Losing Christendom

I was asked to review a book entitled The Future of Christian Learning, which contains an essay by the well-regarded historian Mark Noll, an evangelical Christian now on the faculty at Notre Dame. Tying in to yesterday’s discussion on the post “Aliens in a Strange Land,” Noll says that Western Civilization once was termed “Christendom.” It was a culture in which the church had considerable intellectual influence, with the society deferring to its moral authority.

Christendom appeared to break up with the advent of the Reformation. But the major Protestant confessional groups–the Lutherans, the Reformed, and the Anglicans–did not completely reject the older concept of Christendom and, when established as state churches, soon presided over Christendoms of their own. But then the pietists came, reacting against these institutionalized churches in favor of individual personal experience. Noll says that the various kinds of pietists had a greater impact than the Reformation and were largely reponsible for the collapse of Christendom, as Christianity withdrew from the culture into the individual heart. Noll notes a special example of this phenomenon in America. Mainline liberal Protestantism assumed a proprietary leadership role in the United States, until it became so liberal and culture-bound that fundamentalists reacted against it and withdrew from the mainstream American culture to pursue spiritual purity. Evangelicals have emerged out of that fundamentalist tradition and are trying to re-engage the culture, with mixed success.

Recovering Christian learning and cultural influence, Noll says, will require reconstructing a new kind of Christendom, which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions.

I find Dr. Noll to be persuasive. I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active. Nor do I understand why the heirs of the “Christendom” churches are now saying that Christians need to be less concerned with the culture and to be instead more spiritual. Shouldn’t the roles be reversed?

Is there any serious prospect for rebuilding a Christendom? If not, were the pietists and fundamentalists right, after all?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://katiesbeer.piperblogs.org/ Theresa K.

    “which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions”

    How does Noll suggest to accomplish that? The roots of the modern Evangelicals is the rejection of older “church” traditions.

    Dr. Veith, I 100% agree with you that Christians need to be more concerned with the culture around them and less concerned with being “more spiritual”. They just can’t get away from their pietist roots, can they?

  • http://katiesbeer.piperblogs.org/ Theresa K.

    “which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions”

    How does Noll suggest to accomplish that? The roots of the modern Evangelicals is the rejection of older “church” traditions.

    Dr. Veith, I 100% agree with you that Christians need to be more concerned with the culture around them and less concerned with being “more spiritual”. They just can’t get away from their pietist roots, can they?

  • http://theupwardcall.blogspot.com Kim in On

    Sometimes, I think we as Christians find it difficult to be more involved in the culture without beginning to adapt to it, to the detriment of what makes us distinctly Christian.

  • http://theupwardcall.blogspot.com Kim in On

    Sometimes, I think we as Christians find it difficult to be more involved in the culture without beginning to adapt to it, to the detriment of what makes us distinctly Christian.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    I’m not sure if it is the role of the church (as institution) to be as has been before. Christendom, in the Middle Ages was in many ways a disaster. If it hadn’t been, there would’ve been no need for a Reformation. The Cistine Chapel was funded by indulgences. I, for one, am happy that the Chapel exists, and am grateful for the Church’s patronage of greats like Michelangelo. He would’ve fallen into obscurity if it hadn’t been for his patrons. Nonetheless, the money came from heresy.

    I want to be a Christian culture-maker in the arts, but I feel very torn about the Christian’s roles in shaping culture. Our role is to be in the world, not of it. Our role is to share the Gospel, which I think can be done through great works of Beauty such as art and music. I’m not quite sure how this works in a practical way, though.

    In some ways, I am glad that we no longer live in Christendom. Perhaps we’ll be better at being the Church this way.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    I’m not sure if it is the role of the church (as institution) to be as has been before. Christendom, in the Middle Ages was in many ways a disaster. If it hadn’t been, there would’ve been no need for a Reformation. The Cistine Chapel was funded by indulgences. I, for one, am happy that the Chapel exists, and am grateful for the Church’s patronage of greats like Michelangelo. He would’ve fallen into obscurity if it hadn’t been for his patrons. Nonetheless, the money came from heresy.

    I want to be a Christian culture-maker in the arts, but I feel very torn about the Christian’s roles in shaping culture. Our role is to be in the world, not of it. Our role is to share the Gospel, which I think can be done through great works of Beauty such as art and music. I’m not quite sure how this works in a practical way, though.

    In some ways, I am glad that we no longer live in Christendom. Perhaps we’ll be better at being the Church this way.

