At the National Religious Broadcaster’s convention recently, Dr. James Dobson lamented the passing of several prominent Christian leaders who have been activists for several social causes. With the deaths of people like Ruth Graham and D. James Kennedy, and several others getting closer to the ends of their careers, Dobson wondered what was going to happen to broadly conservative Christian activism.
“The question is, will the younger generation heed the call? Who will defend the unborn child in the years to come? Who will plead for the Terri Schiavos of the world? Who’s going to fight for the institution of marriage, which is on the ropes today.”
Dobson, Kennedy, Colson and others have made great social strides in several ways, but more often than not their causes have either explicitly or implicitly been tied to political activism. According to some culture watchers, the younger breed of evangelical is less apt to align themselves politically, or at the least, less apt to openly associate with conservative politics. The article goes on to note:
Christian activists and other observers of the movement say that the next generation of leaders isn’t as interested in polarizing debates and wants to broaden the evangelical agenda beyond divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage. “Who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat, when it’s so much safer and more comfortable to avoid controversial subjects,” Dobson said.
Among that next generation of evangelicals is the emergent movement. If you follow it closely, you know emergents claim to have avoided the same political “errors” of their predecessors. But they have, in fact, committed the same error on the other side of the political aisle. If you are looking to avoid political entanglement, they are not much more help.
I agree with Dobson that our culture needs a new generation of evangelical leaders to stand up for the right things. Here are some thoughts on what ought to characterize those leaders.
First, they need to resist relativism in all its substantial forms. Epistemological and religious relativism are slow-acting poisons that destroy their consumers from the inside out. The Christian worldview needs some form of objectivism to really do its work.
Second, they need to be committed to Jesus Christ and him crucified: from behind pulpits, in vocation, in the public eye, in personal witness, and in family life. For instance, some have gone the route of substituting social justice for the theology of atonement, and are going the way of 19th century theological liberalism. We need to regain a full-orbed sense of being a Christian in this world (including social causes) beginning with the clear messages of the nature of Christ and the nature of humanity. Despite all appearances, those are not mutually exclusive goals.
Thirdly, the next wave of leaders needs to keep their kingdoms straight. Good theology will inevitably have social and political consequences. Political activism without good theology reduces to propagandizing. A major mistake Christians make (in both political directions) is treating parties and figures as surrogate messiahs. “If only Senator So-and-So is elected, then we can get some real work done for the Kingdom of God” is a confusion of kingdoms. In reality, the church often flourishes most when the powers that be are openly opposed to it. Maybe that is because in those seasons Christians have a better grasp on the true identity of their Savior.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no specific distaste for Christians making their views open to political debate and public vote. What I don’t like are the tendencies that sometimes comes to the fore when Christians get too tied to politics. The kingdoms of the world are fading away, but the Kingdom of our Lord will last forever.