Christians Assimilated (but compromised?)

A terrific book review, now a little long in the tooth, of two books on Europe and its immigrant populations is worth pondering for a variety of reasons but it got me thinking specifically about the assimilation of Christians in a secular republic like the United States. Here is a striking passage:

PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.

What was I thinking:

1) it is hard to assimilate people of diverse cultural backgrounds and religious heritages into a peaceful, moderately ordered, and free society. Americans often bemoan the size of the government, the disregard for morality, or the inconsistency of cultural expectations (myself included). But keeping very different groups relatively calm and peaceful is no mean feat (especially if you believe what Reformed Protestants do about human nature).

2) Where does the U.S. fall in this model? In some ways it looks more like its cultural grandparent, Britain. But we also have conformist expectations that resemble the French (which likely owes to our adopting a republican form of government under the influence of Enlightenment political thought).

3) If Christians who complain about the decadence of the U.S. only kvetch and do not riot, is their desire to follow God weaker than Muslims?

4) If Christians want non-Christians to fit in with American norms that stem from Christian convictions, are they doing the same thing as the French even though for religious as opposed to enlightened reasons?

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Pia Desideria

That title, the famous expression of Jacob Spener, the so-called father of pietism, came to mind when I read Richard Doster’s article at ByFaith, “Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved.” (Thanks to Neoz for the link.) The reminder owes not so much to the contents of Spener’s book (though the connections between pietism and neo-Calvinism are striking — Christianity must make a visible difference on daily life). Instead, title itself, which has something to do with pious desires (or wishful thinking), is indicative of the tone of Doster’s article:

Christians, when rightly informed and motivated, change the character of political debate. They bring the moral standards of God’s kingdom into the civic realm and thereby become agents of His common grace — of His provision for those who believe as well as those who don’t.

“Forgiveness of sins is the central message of the gospel,” says theologian Wayne Grudem. “That’s the only way people’s hearts are truly transformed.” But that’s the opening of a fuller gospel story. The whole gospel, Grudem believes, includes a transformation. God’s grace changes people, and as a result they change everything around them. Families are renewed. Schools are rejuvenated. Businesses reorient their mission and purpose. What’s more, the gospel of Christ, because it changes hearts, changes the course of civil government.

When and where has this ever happened?

I don’t like to pull the expertise card, but I do know a little bit about the history of Protestantism and the record is never as stellar as the whoopers claim. Some good things happened here and there. But some good things happen in my home from time to time. Does that mean that Christianity has the wonder-working powers that Doster claims? And what about the times after the good times? What about America after Witherspoon, England after Wilberforce, Scotland after Chalmers, the Netherlands after Kuyper (not to mention Ephesus after Paul)?

At some point, dreamy accounts like this are going to need to show their homework. Until then, critics of the transformationalists will counter with articles like, “Knowledge: Why Christians Must be Informed.”