b, sd on Evangelicalism’s Car Salesman Psyche (from Rod Dreher)

Or, why the Benedict Option makes no sense to believers addicted to outreach and tranformationalism:

Post-WW2, a group of Christians with theological sympathies with the fundamentalists thought they needed to be open to society and be willing work with anyone who will help them save souls. Additionally, they believed that redirecting culture meant influencing culture makers. Rather than eschew rock music as being worldly (as the fundamentalists did), they wanted to save the rock star so he could make Christian rock songs and lead people to Christ (think the conversion of Bob Dylan). This meant taking on the trappings of mainstream society and baptizing them in order to evangelize. At some level it worked. It moved the Overton window as it were. If Billy Graham was meeting with presidents, then evangelicalism by definition is mainstream. The Jesus Music, the amphitheater style worship centers, the faith and culture types name dropping Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Camus (i.e., Francis Schaeffer) were taking back the stage while the mainline was declining. It was the year of the evangelical and God wasn’t dead any more.

And now after 50 yrs of progress, it all seems to be slipping away. Evangelicalism is fractured. People within aren’t so sure being relevant is…well…all that relevant. There are major internal tensions over the role of women in ministry, race relations, biblical inerrancy, the pope of evangelicalism (Billy Graham) is dead and two of its three theological architects have died (Henry and Stott). More concerning, there is no one on the horizon to replace these guys – people who command the respect of the larger evangelical world. And now one of the most important books on religion is telling us to turn inward and do a better job of discipleship. But that’s what we are doing with the podcasts, publishing houses, bible studies, retreats, Sunday Schools, small groups (lots and lots of small groups), etc… They are thinking, “to drop our outward focus is to lose the thing that makes us what we are.” It’s like telling a Catholic not to pray the rosary or an Eastern Orthodox not to fast so much. Spreading the word, telling others the good news is their third sacrament so to speak.

What the evangelical leaders miss though is that the culture has shifted. But even though evangelicalism is more outward focused than fundamentalism, in its own way it is just as insular. When you see the world through CT eyes, it is hard to really understand what orthodox believers are up against. I think they are starting to see. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone coming up with good solutions for how to implement the BenOp for those of us who don’t have the option of moving to a planned community.

Which may explain why Tim Keller is really an evangelical (not a Presbyterian) and why hunkering down in the ministry of the PCA is just too withdrawn.

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12 thoughts on “b, sd on Evangelicalism’s Car Salesman Psyche (from Rod Dreher)

  1. Tell us oh all knowing wise ones at oldlife; just how has the culture shifted and what are “we” up against? You might want to define who the “we” are too.

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  2. I thought David Wells already answered that question for you guys. Is it really all that important to know the cultural shifts in order the proclaim the Gospel more effectively?

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  3. Maybe I’m still so 1990’s; or, maybe what you guys call Hyper-Calvinism has influenced my theological beliefs so negatively that I cannot see the forest through the trees. Yet again, maybe it takes a Reformed magisterium to really get the cultural shifts and the lesser lights should leave the cultural zeitgeist issues to the aristocratic elitists. I’m still of the persuasion that the power is in the Gospel and that is a way more important issue than being able to discern cultural shifts and signs of the times. What is the biblical Gospel and who is bearing an accurate witness to it?

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  4. DGH, I have about as much sympathy and compassion for college professors who get persecuted for “being right” about how to produce more responsible kids and responsible families (read: through their covenant faithfulness) then conservative college professors have for those unfortunates who have to struggle and scrap through their lives due to severe misfortunes that have happened to them. They never learned the value of taking responsibility for their own lives.

    I think there is much more of the latter than the former in this fallen world we live in. Maybe it would be a good thing for the fortunate ones to associate more with the “lowly” as Jesus and Paul command in the Gospels and epistles of the New Covenant. Like I said, getting the Gospel right will probably produce more profound “social mobility” than any sociological study could unveil; maybe not too. Those studies always seem to be so darn biased in their conclusions and recommendations. Studies from the other ideological side often reveal completely different set of conclusions and recommendations. Besides, I have come to believe that there is really only one main cultural purpose and that is to glorify the work of the Son and bring the redemptive plan of Christ to fruition. The ones greatly admired as cultural icons may turn out to be not as great as everyone wants to make them out to be.

    I’m still unclear as to what exactly b, sd is really crying and griping about. Was the BO author addressing his concerns in his response? Rod Dreher opines about his main concern; as far as I can tell anyways:

    ” What I genuinely struggle to understand is why so many Evangelicals have an “either/or” concept with the Benedict Option. It’s both/and! All Christians — not just Evangelicals — have a duty to spread the Gospel. But spreading the Gospel is not simply a matter of speaking words. It is possible to speak the words, and agree to the words, but not be changed inside — that is to say, converted. Maybe this is a difference between how Catholics and Orthodox see things, and Evangelicals. For us, “conversion” is a lifelong experience, a process that begins with baptism, and never ends. I don’t believe that Evangelicals actually believe that all you have to do is say the sinner’s prayer, and you can do whatever you want after that. Still, I wonder if the emphasis on getting people to the point of praying the sinner’s prayer is such that discipleship — real discipleship — has been too de-emphasized.”

    John Y: Sounds like a long term plan to get rid of all the riff-raff who remain so resilient against any kind of false Gospels. You can always garner the help of the cultural preservers to keep them shut up in their cultural ghetto’s. There is nothing new under the sun.

    I’m also not sure of the 1972 contrast to that of Trump. Did you mean 1952? A person like Nixon is more conducive to bourgeois values than Trump?

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  5. JohnnY, whatever your sympathies, the point is about whether the U.S. has changed. I’m not sure anything would persuade you since your mind seems made up (not sure why).

