Easy To Be Hard

The recent (and repeated) blast of Arctic air here in the mid-west reminded me of the benefit of the band’s name. But it was some recent conversations that reminded me of the content of Three-Dog Night’s “Hair!” anthem. You recall the scene in which a young mother and her child are left to fend for themselves as her crusading, activist husband is leaving once again to save the world. It was recently suggested that my “inwardness and seeming lack of outward seems…un-neighborly.”

It seems altogether typical in modern western religion to force the definition of “neighborliness” into various yet terribly narrow expressions of exact justice. “Good works” is more often than not be translated into pragmatic, cause-oriented efforts or highfalutin theories about anything from the have’s versus the have not’s to the contemporary holocaust of the unborn. I have come more and more to the conclusion that American religionists are secretly disgusted with the concepts of both ordinary life and proximate justice.

To them it is anathema that “neighborliness” begins and ends with more ordinary things like minding one’s own business, working quietly to support and nurture a family and participating in the dilapidated and world-worn machinery of mundane public service. American religionists of various stripes and persuasions are almost entirely fixated on the extra-ordinary problems of the world and their attendant solutions, which they imagine will garner loud applause and noble shivers down the spine. They seem unsatisfied with the stuff of a long and relentless PTO meeting that leaves all the participants feeling fairly uninspired about what was unaccomplished by 10:23 PM. Rather, they want to repair all the ills that every other time and place has failed to finally assuage. It seems a blind spot that most of the believing life is really about mindfully maintaining what is set before them instead of being beset, to relatively greater or lesser degrees, with how to fix it, fix it, and fix it.

I would contend that the typical American religionist is very long on sentimental ideal but quite short on ordinary piety. Ironically, in his proneness to “care about strangers, to care about evil and social injustice” he actually ends up risking the neglect of those who are actually close, known and entrusted to him. Much as it might irritate, the truth is that each of us really only affects our more immediate environment, and even then only imperfectly. Even those who are afar off must be brought near and made ours first before having any lasting consequence upon them.

Or do they really believe, even as they tell us just how duplicitous and vain the broader American culture is, that we may have it all? Maybe they can save the world of strangers and also fully attend those who have been given to their immediate care? Do they really believe they are not in fact called to choose between that which the sarx longs for and what Spirit demands? For my part, as much as I’d like to think that not only do I know just what the family down the street needs and that I can provide it, I have one of my own and never seem to have things so well squared away that they can afford my absence.

Like I said in response to the comment originally, I find it wholly repellent the notion that just because one doesn’t care the way another does or expects does not mean that one doesn’t care. And it just might be that a superior advocacy could actually be more ordinary, organic, local and familiar than extraordinary, panoramic, distinct and remarkable. I realize such a notion may be far from exciting. But when one considers the fact that the solution to humanity’s problem was played out in relative obscurity that also may be the very point.

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10 Responses to Easy To Be Hard

  1. Chris Malamisuro says:

    Yes and Amen. As I became more convinced of two kingdoms theology over the past several years, I have had “logical conclusions” discussions with lots of people (like the poor will always be with you!). The one verse that everyone seems to hate is Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to work with your hands and live quietly. My wife and I are expecting our third child soon and I have had a hard enough time tending to my family’s need of a husband and father without also having to do the same for every other person on my block or in the country. Thanks for the post.

  2. David says:

    Wow, this is great! I’ve been pondering this exact same issue this past week and you’ve expressed it way better than I could. Uncanny.

  3. John Bugay says:

    Zrim, I appreciate you letting me function as your straight-man, but that role more appropriately belongs here:

    http://ironink.org/index.php?blog=1&cat=26

    I am a person who appreciates W2K theology for what it is, and I look for ways to bring theology to real life; the above named individual thinks it is a plague.

    For your readers, I am the individual who made the “unneighborly” comment. It was in response to a Dr. Albert Mohler comment to the effect that “love of neighbor compels us to work to affect the culture.” And I also commented that “love of my own children” makes such a statement even more believable.

    Of course “our heavenly citizenship [is the better part of] our earthly lives.” By definition that is true. However, W2K holds that God preserves and upholds the “common” kingdom in this world, too, It makes sense to me that he might use “the salt of the earth” as one of the means to do this.

    The Samaritan, of course, had no idea when he might be needed. And the point of the “neighbor” story is that he stopped to help that fellow on the road, even when it was inconvenient for him.

  4. John Bugay says:

    For the record Zrim, I am not saying that you should advocate every cause. But even W2K purists have “causes”:

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/casino-conundrum-and-creational-ethics/

    Even these Seniors need neighbors.

  5. Echo_ohcE says:

    John Bugay,

    Not all amillennialists think that it doesn’t matter if, for example, Obama (pro-abortion) is elected.

