Loving Enemies While Defeating Them Part IV--More Specifics
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
I am in the middle of a series on Josh Daws' question "how can we love our enemies *while* working to defeat them?" Be sure to read the first three parts in the series above before tackling part IV here. The previous installments give proper context and definition of terms. In this post I'm going to continue with articulating specific principles.
3) Join with like minded people
This includes people inside and outside the Church, and it includes people on the other side of the political isle, folks like Abigail Shrier, Bari Weiss, Bill Maher and Brett Weinstein. Yes, they are not our pastors so we should not treat them as such. They will not take spots on the board of our evangelical organizations and they are not our Church elders. At the same time, they are wonderful allies in the causes we have in common, so in the public square when we can, we should team up with them. If you do any studying about how communism was defeated in eastern bloc countries decades ago--this is something Rod Dreher points out in his book Live Not By Lies--is that the movement comprised people of all persuasions and walks of life. Conservative Christians joined hands with atheist liberals, and the like. It was not a homogenous movement comprised of only conservative Christians. Casting a wide net was the only way it could work. There is room for ideological purity--for example, when it comes to the boards and leadership of certain evangelical organizations, and churches. But when it comes to fighting wokeness, keep the main thing the main thing. Agreement on the hypostatic union can take a back seat for the time being. We need to be careful though: there is a vast difference between joining hands with someone outside the Church/evangelicalism/conservative circle/What Have You for a particular political purpose--and they themselves are clear about where they stand theologically etc--and allowing those who claim to be inside the Church/evangelicalism etc but are actually fomenting compromise from within to have influence. Joining with those from other “teams” for certain common purposes and turning a blind eye to those who *claim* to be on the same team but are really sabotaging from within are horses of a different color. We should seek working with one for limited purposes, but not the other. Let me name some names here, just to be clear. Bari Weiss--that’s one thing. Kristin Kobes DuMez--that’s another. Bill Maher--that’s one thing. Rob Bell--that’s another. John McWhorter--that’s one thing. Rafael Warnock--that’s another.
Last caveat on this one, I swear: there are some people and groups we should not join with even if we do agree on some key things. The principle is not unlimited. If, say, an unrepentant member of Antifa were to say, “I hate wokeness too, lets work together!” (as unlikely as that is to happen, just humor me for a sec) or Richard Spencer were to want to join with us on making room for religion in the public square (as unlikely as that is to happen. Most of the alt-right can’t stand religion, Christianity specifically. They have lots of choice words to describe guys like me), a clear “no thanks” would be the right way to go. Here’s a real-life specific instance: some on the right, like the media site The Federalist, have joined forces with a few porn stars on the free speech front. This is unwise, among other things--for one, those pornographers are using the conservative platform to grow their fan base and draw new “fans” in. They are hoping the good reputation of these right leaning media groups will transfer on to them with potential new fans. It’s snake charming. Where that line is, exactly, I don’t know. I just know there is a line, so we should balance looking for allies with shrewd caution. 4) Politics The role of politics is limited, but it does play a role. Not everyone is called to politics, but we need faithful men and women in the political arena that know how the game is played, and can advance well crafted policy that doesn’t just rile up the base or look good in an election year, but policy that effectively counters the revolutionary agenda. Full disclosure: the current state of the GOP is incredibly discouraging to me. There are a very select few bright spots of people who actually are trying to advance good policy, but most of it resembles either a clown show or a cynical cabal that is interested in exploiting us for votes but is not interested in really going to bat for us. Bombast in the service of Trump’s ego or the same ‘ol establishment dog and pony show. Not much of a choice.
That’s what it looks like from my vantage point in the stands. We need people actually devoted to getting down to the nitty gritty details of crafting good, powerful policy on cultural issues. Of course the devil is in the details, and like much else in this series, defining “well crafted” is outside the scope. All I’m doing here is sketching out broad thoughts. Again, the role of politics is limited. Wokeness proceeded apace in 2016-2020 right under Trump’s nose. SCOTUS gave us Dobbs--praise God for that!--but it also gave us Bostock. Politics is not the end all, nor is any politician our savior. Churches must be especially careful here, because melding direct political activism like stumping for specific candidates from the pulpit with church is playing with matches. I’m not really talking about that flavor of church activity here anyway as much as I'm talking about individual involvement in politics and institutional activism outside the Church (though churches can and should teach their congregants how to think about politics Christianly).
