Evangelicals Can’t Be Peaceful

Charles Finney: Culture Warrior; Sweet Ass Beard Grower.

To the younger evangelicals like Jonathan Merritt and Rachel Held Evans, who are begging their fellow evangelicals to disengage from the culture wars so as to not lose the the younger generation, Mark Tooley* has a message: Forget it.

Evangelicalism, he notes, was birthed in conflict, and thrives on conflict. Conflict is, as it were, the gas in the engine that drives the evangelical car down the road:

Evangelical Left icon Jim Wallis, who often appeals to young evangelicals with his message of supposed post-partisanship, likes to compare himself to 19th century evangelicals such as evangelist Charles Finney. Wallis often recounts that Finney, at his revivals, enlisted converts into the abolitionist cause. Unmentioned by Wallis is that Finney mailed abolitionist tracts into the South, where they were often gathered into bonfires and fomented rallies against intrusive northern preachers. Finney did not foster social harmony. He and other evangelicals of their era were the ultimate culture warriors.

The non-confrontational, therapeutic evangelicalism that some young evangelicals, and their older mentors, seemingly advocate today as they denounce culture war is at odds with much of evangelical history, which has always thrived on conflict. No less important, it’s also at odds with much of American history, dating to the 17th century New England Puritan divines, who envisioned a righteous nation. Even supposed secularists of today often walk in that tradition as they demand contentious social reforms, including, in their view, same sex marriage.

Hoping evangelicals and other serious religious believers in America will en masse shun social controversy as they retreat to quiet cafes to read the New York Times is not realistic. The antebellum Methodists and Baptists who abandoned earlier convictions to accommodate their culture’s acceptance of slavery purchased only a temporary peace. Today’s evangelicals who hope they can delete marriage, abortion, and religious freedom from their political menu might be similarly outflanked by irrepressible historical tides rooted in four centuries of American religion.

via The American Spectator : Irrepressible Culture Wars, Past and Present.

*Yes, I get that Mark Tooley is an ultra-conservative culture warrior with the IRD. But his thoughts are still worth considering.

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  • Another reason why I finally bit the bullet and went mainline!

  • His ideas are worth noting. A couple of other things are also worth noting:

    -Conflict is profitable. It doesn’t profit organizations like the IRD or its left-leaning opponents to avoid it.

    -Conflict is inevitable. I enjoy reading Rachel Held Evans and writers of her “ilk,” but it’s naive to think that we can completely retreat from culture. Not only has that never worked in evangelicalism, but it has also failed Christianity throughout history. There is some truth to the axiom that “If you don’t stand for anything, you will fall for everything.”

    -Conflict is often man-made (and I use the masculine intentionally). We are far too willing to fight for things without asking why, or for whom, we are fighting.

    -Conflict is historical, but we don’t have to follow history. It’s odd that people always say, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Yet our “history” is often a rallying cry to REPEAT behaviors. This, I do not understand. Perhaps we should look at the history and ask how we can, or should, change it for the future.

  • Tony,

    If you are passionately concerned about issues of justice and truth, conflict is inevitable. Even if you are concerned about your marriage and children, confrontation is part of relationship.

    I’ve noticed that you too are passionate about truth, or perhaps we should call it “non-truth”:

    • “This fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction form another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping…and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.” (Tony Jones, The New Christians, 234)

    • “Giving in to the pressure to petrify the conversation in a ‘statement’ would make Emergent easier to control; its critics could dissect it and then place it in a theological museum alongside other dead conceptual specimens…” (235)

  • Cynthia Astle

    Yes, Mark Tooley’s thoughts are worth considering to the extent that they reveal the mindset of the adversaries in the Christian culture wars. They will never surrender, and so they waste the Church’s time, spirit, energy and money forcing it to fight battles that the gospel of love would negate.

    Furthermore, the IRD is hardly the place for a Christian of the New Covenant, in which the law of love has superseded love of laws. That is not to say that love stands apart from justice; rather than love is the ultimate embodiment of justice, for it expunges both guilt and vengeance.

