Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why evangelicals are going liberal

In a comment on this post, I said that evangelicals believe that individuals coming to faith in Jesus on an individual basis was the only thing in the world that mattered, and that they can't conceive of a Christian society, only Christian persons. I thought I should expand on this while it was fresh in my mind.

The idea about people coming to personal faith in Jesus on an individual basis has always been the core theological principle of evangelicalism, stemming largely from John 3:3 which says "Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'" This is usually taken to mean that in order to be a Christian, to be saved through Jesus and go to heaven, you must have a personal, conscious conversion experience; being baptized as an infant and raised in a Christian family or Christian culture, and always having more or less assumed that you believed Christianity, is not enough. Despite this emphasis on an individual's personal relationship with Jesus above all else, for a long time evangelicals did accept the idea of a Christian nation, society, or culture, if only because of some vestigial, received traditional wisdom they had never thought to question despite the fact that it wasn't found in the Bible. Or at least, they were neutral or apathetic toward the idea of a Christian nation, society, or culture.

Now, however, the younger generation of evangelicals is becoming antagonistic to the idea, because it's counter to the prevailing principles of liberalism in our society, and it's not found in the Bible. In fact, in the Bible, the early Christians are described as having been a persecuted minority who were imprisoned or killed for their beliefs. This leads to an identification of Christians with other "marginalized" groups, the definition of "marginalized" being the one used in modern liberal society: blacks, immigrants, women, homosexuals, etc. There are still some young evangelicals who believe in the older, James Dobson-esque vision of America as a Christian nation, but to the extent that they do, it's out of a naive belief that the principles of traditional American civic life can be derived from the Bible just as being born again can.

An interesting result of this naivete is what happens when evangelicals succeed in converting nonwhite, non-Western immigrants, so praised as "vibrant" and "diverse" even by evangelicals, to Christianity. Many evangelicals are excited by the prospect of nonwhite immigration, because it presents an opportunity for making converts and bringing about the Revelation 9 vision of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language praising God together. These "conservative" evangelicals are unprepared for what happens when they do so, however; they thought that converting such people to evangelicalism would also mean converting them to a white, Western, traditional American cultural identity as well. Instead, what you get when you convert liberal non-Westerners to evangelical Christianity are liberal, non-Western Christians--people who, as I have seen in my personal life, see no conflict between considering oneself a "Bible-believing, born-again Christian" and voting for Barack Obama, supporting socialized medicine and affirmative action, and endorsing or promoting all manner of other typical left-wing views.


Dr.D said...

A desire to be the underdog is likely to lead to -- guess what -- becoming the underdog. For generations, Christians guided American society and shaped it entirely. Only as Christians have withdrawn and handed control over to non-Christians has the country become a non-Christian society.

A Christian nation is, by definition, a nation guided by and comprised largely of Christians, a definition which once described the USA. It is regrettable that Evangelicals have lost sight of this concept, because in that fact they have aided our decline.

It is to their discredit that Evangelicals presume to judge the validity of their fellow Christian's faith. They are certainly free to say how they think one comes to faith in Christ, but to say that those baptized as infants and reared in the faith all their lives are not saved and are not true Christians is a terrible sin against the unity of the Church. Christ prayed for the unity of His Church in St. John's gospel, and when Christians throw stones at each other, they definitely work to divide the Church.

Hyena Con said...

I noticed this unfortunate development as well when i was an undergrad at a Big State U...There was a time when a person actually comfortable enough to call himself a Christian (much less an evangelical) was implicitly conservative. Now the college ministries are pretty well split along the lib/con lines, and after a single meeting you can tell where they stand. If you don't fit with the lib agenda, or if you're a little extra sensitive about being a white person (in a con group), you go to the other ministry.

Obama's message and leadership leads a lot of guilt-stricken educated white youth to lose themselves in the service of "other"s. The more "other" the better. I blame Tony Campolo for most of it.

Hermes said...

It's true, today's evangelicals want to be victims, they want to be put upon, because they think it means their faith is authentic.

Anonymous said...

Once Evangelicals left the South, the peculiar and historically grounded Scots-Irish ethos of the place--wary of change, outsiders, the government, and blacks--went away. The theological implications of Evagelical individualism combined with the broader culture. Christian Rock made its way, then Promise Keepers, mega-churches, and before long pop environmentalism and socialism. The Old South retains the old Evangelical view, but today you're just as likely to find someone with a pierced tongue and open to "gay marriage" as you are any kind of basic Christian morality.