Should Christians Take over America & make it a Christian Nation?

Last week I wrote a column titled One Nation Under God where I noted that Islamic Fundamentalists have taken over government and established official Moslem nations.  These nations, including Iraq’s under American leadership, have written the Koran’s authority right into their constitution and made their religious leaders major power brokers in their “One nation under Allah.”   While I meant to raise the question of a potential alliance between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists to achieve similar social goals, the discussion ran far more toward should Christians try to make America a Christian Nation.

So, this week I’m offering a lot of reading on that subject for your enjoyment in case you too have time to read while I am on spring break.  I did the hard reading and writing—if you are really interested in the question of Christians and culture read on with delight.  If you have already made up your mind or don’t care, take a week off from reading this long article!


So, what is the relation of the church and culture? "In the world yet not of it?" Salt? Light? Yeast? Are we to simply be the church, or to change to world? The issue emerges periodically as a hot topic of discussion -- especially during times when our thinking is shifting on the subject. Perhaps a short glance at the last 50 years of the 20th century among evangelicals might help us hammer out the position we will take in the 21st century.


I plan to attempt three objectives in this extended column:

I. Give a short summary of each decade of the last half of the 20th century.

II. Review the seminal book on this issue— Richard Neibuhr's 1951 book, Christ and Culture

III. Review eight books written right at the close of the 20th century which I believe were precursors to the two major views seen in response to last week’s column.


Again, I should fairly warn you, if you are not interested in studying this matter more deeply this is a long column and those interested in blog-lite should probably click on to other blogs this week.


I. A short review of Church & Culture issues—1950-2000



The 1950's Christians had a moral consensus in this nation. Sure, there was plenty of private, dirty linen but the public consensus generally supported Judeo-Christians values. Dwight Eisenhower, popular military commander of World War II, maintained a stable Presidency from 1952 to 1959, though the racial tensions in the South were a harbinger of the 60's to come. As for Christians, the main line church was in command. Their pastors hungrily consumed H. Richard Neibuhr's new book, Christ and Culture in 1951. He had set up the equation so that the "right answer" was number five: reform the culture. His book soon became sort of Magna Carta for a Christian liberalism bent on developing a "Great Society" based on Christian values -- a culture where people would not be judged by the "color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Main line denominational executives rallied their members to transform culture so that it might come to reflect kingdom values. What were the particular values they wanted to introduce into the culture and the political agenda? "Peace and justice."  

Where were the evangelicals? Hiding in the hills! While "liberal Christians" opted for approach number five (transform-the-culture), most evangelicals functioned like they had picked number one (Christ-against-Culture separatism). Evangelicals went about their religion quietly, reaching people as they advertised (not in the newspaper but by word of mouth) their belief in a personal "born again experience." It was something the "formal church" or "liturgical church" didn't teach, they said. As for changing the culture, evangelicals (who seldom called themselves that in the 50's but rather preferred a denominational moniker) worried little about affecting "the world." They were too little. Too powerless. A minority. And they knew it. Many evangelicals even shrugged off their duty to vote except to keep divorced candidate Adlai Stevenson out of the Presidency. (It would be several decades before a divorced candidate would be elected –Ronald Reagan—with the whole-hearted support of evangelicals.



Everything changed in the 1960's. John Kennedy was elected in 1960 in spite of opposition from most Protestants who thought he would "take orders from the pope." Kennedy was assassinated in the fall of 1963 and Lyndon Johnson followed him and began to enact the "Great Society" legislation which intended to establish the "Peace and Justice" society the transform-the-culture main-liners had called for since the 1950's.

Well, the justice part at least. The peace part was another story. Many mainline Protestant church leaders opposed the war in Vietnam and attempted to persuade their members to follow suit. Some did. Many did not. By the end of the 1960's JFK and Robert Kennedy had been killed, LBJ had been driven out of the race, Nixon was president, and the streets and college campuses were full of anti-war activism, hippies, free love, and about one in ten people who claimed to be there actually went to Woodstock in 1969.

Where were the Christians? Divided. A few took their transform-the-world activism into the streets to march against the war (peace) or for civil rights (justice) but most quietly sat back and watched the culture's "Christian consensus" unravel with the younger generation. The world-changers in the 60's were the radical young and their liberal leaders. The rest of the church stood by and watched things crumble. Main line church members had greater sympathies with some evangelicals than their own liberal leaders and they were especially angered at any denominational money diverted into something like the "Angela Davis defense Fund." In the 1960's evangelicals started calling themselves that: "Evangelicals" in public. Their unifying flag became the increasingly popular "fortnightly magazine” Christianity Today, introduced by Billy Graham in 1956, and the NAE was rising in influence. The evangelicals locally were quietly winning people to their churches and developing an evangelical unity… which later leaders would harness for political purposes.



