Tribalism Comes Naturally

Damon Linker explains why Marx and Plato were wrong:

Politics in all times and places involves a bounded community defining itself, and its citizens ruling themselves, in contradistinction to other bounded communities. The community can be a village, tribe, or city-state; a nation-state; or an empire. Certain forms of government are better suited to certain sizes than others. (A small community can work as a pure democracy, for example, but a vast empire never could.) But regardless of the community’s size, it always has limits (a border), and it always draws a distinction between those who are permitted to join the community and those who are not; between who is and who is not a citizen; and between who does and who does not get to enjoy the privileges that come with citizenship, including a say in making such determinations in the future. This may in fact be the most elemental political act of all, the basis of everything else the political community does. To declare that this act is prima facie illegitimate is to declare a foundational political act to be illegitimate. It is to treat politics itself as in some sense morally compromised. . . .

But then again, neither is it possible to justify in universal-rational terms the right to private property or, really, any form of inherited (unearned) wealth or privilege. The more you think about it, politics (very much including liberal politics) is an activity shot through with norms, practices, and beliefs that can be rather easily exposed as “fictions” once subjected to universal-rational scrutiny.

That’s why philosophers as otherwise so profoundly different as Plato and Karl Marx have concluded that the rule of reason and justice demands communism (the abolition of private property). Indeed, Plato went even further than Marx, to suggest that in a perfectly rational and just political system, property communism would need to be combined with communism of families, with children taken from their parents at birth and raised by the community as a whole. After all, isn’t deference to a mother’s love for her own child based on the fiction that she is always automatically best suited by nature to raise him or her?

The most that might be said for our neoliberal almost-open-border advocates is that they think Plato should have gone even farther in subjecting politics to universal-rational scrutiny and advocated a completely communist state that is also boundless in extent, encompassing all people everywhere, without distinction.

In other words, Plato should have advocated the universal, homogenous state — which is precisely what many on the center-left seem to not-so-secretly believe morality demands.

That such a state is neither possible nor desirable (recall what I said about the largest political communities and their incompatibility with democracy) should be obvious. But then what do our universalist liberals hope to accomplish, not by raising perfectly reasonable objections to specific immigration restrictions, but by denying the legitimacy of having any immigration restrictions at all? There are many, many intellectually coherent answers to the two key questions of immigration policy (Who can come here? And how many of them?) — but many on the left seem to think there is only one legitimate answer to each question (Everyone. And all of them). This is ludicrous.

Linker could have added evangelicals and Roman Catholics who think that the parable of the Good Samaritan should inform how American Christians respond to outsiders:

So, as governments oversee matters of security, we will care for the hurting, calling Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation, or other nonprofits by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English-language classes, and schooling for children.

We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims. We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting. This is what Jesus did; he came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair.

Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing his love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like him, emulating his compassionate care for the most vulnerable.

Granted, aid to refugees is not immigration policy. Nor is Emma Lazarus‘ poem.

But borders matter and Christians who want to assist those who have fled their homelands do so not as residents of planet earth but as citizens whose nations make laws that govern who comes and goes. Just try traveling somewhere outside the U.S. to minister the gospel or provide diaconal assistance without a passport.

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First Marx, Now Keller?

The word “manifesto” strikes me as an odd one to attach to the idea of evangelism and missions, but the Missional Manifesto has now entered the parlance of our times, alphabetized several lines below the Communist Manifesto. I myself don’t have the energy to devote to the latest of Keller-sponsored cooperative endeavors – I have a hard enough time keeping up with all the doings of the Gospel Coalition. But I do wonder if our brothers and sisters in the PCA take notice of the liabilities of Keller’s efforts as much as they applaud his obvious assets. (Tim Bayly, David Bayly, Hello?)

Helping out on this score is Wes White who noted the publication of the Missional Manifesto and gave his readers the chance to discuss its merits. One comment by Bill Schweitzer was particularly astute:

Another worrying aspect of the missional movement would be the holistic nature of the gospel. This involves a rejection of the “modernist” concept of individual salvation of sinners in favour of a comprehensive gospel of cultural transformation. This is articulated in the manifesto in point 8:

8. Duality: We believe the mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as ”seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The idea is that the verbal proclamation alone is only half the picture. But here the movement verges a little too close to an old enemy of the verbal proclamation, the Social Gospel. Listen as the editor of an essay collection on “The Social Gospel Today” summarizes the thought of the “Father of the Social Gospel,” Walter Rauschenbusch:

…he argued that a gospel of individual salvation is a half gospel, for the gospel had social dimensions as well. He pointed out that Jesus continued the call of the prophets for justice and mercy by proclaiming the coming kingdom of God in which unconditional love would eventually triumph over all obstacles in society. Rauschenbusch called on the church to respond to Jesus’ call for bringing in the kingdom of God and to struggle for its realization.” (Christopher H. Evans, The Social Gospel Today xiii)

As far as I know, Rauschenbusch never called for an end to the verbal proclamation of the gospel for individual salvation. Rather, he simply sought to restore what he thought to be the “other half” of the gospel, which is social action (in terms of justice and mercy.) Yet we know how that story ended. Dual mandates do not typically remain equal partners for long, and the call to include social action soon enough became a practical exclusion of the verbal proclamation. Perhaps, therefore, we should think more carefully before we define the Great Commission as a dual mandate involving both word and deed. In conclusion, I can only agree with Frank: however much other things might be lawful or even commanded by Scripture, the Great Commission itself is a single mandate for making disciples through the ordinary means of grace. (Mat 28:18-19)

Chances are that little will come of this manifesto. Does anyone actually remember the Evangelical Manifesto? But I’m glad to know some folks in the PCA are alert.