Monday, March 19, 2012

Revisionist arguments and the deficiency of modernity

The newly re-launched Stand Firm website is off to a good start with this piece from Matt Kennedy on how revisionist activists creep into orthodox Christian bodies and subvert their witness and ministry. The pattern should be easily discernible but, unfortunately, it goes unidentified for far too long in most cases.
1. A small group of revisionist activists embrace an unbiblical but culturally popular idea.

2. Orthodox leaders respond by reasserting the Faith.

3. Those styling themselves “moderate” (who often don’t quite grasp the theological issues at stake) emphasize the need for unity and patience. Three of the most common moderate templates are: an appeal to the “Gamaliel model” from Acts 5; an attempt to re-cast the conflict as adiaphora—a dispute over “non-essential” issues; and/or an argument from Jesus’ command not to “judge”.

4. The theological liberals congratulate and fawn over “moderates” for their “open-mindedness”, feeding the moderates’ need to be liked/admired.

5. At some point the secular media (perhaps alerted by the revisionist activists) is attracted to the conflict and various outlets report on the “growing controversy”. The media portrays orthodox leaders as stodgy reactionaries. Theological liberals are showcased as cutting edge enlightened thinkers, courageously challenging the powers-that-be on behalf of the downtrodden. “Moderates” who hold traditional views but counsel “dialog” are featured as the “voices of reason” in the troubled denomination.

6. What had been a tiny group of relatively harmless revisionists now begins to gain steam as members of the denomination uninformed and unprepared for the controversy are exposed to revisionist arguments for the first time via the media alongside gentle calls for moderation, patience and open-mindedness.

7. Well-meaning, conflict-averse orthodox pastors hope to shield their flock by “focusing on mission” and avoiding the topic.

8. Having leveraged the moderates and the press, the tiny group of revisionist activists now has the political clout to influence the direction of the entire denomination. They “put facts on the ground” and initiate legislative action.

9. Many otherwise orthodox leaders do not speak forcefully against these measures because those who have already done so have been successfully characterized as “angry zealots”, “fundementalists” and “rabble rousers.”

At this point it is generally only a matter of time before “facts on the ground” become legislative facts and the denomination begins to crumble. Traditional-minded members quietly leave for other churches. Others hole up in “safe” ghettos hoping to ride out the storm. The vast majority seek desperately to continue on as if nothing has happened. But as traditionalists leave the revisionists gain power and a vicious cycle picks up steam.

Kennedy suggests some practical steps to combat the advance of theological liberalism, but I would suggest the first necessary step is what he has already done, namely, identify the process by which revisionists gain a foothold in churches. By the time the "moderates" start spouting their pabulum (step 3), it is probably already too late. The encroachment needs to be stopped at the very beginning, but that takes wisdom and courage on the part of battle tested church leaders who are willing to confront modernity head-on before its flawed, deficient, and ultimately counter-productive presuppositions poison the thinking of average church-goers who are more concerned with being viewed in a positive light by outsiders than with living under the light of the Gospel. Ben Stevens, writing today at First Things, defines the parameters of modernity and how the aggressive movement for the legitimization of homosexual behavior (the quintessential "unbiblical but culturally popular idea") has created an environment of intolerance and bigotry by the very persons who rail against the same.
To the extent that a society becomes “modern,” then, it will be packed with people who hold to widely divergent beliefs and values, any of which may be questioned. And the glue of this system is not that we all agree with one another but that we make a commitment to not always equate disagreement, or even disapproval, with bigotry.

At present, this model of society is being rejected by the LGBT movement. And it is being rejected not to the extent that the movement simply disagrees with, and disapproves of, its detractors, but to the extent that it equates all disagreement and disapproval of itself with bigotry, and seeks to classify any question about the tenets of its own orthodoxy as hate speech.

A truly modern movement will, by definition, expect to be questioned. Being questioned about one’s beliefs, as Berger explains, is a necessary consequence of living in a diverse, pluralistic society. Christians are required to answer every conceivable kind of question about their beliefs, and they can expect their convictions to be tested both formally, in university settings, and at the popular level, in TV specials about Jesus’ “real” identity. No one expects this kind of thing to stop, and in fact many find Christians find that the pressure to defend their views in the face of such dissent actually makes them more articulate regarding those views.

In light of that understanding of modernity, consider the “if you disagree with us, we’ll convince everyone you’re backwards” tactic the LGBT movement has been pursuing in its rise to prominence. Does it embrace and adapt to a world in which it must cordially and sympathetically re-articulate itself as one belief among many? Does it expect to be questioned? That is, is it a truly modern movement? I do not see how.