The 1970's started out with evangelicals focusing on evangelism. Bill Bright launched the first giant youth convention in Dallas, Explo '72 where 80,000 were trained in the use of Bright's "Four Spiritual Laws." The following year the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) launched a related interdenominational effort at evangelism dubbed "Key 73." Evangelicals were focused on evangelism.

By the middle of the 1970's evangelicals started to lose interest in evangelism—at about the time of Campus Crusade's "Here's Life America" and the "I found it!" campaigns were winding down,. Now they took a new interest in the potential of reforming the culture. Evangelicals were no longer on the side lines or located across the tracks. The "great churches" in the country were no longer the mainline downtown cathedrals – increasingly they were evangelical churches. Christian TV rose to power and opinion magnates like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson wielded more power than the main line church executives on "Riverside Drive" in New York. Increasingly mainline members identified with these "Evangelical Popes" on TV. Nixon had used the term "Silent Majority" and now the evangelicals founded the sound-alike "Moral Majority on the notion that the country was full of people agreeing with these preachers -- if they could just be organized to make a difference at the ballot box. When the 1976 Democrat Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter claimed to be "born again" the country did not screw up its face and wonder if he’d been talking to aliens—convicted Watergate criminal Charles Colson had already written a best selling book by that title explaining how he had himself been converted.

But evangelicals soon put evangelism on hold as political action took increasing attention. They were heady days; Newsweek magazine declared 1976 to be "The Year of the Evangelical." Evangelicals saw a chance to affect the world through the political process. We could reverse abortion rights, suppress the drive for gay rights, defeat attempts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment. We got access. Gained power. Elected Presidents. Had Senators.

Evangelicals and mainliners had switched positions. As evangelicals charged into the battle to reform the world, they passed the mainliners withdrawing. The 1989 book Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon outlined the main line alternative view to transforming-the-culture. They called the main line church to be the church -- as an alternative culture to the world. This book caused some change, but more likly it merely reflected the change already taking place -- main liners were withdrawing from the culture wars -- progressively discontent with the strident tones of the evangelical generals in the battle (and maybe even uneasy with the focus which was less about justice or peace and increasingly about legislating morality on unbelievers). Evangelicals were entering the war to re-make culture. They used their mammoth mailing lists to gather together a great "Moral Majority" into a “Christian Coalition” to “bring America back to its roots.”



It's no wonder evangelicals believed they could do it. In 1980 they were the chief factor for the election of Ronald Reagan. At least they claimed so. There must really be a "moral majority;" this was the proof. Evangelical's hope was high. They'd soon see a return to Christian values. Soon this nonsense about women getting an "equal rights amendment" would be gone. Soon there'd be no more talk about "gay marriages." Not too far into the distant future we'd see prayer reintroduced into the public schools, maybe even by amending the constitution. It wouldn't be long until we'd see abortion totally outlawed -- after all with just a few more Supreme Court seats… And, if anybody could do it, Ronald Reagan could.

But evangelical were disappointed. Not in Ronald Reagan, for he was pronounced to have "done his best." But while Reagan had been an excellent cheerleader for the evangelical agenda, his administration just didn't pull off substantive changes. Like the Democrats use minorities to get elected, and then largely forget their agenda for the next four years, Republicans had functionally abandoned evangelicals. At best evangelicals could say, "Without Reagan it would have been worse." Tapping this newfound evangelical power in 1988, evangelical preacher Pat Robertson tried a run for the Republican nomination for President and couldn't get anywhere against George Bush. Evangelicals weren't that excited about Bush, but at least he was better than the opposition—and he had claimed that his favorite “philosopher” was Jesus Christ.



The 1990's started off with sociologist James Davison Hunter's provocative book Culture Wars (1991). National newsmagazines started portraying a "culture war" under way with evangelicals (the "religious right") on one side and "progressives" or liberals” on the other. The war was increasingly just that -- a war. War language was employed and militant strategies against abortion and gay rights were adopted. Onward Christian Soldiers was not sung so much as lived. Churches became political action outlets, something the American black church had always been. Chain-of-life organizers used the church. People blocked abortion clinics. Boycotts were organized. And, though evangelicals were never Geroge Bush (I) lovers, they quickly lined up behind him and fought against a Bill Clinton they did not trust, often passing around made-up gossip and circulating jokes of sexual innuendo about Hillary. (as it turned out they guessed right about Bill). Yet, even with the evangelical might lined up behind Bush, the country elected Clinton in 1992, then re-elected him in 1996; they did not impeach him for "having sexual relations with that woman" but they wanted to.  During the 1990s a flood of books were published on the subject of Christians and politics.  In 1993 well-known Christian sports leader Bob Briner wrote Roaring Lambs, calling for Christians to quit complaining about the world and get out there and do something to make it a better place, i.e. quietly invade Hollywood, public education, and the media changing the culture from the inside out.

