The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Tolerationism
One of the more ironic features of this election year is the suggestion that a vote for Michael Peroutka and Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party would be a wasted vote. The thought is that only by allowing the Republicans to retain control of the White House can we avoid falling into the sewer of big government and imperialism. A vote for Bush/Cheney will constitute the best route back to responsible, “conservative” government. It will be interesting to see whether this strategy works.
Even more ironic is the way pastors are feeling the heat from the IRS for speaking out on the “issues” in such a politically-charged climate. By their silence, conservative Republicans, including many professors on Christian college and seminary campuses, are embracing the very government policies that lead to slavery. This inhibiting virus of political tolerationism has infected our conservative evangelical churches to the point that few, if any, of our religious leaders dare take a stand against the policies of the current administration. Many people are only now becoming aware of the strong socialist presence within the American Congress and within American Christendom as a whole. Varieties of tolerationism have become deeply entrenched on several major evangelical college campuses and in numerous conservative denominations. This pro-Big Brother bias is also evident in any local church you might happen to attend on a given Sunday morning. This includes evangelical churches known for their theological conservatism.
This is not the place to discuss all of the ramifications of this kind of group think. My book Why I Stopped Listening to Rush attempts to document how tolerationism maintains power through creating incentives for the suspension of critical thinking among the masses, beginning with the intellectuals. No longer is there any objective truth, and even if there were, we could never discover it. Each person can discover only his or her own “truth” (the quotation marks are necessary to show that we are not referring to objective truth). It is impossible to know what the Constitution really means, we are told, let alone what Madison, Jefferson, or Jesus for that matter really meant. The pop Christian culture – from the largest pulpits in the land to our so-called Christian bookstores – has been invaded by an army of dishonest hermeneuticians who are intent are telling us that it matters not whether abortion is murder, or whether Christians and Muslims pray to the same God. There is no longer any objective reality be which we can adjudicate truth and falsehood.
Erasmus, the famous Dutch humanist, once asked, “If Aristotle, who was a pagan and a philosopher too, painted such a picture among men who were not holy and learned in the Scriptures, how much more is it fit for one who moves in the place of Christ to fulfill the task?” It is impossible to disagree with Erasmus’s pessimistic assessment of what has happened among purveyors of evangelical theology. Perhaps the time has come for the formation of a kind of evangelical council for political accountability that would function in political matters much as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability functions in respect to fund-raising practices among Christian organizations. I have pointed out numerous times that the intellectual dishonesty that would permit a Christian to support a Republican pro-abortion candidate (such as Schwarzenegger or Specter) is the cause of the very social ills we are trying to redress.
How much longer will the conservative majority continue to hail the state as the Messiah, the fulfillment of its hopes, the perfecter of its faith? The efforts of the Gnostics in the second century to accommodate Christianity to the culture of their day is no different than an American pastor telling his flock to support their “conservative” president because he prays or reads his Bible. For all too many Christians in the United States, George W. Bush has become the great crusader whose policies matter not as long as he pays lip-service to the Bible and the church. All conflict between Christ and culture has evaporated; cultural tolerationism has become the new orthodoxy.
As my wife and I prepare to leave for Ethiopia we are often reminded of the famous statement that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. One cannot doubt that the Ethiopian church is much stronger today for having suffered under Marxist rule. But that statement is, at best, a half truth. The seed may have been healthy, but the crop may become so infested with insects and disease that the plant grows up incurably fetid and therefore worthless. If in the ancient world men were impressed by the courage of Christians who refused to yield to populous custom, men today seem less attracted to the message of radical monotheism, which confesses Christ alone as the Messiah of culture.
All of this will not become moot after November 2, 2004. The fact that professing Christians have found kinship between Christ and the prophet of Mohamed may be indicative that the church in America has reached a cul-de-sac from which it can never extricate itself. It becomes more or less clear that it is not possible honestly to confess that Jesus is the Christ unless one can confess much more than this. This “more” will occur only when we as Christians renew our links to the past and address candidly the theological illiteracy of our churches – and our leaders. If we cannot recover an understanding of the essential role that truth plays in the Christian faith, no honorable purpose will be served by allowing the name “Christian” to remain attached to our churches and ecclesiastical associations.
September 20, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.