the Beave. I have eyes and ears. I will concede that the 2010s are worse than the 1950s, though I did live through 1968 and that was not a good time. But on a scale of fallen humanity, are modern or contemporary times really worse than what Noah lived through, or Lot, or Jeremiah, or our Lord himself? Doesn’t the fall mean we always live in desperate times?

The point here is not that people who believe in original sin should be relativists when it comes to assessing the way humans live together or proposing ways that are better for a common life together and for the proclamation of the gospel. But I think it is a mistake to cultivate the notion that human flourishing is possible whether by putting in place the right policies or institutions, or by thinking about the past a certain way. I know Dr. Trueman knows this. But it sounds like he thinks we are living through one of the worst times in human existence. No matter how pleasant and reassuring Beaver Cleaver’s America was, it was not the new heavens and new earth. When sin abounds, it’s not a good time. The Cleavers were certainly flourishing as we now count such living, but they were also drowning in sin (and never in church). Shouldn’t that perspective inform the way we view the West post-Foucault?

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15 thoughts on “Beaver Cleaver Was Lost in His Trespasses and Sins

  1. My beloved 1950s: Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elvis, Doris Day, Percy Faith, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Ray Conniff. Sure fits my definition of a Christian America.

    No Christian living in Sri Lanka, North Korea, Libya or Pakistan would find Tim Keller’s Cultural Engagement and Redeeming the City projects to be of any use. Christians there have been living the Benedict Option before the Benedict Option was cool. The risk of being blown up merely for attending Easter service in Pakistan can put a real damper on Cultural Redemption. TGC bloggers who can’t understand why any Christian could vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils will probably not understand why Christians in Syria will gladly support Assad over ISIS – they’re both evil, right? Persecution and irrelevance is the warp and woof for millions of Christians worldwide – and Tim Keller acolytes are upset at being laughed at by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

    All of this effete crybaby Christianity seems to come from a small handful of would be Culture Makers who love their exotic coffees, indie bands, Gregorian Chants, C.S. Lewis, and all pining for a return to Ye Olde Benedictine Days when the Liturgy was Lived and not just read.

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  2. This from the boomers who shat all over the 50’s during the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and 90’s but now that they feel the onslaught of co-morbidity and death, want a re-do. The generation that never fails to indulge itself just one more time, bellies up to the bar yet again. See the Clintons and Trump, but I’m the communist. Whatevs.

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  3. Didn’t really read whole link, but did read: One thing on which Rusty and I agree, however, is the need to keep fighting against the encroaching darkness. Whether or not we will go down doing so remains to be seen.

    DG Hart says it sounds like he thinks we are living through one of the worst times in human existence.

    recap? Source: Jesus
    -mystery of lawlessness is at work
    -lawlessness increased = most people’s love grow cold
    -Mos: people: in 60 Ad= maybe 300M; People today = 7B
    -evil men proceed from bad to worse
    -seared consciences- seared-er and seared-er
    -bowls filling with wrath of God
    -still though, light rising in darkness, darkness passing away, true Light shining

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  4. Are the 2010s worse than the 1950s? Depends on whom you ask. Blacks have seen much improvement in their plight as citizens in the great “melting pot” and yet they still struggle. On the other hand, we not only have WMDs that could destroy the world, we have an ominous environmental future because our way of life is catching up to us.

    Women likewise have more latitude in society though they have hurt many by making the right to an abortion part and parcel of being a feminist. And those from the LGBT community are emerging from marginalization. But in addition to still being in a cold war with Russia, we are now battling a global war against some Islamic extremists and we are no longer as safe as we once thought.

    And certainly the Bretton-Woods System meant far more egalitarian grown during the 1950s than today’s neoliberal capitalism, we seen spurts of the public’s used of democratic processes such as in 1968 and during other times in the 1960s. Plus, if you are a Phillies fan, which I use to be, 1980 and 2008 were far better than 1950 and 1964. Of course, there are no more hitters who could hit the ball like Richie Allen–saw him hit the ball out of Connie Mack and the ball went over 500 feet. But that was the 1960s

    One thing is the same is America’s hegemony–though that is starting to show signs of wear and tear and competition.

    Yes, there are temporal issues and there are eternal issues. And though the eternal issues outweigh the temporal issues, temporal issues are not lightweights. In fact, how we respond to temporal issues seems to sometimes affect some personal eternal issues. As for Trueman, he as, for all practical purposes, reduced the analyses of society and culture to society’s current sexual mores. Such is sad because of his abilities and how they are needed to confront societal and corporate sins in addition to battling the sexual revolution and its aftermath. In fact, how he is battling society’s changing sexual values is self-sabotaging. And, again, it is sad because he is an important Christian teacher and because of his abilities.

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  5. Always cute and sweet to see Freud and Marx quoted as final authorities in biographies and histories until that day they… just… weren’t any more…

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  6. Some old “castastrophe” guy who keeps saying it’s always been bad and mentioning Foucaalt and talking about the second coming as our only hope—“Trigger warning to self: you’ve engaged Carl Trueman critically before and it did not go well. So be careful, be very careful.”

    Carl Truman– Catastrophization…..there are groups with a vested interest in expanding the definition of catastrophe and in exaggerating its impact. Such groups also have a defensive strategy of demonizing (the Roman Catholic church) ,the impugning of motives… In short, such groups catastrophize a particular problem and then offer themselves and their agenda — often an increasingly radical one — as the only solution

    http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/postcards-from-palookaville/its-the-economy?utm_source=Mortification+of+Spin&utm_campaign=fee14cebee-Postcards+From+Palookaville&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8878352885-fee14cebee-119252649#.V6IVvbgrKM9

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  7. Why rely on Christ’s death as satisfaction of law when the pope still sells or gives away indulgences?

    In chapter five, Vidu evaluates the contribution of postmodern critiques of law (à la Foucault, Derrida and Levinas) to the atonement theologies of René Girard, John Milbank .. .law is regarded in late modernity as inherently violent. Thus, “Since any legal system is necessarily violent, God cannot be thought as being complicit with law. The fundamental drive of postmodern atonement theories is that of critiquing the mechanism of law. Atonement is now understood as the very unmasking of violence of all kinds” (p.233)

    http://www.reformation21.org/articles/atonement-law-and-justice.php#sthash.QH93FajM.dpuf

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  8. Why should Mr Cleaver think about Jesus coming or being taken away to destruction when instead Mr Cleaver can go to to work and have something to show for his time?

    Thus Karl Marx and John Wesley are not the only ones who make an idol of work. 1. God calls believers to work—even to boring work. 2. Such work can be done in the Lord’s name and with a good attitude. 3. Such work advances God’s glory. 4. Such work is a holy sacrifice. 5. God himself will accept work as an offering. 6. Christians should follow the leadership of their bosses, even unworthy ones. 7. Christ enables believers to bear the hardships of the workplace. 8. Jesus himself assigns particular work to each worker. 9. Successful performance of work brings glory to God the Creator, don’t think about Redemption. 10. Daily work is a means God uses to sanctify believers. 11. Jesus accompanies workers in their work. 12. Any work is noble. 13. . Work hastens the coming of the Lord, if that kind of thing is your thing. 12. Work comes to us not as a curse, but as part of God’s grace. 13. Work bring believers closer to heaven. Work allows people to experience heaven on earth.
    http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/socialism-sanders-and-christian-voters-a-plea-for-realism/

    “When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”
    ― John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren

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  9. Mark Mc,
    Should compare the quote from Keynes with the following quote from Martin Luther King to note the similarities:


    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

    Yes, there are some differences in what they say as well as differences in the context of their messages, but there is at least one common thread that connects their ideas.

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