Saturday, May 29, 2010

Christianity, Liberalism, Lillback, Beck and Ironies

[Wow, long title for a post; the post won't be too long, I promise.]

The following is from Peter Lillback's interview on the Glenn Beck Show about Christianity and "social justice."

BECK: OK. Give me the origins of social justice.

LILLBACK: Well, let’s start in the context of Westminster Seminary. The man who started the school where I’m the president, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book that revolutionized the 20th century. It was called “Christianity and Liberalism.”

And basically what he said is, is that liberals claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.

And that is the core of what you deal with now, really, a century after Dr. Machen started Westminster Seminary. The words are Christian, but they have been redefined. . . .


There are two ironies here: One is Lillback is speaking to a Mormon and this is exactly what conservative evangelicals have long accused Mormons of doing. Simply substitute "Mormonism" for "liberalism."

It was called “Christianity and [Mormonism].”

And basically what he said is, is that [Mormons] claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and [Mormonism] are two different religions.

And that is the core of what you deal with now, really,...The words are Christian, but they have been redefined.


Sound familiar?

The second irony is that Lillback himself, as a "Christian Americanist" has attempted to incorporate "liberalism" into HIS faith. That is, the American Founding was "liberal" in a small l sense. Classical liberalism. We are all -- even Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell -- as Francis Fukuyama pointed out, liberal democrats to some extent. (Unless of course, you are a communist, fascist, anarchist, and I was going to say genuine theocrat like the followers of RJ Rushdoony; but even they, except Gary North, attempt to appropriate the American Founding.) That just means that you believe in voting among citizens to validate elections, elect representatives, etc. And that you believe in *some* concept of individual and minority group rights, antecedent to majority rule.

"Liberal democracy" as such is compatible with most forms of modern day lefty liberalism, righty conservatism and libertarianism. And, for a variety of reasons, all sides would love to claim their politics and personal preferences as the "owners" of the heritage of the American Founding and its classical liberalism. If "we" "own" the heritage of American Founding, the logic goes, then society should adopt our policy prescriptions.

Therefore, as conservative orthodox Christians, Peter Lillback, David Barton and others attempt to claim the American Founding and reconcile its liberalism with their personal theology.

So Peter Lillback for instance, would want to claim as many of the ideas as possible in the patriotic sermons of the American Founding (even though many of the most notable ministers weren't even "Christians" as Lillback understands the term, but unitarians, and otherwise believed in all sorts of things Lillback would regard as "heresy"). But Lillback would not want to touch the loyalist sermons.

As I pointed out previously, America's patriotic preachers were LIBERATION theologists, of the classical liberal variety. The idea that "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" or that God sides with the oppressed is no more or less "biblical" than the social justice teachings against which Lillback and Beck rail. And the patriotic sermons used the same method as the social justice sermons of "extracting" words and teachings from the Bible and giving them new meaning.

15 comments:

King of Ireland said...

"The idea that "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" or that God sides with the oppressed is no more or less "biblical" than the social justice teachings against which Lillback and Beck rail. And the patriotic sermons used the same method as the social justice sermons of "extracting" words and teachings from the Bible and giving them new meaning."

As for the first part I agree. The second part is a stretch. There was no new meaning. The ideas were established in Christian thought for centuries.

But to your larger point to get to inalienable rights and politics even mattering in light of the gospel is different than trying to establish justice socially. It comes down to different philosophies of how to bring this about.

In other words, Mac Athur does not really want anything to do with either because it is not the gospel. The liberationists and liberals want to impact society and bring heaven to earth but disagree about how.

It really comes down to postive and negative rights. But of course the religious right is hypocritical with its stances on gay marriage and other things. Though not aborition because they seek to protect the liberty of the unborn child in my mind.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No irony atall. Lillback is free to give his theological opinion as an accredited Reformed theology scholar. So are those who disagree with him, if they know what they're talking about.

At least there's no more irony than the other side of the partisan divide who charge "theocracy!" yet support "social gospel" politics.


CNN did a breathless "expose" of "Theocracy in America"

http://article.nationalreview.com/325055/theocracy-in-america/joe-carter


But CNN didn't seem to have a problem with this:

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/08/obama.faith/

Obama said he was pleased that leaders in the evangelical community such as T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren were beginning to discuss social justice issues like AIDS and poverty in ways evangelicals were not doing before.

"I think that's a healthy thing, that we're not putting people in boxes, that everybody is out there trying to figure out how do we live right and how do we create a stronger America," Obama said.

He finished his brief remarks by saying, "We're going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth."


Me, I don't have a problem with any of it. Goose, gander, First Amendment, come one, come all. But I think your irony meter is wired backwards.

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

It is the same war that liberal and conservative Christians had in the 20's. They both go to extremes and pick out the "ideals" they want to see in society. Just like the North and the South both using the Bible in the Civil War. Both tories and patriots did as well in the Revolution.

