Saturday, December 19, 2015

John Wilsey: Is the Evangelical Right Actually Conservative?

John Wilsey, writing for the Christian Century asks a very important question: Is the Christian Right actually conservative.  The post is mostly an (well-deserved, IMO) indictment of modern evangelical Christianity:
Many on the evangelical right have also jettisoned the intellectual, credal, and liturgical traditions of Christianity. There’s not much new in that. The anti-credal trend goes back to early-19th-century America. But it continues, and this “crisis of authority” has profound ramifications, as Molly Worthen, Thomas Bergler, D. H. Williams, and other scholars have noted.

This is a major problem. If we take Russell Kirk’s emphasis on order in conservatism, then it is difficult to classify rightist evangelicalism as conservative. At the beginning of his Roots of American Order, Kirk defines order as “a systematic and harmonious arrangement” that “signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights in a community.” Disorder is “a confused and miserable existence” wherein “the commonwealth cannot endure.” Kirk’s understanding of order as central to conservatism is one rule by which we ought to measure the legitimacy of conservatism in American evangelical Protestantism.

As a result of turning away from objective authority, evangelicals have a sentimentalized religion. Sentimentalism yields a self-referential faith. Kirk calls this “egoism,” which is antithetical to “humility, charity, and community.” Sentimentalism turns inward and rejects the outside world. Self-help and self-defense messages abound, along with constant appeals to stay relevant for the young people. Bergler terms this process “the juvenilization of American Christianity.”
This goes hand in hand with the "Disney-ization of Christianity" and Mark Noll's perspective that the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there is no evangelical mind anymore, but that the Church has abrogated its responsibilities in modern society and academia. Todd Wood, the young earth creationist down in Dayton, TN, lamented this a bit back, arguing that the church has set up a parallel culture with all the trappings of secular culture, only recognizable by the fact that its members go to church on Sundays.  Further, he notes that this culture is poorly done, which leads young people to abandon it.

So the modern evangelical movement spends that vast majority of its time focusing on the modern culture wars—homosexuality, gay marriage, pre-marital sex, evolution and other related issues—and in so doing, forgets that it has a rich history of three or four millenia, filled with some of the greatest minds that have ever lived. Consequently, instead of academic centers of Christian thought, we get the Creation Museum and pastors like Brad Shockley.  No wonder people are leaving the church in droves.

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