It Will Take More Than Evangelism

From the popular, influential, and usually-right-on-the-money conservative Protestant blog “Pyromaniacs” comes a post that illustrates an important gap in understanding. The post is correct and important, but something is missing.

Here are some quotes:

One of the greatest dangers of the political activism of the so-called “religious right” is this: It fosters a tendency to make enemies out of people who are supposed to be our mission-field, even while we’re forming political alliances with Pharisees and false teachers.

To hear some Christians today talk, you might think that rampant sins like homosexuality and abortion in America could be solved by legislation. A hundred years ago, the pet issue was prohibition, and mainstream evangelicalism embraced the notion that outlawing liquor would solve the problem of drunkenness forever in America. It was a waste of time and energy, and it was an unhealthy diversion for evangelicals and fundamentalists during an era when the truth was under siege within the church. Lobbying for laws to change the behavior of worldly people was the last project evangelicals needed to make their prime mission in the early 20th century. Just like today. Remember Galatians 2:21: “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” And Galatians 3:21: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”

We have the true and only answer to sins like homosexuality, divorce, drug addiction, and other forms of rampant immorality. It’s the glorious liberty of salvation in Christ. It’s a message about the grace of God, which has accomplishes what no law could ever do. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation—Good News that truly changes hearts—and we need to proclaim that message. Politically-driven hostility against our neighbors is not the best way to let the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shine unto them.

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The author, Phillip Johnson, is an elder at a large and respected independent reformed Baptist Church in the Los Angeles area and a well-known author. His understanding of Christian theology and of the current theological and ecclesiological trends is deep and accurate. He is correct that we must not allow our political beliefs to cause us to express personal hatred of those we ought to be evangelizing. [On the other hand, opposition and even combat of a sort are intrinsic to politics. We cannot be so evangelically winsome that we fail to defend our interests.]

But something vital is missing.

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The post’s clear implication, and the position held by most theologically astute and conservative American Protestant leaders, is that “political activism” is at best a waste of time because it cannot solve, or even ameliorate, the problems of our disordered society.  “If you want to renew American society, stop wasting time on politics and get to work proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ,” say these voices.

But although proclamation of the gospel is obviously necessary for the renewal of America, it is also not sufficient.

Both Scripture and common sense show that it will never be the case that a majority of people are Christians. There have been times when a majority called themselves Christian, but those who actually have repented of their sins, have a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore are committed to a Christian worldview, will never be anywhere near a majority. Therefore we cannot renew society simply by creating a Christian majority through evangelism.

And our society has not degenerated because millions of people independently and spontaneously decided to rebel against God and tradition. No, America’s leaders have been teaching people to reject God and tradition for several generations now, and the people have responded. Until our leaders begin showing respect for proper morality and social order, no amount of personal evangelism will make a significant difference for society. The non-Christian majority will continue to follow our leaders in rejecting truth and approving of a disordered society.

This does not mean that the people always automatically follow everything the leaders say. There is a general atmosphere of ideas in any nation, and the leaders cannot afford to deviate too far from this general consensus. If significantly more people were Christians, it would have an effect on society. But the effect would not be decisive until a new group of leaders began explicitly leading in a Christian way.

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In one sense, I do not blame the author for what he has failed to state. His forte is Christianity, not statecraft, and what the renewal of American society would require is not well understood. As far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of Americans think about social renewal in one of only two ways: either being brought about through the ordinary processes of American politics (voting, legislative action, lobbying) or by individuals being renewed in their private lives. The specific ways by which renewed individuals might lead to a renewed society are rarely discussed, except to say that Christians would vote for better candidates. But this would not lead to renewal even if the Christians voted properly. Christians will always be outnumbered by non-Christians and if the prevailing atmosphere of ideas is explicitly hostile to Christianity and its principles of social order then society will continue to be disordered.