Look at Welfare. Jesus was very generous with the needy but the Bible says if you do not work you do not eat. Has to be a balance.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not even getting into that muck. I think it's perfectly legitimate to support "progressive" candidates in the name of The Beatitudes. Or vote against them based on 2 Thessalonians 3. Whatever. I have no idea what Jesus would have us do, and I think the Founders saw it that way too, that we must use our right reason to fill in the political blanks.

King of Ireland said...

"I'm not even getting into that muck. I think it's perfectly legitimate to support "progressive" candidates in the name of The Beatitudes. Or vote against them based on 2 Thessalonians 3. Whatever. I have no idea what Jesus would have us do, and I think the Founders saw it that way too, that we must use our right reason to fill in the political blanks'

I tend to think you are right.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And I think Jon is right---especially regarding Protestant theology [if I understand it correctly] when he writes:

The idea that "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" or that God sides with the oppressed is no more or less "biblical" than the social justice teachings against which Lillback and Beck rail. And the patriotic sermons used the same method as the social justice sermons of "extracting" words and teachings from the Bible and giving them new meaning.

All true. But I do agree with you [and meownself] when you previously wrote that liberty and rights as "natural law" and as God-given was a process in Christian thought that had been developing for the 500 years leading up to the Founding. "Social Gospel" or "liberation theology" as we know them as a politics today date only back to the western world's Industrial Revolution and the social upheaval it created.

The question is whether Marxist method---history or theology---is valid as a hermeneutic tool in the 21st century.

We of course all agree that their conclusions of a totalitarian state, Communism [marxism-leninism-stalinism-Maoism] is no answer, and I really don't mean to poison the well with the Soviet Union or Mao's China. But the hermeneutic itself is used in our modern universities and churches, whether unwittingly or unapologetically.

"Social justice" is either a private thing or a political one.



The question would be whether that social upheaval speaks to man's permanent or perennial problems or just to its day and age. In other words, speaking to a permanent truth about man, man's "condition," God, and man's relation to fellow man, or whether "social Gospelism" was just a response to a temporary situation and a temporary inequality/tyranny.

I don't mean to poison the well--- but Karl Marx was a pretty clear analyst of the problems created by the Industrial Revolution circa the late 1800s [CE]. The injustice and debasement of the human person was intolerable by any secular or religious standards.

Pinky said...

.
It seems to me that we must guard against getting caught up in discussions framed by persons with an agenda to prove their faith based ideologies are the authority to which we all must appeal.
.
All this talk about liberal thinking as though it is the enemy of conservatism based on Biblical truths puts a frame around the American Founding that is bogus in the first place. It creates a fracture in reality that sees liberalism as being associated with Satanistic ideologies.
.
Beck and his allied cronies seem bent of leap frogging what liberalism is all about and they confuse the issue with their discombobulations of Christian doctrines of one color or another.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I guess 8 posts in a row attacking Beck, et al., isn't enough "balance" for some people.

rhp997 said...

Beck is a terrible theologian.

Can we get to 10?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I think it's just easier to attack Beck than defend bankrupting the country in the name of "social justice," a 20th century invention of doubtful theological provenance.

But since I'm a lover, not a fighter, I let this nonsense pass with a note and mild objection.

King of Ireland said...

"I don't mean to poison the well--- but Karl Marx was a pretty clear analyst of the problems created by the Industrial Revolution circa the late 1800s [CE]. The injustice and debasement of the human person was intolerable by any secular or religious standards."

Sorta disgree. He blamed the Middle Class(small business owners) for oppressing the working class. This is the two classes that banded together to overthrow the elite in France. In 1815 the royalty restored order with the Congress of Vienna. In 1848 revolutions start up all over again because of food shortages and up comes Marx dividing the two classes that cause the revolutions when banded together. The true oppressors were the nobility and royalty.

He was against private property just the same as the King and Nobles were, (See Magna Carta) that is the common man having any. But that is another era post founding.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

I was speaking of the marxist hermeneutic, trying a uncapitalized "m" to describe the method, not the man, Marx. economics, Class struggle, all that. This blog

http://usreligion.blogspot.com

uses it or at least their authors do in their professional works. It's pretty much how academics go about their business. "Theory"

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/books/review/Goldstein-t.html?pagewanted=all

means there is no truth, only women's truth, black truth, class struggle truth. Or something.

I'm sorry I brought it all up. I find it too incoherent and frankly depressing to deal with. I read 3 pages of that blog and nobody said a single concrete thing. It was like chewing air.

King of Ireland said...

Marx can depress even the optimistic person. :)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm not really talking about Karl Marx himself here. I'm talking about the constellation of nonsenses we might call Post-Normative Studies.

I thought this was a joke, but one cannot be sure.

But really, I'm sorry I brought it up. No good can come of it.