Future of Evangelicalism
The Dead Are Not Raised by Politics
Secondly, one of the problems we've had in this town is that there have been so many wonderful essays and books written about the life and career of William Wilberforce that many young Christian activists come to Washington to be the next Wilberforce. One has to remind them that Wilberforce took twenty to thirty years to accomplish what he did.
He was not aware of how important he was. He did not know that years later we'd be making movies about him. He was simply faithful in his calling. It's really important for people who come with high ideals to come to town and be faithful in their work. Too much stirring up of fervor around Wilberforcian ideals can lead to a great deal of disappointment. What we need to recover is a Reformed view of calling that says everybody should be faithful in his or her area. So if you're coming to town to work with International Justice Mission, they might need an FBI agent to investigate crimes on the ground, international lawyers to work with international laws related to trafficking, and writers to tell the stories of the victims of trafficking. These important ministries of justice need people with all kinds of gifts and skills, so what is urgent and important is to find where those gifts can best be used.
When I first came to town, Ronald Reagan was President. Many people came to town with the motto, "Ready, Fire, Aim." They really didn't have a working public philosophy undergirding their own personal faith. This again goes back to my own view about the need for an Augustinian sensibility, which is a real desire to be faithful and serious, and yet also to know when to pull back and realize that God is sovereign, His Providence is at work, and we're just instruments to do what we're called to do.
I was in meetings during the Reagan years with Christian Reconstructionists and theonomists who came to Washington and said, "We're going to take over America." Some of our friends and colleagues on the Left think that this is going on now. Actually, it's not going on now, but it was going on in the Reagan years. I attended those meetings, and they would have been frightening if they had possessed any power. They never had power; they never had anybody's ear. So the Randall Balmers of the world can worry all they want, but these people never controlled anything. They did talk that way, however, and they ended up leaving because they had an overinflated view of what the political could do.
So people need to come ready and prepared, but also have a Christian cast of mind that realizes that we are all called to be faithful in working for justice, in doing the best we can, but also in having an eschatological horizon ahead of us, realizing that it's not all in our hands.
One of the tricks of the trade these days is saying, like Jim Wallis, "I'm not conservative or liberal. I'm biblical." Or, "I'm neither right nor left. I'm Christian." That's not really helpful. People ought to know that faith transcends politics and political allegiances, but you really do have to make choices between relative goods and lesser evils. Party platforms matter, and you will want to align yourself with certain policy goals. So one has to get over the embarrassment of saying, "Yes, in light of my views on marriage and life, I am a conservative," or "because of my views about war and peace, yes, I am a liberal."
The sooner that Jim Wallis can get around to saying who he is, and quit dodging the question, the sooner we can get on to a robust conversation about what policies lead to Shalom in the world.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.