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Retreatism or Reconstruction: American Christianity’s Complicated Relationship with Modernity

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Several months later, the sequel to my original article (that was scribbled down in the wake of the Parkland massacre) has finally arrived. In my original article, I posited that neither the typical right-wing or left-wing responses to gun violence go far enough. Instead, I’ve suggested that it is a symptom of a greater disease that has infected us from the beginning of the Fall, and has been amplified greatly by modernity.  The article left off with the suggestion that we in America have come dangerously close to not only accepting this as the new temperament of the times but even a treaty of complacency with it.

In this follow-up, I’ll be addressing that last concern and concluding this series by setting up a thesis that should leave you asking more questions of yourself. My supposition is a simple one that seems like it should be obvious to Christendom, but has been washed away by institutionalized distractions: our eyes ought to be set not on a savior in the White House on Capitol Hill today who offers temporary solutions built on fiat, but instead the Savior that was elevated on Cavalry two thousand years ago and dwells in an Eternal City, Who provided Himself as the Scapegoat for our own sins against Him, giving us the inheritance to a new kingdom.

Retreatism

Those who have made peace between themselves and the world seem to have the most skewed ideas about what retreatism is. They often echo trite sayings like ‘you can’t legislate morality’ or ‘it isn’t the church’s duty to influence politics’ all while priding themselves deeply in the supposedly Christian heritage of the nation and proudly wearing the badge of patriotism with honor.
Other curious ideas coming from these mouths have included the oddest notions, such as the idea that homeschooling and Christian education are a form of ‘retreatism’ and we’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to reach new missions fields. By what? By adopting their means and methods to get closer to them? To appeal to some sense of familiarity by dreaming their dreams and setting the same goals?

That sounds an awful lot like conformity to me, not retreatism. While the church has stooped so far as to use sociological terms to divide itself, let’s examine what these terms actually mean and where they come from.

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Coming from a concept known as strain theory, this relates to an organism’s relationship (typically a mass organism, like society, or in our case the American church) with its environments, retreatism is an abandonment of goals and means that is a form of surrender and complete disengagement. What room is there for disengagement in the church? I’d argue there actually is some, but not when it comes to the culture war.

“To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:22-14

Retreatism from the flesh is a clear command because of the fact that we no longer owe allegiance to Christ. This new allegiance commands a new conformity instead, to our beautiful and all fulfilling God and His standards of holiness.

Retreatism from the flesh and conformity to God – what then is to be our relationship to the world?

Rebellion and Reconstruction

So many of Christianity’s marriage alliances with the world and infidelity to the kingdom of God find their origin in the wonderfully named “social gospel.” A movement whose roots were well-intentioned, it fell by the wayside when it decided temporary solutions outweighed the eternal, focusing far more on society’s needs than the gospel’s offerings. I do believe it is the time for a new social gospel, with its eyes on the statutes of God as written in scripture as its solution, and not a reliance on democracy.

But how do we transition from where we are now to that point? Where do we begin to rebuild?

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Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah by William Brassey Hole.

My eyes tend to be pulled by some great magnetic force towards upwards and backward whenever I hear someone deduct the entire story of Nehemiah to one of leadership and gloss over its entire significance in the redemptive plan. But for once, I do believe it is proper to use him as an example for ourselves, given the grace of God that we can accomplish much for him.

The young nobleman Nehemiah took it upon himself not to live in harmony with the great provision of the strong and mighty Persian empire, he instead divorced himself from it entirely in order to passionately dedicate himself to what seemed like a pipedream, which was a world in which his people could be protected from evil and build the kingdom of God instead of cowering in fear of circumstance. Once in Jerusalem, he fearlessly followed the commands of God and stood against the backbiting Samaritans, the Ammonites who tried to mingle amongst them and spread their pagan ways, their constant foes the Philistines, and maurading Arabs. Stress and duress availed nothing and the wall was built from the ruins of the city in fifty-two days.

Are we called to replicate this radical separation?

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We should live under no delusion that He who rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and translated us to the kingdom of light wishes us to dwell in it. How did we get to the point where whether or not one has a tattoo or wears a name brand of clothing is the definition of separation, but we give our full support to a ‘pro-life’ movement whose main objective seems to be how to regulate the murder of babies instead of preventing it entirely? When the missionary line-item is the least funded on the budget, but we raise no objection to giving our hard earned money to foreign wars that blot out the name of our God and nation and hinder the advance of the gospel? Blasphemy surrounds us in every song and half of the texts we send and we do nothing, but a murmur against the flag and we’re raising arms?

Where do our priorities lie, and with whose kingdom?

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How do we dare to have preachers that speak on the idolatry and adultery of the nation of Israel, while we who claim we wish ‘God to prevail’ (Israel) give all of our time and effort to his enemies? Whose legacy are we building?