Those caveats aside, it still plays a key role.
5) Argue, don’t just proclaim Don’t just declare the truth. *Argue* for it in the public square. Courage is contagious. Courage coupled with persuasive and rational arguments is contagious-er. No it won’t convince everybody, not even close, but it will be more influential than simple assertion. It advances the plausibility structure of the culture in the right direction. Here’s an example from the classroom: in my philosophy class, we have a unit on the Philosophy of Religion, where students examine some arguments for and against God’s existence. Some already have a decent familiarity with the arguments against, but this is the first time the overwhelming majority of the students in the class--including Christian students who have been raised in strong churches!--hear *any* sort of evidence for God’s existence. To the overwhelming majority, even the concept that there *can be or is* evidence is quite a novel notion. This past semester during the small group discussions during this unit (ie, they get into groups of 3 or 4 and discuss the material amongst themselves), a German exchange student in the class had a very long, detailed, drawn out discussion with another student in the class. This other wasn’t Christian as far as I could tell, but was conservative-ish, knew the arguments pretty well, and was one of the select few that could explain them with skill. After the discussion, I heard the first student--the exchange student--say “this is the first time any sort of Christianity has made sense to me.” He didn’t bend the knee to Jesus right then and there, but folks, that’s a win nonetheless. Multiply that to scale and that’ll make a big difference. Being able to persuasively dialog with people makes a HUGE impression. We need to do a better job of cultivating this skill in our churches. Currently there are a few in the Third Column--men like Greg Koukl, women like Natasha Crain--who are pros at this and are doing yeoman’s work training others, but this simply needs to be standard fare in the Church writ large, and currently its not. Training on it in churches needs to be ubiquitous as Wednesday youth group, small group Bible study, or women’s tea. I will pick up this theme--the Church’s role--in a bit.
6) Turn inward One big reason for the 60%-80% stat--two thirds to three fourths of Christian youth, even those raised in devout homes who are very active in church, will walk away from the faith within a few years of entering college--is that we have a formation problem in the American Church. It’s not that Christianity itself is weak or intellectually unfounded, stupid, etc. It’s that we are by and large failing to adequately form, disciple, and prepare our youth for the challenges they will face. This is a problem. Extrapolate that out and in a few generations there won’t be any more youth to lose to the world. The game will be over. Face it: right now the world is doing a much, much better job of discipling our kids than we are. This is what The Daniel Collaborative is meant to address. So when I say “turn inward,” what I mean is that we should turn our attention to better discipling and forming our youth. We need a more aggressive and explicit spiritual, intellectual, and emotional formation in the home and in Christian community. Don’t just leave it up to two hours on a Wednesday night and 90 minutes on Sunday. Train…explicitly…intensely…formally…in the home. Don’t just teach Bible. Do it all. Stop outsourcing education to the government and handing spiritual formation to the pastors. I realize not everyone can take their kids out of public school. Not everyone has the resources to do so. But more should consider it. If I were a betting man, I”d go to Vegas on the notion that a ton who think they can’t actually can if they think hard and get creative about it, and that almost all of this group can do a better job than the government can at educating their kids. At the very least, churches and para church orgs can and should devote more resources, financial and otherwise, to helping families make this choice. Those who still can’t make that choice should more honestly reckon with their situation and refuse to whitewash it. You are not sending your kid to be “salt to the world.” Quit telling yourself that you are sending him to be a missionary. Rather, he is being educated, discipled, and formed by Cesear for roughly 40+ hours a week. If that is the only game in town for your family (full disclosure: it was the choice my own family made for a time in my daughters’ lives), so be it, but be honest with yourself and then make sure you are working hard in the home to counter that programming. I am not intending this as a knock on pastors either. Most work very hard and a lot do a great job. This is simply a recognition that, given the time they have with kids each week vs the amount of time the secular world is influencing the same kids, it is unrealistic to expect what we implicitly expect from them. 40+ hrs of secular programming per week vs 2-3 hrs from the church