When All of America Joins the Culture Wars
I remember first reading the term "the culture wars" when I first took interest in apologetics. At the time (about 2013), the term had come to signify the growing worldview divisions that existed between Americans. Very often, political disagreements were cast as "surface-level" expressions of a deep rift between those of a more "conservative" political alignment and those who were more "liberal." Many Christian apologists and other evangelicals had no problem using this kind of language, though some took it to be too combative in tone.
The willingness of many evangelicals to use the term "culture wars" is not surprising. The term is often associated with the Religious Right and something called "social conservatism." Social conservatism described a political alignment that was seen to imbibe a more traditional perspective on gender, sexuality, marriage, and family. At the time, the big issues were things like homosexuality and abortion. In the next few decades, the social conservatism would be defined by an opposition to the rapid, massive cultural shifts occurring around issues such as marriage, sexuality, family, and ideology. In a very real way, proponents of this perspective such as Jerry Falwell seem to have been prophetic. Not only were they right; I'm not sure that any social conservative in the 1980s could've predicted the extent to which the coming decades would confirm their perspective on American culture and politics.
The title above might seem provocative. Perhaps combative, as evangelicals who prefer not to use the term "culture wars" suggest. But I think that to cast the current political divisiveness in this country as a war communicates a profound truth about the state of American politics today. And, while there's plenty to be troubled by in these turbulent times, I think that this political moment presents to Christians (who are faithful to Scripture) a profound opportunity for the advancement of the gospel. If this is a war, then let's rally together and get ready to charge for the front lines, banner of our Lord in hand.
Just to be clear, this war is nonviolent on our part. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 6:12 (NASB):
"Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
For Christians, war is waged spiritually, not physically. And our enemy is spiritual as well. If you find someone near to you who has rejected Jesus, this person is not your enemy. Your enemies are that person's worldview and the demons whose interest is in their continued existence. In other words, we wage these wars with apologetics seasoned with prayer and faith.
Two things follow from this commitment to waging war the way Ephesians 6:12 tells us to. First, wage it with self-sacrificial love for other people. As Jesus says in Luke 10:16 (NASB):
"The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me."
Don't take rejection of the gospel personally and commit to loving that person the way that Jesus does. Second, wage it mercilessly and ruthlessly against opposing worldviews. With respect to "every lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5), the command from God is clear: kill. We ought to hate false worldviews peddling lies that lead others to hell. If you love your neighbor, you hate his false beliefs. Caring compassion and conviction meet in the one who obeys these commands from Scripture, and the result is a Christian and Church seasoned with salt. You won't find anything more peculiar and attractive in this world because it reflects the Savior.
So Scripture is clear. As sojourners in this world and citizens of God's Kingdom (Philippians 3:20), we operate at all times behind enemy lines. Too combative? Tell this to Paul. By the end of his life, he had his battle scars from this cosmic war. To miss the combative element of the gospel is to be asleep to the spiritual forces at work in this world. Our secularized modern context has hidden it from our eyes, but we must be awake to it and aware of it.
Why, then, do Christian apologists often refer to the current cultural moment as "the culture wars?" In one sense, this characterization fits right in with Christian theology. The New Testament, as is evidenced above, often uses militaristic language to describe how Christians ought to live. But this language speaks to spiritual, not physical, conflict. We don't wage war with people but with ideas. And the last year has shown us that there is an all-out war being waged in this country over ideas. Followers of Christ find themselves in the center of this conflict of ideas and must navigate their way through it.
So what's unique about this cultural moment? If Christians at all times operate behind enemy lines with a calling from God to destroy spiritual strongholds, then what makes this context special? In one sense, not much. Christians have always fought these battles. In the intellectual history of Christianity, you will find some of the greatest thinkers of Western civilization, such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, Anselm, René Descartes, and others. These Christians fought these battles with their minds and pens, seeking to tear down contrary worldviews and replace them with the gospel. So why is this time any different?
At the beginning of the year, the coronavirus pandemic brought to the forefront two major questions that Americans had to face. First, what must I do to care for and protect others? Second, what just policies could be enacted to protect people while preserving the economy? The first question is ethical. For Christians, we have to wisely apply the words of Scripture to "love your neighbor as yourself." The second question is political. It involves the question as to whether our elected officials will enact just policies wisely. In a period of outright political division and strife (only made worse by the 2016 election), these questions brought out no shortage of name-calling, accusation, slander, and virtue signaling. A disaster on such a global scale might have brought the American people together in some other period of history, but not in 2020.