  • Steve

    “Recovering Christian learning and cultural influence, Noll says, will require reconstructing a new kind of Christendom, which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions.”

    So where do we begin? I think that Noll (and I agree with him) would say that much of this requires significant Christian interaction in academia. And, clearly, this requires us to learn from the “church’s older traditions.” The church, after all, started most (but not all) of the main universities in Europe (many of which still stand).

    But this isn’t it. We often talk about getting Christians more involved in politics, which I think is a good thing, but if we aren’t heavily influencing the very foundations of our culture, then just having some Christians as Senators and House members won’t be very effective. It’s deeper than just political positions such as abortion, and marriage, etc. It’s about understanding what motivates people to believe what they believe, and to live the way they live. What moves people in their lives? (A bit general, I know, but hopefully you get my point–a little!) And how does Christ touch that very core of who they are? I guess that’s what I mean by “cultural influence,” as Noll says.

    A bit of stream of consciousness, I suppose…

  • Steve

    “Recovering Christian learning and cultural influence, Noll says, will require reconstructing a new kind of Christendom, which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions.”

    So where do we begin? I think that Noll (and I agree with him) would say that much of this requires significant Christian interaction in academia. And, clearly, this requires us to learn from the “church’s older traditions.” The church, after all, started most (but not all) of the main universities in Europe (many of which still stand).

    But this isn’t it. We often talk about getting Christians more involved in politics, which I think is a good thing, but if we aren’t heavily influencing the very foundations of our culture, then just having some Christians as Senators and House members won’t be very effective. It’s deeper than just political positions such as abortion, and marriage, etc. It’s about understanding what motivates people to believe what they believe, and to live the way they live. What moves people in their lives? (A bit general, I know, but hopefully you get my point–a little!) And how does Christ touch that very core of who they are? I guess that’s what I mean by “cultural influence,” as Noll says.

    A bit of stream of consciousness, I suppose…

  • Peter Leavitt

    Christians need to be in the world with smart, even sophisticated ways. Both Luther,and Frederick the Wise of Saxony complemented the two kingdoms carefully, though they never met each other. They both knew it would be wise not to be publicly joined at the hip. In my view Pope Benedict conducts both church and public affairs very well, without an ounce of pietism or self righteousness. His predecessor was brilliant at this.

    Christ knew whereof he spoke when he remarked, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the middle of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. He certainly wanted his gospel proclaimed widely to the world, including to political and cultural leaders.

    During the Middle Ages, the Church was properly influential with the culture and society, though it seriously overstepped its bounds by getting tangled up with political power and during the Renaissance with such foolishness as indulgences.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Christians need to be in the world with smart, even sophisticated ways. Both Luther,and Frederick the Wise of Saxony complemented the two kingdoms carefully, though they never met each other. They both knew it would be wise not to be publicly joined at the hip. In my view Pope Benedict conducts both church and public affairs very well, without an ounce of pietism or self righteousness. His predecessor was brilliant at this.

    Christ knew whereof he spoke when he remarked, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the middle of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. He certainly wanted his gospel proclaimed widely to the world, including to political and cultural leaders.

    During the Middle Ages, the Church was properly influential with the culture and society, though it seriously overstepped its bounds by getting tangled up with political power and during the Renaissance with such foolishness as indulgences.

  • Ryan

    “I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    Perhaps it is the setting, in Europe the pietists were generally disenfranchised, until they got to America, here their individualistic approach meshed very well with the United States political freedom and individualism, while the “confessional” wings of protestantism struggled on the same soil to this day.

  • Ryan

    “I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    Perhaps it is the setting, in Europe the pietists were generally disenfranchised, until they got to America, here their individualistic approach meshed very well with the United States political freedom and individualism, while the “confessional” wings of protestantism struggled on the same soil to this day.

  • WebMonk

    Much of the modern evangelical eschewing of historic aspects of Christianity isn’t a foundational part of their view, but rather an effect of their view.

    Why did Baptists develop? Not on a rejection of their history, but as a correction. Ditto for many other denominations – Methodists and Charismatics, for examples.

    Now, the “corrections” as they were viewed certainly involved rejecting certain aspects and that gets played out many times as a rejection of the whole historic church. Still, I don’t think it’s foundational.

    I think that can be seen in a number of similar movements in a variety of denominations that are looking back to the heritage they have in the historic Church.

    Like lots of things, I think there has been an over-correction by denominations who have sought to correct (and reject some) parts of their history. Now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. Noll is far from alone in his thoughts and efforts.