In 1995 Michael Horton  re-issued the call to reform the culture (Where in the World is the Church) urging evangelicals to hang in there and win the battle they had started. Michael Horton's book then went out of print.

In 1996 popular Promise Keepers speaker Tony Evans wrote, Are Christians Destroying America? And scolded American Christians for being so sick themselves that they can't correct the culture. The effect of his book is to cause Christians to turn inward, not outward… finding a way to "get right with God" and remove the beam out of their own eye before they attempt to remove the speck in the culture's eyes.

A year later in 1997 Dean Merrill published Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church, calling for the church to turn down the heat on their strident calls for social reform and to return to personal evangelism based on the idea that to change the world we must do it one life at a time.

In 1999, right at the close of the decade/century/millennium there two books circulated. The first is by Rabbi Daniel Lapin an orthodox Jew (America’s Real War) and calls for Christians and Jews to unite, and keep at the battlefront, saying the culture war can be won and people should stay on the front lines and not surrender. On the other side of the issue (and by far the more popular view) are former Moral Majority-ites Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (Blinded by Might) who believe the culture war is lost and evangelicals should abandon the battlefront, accept the fact that there is no "moral majority" and return to evangelism of individuals. These two writers were recently joined by Paul Weyrich, who coined the phrase "Moral Majority," and developed its strategy. Weyrich in a 1999 open letter now believes that there is not a moral majority at all, and probably never was. America, like Israel's Northern Tribes is "joined to its idols -- leave her alone." Therefore, Weyrich calls evangelicals to unplug their TVs instead of trying to get better programming, start home schooling instead of reforming the public schools, in other words, developing a complete parallel culture as an alternative to a godless public culture.


II. A quick review of the seminal book on this issue


 1951 -- Christ and Culture

By H. Richard Niebuhr (1951)

Of the nine book shorts reviewed in this Church-and-culture series, this 50 year old book is the oldest. It is the classic on the issue for two reasons. First because Niebuhr essentially rehearses the previous 1900 years history of positions on this issue, and second because he has provided the five-element typology with which we have ever since viewed the issue.

While he has been criticized for limiting the debate to a multiple choice continuum, Niebuhr has nevertheless offered us the most useful categories in defining the various positions on the relationship of the church and culture. Certainly he influenced the next 25 years of liberal Christians in their attempt to introduce a "Great Society" and maintain a "Christendom" of sorts. Ironically his favored fifth position is where the conservative Christian (Moral Majority and others) also finally wound up. While some have argued that Niebuhr would have a totally different position if he were writing today, and his book, of course, is essentially about the relationship of the church and culture in the Western world (a Christian in Mozambique would be perplexed by his favoritism to the fifth position) the book still is a classic and anyone talking about the relationship of the church and culture must be aware of his typology. For this review I shall outline the five positions mostly from a 1999 point of view, though occasionally I will use Niebuhr's own words. The "exponents" section is largely directly from the book. So, which position best represents your own view?


Position #1-- Christ Against Culture

  Key term: "Anti-culture"

  The position: The answer to the question of the Church's relation to culture is an either-or proposition. We are either part of the world or part of the church. "Choose ye this day whom you will serve." You cannot serve two masters. After all, "What has Jerusalem to do with Rome?" Who am I helping get elected President? None of them -- it matters little which one they elect as their president -- we're pilgrims and strangers in this land just like the Jews were in Babylon. Our job is not to change the world but to be the church. We are anti-culture, separatist, and believe we are a true remnant holding on to truth as an alternative culture. We are more interested in preserving a true strain of Christianity than we are accommodating to the culture in order to change it. . After all we know that when the church sets out to change the culture, the culture usually returns the favor.

Hazards: Isolation, irrelevance, lack of outreach and evangelism, being salt-of-the-church instead of salt of the earth. And as he points out -- this option is essentially impossible, for we cannot really escape the culture.

Exponents: The New Testament book of 1st John; The early church itself (including the non-canon books of Teaching of the Twelve, Epistle of Barnabas and 1 Clement), Tertullian; Benedict; Tolstoy; Anabaptist groups like the Mennonites; the Quakers (who recently shifted to the opposite end); what Niebhur calls the "Protestant sectarians" (presumably groups like the holiness churches of the first half of the 20th century). [Perhaps today he'd add in the home schooling movement and some Christian colleges?]


Position #2-- The Christ of Culture

Key word: "Accommodation"

The position: There is essentially no tension between the church and culture. Indeed Jesus is the greatest philosopher, teacher and CEO of all times. What we have to do is harmonize Christ and culture in such a way that we produce a religious culture. If only the world would see Jesus as who he really was they'd accept Him immediately. Jesus Christ is the great enlightener and directs all people in all cultures to develop in moral perfection and peace. In popular terms: "The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man."

