Parallel Universe

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At the same time, leaders on both the right and the left have, at various times, expressed their conviction that things are progressively improving, even as they lament the slippage that occurs when the opposition is in power. Ronald Reagan famously claimed that it is always morning in America. Talking heads on the right regularly equate progress with economic improvement and argue that if the federal government would simply step aside, a new era of economic prosperity would dawn. Commentators on the left argue that if conservative culture warriors would stop trying to pry into the private lives of others, peace and happiness would reign. In recent years, it is impossible not to hear politicians, on the left and the right, speak of “moving forward” or “moving ahead.” Apparently, they all assume that forward is the only viable direction and that things will get better if we continue to press onward. In other words, the doctrine of progress seems deeply embedded in American political discourse. If partisans of both left and right express themselves primarily in terms of individual rights and think of politics in terms of an underlying and open-ended progress, then we don’t really need the term “conservatism” at all. Both sides are firmly rooted in the soil of liberalism. They agree about the purpose of government (to protect individual rights) and the direction of history (progress). They may disagree about which individual rights to privilege and what, specifically, constitutes progress, but these are really in-house debates among liberals.

Besides the fact that such an outlook, when really mulled over, might irritate the in-house status quo politics of “conservative” Christians (Reformed being no exception) who think in terms of individual rights, I can’t help but notice how the ideological view here expressed at the Front Porch Republic has an uncanny resemblance to the theological argument put forth in The Lost Soul of American Protestantism.  Both suggest that, for all intents and purposes, the categories of “conservative” and “liberal” are useless as they actually denote simply different shades of progressivism. To Hart’s lights, the better taxonomy is actually confessional versus evangelical. Substitute Ronald Reagan (and Obama) with Billy Graham, and the general socio-political speech of the Front Porch entry with the generally sunny outlook on the individual and the world in the garden variety evangelical (Reformed being no exception again), and one might be tempted to re-think his skepticism over the reality of a parallel universe.

Now the question may be, Why do some convinced of something like Hart’s theological argument also sign on as Facebook Fans of Glenn Beck?

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24 Responses to Parallel Universe

  1. Drew Barnes says:

    I’m a confessionalist who tilts rightward (not Beckward, though) politically. But even if I was a Beckward Righty, would you have a problem with me at the Confessional Communion Rail? Why does it matter if we are all in Christ? Is yours a legalism of consistency?

  2. Joe Brancaleone says:

    Yeah I’ve sensed some sort of parallel there but couldn’t abstract what it was. This helps. Perhaps it can be said that in all four cases the assumption is that organized institutional efforts will necessarily lead to a better world. Call it the infighting of liberalism, or better, modernism’s warrior children. We’ve inherited the notion from modernism that we can really build towards utopia (lessons of history left behind), but that socio-political inheritance is being fought over by spoiled children, each with their own vision of exactly what utopia we are supposed to be to investing in. Just a thought

  3. Zrim says:

    But even if I was a Beckward Righty, would you have a problem with me at the Confessional Communion Rail?

    Of course not. Why, as a states-rightser, I’ve communed happily with pro-lifers and pro-choicers.

    Why does it matter if we are all in Christ?

    Dig it.

    Is yours a legalism of consistency?

    What’s next, are you going to ask if I’ve stopped beating my wife?

  4. Drew Barnes says:

    Z,

    Thanks for the reply. I’m reading Van Til, who argues that the natural man never follows through consistently on his epistemology, and I am starting to think that the lack of consistency isn’t just for the unregenerate. I find this in my own behavior and attitudes all of the time. So I get a little worried with the cries for consistency I frequently see here.

  5. Zrim says:

    Drew,

    Yes, inconsistency, like sin, is an equal opportunity afflication. The reason any believer sees it in himself is that he has a natural man co-existing alongside his super-natural man, as in simul justus et peccator.

    I don’t know why you get worried wrt cries for consistency around here. It would seem to me more worrisome to see instead claims of invulnerability to inconsistency. But I’d suggest that with all my incessant Calvinist pleading about how we believers are always more sinful than not this latter claim doesn’t show up as often.

  6. RubeRad says:

    I’ve never heard of Glenn Beck before. What does that make me?

    What I keep wondering is why so many of you anti-transformationalists are so besotted with U2. (Myself, I could live with or without them.)

  7. Zrim says:

    Never having heard of Glenn Beck makes you lucky.

    I only know of two of us anti-transformers who are unapologetic U2 fans. And it’s called having an “eschateological ache,” as in we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

  8. John Yeazel says:

    I’ve never heard of Glenn Beck either but I did google him. I’m also an unapologetic U2 fan because I think they get the fact that they are simul justus et peccator in many of their song lyrics.

    They also are leery of taking any political sides when they make political statements and so they never seem to come off as self-righteous goofs like many rock bands who choose to enter the political arena do.

  9. RubeRad says:

    See, now that’s three. Plus I’d throw Rick in there, and everybody that patronizes JJS’ many U2-based postings.