  • WebMonk

    Much of the modern evangelical eschewing of historic aspects of Christianity isn’t a foundational part of their view, but rather an effect of their view.

    Why did Baptists develop? Not on a rejection of their history, but as a correction. Ditto for many other denominations – Methodists and Charismatics, for examples.

    Now, the “corrections” as they were viewed certainly involved rejecting certain aspects and that gets played out many times as a rejection of the whole historic church. Still, I don’t think it’s foundational.

    I think that can be seen in a number of similar movements in a variety of denominations that are looking back to the heritage they have in the historic Church.

    Like lots of things, I think there has been an over-correction by denominations who have sought to correct (and reject some) parts of their history. Now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. Noll is far from alone in his thoughts and efforts.

  • Jonathan

    We’d do well to rid ourselves of “Christendom” as the word carries a great deal of racist and sexist baggage. It’s come to mean the dominance of the Western European white male over virtually everyone else on the planet.
    That was not the message of Christ.
    We’re wrongly obsessed with political power.

  • Jonathan

    We’d do well to rid ourselves of “Christendom” as the word carries a great deal of racist and sexist baggage. It’s come to mean the dominance of the Western European white male over virtually everyone else on the planet.
    That was not the message of Christ.
    We’re wrongly obsessed with political power.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    “Christendom” is associated with racism and sexism? I think that might be a bit strong. We need to remember that, while Europe began the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it was also Europe’s (and then America’s)Christians who proudly proclaimed abolition. While it may carry “baggage,” as you say, I think that baggage comes into play when we read a heavily 20th (and 21st) century perspective (and bias) into the word “Christendom,” and we forget about things like universities, hospitals, women’s rights (yes, often argued from a strongly Christian perspective), even banking (another great thing), that came out of Christian Europe.

    Not everything was perfect, for sure, but not everything was terrible either.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    “Christendom” is associated with racism and sexism? I think that might be a bit strong. We need to remember that, while Europe began the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it was also Europe’s (and then America’s)Christians who proudly proclaimed abolition. While it may carry “baggage,” as you say, I think that baggage comes into play when we read a heavily 20th (and 21st) century perspective (and bias) into the word “Christendom,” and we forget about things like universities, hospitals, women’s rights (yes, often argued from a strongly Christian perspective), even banking (another great thing), that came out of Christian Europe.

    Not everything was perfect, for sure, but not everything was terrible either.

  • Jonathan

    While abolition was proclaimed by some Christias, thank God, it was bitterly opposed by other Christians, who relied on the Bible to justify it and later the Jim Crow laws.
    My point was that “Christendom,” like “crusade,” is a politically charged word; it means historically the dominance of civil society by the Christian church, i.e., papacy. A Christian today who years romantically for the return of “Christendom” is not dissimilar from a Muslim who wishes for a theocracy based on the Koran. Both are incompatible with a free society.
    As an aside, it is mystifying to me that Christians here bemoan their lack of influence on culture and government while at the same time insisiting that the only political view truly consistent with Christianity is that found in the unpopular GOP platform. If right wing American Christians (a heavily white group) showed a little more interest publicly in the plight of women, the poor, and people of color, for example, their influence might grow beneficially. Life is not all about gun rights, reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and grousing about immigrants and homosexuals.

  • Jonathan

    While abolition was proclaimed by some Christias, thank God, it was bitterly opposed by other Christians, who relied on the Bible to justify it and later the Jim Crow laws.
    My point was that “Christendom,” like “crusade,” is a politically charged word; it means historically the dominance of civil society by the Christian church, i.e., papacy. A Christian today who years romantically for the return of “Christendom” is not dissimilar from a Muslim who wishes for a theocracy based on the Koran. Both are incompatible with a free society.
    As an aside, it is mystifying to me that Christians here bemoan their lack of influence on culture and government while at the same time insisiting that the only political view truly consistent with Christianity is that found in the unpopular GOP platform. If right wing American Christians (a heavily white group) showed a little more interest publicly in the plight of women, the poor, and people of color, for example, their influence might grow beneficially. Life is not all about gun rights, reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and grousing about immigrants and homosexuals.

  • John C

    I have to agree with Jonathon. The association of evangelical Christianity with the Republican party has diminished both Christianity and the GOP.It’s not only Democrats who are alarmed by Limbaugh and Focus on the Family
    I wonder whether evangelical Christianity can adjust to the shifts in attitudes and values brought about by feminism, enviromental concerns and the broard acceptance of homosexuals.
    We cannot return to the 1950s.