Hazards: Focus on the culture so much that the salt loses its flavor -- there is no longer any difference between the salt and the thing it is supposed to preserve.

Exponents: Gnosticism; Medieval culture; Abelard; John Locke, Leibnitz and Kant; Schleiermacher (sometimes); Thomas Jefferson; Hegel; Emerson; Ritschl; Harnack; and Protestant liberalism.


Position #3-- Christ Above Culture

Key word: "Synthesis"

The position: The debate about the church and culture is not an either-or proposition; it is both-and. We must bisect the continuum. We are the "church of the center" refusing to take either radical position -- neither accommodating to the culture nor resisting and rejecting it to set up our own little separatist subculture. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." We will cooperate with nonbelievers everywhere we can to accomplish common goals yet still maintain our own Christian distinctiveness. There is "all this and heaven too!"

Hazards: (in Niebuhr's words) "in an effort to bring Christ and culture, God's work and man's, the temporal and the eternal, law and grace, into one system of thought and practice tends, perhaps inevitably, to absolutizing of what is relative, the reduction of the infinite to a finite form, and the materialization of the dynamic."

Exponents: Justin Martyr; Clement of Alexandria; especially Thomas Aquinas; most Roman Catholics; Pope Leo XIII, many Protestants who have abandoned the second position (Christ of culture); Cultural Christianity and the Protestant social gospel.


Position #4-- Christ and Culture in Paradox

Key word: "Dualist"

The position: We also choose a both-and answer to the question of Christ and culture. But not by finding a via media between the two extremes, but rather by embracing both ends in paradox. The question is not one a man asks himself, but one God asks of us. Yes there is a line -- but it is not between the culture and the church. There is a line. But on one side of the line is "we and all our activities, our states, and our churches, our pagan and our Christian works; on the other side is God in Christ and Christ in God." That is, the question is not really between Christ and culture at all, but between god and man.

Hazards: Cultural conservatism and elevating faith alone so high that the seriousness of sin may disappear leading eventually to Antinomianism;

Exponents: St Paul; Marcion; Martin Luther; Kierkegaard; Roger Williams; (his brother) Reinhold Niebuhr.


Position #5-- Christ the Transformer of Culture

Key word: "Conversionist"

The position: There is great hope for culture. We are not of the world, but we are in it. Our job as Christians is to penetrate culture and as far as we are able to get that culture changes toward the will of God. We are salt… leaven, and we are to make a difference in our world. Bring the kingdom of God to pass on earth. Science, art, music, our laws, national leadership should be sanctified -- conformed to God's will. God is not merely the God of the church, but the God of the world. We are to help God bring in the kingdom by doing our part in bringing to pass the transformation of society.

Hazards: exaggerated expectation of changes leading to disillusionment and retreat to the Christ-against-culture position? Or dressing up as culture-transformers but really being accommodationists.

Exponents: St. John's gospel; Augustine; Calvin; John Wesley and the Methodists; Jonathan Edwards.


PUBLISHER: Harper Torchbooks, Paper ISBN 0-06-130003-9  

Examine page for this book.

 III. A review of eight books written at the close of the 20th century
that are precursors to today’s two major views


1989 -- Resident Aliens

A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know Something is Wrong

By Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (1989)


If you resist the transforming-the-culture answer to the question of the church's role in the world, you'll love this book. It is the most well thought-through alternative to the transformational model many other books present. These two Methodists from Duke Divinity School present a whole other side to the church and culture debate. Writing at the end of the Reagan years, just past the zenith of the Moral Majority, they take pot shots at conservatives and liberals alike. They call the church to a third way -- neither focusing on transforming the world nor cloistering ourselves away in separation. Our job? To be the church.

They argue that we are living in a post Christian culture, at least since the 1960's. The culture no longer supports Christian values -- the "era of Constantine" has ended. The church is now a colony in the midst of an alien culture, and like the Jews of the Diaspora our primary concern is not to transform Babylon, but to be faithful to being the people of God ion a strange culture.

            However the church -- both conservative and liberal -- has been continuing to operate under Constantinian assumptions, believing our job is take our social agenda public and make the world a better place to live in. This "public church" (Martin Marty) approach is an error, in Hauerwas' and Willimon's opinion -- our focus should be more on God than on the world, the church than the culture. Borrowing heavily from the Anabaptists, these authors call us to be a "confessing church" -- not in between the two Niebuhr extremes, but an alternative to them. The church is to be a counter-cultural social structure which shows the world the "right way" to live -- as a community, not individually.

            These authors are big on community. It is in the church where we find meaning, authority, and ethics. Indeed they go so far as to say that the Bible is not primarily given to tell and individual how to live -- but to proscribe how the visible Christian community lives -- the church. "Spiritual formation" is not so much about becoming holy as an individual as it is forming Christ in a community.

