The “Religious Right” and “Young, Restless & Reformed” May Be Splitting But We Make Sweet Music Together Here
Matt Rawlings, otherwise known as Pastor Matt, has written a post entitled: The Growing Divide between the Religious Right and “the Young, Restless & Reformed.” With a title like that, I couldn’t resist responding. That’s right in the CRM wheelhouse.
First off all, Matt appropriately refers to Brian McLaren’s utterly and unsurprisingly failed prediction that “evangelicalism and conservative Christian activism was dying” while noting the subsequent rise of both the Young, Restless and Reformed and Tea Party movements. There’s not much more I want to say about that other than to gives a thumbs up to any mention of the specious nature of Brian McLaren’s pronouncements.
Rather than celebrating these erroneous predictions, as I am doing, Matt merely uses this as a jumping off point to explore a discernible disconnect between the “New Evangelical Calvinists” and the Tea Party and Religious Right. While Matt has feet planted in both worlds, as he put it, he notes “the two movements are not connected” and many neo-reformed are “almost hostile to political activism.”
Matt cites the example of John MacArthur as a possible explanation as to why neo-reformed leaders such as Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris avoid political activism. I’m not sure this is the case although I have also been critical of MacArthur’s views on political engagement in the past. Almost three years ago I wrote, “Sociopolitical engagement is not just a distraction from evangelism. The church’s sociopolitical activity is an expression of the King’s reign over the entire physical order. Sociopolitical engagement is an opportunity to confront the existing world order with the Kingdom values of the people of God. This is not just ‘putting a facade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions’ [as MacArthur had recently written at that time]. We are not isolated from humanity but identify with humanity and have a unique message for the social needs of mankind” (see ‘A Response to John MacArthur’s “Disengagement” View of Christians & Sociopolitical Activity’).
Matt points to the potential for political activity to distract from evangelism and discipleship but he does not find this to be the true reason YRR folks shy away from politics. A better explanation, he believes, is found in the social and cultural differences between the conservative Christian sub-culture and the young church planter sub-culture. Matt writes, “Culturally these two camps are worlds apart even though they agree on the most important aspect of life–faith in Jesus Christ.”
While I find some merit to the “cultural differences” explanation, I believe the “distraction” excuse to be closer to the truth, especially if we narrow the New Evangelical Calvinists down further to the “young church planters.” Church planters live, eat and breathe the gospel as it relates to evangelism and discipleship and “politics” can be a distraction although this need not be the case as Matt rightly points out.
This, however, does not fully explain the broader category of the neo-reformed beyond church planters. There is a significant narrative within evangelicalism which says we have become too divided over lesser concerns such as politics. Evangelicalism was hijacked by the religious right, the story goes, and people are abandoning the movement in droves. Therefore, we must be less political in order to avoid the labels of “close-minded” or “bigot.” “See, I’m open-minded, I’m not one of them” was a major impulse behind the evangelical votes for President Obama in 2008.
Or, if we’re not less political we must begin to broaden our perspectives on the environment, capitalism and the American dream, war and foreign policy, and the role of government in caring for the least of these. We can’t limit our politics to gays, guns and abortion any longer. In an attempt to become less political and distance themselves from the dreaded right wing, some, unfortunately, merely swung to the evangelical left which is sort of like swearing off arson by switching from matches to lighters.
The problem, however, is not with “being too political” or focusing on politics “too much.” Politics is only a distraction from discipleship if it is not being engaged Christian-ly. Following Christ is very political. In fact, we’re hard-pressed to find aspects of our faith that are apolitical. As Matt quoted, “Jesus is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.”
I look forward to seeing where Pastor Matt goes with this series, especially if his comment about “full cultural engagement” provides a clue.
As for me, I’m still reformed and on the right. You might even say I’m a member of the conservative reformed mafia.