It May Get Worse Before it Get’s Better

Warning: Don’t read this post if you don’t have time to ponder too deeply, or are concerned about the state of the church today.

I actually wrote this. 11 years ago.

Cari just sent this to me from my dissertation I did for Fuller Seminary. Damn, if you don’t mind me saying so…it’s good .

A sneak peek–“This could, in due time, make things worse before they get better…I do not want to generalize or draw easy conclusions, but the result of compromise often comes back to haunt the church later.”

Furthermore–“What did the church get, then, in exchange for this inheritance within the American experiment of Christendom? Hauerwas and Willimon remind us of a very important admission.

Constantinianism always demanded one, unified state religion in order to keep the Empire together. Today, the new universal religion that demands subservience is not really Marxism or capitalism but the entity both of these ideologies serve so well—the omnipotent state.

Additionally, they maintain that political theologies of the left and the right want to maintain Christendom and the arrangement where the church justifies itself as a helpful, if sometimes complaining prop for the state. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture was an effort to resolve the dilemma the church finds itself in with the sponsoring governments in which it resides. Hauerwas and Willimon conclude that, in an effort to accept American culture and politics as part of our Christian duty (following Niebuhr’s argument), we have ultimately come to a position of endorsing the Constantinian social strategy. We may complain but ultimately need to swallow our disagreements in support of the state.

I do not want to generalize or draw easy conclusions, but the result of compromise often comes back to haunt the church later. This is as true in one ́s personal life as it is at the macro level of church and state, which is sovereign as well as omnipotent. This is a high price to pay and has spelled the further compromise of Christianity in our times. This has even led to amazing concessions within my own generation where hardly a tear is shed or word spoken in the church at euphemisms from the mouths of government officials, like “collateral damage” to describe the deaths of civilians in Iraq, or Syria, or Gaza, or Yemen, or one of many places we support. There are other reflections such as these that demonstrate our negotiated, weak position as models for the Kingdom of God in our society. The complicity of the church in our day with the Christendom model both reflects our compromised position and bears the seeds of yet further dilution of the gospel witness. This could, in due time, make things worse before they get better. The history of the church and this interplay between culture, ruling states, and the gospel is complex.

(yep, she’s amazing. She actually read my dissertation!)

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