I would hardly call, for example, the Civil Rights movement, at least the one led by King and co., or the Christian opposition to the war in Vietnam or Iraq, "theologically bankrupt".Let’s first admit that KF’s comments here are, by his admission, “brief”, so beating him up for short hand would be a little ungracious. However, reducing the religious left’s lifetime achievements to the Civil Rights movement (which would be good) and political pacifism (which would be bad – and frankly untenable) is in the best case optimistically reductive. What about the broader results of religious liberalism – like the denigration of morality in the public square? See: it’s easy to be all sermon-on-the-mount when one wants to run off the racist or the sexist, but what about when one finds one’s self talking to the abortionist or the libertine?
So I say without any restraint that if the Civil Rights movement was the result of theological liberalism, nice work – now take the whole picture into consideration and ask yourself: was the devastation of the family unit and the end of public morality worth it? The right answer is that it ought to have been able to be achieved without the destruction of public morality, but unfortunately it was done the way it was done. Now we have to assess whether we can fix the tools which gave us one good things and a plethora of evils.
Which is not to deny that the church's most political activity is simply(!) being the church ...Amen. To the (!) even.
...and thereby showing the world an alternative polis. But the church does not believe that the Sermon on the Mount is only an in-house ethic (Matthew certainly didn't think so: the disciples have a ring-side seat, but there are Gentiles in the arena of Galilee). As Yoder observes, "That there could be a distinction between ethics for Christians and ethics for the civil community had not been a constitutive part of Christian social thought since Augustine." And withdrawal or quietism is quite out of the question - and so too is not working with the "godless" (as you call them - in my view there is no such thing as a "godless" person)...Which is interesting because the category of “godless” is repeated over and over in Paul – and is the basis for man’s need of the Gospel. Because man is without God, and opposed to God, man requires the love of God or else be damned.
...for parabolic social transformations.This is actually one of my favorite objections of the theological liberal: that somehow the statement that the church has to mind the church first (that is, first and not only) is some kind of bunker-withdrawl from society – when what I would advocate is that the church not require the state to do what the church ought to be doing.
The irony is that while liberal political activism is clearly lauded by guys like KF, they look down their noses at conservative political activism – as if they were not simply the same thing. Listen: any time anyone wants to make the state the executor of the church’s mission, I think they have flopped off the page of the Bible and into the spittoon next to the desk. It was a mistake in the Medieval period, and it is a mistake today.
And I disagree that we should - not least because we can't - simply "change people first", the discredited strategy of a certain kind of evangelicalism, as if people were monads detached from social institutions and structures (cf. Paul's "principalities and powers"). Add up all the born-again Christians in the US and you don't approximate the kingdom of God; indeed it's more like the Other Place (and I don't mean Cambridge!).That’s actually quite funny because KF simply says all “born-again Christians” are apparently not the “kingdom of God” – and yet he is calling for the “Kingdom of God” to take political action! Who’s he talking to, I wonder? Can he tell us?
Again, the problem is a reductionistic view of what he’s talking about which only credits his “side” with answers and only debits guys like me with “problems”. It’s classic partisan tunnel vision. Which really leads to the next point quite well ...
Regarding ecumenism, I believe that ultimately there can be no unity without truth - but also no truth without unity. But my main point is simply that discipleship trumps citizenship. I consider cross-and-flag Christianity an idolatrous oxymoron. That seems to me to be theologically indisputable, but it is more honoured in the breach than the observance, particularly in the US. If it weren't, I think it would make an enormous difference to the political scene. Interestingly (as I pointed out in "Ten Propositions on Ecumenism"), Martin Niemoller said that because he was an ecumenist he became a pacifist.And somehow, Rom 13 never comes into it – which is because it is an inconvenient monkey wrench in these high ideas.
It is also important to note that the reflexive axioms KF tosses around here are not compatible. You cannot reconcile these two things – because truth is not dependent on unity; it comes ontologically first. First there is truth, then there may be unity. But to say that if there is unity there must be truth – that’s laughable. Someone take a look at the far left of the blogosphere and its reflexive unity against everything it is against, and tell me: do they have this reaction because they believe something true, or do they do that because they are united no matter what?
Your position sounds like a two-kingdoms theology (not Luther's own doctrine, which later Lutheranism misconstrued). There is the "world" and there is the "church", to be sure - the two are not the same - but Christ rules the latter as well as the former with truth and grace, and Christians should engage with the world accordingly.Actually, I think there is the Gospel, and there are all other cultures. The Gospel stand opposed to all man-made cultures, seeking to overcome them and redeem them. What is at stake is exactly Paul’s idea of “principalities and powers”, but not in the vulgar sense which the political pragmatist would employ them.
The Gospel is not a bunker: it is a bomb. It enters in and takes people out. But the irony is that the Gospel takes people out of death and into life rather than destroying them.