    Unfortunately, the IRD under Tooley’s leadership has such a dismal record of dirty tricks, deliberate misinformation and twisted interpretation that it cannot be considered a valid source of evangelical integrity. In other words, I trust anything coming from Tooley and the IRD about as far as I can spit.

    • Wow! Cynthia…why don’t you say what you really mean? Love makes biblical sin okay! That is just nuts! Heresy!

  • I don’t think you can say that RHE is not contentious. Evangelizing and Christian Witness in general require getting out into the world with firmly held opinions. The thing about the “culture wars” is that they have devolved into trench warfare around fixed opinions with many casualties and no visible progress, but much profit to the profiteers. The current “my way or the highway that leadeth unto destruction” fight style is not gracious or productive and is tremendously damaging to the social fabric which the Teachings were given to uphold. It isn’t that we shouldn’t fight; we need a better fight style, which I think RHE is on the way to exemplifying.

  • David Ellis Dickerson

    At the end of “Fundamentalism” by James Barr (1977), he makes the best argument I’ve ever heard on this point: “Every so often, critics will say, ‘if only fundamentalists could be more reasonable! If only they would recognize other Christianities as well!’ What they fail to understand is that, for the fundamentalist, their proper understanding of the Bible–the fact that he understands and strives to follow it in a world of apostates and corruptors–is the core of their religious identity; it’s how they experience and know they are embraced by God. Their sectarianism is not a single removable plank from their belief system; it’s the ground they stand on. Remove it and the faith collapses.”

    (Summarized because I don’t have the book with me at the moment.) It is a wise, true-feeling statement that has haunted me for years. And ever since then, I’ve wondered what the difference is between an “emergent” evangelicalism and straight-up liberal/mainstream Christianity. If other Christians with different beliefs are also right, and if making errors is non-catastrophic (no theology to clean up, no souls to save from hell), is evangelicalism even the same thing anymore? Without a Bible-thumping, anxiety-tinged desire to spread the Gospel, what’s left of the term? (Apologies: I’m sure you’ve discussed this at some point, and I’m new here, having just converted to your blog via Facebook.)

  • Since you mention Finney’s abolitionism, I should point out Henry Ward Beecher’s involvement as well in culture wars — quite literally.

    He sent rifles to Kansas in crates marked “Bibles.” I’ve preached at the aptly named “Beecher Bible and Rifle Church,” a little congregationalist church (UCC). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beecher_Bible_and_Rifle_Church

  • He kind of confirms Girard’s theory of violence while plainly “not getting it,” or at least pretending to “not get it.”* In fact, it’s kind of textbook.

    *And Mark Tooley has been deeply influential on mainliners.

  • Since when is conflict at odds with peace? Violence is, but not conflict. I have no problem calling out the culture warriors for their bigotry, sexism, racism, hatred. If that’s conflict, so be it. A truce isn’t peace, ignoring a war on the poor isn’t peace, either.


  • Chris

    Is anyone else getting the irony of this blogpost and the entirety of this blogs history?

    Peaceful? No conflict?

  • Church of Jed

    “They told me that Christ was calling us to a new understanding of the LGBTQ struggle and that we should do more to include gays in the life of the church. When the gays started teaching Sunday School classes on different gay sex positions that God enjoys, as though we are a porn movie for God, the experiment in inclusive tolerance failed instantly. Our church is closed now and we are selling the property to pay the discrimination lawsuit judgment.”

    -Rev. Jed DeValleyism, “When the camel gets his nose under the tent, he owns the tent.” 2001

    • Evelyn

      What’s more reasonable? That God enjoys watching gays have sex or that God requires his son to suffer horribly and die on a cross? I find gay sex a lot less scandalizing than the crucifixion. Therefor, if gay sex isn’t part of your church’s ethos I don’t think the crucifixion should be either. And no, the crucifixion is NOT different and it’s not all that mysterious either.

  • Chris