  • John C

    I have to agree with Jonathon. The association of evangelical Christianity with the Republican party has diminished both Christianity and the GOP.It’s not only Democrats who are alarmed by Limbaugh and Focus on the Family
    I wonder whether evangelical Christianity can adjust to the shifts in attitudes and values brought about by feminism, enviromental concerns and the broard acceptance of homosexuals.
    We cannot return to the 1950s.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Given that “Christendom” is more or less the union of the state and the church–one that weakened both greatly–I’m very content to leave it behind.

    And please; stop blaming “pietism” as a source for the church’s problems. Would you rather have state churches that routinely tolerated fornication among their pastors, as Spener found in the 1700s? Reality is that just as the church needed Luther to free it from the tyranny of “faith plus works,” it also needed people like Spener and the Anabaptists to free it from an unholy alliance with the state, and the compromises that necessarily entails.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Given that “Christendom” is more or less the union of the state and the church–one that weakened both greatly–I’m very content to leave it behind.

    And please; stop blaming “pietism” as a source for the church’s problems. Would you rather have state churches that routinely tolerated fornication among their pastors, as Spener found in the 1700s? Reality is that just as the church needed Luther to free it from the tyranny of “faith plus works,” it also needed people like Spener and the Anabaptists to free it from an unholy alliance with the state, and the compromises that necessarily entails.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said, “I don’t quite understand why evangelicals — the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists — are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    I’m not sure who specifically you’re thinking of blaming them, but I myself blame both examples for failing to focus on the Gospel. Living lives in sterile Christian bubbles — attending only Christian schools, reading only Christian literature, listening only to Christian music, and so on — may do wonders for one’s own self-righteousness, but it does little for one’s unbelieving neighbor. Likewise, passing laws that reflect one’s own idea about how everyone should behave pretty much fails to teach anyone about the Gospel. If what Christians are mainly known for is something other than Christ, and him crucified, then let the blame fly!

    To this end, I will remain highly suspicious of Christians complaining about a lack of, or seeking to regain, “influence” in society. To what end? To show how mighty we are? So that we don’t have to worry about the influence of sin as much? To please God and keep him from threatening our society?

    If our desire for more influence has any goal or effect in mind other than spreading the Gospel, then let us fail.

    And, I will admit, the word “Christendom”, as Bike Bubba notes (@12), carries with it a history and emphasis that focuses much more on the “dom” than “Christ”. There is precious little in that history that I want to recapture.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said, “I don’t quite understand why evangelicals — the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists — are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    I’m not sure who specifically you’re thinking of blaming them, but I myself blame both examples for failing to focus on the Gospel. Living lives in sterile Christian bubbles — attending only Christian schools, reading only Christian literature, listening only to Christian music, and so on — may do wonders for one’s own self-righteousness, but it does little for one’s unbelieving neighbor. Likewise, passing laws that reflect one’s own idea about how everyone should behave pretty much fails to teach anyone about the Gospel. If what Christians are mainly known for is something other than Christ, and him crucified, then let the blame fly!

    To this end, I will remain highly suspicious of Christians complaining about a lack of, or seeking to regain, “influence” in society. To what end? To show how mighty we are? So that we don’t have to worry about the influence of sin as much? To please God and keep him from threatening our society?

    If our desire for more influence has any goal or effect in mind other than spreading the Gospel, then let us fail.

    And, I will admit, the word “Christendom”, as Bike Bubba notes (@12), carries with it a history and emphasis that focuses much more on the “dom” than “Christ”. There is precious little in that history that I want to recapture.

  • WebMonk

    One way to look at how people can be too withdrawn and at the same time too active is the creation of “bubbles” of like-minded people.

    An extreme case is a commune where everyone physically lives together. More common is a somewhat looser physical commune, but still a tight mental commune. For example: a church, school, and a business or two working together to create an environment where most everything is provided (socially, physically, spiritually, etc) within that bubble of like-minded people, even if they don’t live right together.

    That’s obviously the “too withdrawn” side of it. But the “too active” part?

    Well, get that bubble to insist and lobby that the rest of the world needs to be just like their bubble. Have that be the driving goal of that bubble so they are constantly trying to change the outside to be like them while simultaneously trying to keep as far away from the outside as they can.

    Thus you’ve got a “too withdrawn” group being “too active”. How much groups actually achieve this is up for grabs, but that’s how I can see people being simultaneously blamed for being too withdrawn and too active at the same time.

    Is it a valid critique of fundamentalists, etc? Yes and no, depending on the area, time, group, topic, etc.

