Warring Against Culture War

I just finished T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It’s a fantastic little book (and I mean little! scarcely 100 pages of fairly large print). Every English-reading protestant preacher in the world needs to read it — even those that already can preach. (The toughest part might be finding non-antagonistic ways of convincing preachers to read it, since it is guaranteed to provoke and challenge. An attacking gift can only be counterproductive (“Hey Pastor, you should read this book, because your preaching really stinks!”). But if the walls of defensiveness could be breached to convince a preacher to read this book receptively, we can hope for a better response, such as OHS Horton’s blurb on the back cover, “I couldn’t help but wince as I recognized myself in Gordon’s descriptions, but he writes so clearly and convincingly that I couldn’t help but be grateful.”)

Anyways, in Chapter 4, “A Few Thoughts about Content,” Gordon tears down four common failed alternatives to Christological preaching: Moralism, How-To, Introspection, and “Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War.” That last section is almost worth quoting entire, but for now I’ll just provide the giant footnote in which Gordon justifies his use of “so-called” in this title. Enjoy…

I add so-called before culture war because I think the entire alleged “war” in the culture between the religious elements and the secular elements exists in the imagination. I do not deny the presence of those with a  secular worldview and those with a religious worldview in our culture. I deny that there is anything new about this. Indeed, I believe much of the beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic was that they created a form of government that was impervious to any such wars, if citizens rightly understood what they were doing. Because individual liberty was more important for the founders than any good thing that a coercive federal government might conceivably do, the Republic was designed to be one in which religious liberty was respected and promoted, even the liberty to be irreligious. Many of the founders were essentially secularists (e.g., Thomas Jefferson), and others were ardently religious in the more orthodox sense (e.g., John Witherspoon). Jefferson never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Witherspoon would use federal power to coerce him; and Witherspoon never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Jefferson would use federal power to coerce him. Each believed in liberty, and was assured that the other did also. There was no “cultural war” between the two, even though there was a profound difference in worldview.

The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. France enforces secularism in public; Iran enforces religion in public. The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others.

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This entry was posted in Books, Church and State, Culture, Culture War, Protestant preaching, Quotes, T. David Gordon, Transformationism, Two-kingdoms, W2K. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Warring Against Culture War

  1. Paul M. says:

    Interesting. But does Gordon back this up with anything stonger than announcing his denial of the thesis and his pointifications? At best it seems like his arguments rests on a very narrow definition of “culture war.” However, for a sobering account of the war, one might want to read the esteemed sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues on the matter.

  2. RubeRad says:

    does Gordon back this up

    Not really. The man had bad cancer, and as he explains in the introduction, the tone of the entire book is that of a man who feels the need to squeeze out a book in case he dies.

    So I guess you’re saying (Christian Smith is saying) “there is something new about this”?

  3. Paul M. says:

    I’m saying that the war is not in the mind and there is and has been a concerted effort to undermine religion in the public life and to enthrone secular ideas, values, and worldview in the public square. Secularists have done this through debate in the public square as well as at the legal and political level. At least, that’s what Smith & Co. argue.

  4. Zrim says:

    Paul, it could be that what he means is not so much that warring doesn’t exist but that it means as much as some make it out to mean. Following the Teacher, he says this is nothing new, contra a lot of rhetoric about our time being special in terms of deciding the future, etc., etc.

    Maybe he’s saying that culture war is a lot of smoke and mirrors.

  5. Paul M. says:

    Really, Zrim? That’s how you take this quote, “I think the entire alleged “war” in the culture between the religious elements and the secular elements exists in the imagination.”? That’s not good hermeneutic, unless you want to claim Gordon was overstating things, overreaching, engaging in hyperbole and exaggeration, and technically stating a non-truth. Yeah, maybe; that does seem to be the M.O. of some 2Kers, but I was just going for charity in my reading. 🙂

  6. Zrim says:

    Paul, Reformed hermeneutics 101 is about context, context and context. The quote also includes this right after: “I do not deny the presence of those with a secular worldview and those with a religious worldview in our culture. I deny that there is anything new about this.”

    So, taken together, what I am suggesting is that perhaps he’s not so much denying the fact that there are people with differing worldviews but that there is as much to this fact as some suggest, as in employing bloated rhetoric to suggest that western civilization is on the brink of destruction, etc.

    And there nothing new about the fact that people who co-exist have radically different outlooks, nor that some try to make more out of it than is necessary. Maybe the alleged overstatement was a way of making a point about actual hysteria?

  7. Paul M. says:

    Zrim, my reading didn’t suppose he denied the *existence* of seculars and religious. So, Zrim, logic tells us that these two statements are *consistent*:

    [1] People with a secular worldview and people with a religious worldview exist.

    [2] The culture war is *entirely* inside people’s imaginations.

    Therefore, since [1] and [2] are *consistent*, and [1] includes *nothing* in it that should cause us to read [2] in less than literal terms, your attempt at exegeting Gordon is more a case of eisogesis.

    So, I never denied that he was denying that there are people with different worldviews. Where in the world are you getting that? Your comment is a red herring. So, yes, he means that warring doesn’t exist and your “context” did nothing to show that he thought it did. So you didn’t even follow your own Hermeneutics 101 rule.

    And, yes, everyone knows that people co-exist with different outlooks. That was even the case in Theocratic Israel since there were non-Israelites who lived there, and lived their peacefully. We all know this, Steve. So your points are simply so much smoke and mirrors employed to defend a fellow 2Ker.

    The point is, as Smith et al. show, there is a much more overt, sustained, and intentional war being waged by secularists in order to bring about massive changes in both the public square and the government. You can choose to be a quetist, and that’s your business. But sticking your finger in your ears and denying the obvious isn’t cool, it’s lame.

  8. RubeRad says:

    Look, I started a war about culture war! Oh wait, I deny that this is anything new…

  9. Zrim says:

    Paul, if it’s a war of authors, Hunter’s To Change the World shows that there is just as much of an “overt, sustained, and intentional war being waged by religionists in order to bring about massive changes in both the public square and the government.”

    You can choose to keep calling this picking low hanging fruit (hey, if CVD is right and I fly at 35K feet then how can I pick such low hanging fruit?), and that’s your business. But there really is such a thing as the religious right, and criticizing those who point out its foibles is your work, and it sure seems pretty angry.

    But I still think Gordon’s point has something to do with the over-wraught rhetoric of both the secularists and religionists who want everyone to think the other is coming to gobble up their firstborn.

  10. Paul M. says:

    “Paul, if it’s a war of authors, Hunter’s To Change the World shows that there is just as much of an “overt, sustained, and intentional war being waged by religionists in order to bring about massive changes in both the public square and the government.”

    It’s not a war of authors. Moreover, I never denied that Christians are fighting, that’s what happens in a war. So, you’re simply throwing out a red herring again, as if what I quote from you has anything to do with what I’ve been saying. Indeed, if you believe Hunter then I guess that makes Gordon wrong just as much as Smith works against Gordon. So, I guess you’ve undermined Gordon’s pontifications too.

    “But I still think Gordon’s point has something to do with the over-wraught rhetoric of both the secularists and religionists who want everyone to think the other is coming to gobble up their firstborn.”

    You’re free to think that, but I’ve argued from the text as to what Gordon meant, and your only substantive (I say substantive because this latest response is just digging in your heels and repeating your initial assertion even though you’ve failed to demonstrate your initial objection) response failed to show that my reading was wrong.

    Anyway, keep your hands off my kids.

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