There is very little talk about any other means of social renewal because these are the only two categories Americans know and accept as valid. But evangelism will not be enough to renew America. It is necessary, but not sufficient. We will also need deliberate action aimed not at superficial fixes such as passing laws, but at more fundamental change that is organic and not formal, social and not individual. For this we will need new leaders who lead in new ways, and we will need new laws, rules and customs that are not just formal acts of the legislature, but articulations of the new ways of a new society.

And to have even a chance of bringing this about we need leaders and statecraft, not just personal renewal. How exactly can society be renewed? Nobody knows for sure. We are in unfamiliar territory. The current situation, in which our leadership class is enthusiastically destroying the social order we have received from our ancestors, is probably unprecedented. Not even the Bolsheviks enthusiastically supported the legitimization of homosexuality or mass immigration by unassimilable foreigners. And the creation of social order out of chaos, while not unprecedented, is sufficiently rare that it is for all practical purposes an unknown process. But as society continues to disintegrate (or, more accurately, to be disintegrated by its leaders), we will soon be in the position of having to form a new social order.

Should Christians be involved in this process? Of course, because otherwise the new order will, by definition, be non-Christian

And in the meantime even standard-brand political activism can be beneficial. While many conservative Protestant leaders, for example, are lukewarm at best about the passage of DOMA-type laws, viewing them as a waste of time, we must acknowledge that such laws are beneficial. They block evildoers from forcing us to honor homosexuality. The law does not produce true righteousness, but it has a legitimate role. Christians therefore have a role to play here too.

32 thoughts on “It Will Take More Than Evangelism

      • I will agree with Alan on this.

        It’s become common practice to say that the Church should stay out of politics and then define “politics” as the whole field of contention between Left and Right. So whenever the Left opens up a new front attacking another aspect of Christian belief and social structure, or even directly confiscates the Church’s assets and harasses her personnel, the Church is supposed to abstain from defending herself, since that would be “getting mixed up with politics”.

        Let me show you how thoroughly I conjoin religion and politics. I say that attacking Leftism is an integral part of a healthy spiritual life. A person who is not enraged by the Left’s attack on Christianity is to that extent deficient in his love for Christ. He is like a person who is always kind and solicitous to his mother and loudly professes his love for her but will not lift a finger to defend her when she is attacked by ruffians, who cannot even be brought to agree that the assault on her was a bad thing. Yes, a good Christian wants to overturn anti-Christian laws and replace them with Christian ones. That’s a no-brainer to me.

    • In your linked comment, you say we have “Politicized Everything,” to our detriment. But I’m not calling for “Politics.” I’m calling for leaders who will help us think and therefore act differently. Since we’re thinking wrongly, we’ll continue to wallow in the current mire (or an even worse one) until something happens to change our thinking.

      Politics in the deepest sense is discussion and action aimed at bring about a good state. That’s what we need. And it never happens spontaneously.

      • Politics, in the deepest sense, is war by other means.

        Of course I want good leaders. So does everybody. That’s the way we can be sure we won’t get them.

        Tell ya what. Let’s put the name of every active commercial airline pilot in America (must be US citizen) in one of those lottery ball things, churn them around, pick one out at random, and give him ABSOLUTE power. Send the house, the supreme court, and lobbyists home. Keep the senate for advice and consent (as much as the guy wants) from the “several” states. (Commercial airline pilots are not known for their megalomania.) Let this guy rule, be a legislator, chief executive, constitution, judge, jury, and executioner, for 10 years, and make him swear on the Bible (or holy book of his choosing) to try to put the American fiscal house in order. (‘Course he’ll be the Personal Executive so he could do whatever he wants after he makes that swear…)

        Would you take the deal? If you just have to know something more about him, e.g., his “views” on stuff, before you accept this deal, then you’re holding on to that infinitesimal bit of power, which never did you or anyone else a gosh-darn bit of good.

        You know damn well this guy (or girl) could not possibly do a worse job than the morons we put in Washington. Almost any person, 2nd sigma or above, with a track record of achievement and responsibilty, armed with absolute control, could with support from a faithful and expert staff (whom he could hire or promote or fire or execute at any minute for any reason) get America’s fiscal house in order. Everyone unanimously wants it to happen, yet it cannot happen… because we have to have a committee to get anything done… and everyone knows nothing gets done by committee.