    Lee Irons explained why he is voting for Obama: “the issue of abortion is irrelevant in deciding who to vote for in 2008.”

    http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=79

    However, not all amills can bring themselves to vote for such a candidate, in fact, I’d say Irons is pretty unique here, Zrim being the only exception I know of. Most of us would be appalled at what Irons said. So I think your radical 2K bug assessment is correct in that regard. In fact, the term “central dogma” comes to mind. But I think you are wrong to put that label on all of those who are amill as you did in the article you linked to.

    Dr. Vandrunen, of WSCAL, a more mainstream amillennialist (and W2K), says: “What if I am having a friendly conversation with my neighbor across the fence and she tells me that she is thinking about having an abortion, or that she wants to support a bill before the state legislature that would make abortions easier to secure? And what if (and is the case for most of us) my neighbor is not a Christian and does not accept Scripture as a moral authority? Do I tell her that if she does not submit to the Scriptures then she has no right to participate in the political process? That would be neither factually true nor biblically sound. Do I tell her that if she does not believe in Scripture then she might as well go and have an abortion because there is no other moral reason for her not to do so? I would first of all wish my neighbor to put faith in Christ and believe the Scriptures. But even if she does not, I still would rather she be pro-life in her voting and personal behavior, not because in doing so she understands the “inner essence of things” or “all truth, in every area and in every respect, especially in its essential interrelatedness” (to borrow Kloosterman’s phrases), but for the sake of a relative social peace and justice.”

    That comes from this article here:

    http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=78

    So while I think your critique of *some* in the W2K-amill camp is apt, it certainly does not apply to all, or even most of us.

    E

  6. Eric says:

    I recognize the value of this critique. We must definitely support our families and those in our proximity who need help. But who will run the soup kitchens and homeless shelters and vocational education centers? Who will advocate for the homeless? Who will disciple men and women in prison, or men and women who have recently left prison, or those struggling to leave a life of drug abuse? Who will help poor families build their own homes? Who will volunteer to help AIDS patients, or prevent people from getting infected or infecting others? And what about crisis pregnancy centers?

    This is just a short list of responsibilities that Christians may choose to voluntarily assume. A free society makes it necessary for individuals to participate in assuring the public good. Yes, we must put our families, and the family of God, first. But we must also get the big picture when it comes to our participation in the left-hand kingdom.

  7. John Bugay says:

    Echo, I have ordered Dr. Vandrunen’s book, though it has not yet arrived. I do agree with Zrim to some extent, that even if we had 9 conservative Supreme Court justices, the best that they could do would be to put abortion back out into the state legislatures, and it would become a “states-rights” issue. In the meantime, Christians (or those nominally so) have not only tolerated, but instigated, all kinds of evils in the name of having a Republican in the oval office and hence, having a mere shot at the kind of court that they want.

    This issue will not come to an end, and if it is to end, I am of a mind that good “natural law” arguments will need to be made “out there,” in a way such that even people not now prone to accepting them, will find them reasonable and even winsome.

    The LAST thing I would do, Zrim, is to try to beat someone over the head with a Bible, (much less instigate to have the OT law written into civil law).

  8. Zrim says:

    Echo,

    If I am so “radical,” why is it that you and Rube take quite an exception to DVD’s other point in that piece about how unbelieving families are complete?

    Seems like you guys are making abortion policy the whet stone here. Talk about being radical. And talk about Constantinianism not being shaken off yet.

  9. RubeRad says:

    WSCAL is not monolithic in its doctrine, so Van Drunen’s 2K (VD2K?) is not necessarily definitive of W2K. Plus, the statement that DVD made does not establish how he would address qualitative differences of a “Christian marriage” implied by infant baptism and 1 Cor 7:14.

    Besides, all of us here at the Outhouse (excepting Rick, and even including Echo) are Johnny-come-latelies to Reformdom, having been rescued from anticonfessional evangelicalism within, what, the last 10 years? So when it comes to figuring out what exactly is W2K (over and above just plain 2K), I’m going to have to go with an actual WSCAL student, rather than just a Hortophile.

    My point with “Johhny-come-lately” is that all of us are reactionaries — which is good, since we have all corrected our doctrine from a position of error. But Z, you have reacted the furthest, so out of all of us, your reaction is most likely to be overreaction.

    I think you might have shot a little past W2K, landing at, say, maybe Z2K? Don’t worry, what’s a couple of letters between friends?

  10. Zrim says:

    Fair enough, Rube.

    But I can’t discern much difference between what my Evangelicals say and what you guys do when it comes to some of these things. Of course, they also seem to mistake a Calvinist for a hyper-Calvinist; they talk a lot about grace but mean something very different from what (you and) I would, then simply say I make too much of grace.

    In a similar way, I sometimes I get the sense that by 2K some mean “a form of Kuyperianism co-existing with a form of Klineanism.” (Two K’s, get it?)

    So, if you want to say I have reacted too far, it concerns me about as much as my Arminian Revivalists telling me I make too much of grace and Covies saying I champion grace over a damnable ethics, or Hyper-Calvinists saying I make too much of human responsibility. Law and grace simply need to be viewed correctly is all.

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