    Here’s one more:

    Since 1970, out-of-wedlock birth rates have soared. In 1965, 24 percent of black infants and 3.1 percent of white infants were born to single mothers. By 1990 the rates had risen to 64 percent for black infants, 18 percent for whites. Every year about one million more children are born into fatherless families. If we have learned any policy lesson well over the past 25 years, it is that for children living in single-parent homes, the odds of living in poverty are great.

    I meant 1972. Trump is not Nixon.

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  6. I’m trying to connect the dots in regards to the “shifts in the culture” and their significance in the minds of Rod Dreher, Aaron Renn and the confessional Reformed. Dreher seems to be saying that Christians need to take a step back from seeking to change the culture and start developing a deeper spirituality with others in closer community with each other. In other words, to leave the culture and build alternative cultures. There seems to be a problem in how that exactly will work itself out and if it is feasible.

    Renn is warning about an upcoming inevitable conflict and persecution with the prevailing cultural elitists who will seek to drive Christians out of the public square and that the contemporary church is in no way prepared to handle the conflict and persecution. He predicts many will leave the faith and assimilate into the changing culture without a fight. He wants to fight for a more masculine Christianity that will not back down from the fight with those who are in positions to shape the culture.

    So what is it that the confessional Reformed want everyone to see about this and what is their solution to the prevailing cultural shifts? Do you lean more Ben-Op, more Renn or a combination of both?

    What exactly is trying to be accomplished in regards to all this?

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  7. JohnnY, no solution until Christ returns. What don’t you understand about the fall?

    Renn seems to think that working for church life is better than transforming (or assimilating to) the culture.

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  8. DGH- no solution until Christ returns. What don’t you understand about the fall?

    John Y: Help me understand why you are so concerned about the shifts taking place in the culture then. Do you expect your cultural battles with moral decay will make a difference? Are you speaking more from a platform of a concerned citizen rather than an elder of a church?

    Would you have concerns with the following quote? This guy was condemned as an antinomian heretic by some Reformed types during his day and was basically deemed insignificant by the Reformed culture shapers back then. I won’t say who it is.

    “The apostles were strangers to the modern advantages of Christianity; they neither taught nor found them ;—they left the care of kingdoms and states in the hands of the powers ordained of God for that purpose :—they preached remission of sins to all sorts of men, so considered all men as sinners: but they concerned themselves as little about the voice of great men, as about those of slaves ;—they formed no party to make head against the religious establishment of any country : they only declared, as they still do by their writings, that all not hearkening to them, shall perish in the next world.

    The effect of this was, some moved with the fear of evils not seen as yet, gave ear to them, and followed them ; others laughed at them ; and many, being provoked, persecuted them. The apostles were no way disconcerted upon this ; they knew it was the genuine effect of their testimony, and would be so, to the end of the world. We never find them murmuring at the prevalence of infidelity, or the small success the gospel had in the world. It gave them no disturbance, to see unbelievers neglecting the Lord’s supper, the Lord’s day, and the rest of the Christian institutions ; nor did they call upon any such to observe them. These institutions were then sacred to the honour of Christ, and not, as now, to that of the Christian teachers. So the apostles desired to see none pretending regard to these institutions, but such as depended on Christ for the remission of sins, and the hope of eternal life. It gave them no concern what sort of men wore the professor’s garb. They were so overjoyed with the company of the little societies, which they gathered in different places, chiefly out of the dregs of mankind, that they neither sought after men of quality, priests, or philosophers, nor regretted the want of their company ; and I may add, neither did they court the favour of the mob : and though it was with difficulty they could escape from one city to another with whole bones; yet we find them rejoicing in the success of the gospel as universal, 2 Cor. ii. 14. “Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph, in Christ, and maketh manifest the favour of his knowledge by us in every place.

    They openly evinced the falsehood of the religion established in every country where they came ; yet they had neither the will nor the power to establish any other in its stead. All religions, except theirs, were political ; all political religions except the Jewish, were human contrivances for the temporal benefit of particular states and kingdoms, and had no other object in view but worldly happiness. The apostles, in propagating their religion, had no other object in view but happiness on the other side of death to men of all nations.”

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  9. btw, I’m not so sure Renn is totally convinced that he should not put up some kind of fight against the powers that be in the culture that would seek to shut him up and make life more difficult for him. Are you sure that all he wants to do is work for a better church life? Paul had no fear of preaching the Gospel to those whom he knew would probably seek to do him bodily harm whether that be in the church or the culture. He caused a riot in Ephesus due to his challenging the false religion of the major players in that town who were hoarding all the money from everyone else.

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  10. “The nation-states have always appreciated the moralism of the churches to produce for them “good citizens”, but those nation-states have nothing to gain from the good news of grace. The rulers are happy when we repress ourselves in methodist fear of losing our salvation. The NSA and Homeland Security are glad for us to police ourselves. But what do those institutions which operate by the ABCs of this age have to gain from our teaching grace, and by our living as though we believed in grace?”

    William Blake

    The Moral Virtues in Great Fear
    Formed the Cross & Nails & Spear
    And the Accuser Standing By
    Cried out Crucify Crucify

    If Moral Virtue was Christianity
    Christ’s Pretensions were all Vanity

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  11. JohnnY: “Do you expect your cultural battles with moral decay will make a difference? Are you speaking more from a platform of a concerned citizen rather than an elder of a church?”

    My cultural battles? More people to watch The Wire, appreciate Garry Shandling, or root for the Phillies?

    Healthy churches need healthy families and families that are embattled are not as healthy as those that find a measure of reinforcement from the surrounding culture. Don’t you think it’s better for drivers to stop at stop signs? Isn’t peace better than war? Or do you think that living in Hobbes’ state of nature is no different from the United States in the 1840s. Just because we admit depravity doesn’t mean we need to encourage it.

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