      • Bohemund, your objections are colorful but I can’t see where they overturn what I said. Sure, the entire system is corrupt. But could you identify exactly where you disagree with my analysis? For example, do you say evangelism is enough? And if it is, what’s mistaken about the two reasons I gave why it isn’t?

      • Dear Alan, one and all,

        Agree with your call to return to self-knowledge and righteousness. As a muslim I know that true submission to authentic divine injunctions is the way of our lord Jesus. God Most Sublime and High save the Americans!

        Video link: “One Nation Under God: It’s time to wake up and change.”

    • You guys are both right. Bohemund is right that the politicization that began 500 years ago or so has led by tiny steps to the complete politicization of everything. Alan is right that, now that this has happened, we have no choice but to render unto Caesar – no choice but to be political animals, at least in part. But in so doing, the Christian – and for that matter the orthodox Jew – is called, as ever, to orthogony with respect to every age, to every idolatrous cult. The Kingdom we seek is not of this world. In this, and in this alone, lies our quotidian political appeal to the men of the world.

  1. I am a strong non-believer in the dichotomy between secular and sacred. If the church moved past the mindset thats says we own God and need to win for God, as opposed to God, through His son, owning us and inviting us to participate with Him. I believe our frustration with the downgrading of Western society would be almost completely erased. He is Lord, there is no other legitimate ruler above Him. A re-energized and missional church would be engaged politically, as with the examples of Karl Barth and Billy Graham. As you suggest, the battle is not just for peoples hearts, it is also for their minds. The Church cannot sit in it’s battlements, randomly tossing meme’s, tweets and rants on facebook at it’s enemies. We are called to do better, be better and must trust that in our attempts, the efforts we make, are guided by the Holy Spirit.

  2. Wow, I’m really disappointed to see Phillips talking that way. He should know better of all people.

    As Alan points out, _we_ are being forced to celebrate evil. Of course it’s a “political” struggle to fight back on that.

    Now, about abortion, of all things, which Philips brings up, we’re talking about *murdering babies*, for the good God’s sake! *Of course* we want laws against that! To liken that to Prohibition and to say that we just need to “change people’s hearts” is crazy. It’s like saying, “Hey, we live in a culture where raping little girls is legal, but we’re way too politicized in trying to get this outlawed. It’s like we think it’s going to solve everything if we can outlaw it. Instead, let’s work to change hearts and minds. Righteousness doesn’t come from the law, Instead of working to reinstate laws against child rape, let’s try to win people to Jesus.”

    How shallow can you get?

    Then there’s this matter of homosexuality. Really, if we just evangelize people they will give up homosexuality? Tell that to the Biola Queer Underground, a group of allegedly “in-closet queers” at Biola University who openly claim to be Christians and claim that they can reconcile their Christianity with sexually active homosexuality! Nor are such “Christian” homosexuals an isolated instance. In the society we are being forced into, our very attempts to evangelize will be messed up and twisted by a surrounding society that demands that we celebrate perversion.

    It behooves us if we care about the ultimate destiny of souls to fight the homosexual political agenda and to fight it in the political arena, because to the extent that it wins, children will be hyper-sexualized, people will be led into terrible sexual addictions and utter confusions, bodies will be mutilated (in the transgender agenda), and souls will be lost. Little children are already being “transgendered” by their parents from earliest childhood. The weight of the millstones is overwhelming. Those who care about evangelization and who understand what is at stake cannot help caring about these “political” issues.

    As I say, I’m really disappointed in Philips.

  3. Between us all, we have about 27 nano-hitlers of power. Change that we all certainly agree upon will not be implemented by any merely political means. We are on the Devil’s field and playing by the Devil’s rules–rules that will change to suit the Devil whenever and wherever he likes, and his bought and paid-for propaganda organs will announce only goodness and light, and as if by magic no one will ever remember that the rules were ever different.

