Counterculture for the Common Good (D. Michael Lindsay)

I’ll begin by (again!) agreeing with Jeff: It’s good for democracy when a group of citizens become politically engaged. Debates are more robust, candidates have sharper visions, and civic participation rises. All of us agree that evangelicals now have power. But their legacy is still up for grabs. What does the future hold?
Power is still relatively new to evangelicals, and as people of the Book, they are in a tough spot when they want guidance.

Throughout most of the Bible, the faithful are not very powerful. But dozens of people I interviewed mentioned one passage that they found instructive. It’s taken from Jeremiah 29. Here the prophet tells the Jews how they ought to view their time in Babylon, where they had been taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar: “Seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which [you have been carried]…because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
This passage captures perfectly the tension of evangelicals in power. It offers a religious reason for seeking cultural influence, for they are commanded to leave their mark by working for peace and prosperity. And yet, the command is given to a group in exile, reminding them to hold lightly to whatever power they are able to garner along the way.
The powerful people I interviewed identify with the feeling of being in exile, which sounds strange. “How are you in exile?” I would ask. “Aren’t you sitting in the corner office? Didn’t your side win in the last election?” But many of these leaders grew up signing a hymn that says, “This world is not our home.” The sense of being a sojourner, even when running a Fortune 500 company, is embedded in their religious DNA.
This isn’t a refusal to acknowledge the power they have; it’s a skeptical attitude toward it. This vision of power held at arm’s length is what makes evangelicals different from the rest of the American elite. Otherwise, they will become just another privileged group, what Hanna aptly described as something akin to “the Politburo circa 1989.” Some evangelicals already act that way, but they don’t represent evangelicalism as a whole or its future.
Tim Keller pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and he is the most popular preacher among the nation’s cosmopolitan evangelicals. Keller has urged fellow evangelicals to view themselves as part of a “counterculture” that resists the charms of the establishment. But he also urges them not to work for their sectarian interests, but rather for the “common good.”
If evangelicals end up merely using politics for sectarian aims, we will all be worse off. Their Gospel will be less attractive to non-Christians. Other religious groups will feel increasingly marginalized. Faith will be seen as another tool for manipulating the public. So history will have to be the judge of whether this has been merely the triumph of another interest group or if the evangelical ascendancy has contributed to a more enlightened democracy, where engaged citizens use their faith to serve the common good.

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Jim T

posted November 1, 2007 at 8:23 pm

Power corrupts. That passage from Jeremiah has nothing to do with power. It is about cooperation for the common good – the realization that we are all in this together regardless of our backgrounds or affiliations. “Whatever blesses one blesses all.” It is akin to the Golden Rule. If power is your motivation for doing good, you will ultimately be exposed as frauds. God alone is power, it belongs to no man or group, but rather is what created us all.

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Daniel Smoak

posted November 3, 2007 at 5:03 pm

I don’t think we are talking about [achieving] power as a motivation for doing good. On the contrary, isn’t the issue how people in places of power struggle with their faith (often being skeptical toward the very power they have), attempting to use their influence to help others know the Lord and/or improve society.
I am certain that some people rise to power by stepping on others along the way, but I get the sense of from Dr. Lindsay’s interviews that there is a group of people who recognize their position of influence as a gift,(as all good gifts are from God)and they struggle to be good stewards of the gift they they have been given. Maybe that is why they turn to the Scriptures (like Jeremiah)for wisdom.

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Jim T

posted November 7, 2007 at 3:53 am

I came across this quotation today that seems relevant to this entire blogalogue:
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”
-Franklin Roosevelt

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Jordan Johnson

posted November 17, 2007 at 12:38 am

Power? Since when is power given to evangelicals? Isn’t the US government that’s still in power. The government that insists on seperation of church and state and yet you see its flag flying over churches.

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Thomas G. Underwood

posted November 18, 2007 at 9:47 pm

The day that God is not the driving power of the people of this country is the day we can bendover and kiss out butts goodby.

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Carl B. LaKing

posted December 6, 2007 at 3:57 pm

I cannot consider Mormon’s Christian. Reasons: Christians are “follower of Christ” Mormons are followers of Joseph Smith. God’s Word says if you add to these Words you WILL have your place in a Lake of Fire (HELL) God will not send Followers of Christ to hell. Mormons added their book, J.W.’s have created and added their book and so on. Christian – NO! Can;t be if God’s Word is the basis for all faith’s.
Of course then you can add others also but I won’t do it here. When any group,no matter what the sign over the door to their building says, LIVE by and follow the Word of God they are “Christian” or a follower of Christ. If they add their own flair or dialogue; they cannot be Christian: in my humble, educated opinion.

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posted April 20, 2008 at 9:49 am

Well, we have seen what 30 years of concerted, right-wing GodSquad Republicanism have led us to: factionalism, the trampling of the Constitution, torture, endless war, etc. Is this really what “The Kingdom Of God” is supposed to be about? If it is, then call me an Atheist. At least, with atheism, people are responsible for themselves, and cannot point to a God for justification of wrong actions. With atheism, problems and solutions are worked for HERE, where they are needed, and not shuffled off to be “redeemed in heaven.” With atheism, people are not tortured for believing in the wrong thing, or executed for going to the wrong church.

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