Posts tagged with: ideology

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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salt-handsDoes the theological conservatism of a church help or hinder its chances for growth? And what, if any, impact might that have on its social and political witness?

In a new research study, sociologist David Haskell and historian Kevin Flatt explore the first of these questions. Using survey data from 22 mainline Protestant churches across southern Ontario, the study concludes that “the theological conservatism of both attendees and clergy emerged as important factors in predicting church growth.”

“Our data demonstrate that within our sample, theological differences do matter for church growth,” they write. “…These associations hold even when church age, clergy age, congregant age, and the presence of conflict in the congregation are controlled for and other variables related to growth (such as worship style, youth emphasis, and clarity of purpose) are held constant.”

Though Haskell and Flatt plan to develop 5 academic papers from their data, the current study doesn’t seek to uncover an underlying explanation as to why the trend exists, nor does it aim to explore the other ripple effects to social witness. But for those who believe the church bears a distinct social responsibility, there’s a second overlapping and intersecting question that’s well worth asking: How might a church’s theological commitments and priorities impact its public voice and influence?

In his epilogue to The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, Flatt offers a separate set of reflections on this point. Unlike the study on church growth, the essay doesn’t rely on survey data, but it does point us to a strong historical case study from mainline Protestantism. Titled “A Cautionary Tale,” the essay sets its focus on the United Church of Canada, a denomination that has suffered a decline in recent years, not only in church attendance and participation, but also in social influence and political witness. (more…)

Conservatives and liberals both tend to believe that they alone are motivated by love while their opponents are motivated by hate. How can we solve problems with so much polarization?

In a recent TED talk, AEI president Arthur Brooks shares ideas for what we can each do as individuals to break the gridlock. “We might just be able to take the ghastly holy war of ideology that we’re suffering under and turn it into a competition of ideas,” says Brooks.

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016
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OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
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Former governor, pastor, and presidential candidate (and current radio host) Mike Huckabee has been a primary driving force in turning today, August 1, into an ad hoc appreciation day for the fast food company Chick-fil-A.

Huckabee’s activism in support of the “Eat Mor Chikin” establishments was occasioned by criticism leveled against the company’s support for traditional “family values,” including promotion of traditional marriage. Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” That, apparently, was enough to galvanize many opponents of “the biblical definition of the family unit” and the rights of a company to be supportive of such. These opponents include, notably, a Chicago alderman and the mayor of Boston.

In addition to Huckabee’s response, others have argued that there should not be a religious, or even political, test of sorts for determining our partners in free exchange. Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist pastor and author, wrote a piece for The Atlantic, “In Defense of Eating a Chick-fil-A,” in which he writes, “in a society that desperately needs healthy public dialogue, we must resist creating a culture where consumers sort through all their purchases (fast food and otherwise) for an underlying politics not even expressed in the nature of the product itself.” Likewise Branson Parler, a professor at Kuyper College here in Grand Rapids, contends that “Christians need to disconnect the cultural goods and services provided by numerous institutions (including Chick-fil-A) from the gods of politicization and partisanship.”
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Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that

The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.

This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,

I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.

On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”

In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:

Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?

Last night a band of hearty travelers braved the first snow of the season here in Grand Rapids (and the attendant slick and dangerous roads) to hear Dr. John H. Armstrong speak at the November/December Acton on Tap, “Ecumenism and the Threat of Ideology.” Dr. Armstrong is founder of ACT 3 and adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College.

Armstrong spent some time discussing the thesis of his book, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church. A recurring theme was the phrase coined by Timothy George, “ecumenism in the trenches,” which is sometimes how we describe what we do here at Acton. The basic point of Armstrong’s book is that Christians must be able to come together to work in concrete ways in order to be an effective and faithful witness to Jesus Christ in the culture and the world.

As Peter writes, we are to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV). Undoubtedly this call to live “good lives” means showing love to other people, “especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).

Armstrong also discussed the threat that ideology poses to unity in Christ. He defines ideology as “visionary theorizing, or to a systematic body of concepts, especially regarding human culture or life. I have in mind not only a body of systematic concepts but particularly the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program of some type.” This understanding of ideology coheres perfectly with the critique of liberationist ideology in the ecumenical movement in my book, Ecumenical Babel.

The night concluded with a salient quote from Russell Kirk about the dangers of ideology. Kirk writes,

We live in an era when the passions of ideology and the passions of religion become joined in certain zealots. Thus we hear intemperate talk, in many communions and denominations, of Christian revolution. Most of the men and women who use such language undoubtedly mean a bloodless, if abrupt, transformation of social institutions. Yet some of them nowadays, as in past times, would not scruple at a fair amount of bloodletting in their sacred cause. Whether bloodless or bloody, an upheaval justified by the immanentizing of Christian symbols of salvation defies the Beatitudes and devours its children. Soon the Christian ideologues (an insane conjunction) find themselves saddled and ridden by some “great bad man,” a Cromwell at best.

As Armstrong notes, Kirk’s comment about Cromwell displays his ardent Catholicism, but it also stands as a prophetic warning about the dangers of ideology and utopian thinking.

Later on in his essay, “Promises and Perils of Christian Politics,” published in the 1980s, Kirk points explicitly to the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches for places (among many others) where this “insane conjunction” is displayed.

Dr. Armstrong blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter here.

For those PowerBlog readers in the Chicago area, I’ll be in town next Tuesday for a luncheon where I’ll be discussing the topic, “How Ideology Destroys Biblical Ecumenism.”

The event is sponsored by the Chicago-based ministry ACT 3 and will be held at St. Paul United Church of Christ, 118 S. First Street, Bloomingdale, IL. The event will begin at 11:45am (Tuesday, November 9) and you can register for the luncheon at the ACT 3 website.

The point of departure for my talk will be my new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, and those who are able to attend the luncheon will receive a complimentary copy.

Robert Joustra, a researcher at the Canadian think tank Cardus, says this about the book and the contemporary ecumenical debate about globalization:

Ballor is spot-on when worrying that narrowly framing the debate this way can obscure the fact that globalization is about a great deal more than economics or politics. Isn’t it ironic that the ecclesial conversation is essentially a thinly-baptized version of exactly the same disagreements in the secular world, but with less technical capacity and more theological abstraction? This is Ballor’s most important point.

My friend John Armstrong, who runs ACT 3 and is organizing the luncheon, recommends Ecumenical Babel as “a truly readable and wonderful book. All who love Christian unity centered in the witness of the church and the gospel of Christ will benefit from this fine new book.”