            These authors have more than all others since recognized that the question about the church and culture is not pragmatic but theological -- what will be our ecclesiology. While one wonders if the authors "peace and justice" presuppositions have dictated their final choice on the matter, this book is still one of the best reads in the list. Even if you don't agree with their conclusions, it is fun to watch them wrestle the Niebuhr brothers! They believe Richard's book Christ and Culture was a net hindrance to the church, causing us to embrace a "Constantinian strategy" long after it was useless to us.

            These authors believe the choice is not between a transform-the-world focus and the remnant-in-the-cave model. There is a third option: being the church in the world and letting the world see what real Christians (that is collectively) are.



·         "...the church, as those called out by God, embodies a social alternative that the world cannot on its own terms know."

·         "Our best minds were enlisted in the Constantinian enterprise of making the faith credible to the powers-that-be so that Christians might now have a share in those powers. "

·         "Barth knew that the theological problem was the creation of a new and better church. Tillich hoped that, by the time one had finished his Systematic Theology, one would think about things differently. Barth hoped that, by the time one had plodded through his Church Dogmatics, one would be different."

·         " We argue that the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church."

·         "The church does not exist to ask what needs doing to keep the world running smoothly and then to motivate our people to go do it... The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world. We are not chartered by the Emperor."

·         "The confessing church finds its main political task to lie, not in the personal transformation of individual hearts or the modification of society, but rather in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all thinks."

·         "...we as Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!"

·         " What we call the church is often a conspiracy of cordiality."

·        "Tragically, many of us are trying to preach without scripture and to interpret scripture without the church. Fundamentalist biblical interpretation and higher criticism of the Bible are often two sides of the same coin."



PUBLISHER: Abingdon Press, Paper ISBN 0-687-36159-1

Examine page for this book.


1991 -- Culture Wars

The Struggle to Define America

By James Davison Hunter (1991)

Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America This book, more than any other, will help a reader get perspective on the "Culture Wars" of the recent decade or two. Without taking one side or the other, sociologist-religion professor James Davison Hunter (University of Virginia) writes a riveting history of past culture wars in this country then provides a lucid account of the current war -- with the winner being able to define "how we Americans will order our lives together." The issues at stake appear to be the definition of marriage, abortion, education, art, or the crèche in the city circle, but the actual deeper issue is which of the two visions for the future will prevail: a religious vision or secular one.

Hunter observes that the line of past cultural conflicts (Protestant-Catholic) has swung ninety degrees with the line running across the old lines. Old enemies are now on the same side: orthodox-conservative Protestants, Catholics and Jews now are allies in fighting against the secularists for the future destiny of America.

Hunter believes this is a real war, and only one side will win -- at stake is establishing what kind of country we will be in the future. In his words, "Cultural conflict is ultimately about who will dominate."

This author refuses to allow for "moral authority" to be the property of one side, claiming both the "orthodox" and "progressive" sides appeal to moral authority -- just turn to different sources for their moral authority.  To Hunter the debate for these "competing moral visions" is carried on largely by the cultural elites -- national-level spokespersons for the various interest groups. Public discourse has increasingly become divisive, partly due to the media playing one extreme off the other. Since both sides in this war believe their cause is just, and rooted in a correct moral vision for America, the discourse increasingly been typified by bigotry -- on both sides. Hunter's examples on both sides are an embarrassment to either side. The average person somewhere in the middle has no spokesperson -- Hunter calls this the "eclipse of the middle."

What of the future? Hunter believes there is a good chance the evangelicals will win the culture wars. Since he wrote this book about a decade ago, the reader can decide if the "front" is progressing or retreating. (Both sides claim they are losing ground -- but these claims are primariliy fear-reaising/fund-raising tactics. Are Evangelicals winning this war?






PUBLISHER: Basic/HarperCollins, Paper ISBN 0-465-01534-4

Examine page for this book.



1993 -- Roaring Lambs

A Gentle Plan To Radically Change Your World

By Bob Briner (1993)

 Bob Briner was angry when he wrote this book. At least disappointed. He thinks the church has made little difference in the culture in spite of our gigantic churches and extensive publishing and educational enterprises. We are Roaring Lambslargely irrelevant to the people with power in our culture. Why? Because Christians spend most of their time talking to each other. We write books to each other, make TV shows for each other, sell Christian music to each other. In short, we have created a complete Christian subculture totally wrapped up in ourselves, but we have little influence on the "real world."

This "real world" is where Briner's heart is. He wants Christians to change it. He thinks young people should be hearing a "call" to Hollywood, NBC, the New York Times, or to be a school superintendent. He wants Christians to quit whining about the state of the world and get up and do something about it -- not by complaining, but by offering a solid alternative. Briner thinks Christians should plunge into the deep end of culture and transform it from the inside out. Enter public discourse! Show up! Sign up! Run for office! Make money! Get an Oscar! Win games! Compete! Be successful! It is through such competition and success that we earn the right to be heard.