“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” – James 4:4

The American dream is not reconcilable with a spiritual inheritance for our children and grandchildren. Forming a pact with the world is not conducive to providing for their wellbeing – you’re setting up the path for glamorous and well-fed victims of the world’s devices. Our first and foremost priority should not be dreams, but living as the bride of Christ on earth and preparing ourselves for Him. While our true home lies in heaven, there is no excuse for the kingdom of light to not make itself manifest in our preparations for the bridegroom. We have no excuses.

Revanchism

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Expulsion from the Garden by Thomas Cole

Neither our sin nature nor our exile from the perfection of the garden are excuses for disobedience from God. What I see around me (and am very, very, very guilty of myself) are Christians whom, in the presence of God, choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life daily. We choose to bury ourselves back into our tombs we were freed from, and forge new shackles to bind ourselves with while spitting on the sacrifice of our Liberator.

How dare we forget the opening of the disciple’s prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps this is the ultimate example of  ‘we have not because we ask not.’

As we wait for the final day of glorification and the end of our long reconciliation between creation and Creator, I can only pray that we as a nation and culture learn to ask for more, so that we may accomplish it to God’s glory. There is a disease, there is an infection, there is a cure, and we do not share it.

We are at peace with the world. Christianity is not a religion of peace. The world is at war with us, and we stand by and do little. Now is the time to fight the good fight by the means and provisions of God’s grace.

Conform to God. Retreat from the flesh. Rebel against the world.

Reclaim the name of that which is our God’s.

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On First World Problems, Such as School Shootings and our Myopic Response

Society
– Gabriele Kuby

While they may at first seem contradictory, I need to set down two premises before writing any farther. First is that depravity never has been and never will be a unique spirit of the age, but instead is a perpetual and omnipresent problem of the individual. Second is culture runs in cycles that always progress towards the more chaotic and more depraved, ending in terminal decline.

Also, this article is only the first part of a two-part thoughtpiece that’s been brewing in my mind for a while now. The release date of the second one could be tomorrow, it could be next year.

The Response

Pandemonium erupted following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on social media. The same old Christians who never considered abortion a worthy topic of discussion flirted with gun control again for the sake of preventing future deaths.
The boomers picked up their ‘dumbphones’  and blamed the video games their grand-children played for massacres such as these, before returning to watching their violent Western re-runs whose exemplification of the heroic warrior spirit in the modern context paved the way for said games.
For every time that the creed of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” was entered into social media, a trendy video with professional editing showing police officers, soldiers, old white men and the mothers and brothers of victims was shared by another.

School shootings and the mentality that haunts the perpetrator are a first world problem. In the tiers of development, the first world is expected to have the most advanced solutions to any problem. But we have been found lacking. What, instead, is our answer?
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Apathy

All along the way, the mild-mannered and undecided are pushed to apathy by the overwhelming vitriol that laces the noise surrounding tragedy or disengagement out of disgust. This has always been the natural response, but mass communication and social media have turned the disaffected droves into hordes.

This time around, the response seemed truly different. Apathy wasn’t the undercurrent, it was predominant. Social consciousness has become increasingly scarred ever since news railed showed images of the mushroom cloud, or journalist returned with footage of Vietnam, or as an entire nation stood transfixed watching two thousand people burn and suffocate to death on live-television on 9/11.

Traditionally, the mass politicization of an event can wait until the perpetrator is caught, but this time, this was not to be the case. Traditionally, the eye-witnesses are treated as victims of terror themselves, but this time Twitter and Snapchat documented people recording the aftermath of their own classroom’s decimation with amusement.

Every major school shooting is a useful bookmark for the social climate that was its backdrop, and this time, I think it is fair to say that we’ve entered into the new age of the guillotine.
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Voyeurism

Infamously hackneyed by now, Stalin’s quote suggesting the number of people dying is correlative to the emotional response might need to be tweaked. Perhaps it would be more pertinent to our era to say that it is instead the frequency of people dying that is correlative to our amount of emotional sincerity.

By which I am not referring to crime rates, but instead blood sports. In America, there has never been a need to substitute gladiatorial sports. Recreational sports have always been sufficient to keep young men fit and active when military activity was not necessitated and a long history of wars and massacres have sated the needs for actual bloodletting. The advent of mass media has also replaced the theatre, allowing us to consume whatever vision of depravity we desire from a couch or a desk instead of having to go out and view a moralistic tale with superfluous drama. And for those that prefer complete disengagement, there is reality TV. As the actor Gary Oldman is famously quoted as saying, reality TV is the museum of social decay.

cultureAnd now, school shootings have been fully integrated into the media circus. No longer something to run away and disengage from, they are the newest addition to the menu of tragedies we can view from a safe distance, along with war and any other flavor of immorality that may tickle your fancy.