    Also, from where I’m sitting, it seems they pretty clearly take the liberal political side whenever possible, and rather self-righteously at that. But I’ll give you “not goofs”. They are quite serious and sincere.

    How can you make a political statement without taking a political side? Isn’t that by definition impossible?

  10. John Yeazel says:

    RubeRad,

    I did not make myself clear- I think they try to make sure they are not perceived to be part of either political party but would prefer to be a part of an alternative party with no close ties to the big two. So, on some issues they may be perceived as conservative and others as liberal. I think they do this consciously. As far as being self-righteous I suppose I have not watched close enough and probably should not have made that remark. I do know they do not want to be tied to either political party in the US. Their concerns seem to be more international then domestic and more with making aware of certain issues then actually being part of any political policy.

  11. RubeRad says:

    Fair enough. Also, when we say “they”, I think we really only mean Bono. You’re never going to see The Edge speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast. (Or maybe The Edge is just a little more 2-Kingdom in his outlook)?

  12. John Yeazel says:

    I was going to make a 2K remark because I doubt if Bono or the Edge are well versed in 2K theology. They probably are mistakingly confusing the kingdoms when they take on these political causes. They probably believe they are bucking the system when they do not want to be tied to either political party (Bono’s appeal to a higher law) but I guess the deeper issue and question is should rock bands be involved in political issues at all? As long as they do not associate it with religion then there should be no problem with it. Obviously, Bono has confused the kingdoms with that speech he gave at the prayer breakfast. He was very uncomfortable because he was not sure whether it was appropriate or not. He obviously has not thought through the issue deeply (D.G. Hart ably rebuked the idea of compassionate conservativism in his book A Secular Faith- a mistake Bono seems to be making here). He is divorced from fellowship with any Churchly body and therefore out of bounds.

    So, how do you square the idea that God will watch your back if you seek to provide for the needs of the poor in Africa? (probably had to do with confusing the Old and New Testaments and how they differ in this New Testament age we are in). There are some complex issues involved here that those who try to lobby Washington and have no idea of what good theology is should probably shut up. They are fish out of water. Bono needs to be a regular member of a Church and learn theology better before he becomes a statesman for the Church. He was off limits and out of bounds. Perhaps he would understand equality better if he frequented a congregation with those who had to go to work everyday and provide for their families. Rock stars often become isolated from what people in congregations have to deal with from day to day. They get out of touch and then take on these causes out of guilt from the presumed excesses of their lifestyles.

    That talk at the prayer breakfast does present a bunch of 2K problems. Bono was out of his realm and knew it but did it anyways (probably with good intentions) but it revealed his confused theology. Rock stars are not exempt from being involved in a congregation on a regular basis- he might have a messiah complex which will never get corrected without a proper spiritual head to help guide his course in this life.

    Thanks for the link RubeRad. I guess I can categorize Bono as one of those unbelievers (or a believer in rebellion to what God requires of him in regards to going to a Church on a regular basis to hear the Gospel and understand it better) who expresses his eschatological ache quit profoundly at times. Even Rock Stardom does not get him out from under the demands and requirements of the Almighty. He is a sinner who needs to hear the Gospel on a regular basis and fellowship with fellow pilgrims and sinners on the way to a better place. This is what keeps us humble and grounded on the way.

  13. John Yeazel says:

    The above entry was written rather poorly but I did it fast and think anyone who reads it will get the gist of what I was saying. Bono was definitely confusing the kingdoms in that speech he gave. He should not have done it and you could tell he was uncomfortable doing it. He even mentioned the separation of church and state in the talk. He probably did it because it was an opportunity that fell in his lap about an issue he felt strongly about. He obviously has not thought through the 2K issues at all.

    The point I was trying to make was that people with money often get caught up in political causes out of guilt along with something worthwhile to do rather than spend the money on themselves and their excesses. Bono, in the talk, revealed he had no regular church to go to and avoided “church people.” The ones he seemed to be attracted to were the emergent and politically involved types. The Jim Wallis’ and Brian McLaren types. The ones who were involved in welfare programs and helping the poor. Of course, this is a noble cause and intention but violates 2K theological beliefs. Our voice is one that is not easily accessible and not readily articulated in the public square. The vision needs to be communicated agressively, powerfully and clearly. There is more to be said about this but I will stop here.

  14. RubeRad says:

    I think the problem is not just “supply side” (rich celebrities with guilt thinking they need to be involved and make a difference), but also “demand side”: activist groups enlist celebrities to pimp their causes, because it is a truth that people will believe what celebrities say, simply because they are celebrities. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with rock stars going political, it’s just silly. But when religion is thrown into the mix, then it become wrong.

  15. John Yeazel says:

    That’s a good point Rube- pimping is the right word too; that is exactly what many activist groups do and rock stars fall for it all the time. Although I do not know the circumstances of how Bono got to talk at the breakfast. I think he would probably try to avoid the pimp situation but he did allude to the fact that he had a messiah complex. I think it was more of he deluding himself into the role of an independent Old Testament prophet. Cult and culture were not separated in the Old Testament therefore politics and religion were messed and mixed. We are called to live hyphenated lives in the New Testament era. I do not think Bono understood this clearly although you could tell he was unsure about what he was doing and saying.

