The evangelical crack-up: not all it’s cracked up to be

An honest-to-goodness evangelical pours some cold water on David Kirkpatrick’s NY Times Magazine piece on the splintering of political evangelicalism. (via Jeremy)

I’ve seen a number of outlets assume that evangelical dissatisfaction with Bush and the GOP must be dissatisfaction from the Left. While younger evangelicals may indeed have a newfound concern for issues like global warming and AIDS, this doesn’t mean they’re becoming liberal per se. And, as the threats of Dobson, et al. to bolt to a third party indicate, much of the dissatisfaction is from the Right.

David Sessions, the author of the Slate article, makes the interesting suggestion that the growing popularity of Reformed theology in conservative evangelical circles may account for the newfound focus on broader social issues. Neo-Calvinists like Abraham Kuyper were very big on Christ as the Lord of all and that his reign should encompass the entire social sphere. This is in sharp contrast to a kind of Left Behind theology that emphasizes snatching souls out of a society firmly ensconsed in a hell-bound handbasket. In this respect neo-Calvinism has a lot in common with Catholic social thought.

Lutherans, meanwhile, have historically been more skittish about this kind of thing. Obviously God is sovereign over all, but God relates to us in two ways. The two kingdoms doesn’t refer to distinct spheres of church and state, but to these two ways in which God relates to creation: redemption and conservation. The kingdom of the right, God’s “proper work,” is calling people to faith and repentance through the preaching of the Gospel. The kingdom of the left, meanwhile, refers to the way in which God upholds and conserves the structures of creation and society to provide for and promote human well-being in this life. Politics, for Lutherans, is not redemptive, but pertains to penultimate matters, to serving the neighbor in her concrete needs in this age. To Lutheran ears, the talk of “building God’s kingdom” that you sometimes get from both the evangelical Right and Left smacks of Calvinist-inspired Puritanism.

7 thoughts on “The evangelical crack-up: not all it’s cracked up to be

  1. And the Lutheran approach therefore is a good antidote at a time when folks decide they’re going to build God’s kingdom, over your dead body if needs be. Making penultimate matters ultimate seems a problem of the left and right these days.

  2. this doesn’t mean they’re becoming liberal per se

    Rod Dreher makes a similar point in the BloggingHeads discussion with Amy Sullivan that I linked this morning. He recalls a Baylor prof saying that Jim Wallis said some great things in a speech there but then lost most of his audience when he said that these were all reason they should become Democrats. They were unhappy with the state of the Republican party generally and conservatism specifically, but they certainly weren’t happy with the Democrats. I think this is going to be a fascinating debate in the years to come.

  3. Did you see this?

    Pat Robertson Endorses Giuliani

    There does seem to be an emerging split among the evangelicals, but it’s not between right and left.

    It’s between those who put the sociocon issues first like Dobson and those who put the neocon issues first like Robinson.

    Both groups still firmly espouse the secular part of the agenda common to movement conservatives.

    Unlike the Catholics, by the way, who have been much less supportive of the war agenda and whose social doctrines make them a better fit with the Democrats than with the GOP on all the secular issues.

    George Will and the Reaganite Catholics notwithstanding.

  4. I think you have a point here, but I also think that Neo-Calvinism’s contribution to the resurgence of Reformed theology among (especially young) evangelicals is perhaps smaller than you suppose.

    A recent issue of CT featured this topic. On its cover was a T-Shirt which said, “Jonathan Edwards Is My Homeboy.” The feature article surveyed this growing group, championed by the teachings of John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Driscoll. While all of these men will have heard of Kuyper, Bavinck, and the Dutch school called “Neo-Calvinism,” most of them are more indebted to the likes of John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, or B.B. Warfield, that is, distinctly Anglo-American theologians.

    Perhaps the growing dissatisfaction is due to the ugliness of the situation in Iraq, the health care system, and the price of petrol. But that’s just a guess.

  5. If Roberston’s endorsement of pro-choice, pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani isn’t a sign that the Religious Right is splintering and lost, I don’t know what is. I don’t think their sun has set, but it is getting a bit cloudy for the Religious Right.

  6. I’m a bit skeptical of the significance of the Robertson endorsement. That dude is way past his sell-by date and I can’t help but think that the only reason anyone still pays attention to him is because he gets trotted out to say something outrageous every year or so to prove how crazy those Christians are. But how many divisions does Pat Robertson have? I.e. who takes him seriously and will follow his lead?

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