Reform Culture or Redeem Individuals?

How did evangelicals move away from
redeeming individuals and become reformers of culture?

Dr. Bruce Prescott who blogs at Mainstream Baptist calls attention to a Christianity Today blog that discusses theocracy and persecution.

Dr. Prescott asks when evangelicals began to see their task as reforming culture and not individuals? It’s not an idle question. The evangelical movement has always lived with this tension but it never attempted to resolve it by creating a theocratic state, at least not in the United States.

Wesley sought to end slavery in 18th Century England, but he never sought to create a religious state. He is credited today with bringing together energy for individual transformation coupled with zeal for “social holiness.”

And that’s evangelical
Christianity’s little
secret right now.
We really are
theocrats. Only
in exactly the
opposite way
from how some
op-ed columnists
think we are.
Our hopes lie
far beyond the
next election, or
the next judicial
fight. Our king
isn’t elected, and
our judge isn’t
appointed. Sometimes
we forget that.
–Ted Olsen

But social holiness meant something quite different from theocracy. It meant concern for the poor, expressed individually by how one lives one’s own life, and attempting to influence social policy within the existing order to make life better for the poor and disenfranchised.

That balance is lacking today in the evangelical right. This movement has taken on the responsibility to change the culture using language and tactics that rightfully concern people of goodwill no matter what their political beliefs.

The roots of evangelical reform are in the changed heart that expresses faith in social reform. But social reform does not mean replacing social policy with religious doctrine. Not only are those evangelicals who are attempting to bring this about putting the state at risk, they are also putting their theological tradition at risk.

The community of faith is not a political entity. To treat it as if it is, is to lose its essential character as the leaven in the culture, calling the state to treat all people justly, to care for the vulnerable and to respect human dignity.

The great tragedy of the Bush presidency is its lack of appreciation for this history and its reliance upon those evangelical voices that betray the best of evangelical tradition.

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