    This reminds me of what the econ and business prof’s did at Calvin College in the 80′ and 90’s. They were before the compassionate conservatives and were not coming from a conservative viewpoint. In fact, they were frequently accused of being socialists for their advocacy of a role for government in welfare programs. I suppose I am still not clear on whether government should have a role in helping those who have come upon hard financial times for a variety of reasons. That is an interesting question and Hart briefly dealt with it in A Secular Faith. He did not really answer all the questions I have about it though.

  16. Renee says:

    You guys do realize that to outsiders such as myself this blog and many of the posts, especially those which advocate 2 K theology could easily be mistaken/ or called out, as a fight for a specific cause, which in my opinion is grounded in both politics and religion.

    Also statements such as this:

    “The ones who were involved in welfare programs and helping the poor. Of course, this is a noble cause and intention but violates 2K theological beliefs. Our voice is one that is not easily accessible and not readily articulated in the public square. The vision needs to be communicated agressively, powerfully and clearly. There is more to be said about this but I will stop here. ”

    could be taken as a self centered and uncharitable attitude along with a Christian/Political activism call to action and this could possibly be incorrectly applied by we outsiders to all those who consider themselves Reformed as a universal belief. I know this is not true,so there is no need to explain to me what this statement implies in context to the above post, as I said this is merely my observation and oppinion.

  17. Renee says:

    Oops..”oppinion” should be opinion.

  18. Zrim says:

    Renee,

    First, when it comes to the KoM, two-kingdom theology makes considerable room for believers to disagree with each other and agree with unbelievers.

    Second, if it helps with regard to the quote, I am not at all clear how certain social programs (e.g. welfare programs) violate 2K. Perhaps they violate someone’s views on how things in the KoM should go, but not 2K. A 2K violation would be something like, “Instead of the state, the church should be taking care of the poor, building hospitals and schools, etc.” Think faith-based initiatives and the Bush Administration. (Karl Rove was a genius, but in a bad way.; he appealed to the dual virtues of the modern Republican: less government and religio-transformationalism, and voila, faith-based initiatives.)

    And this 2Ker winces at appeals to aggression and power or “calls to action.” I’m one horrible activist.

  19. Renee says:

    “First, when it comes to the KoM, two-kingdom theology makes considerable room for believers to disagree with each other and agree with unbelievers.”

    I am missing something important Zrim, and I do not know what that is. If your statement above is accurate, then what is the point of two kingdom theology at all? There does exist ‘Absolute Truths’ in the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. If there were no absolute truths in the kingdom of man,then there would be no point in having a such thing as a Court of Law, because we could never have enough evidence (if it were based upon each individuals description of evidence) beyond a shadow of a doubt to convict someone.

  20. Zrim says:

    Renee,

    First, I agree that natural revelation makes it crystal clear that things like stealing and murder are prohibited (just as special revelation makes it crystal clear what justification is). But what 2K means to say is that how we go about enforcing what we know to be true by nature is open to interpretation. In other words, there are many different, yet legitimate, ways to order society.

    So let’s take our favorite topic, abortion. Some say the federal government should protect the individual rights of women (current policy), others say it should protect the individual rights of unborn people. Still others say local magistrates should be protected their rights to decide what Jane may or mayn’t do. These are all very distinct ways of solving the question. 2K wants each to have its liberty to exist, as well as to protect you (adherent of the second view) from me (advocate of the third view) from binding your conscience and suggesting that your view is not God’s legislative politics or vice versa, etc.

    Second, it’s beyond reasonable doubt–“shadow” is theatrics and verboten language in a court of law. Sorry, I was on Student Court in high school and they drilled this into us.

  21. Renee says:

    I Get It!!! finally…thank you.

    In regards to my usage of “shadow”, me culpa, I just watched My Cousin Vinny ( personal favorite) on Saturday and it just came to mind as I was writing. We Italians or in my case Sicilians prefer theatrics with words , it makes things more interesting, that and using one thousand hand gestures when speaking to another person.

    🙂

  22. Zrim says:

    May I suggest a viewing of Good Fellas?

  23. John Yeazel says:

    Zrim,

    I suppose I sounded a bit theonomistic in what I said about being more aggressive in the public square about articulating what 2K theology is all about. My intention was that it would probably alleviate a lot of the misunderstanding between differing groups in the culture and that it would put away the suspicions that we are trying to take over the culture. A better phrase would be try to be more clearly persuasive in our beliefs about the role of religion in politics (that there is no role). Since religion and politics has such a long history in the US it takes aggressive persuasion to root it out of us.

  24. Zrim says:

    John,

    Gotch’ya.

    Like Christianity itself, often 2K is simply more about living in response than living in victory. Leave take-over to everyone else.

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