  • WebMonk

    One way to look at how people can be too withdrawn and at the same time too active is the creation of “bubbles” of like-minded people.

    An extreme case is a commune where everyone physically lives together. More common is a somewhat looser physical commune, but still a tight mental commune. For example: a church, school, and a business or two working together to create an environment where most everything is provided (socially, physically, spiritually, etc) within that bubble of like-minded people, even if they don’t live right together.

    That’s obviously the “too withdrawn” side of it. But the “too active” part?

    Well, get that bubble to insist and lobby that the rest of the world needs to be just like their bubble. Have that be the driving goal of that bubble so they are constantly trying to change the outside to be like them while simultaneously trying to keep as far away from the outside as they can.

    Thus you’ve got a “too withdrawn” group being “too active”. How much groups actually achieve this is up for grabs, but that’s how I can see people being simultaneously blamed for being too withdrawn and too active at the same time.

    Is it a valid critique of fundamentalists, etc? Yes and no, depending on the area, time, group, topic, etc.

  • Booklover

    What Noll has said is what I have seen and experienced in my own life. I think it is beyond depressing.

    In “Christendom,” certain things were deemed to be wrong. Under pietist persuasion, things are looked at as being wrong for some Christians but pretty much OK for everyone else.

    In “Christendom,” God was seen as ruler of all, the supreme authority. I don’t see that now.

  • Booklover

    What Noll has said is what I have seen and experienced in my own life. I think it is beyond depressing.

    In “Christendom,” certain things were deemed to be wrong. Under pietist persuasion, things are looked at as being wrong for some Christians but pretty much OK for everyone else.

    In “Christendom,” God was seen as ruler of all, the supreme authority. I don’t see that now.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    I appreciate your comments Jonathan. Thanks for the response.

    “A Christian today who years romantically for the return of “Christendom” is not dissimilar from a Muslim who wishes for a theocracy based on the Koran. Both are incompatible with a free society.”

    Yes, by your definition of Christendom. But I’ve heard the word used by Christians with a completely different meaning, and what they yearn for it not a return to a “crusader” mentality.

    “If right wing American Christians (a heavily white group) showed a little more interest publicly in the plight of women, the poor, and people of color, for example, their influence might grow beneficially. Life is not all about gun rights, reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and grousing about immigrants and homosexuals.”

    Please, be very careful here. Some very broad generalizations are being made. Talk about loaded words, like “right wing” or “white group” or “grousing”! (Our president seemed to be “grousing” quite a bit in this morning’s press conference, didn’t he? And last I checked, the chairman of the GOP is in fact a black man.) jAnd in fact, on the generic ballot, Republicans are now tied with the Democrats in voter favorability, so this whole notion of an unpopular platform doesn’t hold up.

    And I could say the same of Christians on the political and social left. “All they care about is increased government spending, and taxing the wealthy even more than they already are, and “grousing” about defense spending and Gitmo. Life is not all about “free” healthcare and affirmative action and hope and change, is it?” But that’s painting a whole group of people with a rather broad brush, isn’t it? That’s assuming that I know all of their motivations as they enter the ballot box, which I don’t.

    But you’re right about associating too much with a political position, or with one side of the political spectrum. There are the Dobsons and Hagees on one side, and the Campolos, Pagitts, Wallaces, and McLarens on the other. It’s not that we as Christians all have to meet in the middle, but we have to recognize that the body of Christ has a bit of ideological diversity.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    I appreciate your comments Jonathan. Thanks for the response.

    “A Christian today who years romantically for the return of “Christendom” is not dissimilar from a Muslim who wishes for a theocracy based on the Koran. Both are incompatible with a free society.”

    Yes, by your definition of Christendom. But I’ve heard the word used by Christians with a completely different meaning, and what they yearn for it not a return to a “crusader” mentality.

    “If right wing American Christians (a heavily white group) showed a little more interest publicly in the plight of women, the poor, and people of color, for example, their influence might grow beneficially. Life is not all about gun rights, reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and grousing about immigrants and homosexuals.”

    Please, be very careful here. Some very broad generalizations are being made. Talk about loaded words, like “right wing” or “white group” or “grousing”! (Our president seemed to be “grousing” quite a bit in this morning’s press conference, didn’t he? And last I checked, the chairman of the GOP is in fact a black man.) jAnd in fact, on the generic ballot, Republicans are now tied with the Democrats in voter favorability, so this whole notion of an unpopular platform doesn’t hold up.

