Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Historical & Theological Reflections, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at an overly-broad international picture of church/state relations. Now we’ll do an overly-simplified scan of the American options currently put forth.

One (Dodaro), leaning on Augustine (many claim him, even as they disagree with one another), says there can be no justice apart from being Christ-centered. Therefore, a culture must be Christ-centered. Another (Markus) claims there are three spaces – sacred, profane, and secular. It is different from our secularism, however. Secular in his view consists of those things that meet needs and order society. The last Augustine claimant (Johnson) argues that Augustinians must move beyond tolerance, but not claim neutrality because it strips us of what we genuinely hold to. Instead, we tolerate (or better, love?) differences and await the Heavenly City for unity.

Another “mediating” position (Stout) shows how liberal secularists administrate the public arena while they are at the same time part of that arena. He argues for a “thick” tradition that allows for different views and communication. In the end, Carson doesn’t think, however, that he escapes the affirmation of liberal secularism, however.

Next are those who reject Constantinianism in its various forms. Some call for total abandonment of the wider culture (Amish) while others think Christians should engage and do good at all levels of culture, but not do it in such a way that it is a “distinctively Christian product or stance” (p. 179). Others think the church should be the church and it is against the church’s purpose to even have a philosophy of the state.

Others (Stassen & Gushee) try to bring disparate views together – and Carson thinks they do a pretty good job. For instance, they argue that just war adherents and pacifists should focus on their common ground of minimizing violence, not justifying making war – or discrediting it. Carson notes that many books like this one are eager to slam the US, but they ignore the abuses of organizations they laud, like the UN and their “spectacular ‘Oil for Food’ scandal” (p. 182).

The next view (O’Donovan) does not argue for a strong Constantinian model, but it recognizes that Christ is risen and triumphant and all governments are under His feet. Governments are “secondary witnesses to God’s own act of judgment” (p. 183). O’Donovan prefers minimal government, but he argues that the church helped during the Constantinian era to minimize government abuse.

Finally, while there is plenty of Christian left attacking the Christian right (and vice-versa), the most vociferous attack against Christianity and the erection of the wall of separation are the secular “far left,” according to Carson. Carson lists several and notes all Christians are lumped together – from Timothy McVeigh to Tim Keller (one author puts them in the same camp) and what they believe Christians think about the state would be laughable except for the fact that people read these books and believe them. Even the most politically active and engaged believers I know would find these views absurd and not representative of what they believe. Those who seek the “wall of separation” want religion to be purely private and some even think Christians should not be allowed to run for public office!

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