is not fair. Discipleship and education is a parent’s job, with assistance from the greater Church community and outsourcing to other venues as needed. In America we typically put the cart before the horse and start with the government institutions as the default educator and the church as the default spiritual former, and we only consider home based and other community options when those defaults work really poorly or as supplements. Aside from this being an unnatural split--education to the government, spirituality to the church. It should be all one--we have it backwards. If the default were the other way around and we took thorough, explicit, and formal formation/discipleship in the home/community more seriously, that alone would go a long way to defeating our enemies. Better retaining and forming those already in the pews is well over half the battle. 7) Yes, apologetics We must give apologetics a more robust and central role in the discipleship outlined above in #6. Currently we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to professional organizations devoted to this, but in actual churches from week to week it looks pretty thin. This needs to change. There is a lot of resistance among pastors, elders, staff, and youth volunteers to apologetics training. Many who work in churches have a stereotype of apologetics as just “teaching people to be argumentative” and combative. While some who are into apologetics are indeed combative, by and large this is an inaccurate stereotype. Church staff need to read the room and let this one go. Put succinctly, we cannot afford to keep telling ourselves that its all about arguing and it leads people away from Christ. I'm not just talking about a series or talk here or there, but thoroughgoing and consistent training. It needs to take center stage in the teaching life of the church. This is essential in not only helping adults meet the cultural moment with faithfulness and confidence, but also in retaining our youth for the long haul. If they think that Christianity is “all about faith” (read: emotions based, having little to do with reality, unable to rationally answer the tough and fundamental questions, merely in the feelings and not the head) and is not rationally explicable, if they think the weight of the evidence tips against Christianity in favor of secularism, they will walk away the first chance they get. The reality is that a lot of our youth have questions, because they are getting bombarded with challenges to Christianity on the daily, and leaving those questions unanswered because we don’t want to train them to be combative is to leave them vulnerable. Youth pastor, you can’t just “teach the Bible” and instruct them about identity in Christ. That is necessary, but not sufficient. My own story bears this out. I was a brand new believer when I got to college, and I was hit with all the typicals when I arrived on campus. My roommate, for example, was a very smart agnostic young man, and he would pepper me with questions I didn’t know how to answer. It got to the point that I either had to fish or cut bait. In late October of that year, I actually attended a William Lane Craig vs Peter Atkins debate. I had never heard of Craig before, much less had I considered the possibility of a rational debate between a Christian and anyone else. I had all the stereotypes of faith in my head, and to be honest, I was nervous for Craig going into it. Atheists are the rational people, all about science, while Christians are the emotional faith people, I thought. But Craig cleaned house and Atkins didn’t have a leg to stand on. After I left the debate, I remember thinking, “maybe, just maybe, Christianity can hold its own in this place.” It was a turning point for me and a good shot of confidence at a moment that I really needed it. Fortunately, also at around that time I was falling in with a group of men and mentors that took my questions seriously, and they pointed me in the right direction in giving me resources to help me think through the challenges I was facing. Without that I would have walked away. All that to say: church staff are good at giving lip service to the need for apologetical training, but there’s much to be desired when it comes to actually training their members effectively and building a flourishing apologetical culture in their communities. There tends to be much unease and resistance to leaning into this arena of discipleship fully.
It needs to go from the aforementioned apologetical orgs--the STRs, The Reasonable Faiths, the Frank Tureks--to the churches on the ground level taking the lead and building these cultures in their own churches, so the average churchgoer is pushed to be trained up and fed. While there are plenty of places that someone with questions can go to find solid answers, for the most part church members aren’t aware of those places, and apologetics training is not emphasized and foregrounded like it needs to be in the typical church. Here is one way this can be done with youth.
In the next post I will continue outlining principles.