    And I could say the same of Christians on the political and social left. “All they care about is increased government spending, and taxing the wealthy even more than they already are, and “grousing” about defense spending and Gitmo. Life is not all about “free” healthcare and affirmative action and hope and change, is it?” But that’s painting a whole group of people with a rather broad brush, isn’t it? That’s assuming that I know all of their motivations as they enter the ballot box, which I don’t.

    But you’re right about associating too much with a political position, or with one side of the political spectrum. There are the Dobsons and Hagees on one side, and the Campolos, Pagitts, Wallaces, and McLarens on the other. It’s not that we as Christians all have to meet in the middle, but we have to recognize that the body of Christ has a bit of ideological diversity.

  • Steve

    @John C.

    Not to beat a dead horse…I won’t post on this anymore!

    “It’s not only Democrats who are alarmed by Limbaugh and Focus on the Family…We cannot return to the 1950s.”

    There’s a bit of a straw man argument brewing here. We’re assuming that all GOPers, or all Christians who vote GOP, identify with Rush or FOTF. (I, for one, am not a fan of Dr. Dobson anymore.) And no one is talking about a “return to the 1950s.” Listening to Rush or Dobson doesn’t mean a desire to return 50 years into the past. Usually such Christians have a desire for limited government (borne out of a distrust of politicians who too often prove to look out for their own interests above all else), an emphasis on individual liberties, and an appeal to traditional values and concepts that emerged long before the 50s.

  • Steve

    @John C.

    Not to beat a dead horse…I won’t post on this anymore!

    “It’s not only Democrats who are alarmed by Limbaugh and Focus on the Family…We cannot return to the 1950s.”

    There’s a bit of a straw man argument brewing here. We’re assuming that all GOPers, or all Christians who vote GOP, identify with Rush or FOTF. (I, for one, am not a fan of Dr. Dobson anymore.) And no one is talking about a “return to the 1950s.” Listening to Rush or Dobson doesn’t mean a desire to return 50 years into the past. Usually such Christians have a desire for limited government (borne out of a distrust of politicians who too often prove to look out for their own interests above all else), an emphasis on individual liberties, and an appeal to traditional values and concepts that emerged long before the 50s.

  • Jonathan

    Steve @16. You make valid and worthwhile points, particularly about not painting with too broad a brush. I can use a good editor at times.
    Thanks

  • Jonathan

    Steve @16. You make valid and worthwhile points, particularly about not painting with too broad a brush. I can use a good editor at times.
    Thanks

  • Bob

    ‘I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture’

    Regarding the first part of your sentence, I’d suggest reading any of church historian Daryl Hart’s books — but especially “The Deconstruction of Evangelicalism” — WRT why evangelicalism and fundamentalism became culture denying.

    Actually, “became” isn’t right — if you trace it back to the early 1900s, the fundamentalists didn’t want to have anything to do with evolution and higher biblical criticism — so in typical fashion, they went way too far the other way, leading to an other-worldliness.

    Then the “neo-evangelicals,”the post-World War II group, with folks like Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, tried to move fundamentalism more toward more cultural inclusion and intellectual respectability.

    “but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    Evangelicals aligned themselves much too closely, IMHO, to the Religious Right around 1980. They were rightly concerned about the way the culture was going, but they unthinkingly aligned themselves with the Republican Party.

    Again, IMHO, conservative Lutherans are overly and unthikingly critical of mainline Protestants. Yes, their theology isn’t always right…but there seems to be this belief that if you believe in the right doctrine, Christian tradition, etc., then like magic pixie dust, your view vis-a-vis Christianity and society are suddenly somehow virtuous and exemplary. Fact is, many of the mainliners have been working through these issues for a very, very long time, way before 1980. Nothing like reinventing the wheel.

    I believe confessional Protestants represent a third way, “against the world, for the world.” Unfortunately, too many of them have swallowed the “God and country” talk of the fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    Also, Hart is a confessional Protestant, a Presbyterian. If you read his stuff, you’ll see how unthinking too many confessional Prots. have aligned themselves with
    fundagelicals. We really are different.

  • Bob

    ‘I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture’

    Regarding the first part of your sentence, I’d suggest reading any of church historian Daryl Hart’s books — but especially “The Deconstruction of Evangelicalism” — WRT why evangelicalism and fundamentalism became culture denying.

    Actually, “became” isn’t right — if you trace it back to the early 1900s, the fundamentalists didn’t want to have anything to do with evolution and higher biblical criticism — so in typical fashion, they went way too far the other way, leading to an other-worldliness.

    Then the “neo-evangelicals,”the post-World War II group, with folks like Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, tried to move fundamentalism more toward more cultural inclusion and intellectual respectability.