The bad guys in Briner's book are Christian whiners who do nothing to offer alternatives to the shows they complain about. And letter-writing fund-raisers who alarm and anger Christians just to finance their organizations. And Don Wildmon type "scorekeeper" cuss-word counters, and boycott leaders. Briner even chastises people he admires, like Dobson and Swindoll who speak primarily to church people and have little positive impact on the world. Who are the good guys? He inducts several into his "Roaring Lamb Hall of Fame:" Amy Grant, Bill Moyers, C. S. Lewis, John Gresham, Tim Stafford and big time sports Christians.

So, is there any room for the church in Briner's system? Somewhat. He sees the church (and Christian colleges) as a training ground for raising up world-changers to send to the mission fields of Hollywood, CNN, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, the ballet, and to fill up New York's art galleries. In short, we are the locker room. The real game is out there in the real world.

OK, be honest now. Have you ever gone through a Christian bookstore and felt smothered -- overcome by a powerful desire to flee the Christian ghetto and get to a B. Dalton's as fast as you could? Or, have you ever scanned down the radio dial in your car, stopped to listen awhile to Christian music, then felt a sense of revulsion and switched to a secular station in disgust? Or how about this one: You let the channel changer dwell for a few moments on TBN or another Christian television program and your stomach literally turns because you're embarrassed, hoping your neighbors don't see this one? Be honest now. Have you ever experienced any of these things? If so, you'll love the late Bob Briner's book, Roaring Lambs. If you simply love the Christian subculture, and you think the church is supposed to offer a "total alternative" to the world's life style, then I bet you'll hate this book.

Like it or not, you ought to read it. Like most coaches, Briner makes generous use of exaggerations. And like most coaches he gets your attention. While the book is almost a decade old, (and a bit out of date, speaking of the "recent runaway hit, Murphy Brown") it is angry enough, and radical enough to last. It is still in print seven years after being published. To tell the truth, later books like Michael Horton's Where in the World is the Church didn't make it; Horton's books is already out of print, and Briner's continues to sell. No book since is so angry, so curt, so pointed, and so hard on the church as Briner's.

Briner thinks we need to worry more about sending our young people to the mission field of Hollywood than the mission fields of Russia, India, and Africa.

So what do you think?






PUBLISHER: Zondervan, Paperback ISBN 0-310-59111-2

Examine page for this book.



1995 -- Where in the World is the Church

A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It

By Michael S. Horton (1995)

 Concerning the relationship of the Christian to the world, Michael Horton believes the reformers had it right. This book is not so much about the church, as the individual Christian. Indeed, Horton offers scant admiration for what he Where in the World Is the Church?: A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in Itcalls the "institutional church" and he pours outright disdain on the "Christian subculture." Speaking mostly to individual Christians, he calls for a return to the ideas of Calvin, Knox and Luther as we determine the proper relationship to our culture. The bad guy in this book is church father Tertullian and his progeny on this issue: the Mennonites, Amish, river Brethren, the Pietists, holiness churches and other separatists groups and perhaps any who adopt a we-they mentality (the religious right) and declare war on culture rather than seeking to reform the culture in more peaceful yeast-like ways.

Horton wants us to be "worldly Christians" eliminating our tendency to divide the sacred from the secular. He believes the Bible calls us to an existence which "appreciates a weekend of fishing with friends just as much as it appreciates a prayer meeting" (a notion many of the laity greet with delight but for which pastors have somewhat less enthusiasm.)

He dismisses the practices of "power encounters" or "binding the Strong Man" and other charismatic excesses with Luther's quote, "The devil is God's devil" and Calvin's view that all demonic activities are under the sovereign command of God.

Horton offers a way of thinking which condemns spiritualizing work. Work itself is spiritual. Same with truth: he quotes Augustine's "All truth is God's truth," arguing that there is no division between God's truth and the truth of science. Same with vocation. He decries the current evangelical culture's tendency to tell a promising artist they should paint "Christian art," or a young gifted writer ought to consider "Christian fiction." Likewise he denounces the idea of sending our "best and brightest into the ministry." Why then do Christian rock musicians found a "Christian Rock band?" Because they aren't good enough to make it in the real world -- and Christians will let them by with mediocre performance. Even further, he will not budge by sanctifying "secular" work in suggesting that a person might "be a witness" or "support a missionary" with their income. Work itself is holy -- any call to any vocation.