    The Devil was the first Whig. He will not be defeated by more Whiggism. Nor even by less of it. But only when humanity stops believing in Whiggism altogether, giving up their irrational devotion to that purely symbolic homeopathic vial of power, and accepting reality as it is, most especially their own.

    And the small, isolated victories we may, at times, win (say if SD bans late term abortions or SCOTUS finds against same sex “marriage”)… Even so the ungodly political machine will churn on, power will be spoken to truth, consent will be manufactored, and if necessary, a new people might have to be elected. But even those small gains of ground will within a short time be turned back.

    There is no dishonor in an orderly retreat. It is not as though I am declaring the War over. On the contrary, I am declaring it is, in fact, a War. Actual people will have to die (I hope only a few) for our side to take power. But before we can take power, we need to prove ourselves worthy of it, and have a secure plan to keep it once we have it.

  4. Phillips is indulging in equivocation. Christ replaces the Law (mosaic code) as the means to reconcile fallen men with God; he does not replace law (ordinary legislation) as the means to regulate human society. It sounds to me as if he is returning to the antinomian roots of the whole anabaptist movement. The New Creation is not yet.

  5. Ah, correction, Alan: It wasn’t written by Dan Phillips. It was written by Phil Johnson. However, presumably D.P. approved it for it to be reposted as a “best of” post.

    • I did say it was written by Phillip Johnson; I didn’t realize that “Phillip” could morph into “Phillips,” as in Dan Phillips, another prominent Pyromaniac. But they presumably agree on this point.

      • Oops, sorry, looking back I realize that it was my confusion. I associate Pyromaniacs with Dan Phillips, so I got myself confused. You were right all along.

        There must be some agreement or this post wouldn’t be brought back to light as a “best of” post. On the other hand, I’d like to think Dan Phillips wouldn’t have written it himself originally. I’m told by someone who reads the Pyros regularly that this post is unusual–an outlier.

      • It may be an outlier in terms of frequency of posting, but from what I’ve seen this view is held by a solid majority of theologically conservative and astute Protestants. (Jerry Falwell, for example, was conservative but not astute.) Our team is largely missing the big picture.

  6. Bohemund, your objections are colorful but I can’t see where they overturn what I said. Sure, the entire system is corrupt. But could you identify exactly where you disagree with my analysis? For example, do you say evangelism is enough? And if it is, what’s mistaken about the two reasons I gave why it isn’t?

    I’m not even sure we’re asking the same question. Of course I don’t think evangelism is enough. I’m Catholic! </joke> But then again, I don’t think evangelism has much at all to do with it. I’m even open to the possibility that evangelism could be at least as much to blame for our decline as it deserves any credit for slowing it. (Nanny Bloomberg, for example, is a direct ideological descendant of the evangelical Anglicans who agitated for the end of slavery. He shares at least 75% of DNA with prohibitionists. The other 25% is Jewish.)

    America was far less evangelized during the period of its own westward expansion, but was simultaneously better, more sanely, and more justly governed, even if occasionally by far from perfect vigilante justice. If you don’t like that example, look at Japan or Singapore, evangelized very little if at all, yet saner people on average, more sanely governed on average. Actually just about any example of governance prior to WWI, in any (then) civilized nation will look positively genius compared to our own.

    Let us stipulate that the way the USA–not merely the USA, but the liberal democracies of the world–not merely the liberal democracies around the world, but the major voluntary institutions (corporations, state and local governments, churches, Elks’ Clubs, etc.)–are governed in an insane (Kalb would say “stupid”) way. And the unmistakable vector of this insanity (stupidity) is toward ever more insanity (stupidity).

    So given this state of things, which we all (even liberals) detest, what we are asking as traditionalists, Christians, reactionaries, the disaffected of every stripe is how do we restore sane, non-stupid government? You and I want this. Even liberals want this. All creation cries out as with the pangs of childbirth for this. But the answer is simple: abolish democracy. Destroy the system whose leaders must reward their constituencies with spoils, for that system is, I believe, our principal defect. Evangelization should proceed apace, of course.

