A couple of years ago I purchased a Dewalt cordless power tool set. Each of the tools is powered by the same battery. Working on various projects requires little more than slipping the battery from the circular saw and into the drill driver. The synergism of the relationship between tool and battery makes them both valuable. Separately they are virtually useless.
Everyone wants power lest they feel useless. Sometimes the yearning for power is masked behind well articulated political positions. Swaying voters, for example, becomes the ordo salutis for those seeking power. Good commercials, powerful rhetoric and an identifiable nemesis help create the potential for a landslide victory.
Power remains seductive, even for the religious. Richard Foster’s The Challenge of the Disciplined Life (formerly, Money, Sex & Power) challenges those who would be enticed to live out the desire of power from the perspective of following Jesus. We need these warnings. Some come from recent history.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger offers a compelling look into what he refers as “historical missteps” leading to a “Faulty Order: Retreating Camps and Homogeneous Units.” Following on the work of George Marsden (Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism – 1870-1925) and Carl Henry (The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism), Metzger makes some important connections exacerbating the racial divide fostered by Fundamentaist tendencies to retreat and associate with only those like themselves. (Metzger would include class divisions.)
In fact Metzger speculates,
Some observers may wonder why Falwell’s people – supposedly rapture and retreat fundamentalist-evangelicals – would ever seek the center stage. In the end, it may be obvious that center stage was what they wanted all along.” (p.14)
These observations resonated with some of my own questions regarding my own tribe.
Recently I shared a conversation with no small influencer in our denomination. (He may object to such grandiose intimations but he nonetheless has played a role in some important decisions.) One of the subjects of our meandering conversation tended to the question around the perceived lack of respect of young leaders for our old warriors, those who secured for us a better theological environment. My reply pushed back a bit by suggesting the issue is not personal respect. The matter strictly pertains to an ethic equal to our rhetoric – an issue important to many who are deciding just what was our denominational battle about when calls for accountability are reshaped into personal attacks.
For Metzger’s purposes he considers three themes of fundamentalism growing from the privatization of spirituality, dissolution of public faith, and the loss of an extensive, overarching social conscience to be: 1) anti-intellectualism (giving rise to Bible Institutes), 2)the community’s antipathy toward the “social gospel,” and 3) the growing influence of a millennial eschatological viewpoint. (p.16) The iconic figure Marsen points to is Dwight L. Moody. The revivalist preaching that downplayed education to avoid modern theology and played up a dispensational theology,
. . . . not only championed a biblical hermeneutic of discontinutiy and separation; it was also used at times to champion detachment and disengagement from the broader cultural sphere in terms of learning and life. (p.19)
Avoiding the likes of Walter Rauschenbusch’s “social gospel” continues the long affinity to avoid the alleged slippery slope,
Many within the fundamentalist movement were no doubt concerned about falling victim to “guilt by association”; that is one could easily be charged with gong down the path of liberalism by showing signs of social consciousness and conscience. Fundamentalist critics of social activism could make use of the social gospel for their “slippery slope” claim that social activism leads to liberalism (Marsden.p.92)(Metzger,p.22)
If these themes were the precursor to Evangelical-Fundamentalism expressed today, then Metzger’s reference to James Montgomery Boice’s essay, “Our All-Too-Easy Conscience,” bears noting here:
Boice went on to say that the time had come for another book to be written, this time “The Easy Conscience of Modern Evangelicalism.” Boice was referring to Martin Marty’s claim that the most worldly people in America at the end of the twentieth century would be the evangelicals (Boice,p.44) Boice concurred with Marty’s assessment: “We have fulfilled his prophecy, and it si not yet the year 200.” Sounding a lot like William Willimon, Boice argued that evangelicals have fixed their gaze on gaining the kingdom of the world and “have made politics and money our weapons of choice for grasping it” (Boice,p.44) In addition to raising concerns about pop psychology and the like replacing sound biblical doctrine, he lamented the evangelical movement’s preoccupation with “success, wonderful marriages, and nice children,” in addition to being fixated on “numerical growth and money” (Boice,p.4)
Pastoring a local church always means hearing of the good ol’ days. Getting back to the faith of our founding fathers often overlooks the ones, “who considered blacks unfit for slavery and women unfit to vote.”(Duin quoted by Metzger,p.31)
The first chapter concludes with a hint at where Metzger will be going,
The church is a power instituted by God. It was designed with the particular mission of bearing witness to God’s advancing kingdom of beloved community through participation in the crucified and risen Christ, and of being consumed by him on behalf of the world for which Christ died. As such, that beloved community should be breaking down divisions between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and it should be confronting those demonic forces that distort and reduce people to races and classes, to rugged individuals in isolation, people whose value lies in how much they produce and consume.
The church becomes a fallen power when it loses sight of its fundamental allegiance to God’s kingdom, when it becomes proud and autonomous and thus distorted in its use of power, seeking political advantage in the secular sphere so as to win benefits for its members, benefits that will allow them to achieve and maintain a Laodicean standard of living and leisurely lifestyle, as they are – in the meantime – reduced to a function of the state, market, and consumer culture. How then, are we to battle the Balrog by catering to affinity groups. We will only be able to conquer the Balrog when a profound sense of inclusive beloved community centered in the triune God consumes us. (p.36-37)
Re-orienting ourselves to the Kingdom of God will inevitably challenge us to confront our own latent consumerism.