    “but are currently blamed for trying to be too active.”

    Evangelicals aligned themselves much too closely, IMHO, to the Religious Right around 1980. They were rightly concerned about the way the culture was going, but they unthinkingly aligned themselves with the Republican Party.

    Again, IMHO, conservative Lutherans are overly and unthikingly critical of mainline Protestants. Yes, their theology isn’t always right…but there seems to be this belief that if you believe in the right doctrine, Christian tradition, etc., then like magic pixie dust, your view vis-a-vis Christianity and society are suddenly somehow virtuous and exemplary. Fact is, many of the mainliners have been working through these issues for a very, very long time, way before 1980. Nothing like reinventing the wheel.

    I believe confessional Protestants represent a third way, “against the world, for the world.” Unfortunately, too many of them have swallowed the “God and country” talk of the fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    Also, Hart is a confessional Protestant, a Presbyterian. If you read his stuff, you’ll see how unthinking too many confessional Prots. have aligned themselves with
    fundagelicals. We really are different.

  • Efrem

    The constant statement that we should not return to the 1950s is indeed a straw man. We started to lose our cultural footing after the Scopes trial in 1925 where we were routed by Darrow and his statements. The pietists could withdraw from society in earlier times and yet Christendom could thrive because the culture was permeated with christian thought. That all changed with Darwin and the evolutionists in the 19th Century and the resulting ideas that it spawned. We can’t “return to the 50s,” but we can used the intellectual firepower that 2000 years of Christian teaching as well as the power of the gospel to change culture today.

    Those are my thoughts.

  • Efrem

    The constant statement that we should not return to the 1950s is indeed a straw man. We started to lose our cultural footing after the Scopes trial in 1925 where we were routed by Darrow and his statements. The pietists could withdraw from society in earlier times and yet Christendom could thrive because the culture was permeated with christian thought. That all changed with Darwin and the evolutionists in the 19th Century and the resulting ideas that it spawned. We can’t “return to the 50s,” but we can used the intellectual firepower that 2000 years of Christian teaching as well as the power of the gospel to change culture today.

    Those are my thoughts.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    You made some good points too. Agree or disagree, I appreciate your words.

  • Steve

    @Jonathan

    You made some good points too. Agree or disagree, I appreciate your words.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Dr. Veith: Is there any serious prospect for rebuilding a Christendom? If not, were the pietists and fundamentalists right, after all?

    Actually, the toxic combination of romanticism, including the pietists and fundamentalists, along with the essential vacuousness of the rational enlightenment, that the liberal Christians have caved into, have failed.

    The only hope for Christendom lies with a combination of faith and reason as embodied with Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar along with the rise of Christianity in the global south and China.

    Unfortunately, Europe is in serious decline demographically and intellectually. American orthodox Christianity gives some hope, though we are burdened with a naive civil religion along with the pious illusions of the many pietists and fundamentalists.

    In my view Christendom’s best prospect involves a serious alliance between orthodox Christians, including Lutherans and Catholics, rational Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews, all of whom must develop balls of steel to counter the dominant, decadent secular culture in a gloves off fight. Otherwise, the week kneed liberal Christians and the hunkered down, naive pietists/fundamentalists will be as straw in this very real culture war.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Dr. Veith: Is there any serious prospect for rebuilding a Christendom? If not, were the pietists and fundamentalists right, after all?

    Actually, the toxic combination of romanticism, including the pietists and fundamentalists, along with the essential vacuousness of the rational enlightenment, that the liberal Christians have caved into, have failed.

    The only hope for Christendom lies with a combination of faith and reason as embodied with Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar along with the rise of Christianity in the global south and China.

    Unfortunately, Europe is in serious decline demographically and intellectually. American orthodox Christianity gives some hope, though we are burdened with a naive civil religion along with the pious illusions of the many pietists and fundamentalists.