    • Thirded. (Uh, er…I don’t think that is grammatically correct, but oh well 😀 )

      Bohemund, you had me right at “abolish democracy”, say no more. 😉
      Actually I think both you and Alan made good points, but your underlying theme was better; democracy has been destroying us, let’s drop it like a bad habit. I would throw into that assesment that liberalism (of all stripes) needs to go too, but I doubt everyone would be on board with that.

      • Democracy is the sole driving force of liberalism. Remove that and you can at least have an honest and intelligent conversation about the benefits and limits of freedom. 200 years ago liberalism was almost entirely about freedom. That sort of liberalism, e.g., that of Edmund Burke, is still I think properly called liberalism, but it bears little resemblance to the insane, meat-eating 800 lb. gorilla in the room today.

  7. The answer is Political Inequality or the end of treating political rights as a natural right.

    That entails accepting that America is not one nation anymore. And conservatives could hardly be expected to appreciate this lesson.

  8. “…it will never be the case that a majority of people are Christians.”

    For the world, perhaps, at least until the Second Coming. For America perhaps. Is there any polity where a majority could be Christian? Or will the orthodox or “the saved” always be a minority inside another minority, like Russian nesting dolls?

  9. May I offer a layperson’s Lutheran perspective. Aside from being a curb and a guide, the Law is intended to show us our sin, rather like a mirror. When we see our sin as the serious affront to God that it is, only a fool (most people) will not tremble at his unworthiness before a holy God; the Law is meant to drive us to our knees and recognize our need of a Savior. But if the state codifies blatant immorality, its citizens become desensitized to their sin and God’s law has no effect — think Pharoah; their consciences become hardened and dead — think of Noah’s world. The Gospel is only good news to men who know they are beggars before God. If Christians are not salt in the world because they have abandoned the “playing field,” the political realm of influence, then God’s Law will reach fewer hearts, which need breaking in preparation for God’s redeeming love. The political realm of influence should be sought not to make this a better world but because our salty presence is essential to preparing men’s hearts for the Gospel.

    • Debra, yes, the law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. But I’m thinking of Pharoah … and I’m thinking that God removed his people, in that instance, from the larger, thoroughly corrupted, society, led by a man he had removed from that society forty years previously. Where am I going wrong?…

      • Going wrong? I would not say so; but where is our Moses? And another example of believers removing themselves from conscience-dead communities: the disciples were to shake the dust from their feet and move on to more receptive populations when their presence among a pagan people had become ineffective (Matthew 10:14). But where are we in the timeline, the transition from influence for good to violent persecution — and limited ability to reach a spiritually dying population? Is our nation, with many of its “good” laws still intact, and not a small number of its people still God-fearing, beyond redemption? that is, past the point of no return? And for how long do we soldier on in the face of such fierce headwinds, as our media, our schools, our governing bodies have revealed themselves to be intent on our destruction?

        At any rate, I would say prepare for the worst and hope for the best, with that hope being drenched in prayer and replete with action, remembering that our purpose is not to create a heaven on earth — as is the temptation across the political spectrum — but to honor God and glorify Him in all that we do, and that includes using the tools He has given us in a relatively free society to promote the 2nd table of the Decalogue in the crafting of our laws.

    • What you say may be true for acts of “blatant immorality” that have no effect other than to affront God. Covetousness on which one does not act might be an example. I would not pass laws against covetous thoughts. But most acts of blatant immorality affront God and do great harm to other people. Either the act injures them (e.g. murder, theft, false witness), or it serves as a scandal that normalizes such acts (e.g. flaunted acts of sexual immorality). I’m sure you agree that murder is immoral, but can’t believe you would have us remove laws against it. Are you thinking primarily about scandalous behavior, which has no direct “victims,” but was historically sanctioned because it would actually “desensitize” others to sin and make the sin more common? It seems to me that I am less likely to see, say, adultery as an abomination if adultery is a common and condonedpractice in my community. What sorts of blatant immorality did you have in mind?

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