The last chapter is jammed with easy-to-read theology, (albeit based on the one-right-reformed-view which he dubs the [only] "Biblical worldview"). He bases his practical implications on his theological statements -- at least the statements of the reformers. Horton does not, however, totally overlook the practical (as many Calvinists do). His chapter "Working for the Weekend" which calls for a return to the Puritan work ethic gives a dozen tips on family life from advice on keeping the Lord's day and reading aloud as a family to instructions on leading an evening family meal.

Actually his book may have met the greatest popularity on the campus of Christian colleges (at least outside the religion departments) for his worldview tends to raise art, science, writing and the liberal arts equal to, if not higher than, ministry or missionary endeavors.

How does this book relate to the "church and culture" debate? At the root of it are questions like these: Are we a part of this world and thus destined to improve it for that is God's will? Or are we pilgrims and strangers here and thus we should be more concerned with the church and heaven than this old world we are "just passing through." What is God's plan to reach and transform the world, and to what extent does it involve the church?

Horton thinks we have it wrong when we call working for IBM a job, and working for Campus Crusade a calling. Both are equal callings to him. And you don't have to be a Calvinist to think that much of what passes as "Christian music" today is merely second-rate and they'd never sell a single CD if they didn't have a Christian subculture willing to buy it because their standards were lower.






PUBLISHER: Moody, Hardback ISBN 0-8024-9239-8


Examine page for this book.


1996 -- Are Christians Destroying America?

How to Restore A Decaying Culture

By Tony Evans (1996)

Popular Promise Keepers speaker, Tony Evans, believes America is sick -- like a patient dying with AIDS with a broken immune system -- and the church is the country's busted immune system. He sees God turning His back on America -- not because there is so much sin among unbelievers, but because there are so many sinners among the Are Christians Destroying America: How to Restore a Decaying CultureChristians. It is not the sin on Pennsylvania Avenue or in congress that is bringing judgement -- but the sin in the pulpit and pew.

His answer to the book's title question, Are Christians Destroying America? is, "Yes, we are" That is, the degeneration of America is the church's fault -- not because we haven't voted right, but because we haven't lived right. American Christians are guilty of the same sins as the world, just on a lesser scale or lower magnitude. Our families are crumbling, we are materialistic, marriages are falling apart, we excuse racism, and we withhold our tithe -- is it any wonder the regular sinners sin worse? The trouble with our country is not that sinners sin -- "that's their job description" -- it is with the Christians who have blended in and offer no alternative to the world's way. Tony believes we've been trying to do an eye operation on the culture while having a log in our own eyes.

Evans believes God is turning His back on America and the only thing that could stop the downward spiral is if the church will again get right with God. It is we Christians who need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways if we want God to heal our land.

While the reader senses this book is made out of Tony Evans' souped up sermons (something most publishers are unwilling to print unless the author is already famous) it is still a readable work. Anyone who has heard Tony Evans preach will suspect the spoken words were far more powerful than the written record, but the message is still there.

Tony's book raises a serious question -- to what extent is the spiritual squalor of today's church responsible for the state of the nation? Are we culpable? If our own sin is (at least partially) responsible for America's moral decline, then how do we get about restoring a decaying culture? Tony thinks the Christians must get right with God first, then we can penetrate the culture with a changed life and "alternative" life style.






PUBLISHER: Moody, Hardback ISBN 0-8024-3920-9

Examine page for this book.


1997 -- Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church

Finding a Better Way to Influence Our Culture

By Dean Merrill (1997)


 Dean Merrill is known best as the co-author of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle congregation (with Jim Cymbala). He is with the International Bible Society now, but as a former V.P. of Dobson's Focus on the Family he has a right to speak about Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Churchour attempts to transform the culture through pressure tactics and political action.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church lays out a reasoned argument that the church has been mistaken in adopting the world's methods in attempting to transform the culture by bullying our way into the system rather than changing people one and a time. He calls for a return to this one-at-a-time approach and to personal evangelism. While not calling for Christians to wash their hands of the culture and simply let the world "go to hell in a hand basket," he invites us to calm, sensible, intelligent and persuasive intervention -- especially in working from the "street up" not "Washington down."

While not arguing against laws themselves, Merritt believes that legislation is a "clumsy way" to get morality in a society. He makes generous use of St. Paul's imagery as he outlines the limitations of "the law" in bringing true righteousness, hinting that Evangelicals attempting to reform society primarily through the legislative process are pre-gospel in their methodology.

            He closes the book with a sensible chapter of advice where he asks us to "quit hyperventilating" and calm down, major on the majors, attempt to attach a stigma to sin, not change the statutes, to look for and make alliances, and expect to compromise or lose some of the time.

So, in this book, former Focus on the Family-ite Dean Merrill essentially lays out a rational for one-at-a-time transformation of the culture -- what former Moral Majority-ites Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson will say two years later in Blinded by Might. One wonders why so many guys from the political activism side of the religious right are abandoning the "culture wars" and adopting a one-at-a-time cultural transformation model. Dean Merrill thinks we have made a mistake attempting macro-culture changes, and we should return to the ways of Jesus and Paul -- transforming people one at a time through God's grace.







