Sometimes I like to rant. Today my friend Laurent phoned from Amsterdam, where he lives. Laurent’s an interesting fellow. If you would like to meet him, read This Rough Beast. Today he listened patiently while I ranted about people who adhere to the agenda of any political party rather than deciding for themselves about particular issues.
Philip Yancey is decidedly not one of those people, which is one reason why he’s a favorite of mine among contemporary Christian writers.
He leads off Christians and Politics, Uneasy Partners, with the assertion that “evangelicals’ love affair with politics is a recent phenomenon.” And he maintains that before the affair grew torrid, the broader culture had a far more favorable view of Christianity and Christians than they currently do. Now, he reports, many if not most people think of Christians as reactionary, violent, illogical, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant empire builders who want to convert everyone.
He suggests we consider five approaches Christians might take toward their cultures: Christ above culture, Christ against culture, Christ to transform culture, Christ in paradox with Culture and Christ with culture. After defining each approach, he summarizes how different ages, cultures and denominations have used these approaches.
Next he turns to our era and in that context relates his surprise and sorrow over responses to a rather favorable assessment of Bill Clinton he gave in What’s So Amazing About Grace. Mean-spirited comments prompt him to admit deep concern about the recent tendency for the labels ‘evangelical Christian’ and ‘religious right’ to become interchangeable.
Returning to church history, he points out that “In the 1950s and 1960s, mainline denominations moved away from proclaiming the gospel toward a more political agenda, and the pews began to empty, cutting membership by half. Many of these disaffected churchgoers sought out evangelical churches, where they heard messages more directed to their spiritual needs. It would be ironic indeed if evangelical churches repeated the error and drove away members because of an overemphasis on politics of the conservative stripe.”
Or, I might add, if they allowed their conservative striped members to dictate what can or cannot be preached or advocated.
I’m reminded of when Barack Obama won the presidency and I suggested to our pastor that the music team work up a rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” to celebrate that after all these years the Civil War was apparently over. The pastor replied that it probably wouldn’t happen because that song is “not in our range.”
For the past twelve years and some months, that comment has haunted me.
Also by Philip Yancey: What’s So Amazing About Grace