The Reevaluation

Massacres of American youth even predate our independence, starting with the Enoch Brown School massacre. I can only assume that it is the lack of media reporting in the pre-blood sports days that shielded our current generation of venerable elders from similar incidents, as school shootings have long been an American problem. Tales of trading guns on the bus and bringing them to school may permeate their nostalgia tinted conversations, even the 1800s and 1900s were chalk full of incidents akin to our own.

Cultural-Entropy

Where they are correct, however, is increasing the frequency. An ever-present problem, at accelerated rates. This leads me to believe that we are indeed entering another death spiral towards terminal decline. One that I believe that the vast majority of digital citizens remain ignorant, willfully or not. They haven’t  been able to pinpoint the problem yet. Though that doesn’t mean they haven’t been trying.

Social Myopia

In an era where technology has amplified the ability to narrow in on data points and connect the dots, it shouldn’t surprise people that studies are easier to publish than ever before. And as a consequence, agendas are also easier to push than ever before.

First, let’s have a look at the false narrative that the gun itself the problem, often used by the American political Left.

Ownership and widespread possession has always been the largest deterrent and always will be. The atmosphere of paranoia that any potential victim carries the capability is a potent deterrent that has prevented countless crimes. Perpetrator fragility is only amplified by the armament of the general public. Public disarmament is the reverse, acting as a tool of empowerment for any prospective criminal predator. Beyond all policies regarding magazines, barrel length, stopping power and other semantics derived from data points are laws of nature, of which this is one.

The only person saved by a gun-free zone the day of the Valentine’s Day massacre was Nikolas Cruz.

 

But the Right is not flawless in their analysis either, and subsequently shall not be spared. While the most notable gun crime perpetrators have been highly disturbed individuals with traumatic pasts and a history of treatment, notoriety does not equal causation.

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The misconception of extreme tries to mental illness and mass shootings are common on the Left as well, the Right has recently adopted them as well as a scapegoat instead of standing their ground (pun, while unintended, left intentionally) on ownership laws. Hilariously, in my opinion, the political Right, whether they are the heirs of the Moral Majority or are simply fiscally inclined towards conservatism, has refused to budge on providing funding for the programs that would help with the issue the blame has been shifted towards.

Beyond the realm of popular opinions, the truth is far more horrifying.

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While the United States of America is by far the greatest modern hotbed of psychological and neurological illnesses, perhaps that the world has ever seen, the statistics show that violent acts of turpitude do not require any diagnosis of mental illness.

I have to make up my mind (if a conclusion can even be released) between the correlation of psychotropic drugs and mass shootings, the fact remains that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by those with psychiatrically healthy minds and clean bills of health with no subscriptions.

If pharmaceutical influence as well as ownership, licensure, and mental health can all be discounted, in varying degrees, what remains?

Society has been trying to pinpoint very singular causes and indicts them, and them alone, instead of performing a broader search of introspection into its very core. They have mistaken the trees of gun violence and mass shootings for the forest of modernity and the aestheticization of violence.

The Stark Reality

The truth, in the end, is that heinous acts of once deemed psychopathic in nature are being viewed by the world at large in a way that once would have been considered sociopathic. Psychopathy and sociopathy are becoming the new neurotypical.

While the odious feats of school shooters are most definitely related to the utter demise of communities and the death of a proper place for young men in society (ideas I plan to explore later in depth) as well as mental maladies, they matched by a periphery full of gang violence and domestic violence that is performed by seemingly normal people.

After exploring a long list of correlating data points that have refused to show any causations, what then is the cause?

My own opinion is that a genealogy of decline can be easily traced by the culturally aware. From the Lost Generation born that created the mass degeneration of society known as the roaring twenties, to the Baby Boomers shallowness and permissiveness to let values degrade into benefits, and the widespread sociopathy that Generations Y and Z (millennials) have learned from their parents and classrooms, we are looking at nothing but the harvest of seeds long since sewn into the fabric of society and nation-state.

The aestheticisation of violence, the insignificance of the permanence of death, and the infectious desire to disengage from society are now no matter just symptoms of a problem, but emblematic of normality. What was once appaling isn’t just uniform in thought, but also action.

My own exhortation for fellow Christians is to focus far more energy on opening people’s eyes to the larger picture than myopic policy debates. Engagement in politics is important but impotent and counterproductive if done uninformed and out of focus. Social myopia allows spiritual atrophy to fester even within the churched.

“In which I suffer … even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” – 2 Timothy 2:9

The culture war is one worth fighting. The political forum is one with engaging in. But for it to be efficacious to any worthwhile change, it must be done in light of the gospel and in opposition to a post-structuralist, decaying world.

If and when I get around to publishing the second half of this,  I will be making the case for reconstructionism and countering the decay of the world, as well as defining what is and is not “retreatism.”