PUBLISHER: Zondervan, Paperback ISBN 0-310-21308-8

Examine for this book. (About ten dollars US)

1999 -- Blinded by Might

Can the Religious Right Save America

By Cal Thomas & Ed Dobson (1999)

 In this book, two former front line soldiers out of the Moral Majority movement admit the effort to reform America was at least a failure and probably an outright theological mistake. Blinded by Might is a Blinded by Mightblistering attack on the evangelical church's attempt in the 1980's and 1990's to reform the culture through the political process. Columnist Cal Thomas and pastor Ed Dobson, former staff workers at Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority level their sights at the now-defunct Moral Majority, and its progeny including James Dobson and the Christian Coalition. They are not cocky in their charges -- for they are essentially charging themselves with an unwise war in which they were ultimately defeated.

 Thomas and Dobson are both right wing Christian conservatives themselves. Yet they stand up and announce to all America that emperors Ralph Reed, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson and Gary Bauer are wearing no clothes. Gutsy.

            This book is no tell-all on the inner workings of the Moral Majority. In fact, you sense their real appreciation -- perhaps even admiration -- for the likes of Jerry Falwell personally. Rather it is an accusation that the religious right has taken up the weapons of this world to fight a battle to which it was never called.  And, thus the battle has been lost. The authors argue that after 20 years of waging this war to improve American culture we are worse off. At best the right can offer the anemic defense, "Well, if we hadn't fought, things could be worse."

            But their charge is deeper than a lost battle. They accuse many (most? all?) of the generals in this war as being "blinded by might" -- i.e. caught up in the power of it all. They write an embarrassing description of fund raising practices common to the religious right, charging that the leaders in this lost culture war cling to their posts as generals, insisting on fighting to the end while benefiting from the power and appurtenances of their power. It reminds the reader of Vietnam… or maybe even Masada.

            So what is their prescription? Join the Amish and forget voting? Re-enter the catacombs? No. They challenge the church to make evangelism the highest priority again. They say we should "Let the Church be the Church" (chapter 12) focusing primarily on the conversion of individuals -- reforming people one by one, abandoning what they call "Trickle Down Morality."






PUBLISHER: Zondervan, Hardback ISBN 0-310-22650-3

Examine page for this book.



1999 -- America's Real War

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin (1999)


About the time evangelical Christians are considering surrendering in the culture wars, along comes an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi telling us to stay in the battle. Although not directly about the church and culture, (You are in) America's Real WarAmerica's Real War is perhaps the most recent book (1999) relevant to the subject from the right, though written by a fundamentalist Jew, not a fundamentalist Christian.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, an orthodox rabbi sees America at war with itself, openly comparing our times with the civil war period. Once inside the book, Lapin exchanges the war metaphor for a tug-of-war imagery. We are divided over America's future. Those who want a secular nation are on one end of the rope, and orthodox Jews and serious Christians are on the other end. The winner will establish the future of America -- will it be a Christian nation, or a secular one. Simply put, he sees the only way to reverse America's decline is to return to our Judeo-Christian roots as a nation. Indeed, Lapin is not bothered that much if we become a fully "Christian nation," believing Jews are better off in a Christian nation than a secular one.

He sees our most recent slide from morality accelerating in the 1960's with the likes of the Supreme Court's school prayer decision, the introduction of the topless bathing suit, birth control pills, and even ties in Ray Kroc's McDonalds.

He credits Judeo-Christian values for the success of the Western world and especially America, arguing that "spiritual faith muscle" enables Christian nations to experience fewer deaths from natural disasters. He offers proof of the superiority of Judaism and Christianity over other religions with the claim, "90 percent of scientific discoveries of the past thousand years have been made in nations where Christianity is the prevailing religion."

Perhaps this book is more about America than the church. However anyone interested in the currently hot debate in the church over our involvement in the political process must read this book. Here are two different futures for America. He suggests that standing by and disengaging from this tug-of-war will only enable the secularists to win. Thus being a conscientious objector in this war is not an option.






PUBLISHER: Multnomah, Hardback ISBN 1-57673-366-1

Examine page for this book.



So what do you think?

My argument above is that the debate represented by the books published in the final decade of the 20th century set the stage for our answer to the question of taking over government and making it a “Christian nation.” If you actually worked your way though this endless article what do you now think about which position is prevailing among Christians?   Are America’s Christians leaning MORE or LESS toward taking over government and “restoring our nation as a Christian Nation?”


è Click here to respond the first seven days after the date to the right                                                                      Keith Drury  March 7,  2005

(Responses are open for one week after the original column is published—after that they are posted next to the original column)