Well, well, well! The Negative World is now in vogue. It turns out that the only problem with Aaron Renn’s Three worlds of evangelism was that is had yet to be sanded down and baptized into respectability by The Gospel Coalition. I begin with snark but need to be specific while not loosing my point, so bear with me on this one.
A Snarky Recap
Last February Aaron Renn floated his framework of The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism in First Things. And to the vast majority of us who read it we found it a useful lens to look at and understand the culture we live in. But that clarity was distracted by a growing a high pitched “Reeeeeeeeeeee!” noise from the general direction of the respectable types in Big Eva.
Perhaps it is indecorous to be so crass as to say Big Eva. I’ll try again, The Gospel Cowards? Commies, The Gospel Commies! No? The Winsome Whiners? The Moral Minority. Russell Moore or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DNC. Fine Big Eva.
So the squeal of horror grew and before we knew it they were upon us, waxing wroth on how we did not live in a negative world as Renn would suggest and that he should be ashamed for even saying such things. Numerous think pieces were pounded out on how the dates Renn suggested were “arbitrary,” how exceptions could be found as America is not a monolith, how history is long and there have been other times that Christians had it way worse (NOT THAT WE ARE BEING PERSECUTED, YOU SHOULD NOT WANT TO GO TO CHURCH OUT OF LOVE FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR), Renn was being to America centric. Ultimately all of the objections boiled down to death by paper-cuts. There was no way to disprove his general theory whole sale it had to be nitpicked apart so as to strain credulity. His conclusion was painfully obvious to anyone with eyes in their head. And in the past year things have come into even more specific relief. Most think pieces seemed to take the stance of, “Who you gonna believe, me, or your own lyin eyes?”
And now here comes the Keller Foundation opening with the line, “We live in a post-Christian culture…” Sounds an awful lot like a Negative World to me.
Specifically, Be Grateful
Now, here are the specifics I do not intend to have any snark about. Tim Keller is not someone to get upset at. Most likely Renn got his initial ideas on Positive, Neutral, and Negative worlds from Keller. Renn speaks well of Keller and often gives him credit for good ideas Renn then plays with or builds on. Some of the Renn fanboys (Rennboys?) need to knock it off with the Keller bashing. I despise that kind of behavior. We should be grateful for those who came before us, worked hard, taught us, and we received good from. Sometimes their thinking becomes not as useful, or needs to be reevaluated but that does not mean that we should start playing the eastern orthodox game of tossing anathemas around the internet like Halloween candy at a Baptist Trunk-r-Treat.
Keller has for years, years, been saying we live in a post-Christian world. To the best of my knowledge he has not formulated it like Renn but the two are in agreement and Keller has been there for ages. For example look at how Mark Driscoll pulled heavily from Center Church and was constantly saying how negative Seattle was and was ten years ahead of the rest of the culture. He got that from Keller, back then.
Basically it is no surprise that Big Eva then jumped on the bandwagon when they figured out that Keller had a sanctified version of what everyone else saw but they had just finished denouncing so throughly. If you are going to kvetch about hypocrites make sure to keep the right targets in your sites.
This all brings me to the question of why Renn’s framework was so abhorrent to the old guard? In sort they had retreated themselves into a winsome corner and couldn’t admit that the enemy even existed.
A major problem with the winsome* way of doing things is it’s deep How to Win Friends and Influence People vibe that people think it is supposed to give off. No one would even consider that the idea of being winsome is to just keep your mouth shut, smile, and remain unflappable in the face of an antagonist. Much less suing the Washington Post for it’s value because they defamed your name and church (Was it really winsome that David killed Goliath for blasphemy…) This thinking reveals that the winsome model flatly rejects the idea that Christians could ever have enemies.
We are told time and again the Church in America is not persecuted. And yet John MacArthur had to sue the governor of his state when they tried to shut down worship while encouraging BLM riots. This was denounced by Big Eva because, again, it should never be imagined that the government would be an enemy of the church.
Drag queen grooming has brought things into an awkward place because they are both militant and flamboyant. But how did we get here? We refused to see homosexuals as enemies of the Church. They wanted control over the institution of marriage, and used the strong arm of the government to seize it from us. And yes we lamented, but it was more of a grumble than the kind of lamentations that we went through for George and the ensuing BLM scam. Also not enemies we are told, if you send your pastor screen shot highlights from their website you are probably Q-Anon (Now there is an enemy Big Eva isn’t afraid to name…)
Sitting members of congress publicly call the most milquetoast suggestions of the gospel fascism because they think Christians have no place in their government. And yet our Reformed public figures can’t bring themselves to say we have enemies.
Define Your Terms
We have failed to properly reckon with the command of Christ to, “Love your enemies” we have spent a lot of time dithering over the love part. So much so that we have either explained away or forgotten the enemy part.
It would be good for us to spend a little time to figure out what enemy. I once debated a pacifist that was so incapable of admitting a home intruder was his enemy that he had no problem letting that intruder murder his wife and kids. This is the same kind of thinking we are seeing from many of the people who are voices pastors listen to for guidance when it comes to cultural engagement. A suggestion that Christians should pull their kids from public schools is greeted with shock and horror. And I know professed Christian kindergarten teachers that see no problem teaching damnable doctrines of trannies in their kindergarten classroom. If a pastor can’t bring themselves to put that kind of thing under church discipline, what gives you confidence he can tell you who is an actual enemy you should show love to?
In the command of Christ we have exegetically done the equivalent of putting the, “wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble,” as Mike Myers would mispronounce. We need to identify our enemies before we can determine how to correctly love them. A soft, wishy-washy, affirming, dare I say: feminine love is not a one size fits all solution. Sometimes enemies need to be derided and mocked. Some need to be sued into oblivion (while we still can). And the day may come when they must be properly and manfully fought.
John Knox received his pastoral training while holding a sword to defend his pastor/teacher. We need some Knox men. Not spoiling for a fight, but not afraid to defend the flock, and not afraid to defend the name of God.
The Case for Christian Nationalism caused quite a stir. I think, primarily, not because Wolfe offered up cogent arguments. But because he spoke to the current problems and grasped the Us vs. Them mentality that the secular, godless, negative world has no problem admitting to. And the people who interacted with him resonated with his message.
Wolfe is wrong in many of his applications, in my estimation. I think he sucked up the air that Renn would have sailed on. But Big Eva was too busy stomping all over Renn, that they never saw Cannon Press traipsing up with a gaudy glitter bomb and a gleam in their eye. And now still furiously shaking off sparkles they are backtracking to Keller. I hope that perhaps it brings about something useful. But I will be frustrated on some level. And frankly you should be too.
*I am fully aware that Keller is considered one of the four horsemen of the Winsome Apocalypse. But I would contend that he is far more competent and spine possessing than many of his current banner carriers. Keller bing winsome is a good thing, TGC… is something else.