Guest article by Charles Jacobi
A few weeks ago, I responded to a Christianity Today columnist who, using C.S. Lewis, argued household discipleship takes precedence over “participating in culture wars.” The columnist’s point was that Christian parents shouldn’t run for school board: public education is an “open system” influenced by its local environment, thus, Christians should forgo the political podium if they can affect the system via osmosis from the bottom-up. Though while we ought to “Train up a child as he should go_,_” that doesn’t negate our responsibility to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20). I also noted the argument brushed by a category error. The playing field today is different from Lewis’ day.
The above argumentation is common. The cultural landscape should shift from the bottom-up, not shoe-horned from the top-down. We should have a public witness, preach the Gospel, and influence our immediate community over time. But we shouldn’t strive for or exercise political power, so the reasoning goes.
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But now it’s said Christians shouldn’t use bottom-up effects. A tweet recently ushered in a commotion between winsome camps and Reconstruction-friendly camps. It reads, “Historically, Christians have most influenced society not as culture warriors but as a praying, worshiping, giving, neighbor-loving minority. If given the opportunity, would we return to that, or are partisanism and power now preferred overlord and savior_?_” It seems the former camp was triggered by Andrew Isker and Andrew Torba’s new book Christian Nationalism and Canon Press’ announcement of Dr. Wolfe’s A Case For Christian Nationalism.
“Culture warriors” who are trying to pick up the pieces of a once broadly Christian culture via public witness—proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and God’s commandments—are ostensibly power-thirsty or “partisan.” Ironically, the affinity of winsome camps to sling these labels around is similar to that of the modern progressives who irrevocably bind labels to those disagreeing with their latest dogma. In addition, those in the winsome camp pose a false dilemma so evident that their rhetoric is rendered unconvincing. Just because Christians desire Christian politicians or publicly contend with worldly ideology doesn’t necessarily mean they are being “partisan” or that the act itself is “partisan.” Or that they are putting such things like politics over our Lord and Savior. Moreover, Christians have certainly influenced society for good and necessary reasons in the past without much debate.
Suppose we appeal to history to form arguments for winning the culture in certain areas. In that case, William Wilberforce, Saint Boniface, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are thorns in the flesh of those advocating for an exclusively meek witness. In stripping Christians of both bottom-up and top-down effects of influence, winsome camps relegate their brothers to a type of seclusion. We’re only permitted to make disciples—or “fight the culture war”—in our homes or during soft conversations with locals. Praying, “being an example,” and delicate speech are the only acceptable means of cultural influence. By default, a modern form of monasticism is advocated. What methods are left if Christians can’t use bottom-up or top-down effects for cultural evangelism?
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Charles B. Jacobi is a PhD Student at Carr Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University.