    In my view Christendom’s best prospect involves a serious alliance between orthodox Christians, including Lutherans and Catholics, rational Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews, all of whom must develop balls of steel to counter the dominant, decadent secular culture in a gloves off fight. Otherwise, the week kneed liberal Christians and the hunkered down, naive pietists/fundamentalists will be as straw in this very real culture war.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Gregory DeVore

    Someone posted earlier about Christendom being incompatible with a free society. On the contrary Christendom is a necessary prerequistie to liberty. The modern attempt to create a free society apart from Christendom will fail. Lost liberty will be the consequences of the failure. To answer Veith’s question about Pietist’s and Fundamentalists. Their ideas were wrong for their time but may be right for ours. Political engagement may be absolutely meaningless in a post-Christian society. We must help as many people as we can while we wait for our civilization to inevitable crash and burn. This may be a time for post-partisanship but not of the Obama variety. Our society has become corrupt and rotten and is on the brink of destruction. Both of our political parties are corrupt and in their own way contribute to the destruction of America. In such a time as this political activism may be a waste of time.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Gregory DeVore

    Someone posted earlier about Christendom being incompatible with a free society. On the contrary Christendom is a necessary prerequistie to liberty. The modern attempt to create a free society apart from Christendom will fail. Lost liberty will be the consequences of the failure. To answer Veith’s question about Pietist’s and Fundamentalists. Their ideas were wrong for their time but may be right for ours. Political engagement may be absolutely meaningless in a post-Christian society. We must help as many people as we can while we wait for our civilization to inevitable crash and burn. This may be a time for post-partisanship but not of the Obama variety. Our society has become corrupt and rotten and is on the brink of destruction. Both of our political parties are corrupt and in their own way contribute to the destruction of America. In such a time as this political activism may be a waste of time.

  • john18:38

    It seems to me, one of the most effective ways to be heard is economically….would love to see Christians boycott Christmas this year….keep it a traditional religious Holiday to be celebrated with song and service, etc. but let’s skip 90% of the shopping and other hoopla that goes with it….am sure that message would be heard? Also, while we are at it….if we really see Hollywood as such a morally corrupt place, let’s skip a month’s worth of movies just for starters and see what kind of reaction that gets? Sounds corny, but it would be fun and it would be most interesting to see the reactions :) A lot of criticism, I am sure, but perhaps a real sense of empowerment once again too?

  • john18:38

    It seems to me, one of the most effective ways to be heard is economically….would love to see Christians boycott Christmas this year….keep it a traditional religious Holiday to be celebrated with song and service, etc. but let’s skip 90% of the shopping and other hoopla that goes with it….am sure that message would be heard? Also, while we are at it….if we really see Hollywood as such a morally corrupt place, let’s skip a month’s worth of movies just for starters and see what kind of reaction that gets? Sounds corny, but it would be fun and it would be most interesting to see the reactions :) A lot of criticism, I am sure, but perhaps a real sense of empowerment once again too?

  • kerner

    Peter:

    I am trying to understand what you mean. When you say that orthodox Christians should develop balls of steel and unite with orthodox Jews to counter the secular culture in a gloves-off fight. Exactly what are we supposed to do? And why are orthodox jews (in the earlier post you were willing to include other non-Christian religions as well)included in this united effort? On what basis are Christians and non-Christians supposed to unite? And what are the objectives?

  • kerner

    Peter:

    I am trying to understand what you mean. When you say that orthodox Christians should develop balls of steel and unite with orthodox Jews to counter the secular culture in a gloves-off fight. Exactly what are we supposed to do? And why are orthodox jews (in the earlier post you were willing to include other non-Christian religions as well)included in this united effort? On what basis are Christians and non-Christians supposed to unite? And what are the objectives?

  • Bob

    Alright!

    Christian jihad!

    Let’s get ready to rumble.

    Spiritually, that is…

    At least for awhile, at first.

  • Bob

    Alright!

    Christian jihad!

    Let’s get ready to rumble.

    Spiritually, that is…

    At least for awhile, at first.

  • Tamias

    Christendom had authority because it was an authority. A facet of Christendom’s rebirth, should we wish it, will need to be an instillation of respect for church leadership. Paul told the church to obey secular (!) authorities, yet the history of individuating pietism, beginning as it did in the Reformation, seems to be one of fleeing spiritual authority. Even today, evangelicals tend to remember the Reformation as a liberation instead of a correction.
    [I find it striking that a later post mentioned Stanley Fish's association of faith with constraint - does this apply to ecclesiastical constraint as well? Could we say that man is born in chains, but everywhere he is free?]

  • Tamias

    Christendom had authority because it was an authority. A facet of Christendom’s rebirth, should we wish it, will need to be an instillation of respect for church leadership. Paul told the church to obey secular (!) authorities, yet the history of individuating pietism, beginning as it did in the Reformation, seems to be one of fleeing spiritual authority. Even today, evangelicals tend to remember the Reformation as a liberation instead of a correction.
    [I find it striking that a later post mentioned Stanley Fish's association of faith with constraint - does this apply to ecclesiastical constraint as well? Could we say that man is born in chains, but everywhere he is free?]


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