And then there occurred the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. For many Americans who were otherwise apolitical, the riots, defended by the media and our elected officials during a pandemic, revealed the underlying worldviews that had been in conflict with one another for decades. Critical theory (and critical race theory as a subset of critical theory) gained national attention as the underlying Marxist worldview of people who believed that all sin is systemic and that deconstruction (i.e., destruction) are the solution to that sin. Otherwise secular political commentators have commented that the cultural shifts of the last year are massive in scope. What's at stake? The philosophical foundation of Western society, which overlaps significantly with Christian values. I have covered this in more detail in other posts, so feel free to read more about this there.
This chaotic year has brought to the forefront the reality that the political division in this country is not merely political. It is philosophical. There is a deep connection between worldview and the way we live, including how we vote and which policies we support. Christians have been pointing to this for decades. Social or religious conservatism is born out of this connection. But what I see in my friends and family more than ever now is the recognition that this connection exists and a willingness to discuss them.
This, I think, has two consequences. First, we haven't seen the end of the political strife by a long shot. Joe Biden calls for unity while his party and the mainstream media supporting him defend the destruction of this country's institutions and the philosophy undergirding them. That call for unity is a lie. Actions speak louder than words. If Biden and Harris cared a wit about unity, they would have called for it when their political counterparts called for the destruction of people's livelihoods out of some twisted sense of racial justice. Moral courage several months ago would have been going against the grain of your voters to speak out against this insanity. To call for unity now is spineless and sounds to many like a call to lay down and shut up. When all of America joins the culture wars, then those wars get more intense. I have a feeling that what was once a cold or lukewarm war just got hot.
That's scary. But the second consequence, I think, is very encouraging. With people thinking about the underlying ideas behind these political and cultural movements, people now, more than ever, are thinking about worldview. Many see the deep connection between ideas and a life lived a certain way. My hope is that philosophical, theological, and religious claims will not be so easily dismissed as unimportant in life when we see their outworking every day in the political realm, at work, and at home. You want to know what so-called "academic" theories get you? Visit Portland. You'll see buildings burned down in the name of that theory.
Christians should take this is an awesome opportunity for the gospel of Christ. Caring compassion and conviction in Christ give us the unique courage to stand and defend the truth in the midst of battle. The battle of spiritual forces has always existed and will exist until the return of Christ, but we are most equipped when the war gets hot. It's gotten hot in the United States. Stay humble and pray that this heat will bring glory to God and people into the Kingdom. Pray that it will bring unity to Christians who, united around the truth of the gospel, ally with each other where they would have divided over secondary differences. Pray for God's strength and courage to keep standing and defending the truth with wisdom, even with the cultural pressures are pressing harder and harder upon us. Look to the persecuted church as a living example of how to do something that we are not used to in this country. And cling to the truth. Many Christians are tragically falling into error right now. How sad is it to find defectors instead of fellow soldiers.
Does that sound combative? Again, look to Scripture. Look to the battle scars on Paul. On Peter. On James. On all of the rest of the apostles martyred and maimed over ideas. Christians have been very comfortable in America. When trials come, only clinging to Christ and His truth will keep us from wavering.
On a personal note, this year has left me with a stronger conviction to consecrate myself for the battles ahead. I don't want to sleep while the culture wars rage on. If I have been called to defend the gospel, then I must be ready and equipped for that calling. I invite you to consider what you need to do as well. Greater separation from the corruption of the world is a good start. Seek God's counsel and the Scripture to see what you need to do. I trust firmly that God will preserve His Church during this time and advance His Kingdom. I just want to be a part of it.
This is a different post for me. I wanted to share some thoughts about the current cultural moment that we are in. I think that 2020 has radically changed this country and its political landscape, and these changes will affect us as Christians and apologists. Because of that, I focused less on strictly intellectual issues and more on the spiritual realities undergirding these things (not that they're very disconnected). In the coming weeks, I plan to write about critical theory in more detail. Stay tuned for those posts!
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