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‘Optimism’ versus Christianity

“… Perhaps branch should stop having expectations of nurture from any other source than the vine?”

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2

Life (for the believer) is primarily the story of what Paul calls the three pillars – Faith, Love, and Hope. Why then are we overcome by the negativity of the fallen world seemingly every day?

Perhaps the forgotten ‘secret’ of living a happy (joyful) life lies in an idol of reliance that is often not thought of as such. When circumstances become unfavorable, the cry of the classical optimist is that we can always look forward to positivity over circumstance. While there is a sort of optimism taught in scripture, the word of God makes it clear it is not based in positivity.

Even the secular philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer realized this, and made the case against positive-optimism in his intro to Essays on Pessimism. The case he set was this; if one views pleasure as a positive force, and moral goodness as a positive force, they should work together.
Why is it then that we view predators as the villains in nature? Why is it that moral sympathy is directed towards the wildebeest instead of the lion? It is the lion that pleasures himself in gorging upon that which he is eating – so why do we not approve of gluttony, cruelty, tyranny, and oppression?

To a Christian, the answer should be obvious. In a fallen world we should expect the tainted and sinful world to be in opposition to goodness. Indeed, we may believe that sinfulness is the world’s nature and instead it is goodness that is in opposition to the world. Why is it then that we expect good things from the world? Christ taught something quite different.


“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28


The verse seems fairly straightforward – and yet the theology of the common Christian would seem to deem themselves illiterate. It does not read “All things are good for them that love God,” and does not it say “All things work together for the good of them that love God.”
This is not a new issue –  in Jeremiah 2:13 it is stated that:
“… My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns.” This was in spite of the warnings of Deuteronomy 28, and we often act the way despite of the warnings Christ (our living water) provided for the church. (John 15:182 Timothy 3:12)

A supposition: locating fulfillment in anything outside of God is idolatry – and if this is true, why do phrases such as the “power of positive thinking” ever find themselves on the tongues of the church? Or even worse, in practice – only to blame the failure of our own refuge on God.

The optimism of the world can be aptly renamed as ‘false hope.’ In this we should take great joy – because it means that there is a true hope.

To quote Westley from The Princess Bride, “Life is pain. Anyone who says different is selling something.” Perhaps a startling way way to start a section on true hope – but there is truth to be found here. While life is not exclusively pain, we can see that positivity is neither always pleasure nor good – instead the forces of the world often hurt us. The death of loved ones, the sorrow of parting friends, disease, and in general suffering – these are the gifts that circumstance bestows upon us. The circumstance of the natural life.

Then perhaps this is just one of many reasons we should rejoice in having new life in Jesus Christ, our Lord. You see, true hope is not reliant on circumstance, condition, or pleasurable sensations.



“Hope says God has not abandoned us in the world … He pursues us, dwells in us, intervenes for us and will not forget us.”
(Scott McClellan, RELEVANT Magazine)


Hope in Jesus Christ is not hope in this world, but rather a hope that transcends this world while we are yet in it. To “be in the world, but not of it” does not simply mean allowing sin to dominate us, but also the rejection of all the world’s dominion over us.

Living a life similar to the apostle Paul in many regards, Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the German church wrote from prison about the alternative to classical optimism. “It is wiser to be pessimistic;” he begins in a borderline repulsive manner to those he seeks to encourage before continuing. ” it is a way of avoiding disappointment and ridicule, and so wise people condemn optimism.” He continues to condemn pessimism however with a stronger force – hope.  “The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life, and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent. It is true that there is a silly, cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn. But the optimism that is will for the future should never be despised, even if it is proved wrong a hundred times; it is health and vitality, and the sick man has no business to impugn it.”

While we are able to take joy regardless of circumstance, it goes farther than exclusively joy – instead the reliance upon Christ gifts us with a new positivity that is against the current state of the world. Bonhoeffer continues saying, ” There are people who regard it as frivolous, and some Christians think it impious for anyone to hope and prepare for a better earthly future. they think that the meaning of present events is chaos, disorder, and catastrophe; and in resignation or pious escapism they surrender all responsibility for reconstruction and for future generations. It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future.”


In hope there is something beyond circumstance, there is Christ – and in Christ there is hope. While in the world we may suffer, Christ gives us joy, peace, and most importantly a purpose – to glorify Him in faith, obedience, and love.

When given new life, we are not bound to this world any longer – but instead we are re-bound to Christ. Our freedom from one power anchors us to a greater one, one where our cares may be cast (1 Peter 5:7) and our needs are met. (Matthew 6:8)


In the end, we are transcendent beyond circumstance because our Lord first transcended them. Happiness and joy stem from Him alone – so perhaps branch should stop having expectations of nurture from any other source than the vine?


“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” –
2 Corinthians 4:8-12