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Niebuhr and Carson, Reconsidered

February 3rd, 2023 | 29 min read

By James Walden

With the apparent imminent demise of American Christendom, the reaction among evangelicals has covered the gamut: from fight to flight to freeze to fawn. The panic might have increased, but the range hasn’t changed much. Over a decade ago, in his erudite revisiting of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture, D.A. Carson observed a similar array of responses to the changing culture:

Some advocate one form or another of withdrawal. Others want to gain more access to the media. Still others put forth valiant efforts to influence government and pass appropriate legislation. Some, whether consciously or unconsciously, develop a two-tier mentality, one for Christians and church functions, and one for the broader cultural encounters that take up most of the rest of the week. Still others think little about these matters but simply want to get on with evangelism and church planting.

Whether reactive or reflective, all our responses “make certain assumptions as to what the relationship between Christ and culture ought to be.”[1] These assumptions, Carson suggests, are helpfully summarized by the five-fold taxonomy Niebuhr famously articulated: “Christ Against Culture,” “Christ of Culture,” and the three subcategories of “Christ Above Culture”: (a) “Synthesis of Christ and Culture,” (b) “Christ and Culture in Paradox,” and (c) “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” These categories find perennial relevance – whether our culture is post-Christian Europe or pre-Christian North Africa – because God’s reign through Christ is universal.

The recent clash of views regarding how Christians in the West should relate to their increasingly post-Christian world often betrays a pitting of one paradigm (e.g., “Christ Against Culture”) against another (e.g., “Christ the Transformer of Culture”). The critical assumption being made is that the various paradigms are mutually exclusive.[2] Yet, as Carson persuasively argues, the patterns spelled out in Niebuhr’s book, properly chastened by Scripture, are best understood as mutually qualifying and ultimately integrable dimensions of the full canonical picture of Christ’s relationship to the world.[3]

Is it possible that a merging of patterns sometimes brings greater fidelity to the biblical revelation than adopting any of the patterns in its purest form? … We will be wiser if we refrain from distinguishing discrete patterns or paradigms or models of the relations between Christ and culture, and think instead of wise integration, with different aspects of the whole clamoring for more attention from time to time.[4]

In critiquing the liberal proponents of the “Christ of Culture” paradigm, Niebuhr aptly describes the error we are all tempted to make[5]: “take some fragment of the complex New Testament story and interpretation, call this the essential characteristic … elaborate upon it, and thus reconstruct” our own version of authentic Christianity.[6] “Rather,” Carson writes, “we should be attempting a holistic grasp of the relations between Christ and culture, fully aware, as we make our attempt, that peculiar circumstances may call us to emphasize some elements in one situation, and other elements in another situation.”[7]

This requires that we live in tension – tensions within the text of Scripture and within the present cultural moment in which we find ourselves. “The unease we feel at such tension will not be resolved until the last day.”[8] Until then, the question before us is whether we can live robustly in this tension without collapsing it entirely, either toward one paradigm or another. The answer to that will be determinative of our political and personal response.

It is only with the patience, humility, gentleness and reasonableness that mark “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17; cf. Philippians 4:4-6; Galatians 5:16-23; Ephesians 4:1-5) that we can navigate this fraught space as we ought. With such Spirit-filled wisdom (2 Timothy 1:6-7), we will rightly contend for the gospel (1:8-14), and properly identify which aspects of Christ’s relationship to culture are “clamoring for more attention” – which elements need to be emphasized now. This will entail not only a sober understanding of our current social and political circumstances, but also understanding ourselves in relation to God’s reign and to our world. Our answer to this question, in other words, reveals something not only about our cultural moment, but also about us.

Tim Keller famously asked the skeptic to doubt their doubts. Joe Rigney similarly asked Christians to interrogate their own suspicions. Be suspicious of your suspicions, we might say. This is wise counsel. We tend to fear slippery slopes on one side of the road.[9] But both shoulders slope downward.

When it comes to our present moment as American Christians, which cultural dynamics or elements are we most anxious about or suspicious of? CRT, white supremacism, Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, LGBTQ+ activism, Christian theonomy, “woke” Christianity, Christian nationalism, rising secularism, Democrats, Republicans, Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc.?

Christianity and Progressivism

Let’s begin by interrogating our suspicion of the left. Is it friend or foe? Another way to ask the question: can Christianity embrace progressivism, and vice versa? There are many positive things that can be said for progressivism, not least of which is a fundamentally Christian view of history as driven by a moral economy and ordered toward a globally benevolent end.[10] Certainly there have been numerous “progressive policies” that Christians ought to have supported as citizens of a democracy, seeking the common good. But as an ideological commitment modern progressivism undermines the claims of the apostolic gospel. This might be most cogently demonstrated by a controversial statement from the controlling opinion of the 1992 Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.[11]

This striking comment from Justice Kennedy highlights two distinctive elements of American progressivism. First, the matter of the court’s ruling concerns a woman’s “right to choose,” which, as the linchpin for her sexual freedom, is supposedly elemental to her personal liberty.[12] Such logic evinces the “triumph of the erotic,” in which sexuality dominates “notions of selfhood and human fulfillment.”[13] This radical sexualization of the individual came full bloom during the summer of love and through its enduring autumn. It was here, in the sexual revolution, that a certain “Freudo-Marxism”[14] took root in America’s fertile soil.[15]

As the name suggests, aspects of both Freud and Marx’s account of the human condition are integrated. Put negatively, we might say a Freudian angst over sexual repression is joined to a Marxist dread of ideological oppression. “Sexual codes are part of the ideology of the governing class, designed to maintain the status quo so as to benefit those in power.”[16] So argues the first self-described Freudo-Marxist:

The existence of strict moral principles has invariably signified that the biological, and specifically the sexual, needs of man were not being satisfied. Every moral regulation is in itself sex-negating, and all compulsory morality is life-negating. The social revolution has no more important task than finally to enable human beings to realize their full potentialities and find gratification in life.[17]

Though this might be a bit extreme for many, a generalized “fear and loathing” of sexual repression continues to impel the progressive movement today. In any case, a radical dependence on both Freud and Marx persists.[18] Specifically, the left remains enthralled to the Marxist vision of a secularized egalitarianism[19] and, paradoxically, to the Freudian ideal of the detached subject.[20] The present result is a “democracy devoid of the sacred.”[21] Indeed, “the sacred” can only and ever be a pretext of repression/oppression.[22] Rather, in the stead of any acknowledged “sacred order,” we find a technocratic proliferation of therapies.[23]

Reading Freud and Marx yields tremendous insights for Christians, and raises significant questions, challenging us to interrogate many of our inclinations. Yet the progressive synthesis outlined above is deeply and, as a post-Christian construct, deliberately[24] at odds with “the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints.” If there is a “Christ of Culture” in all of this,[25] he is effectually gagged (to recall Carson’s memorable title) by a “Culture Against Christ.”

Secondly, and relatedly, the Justices’ statement “is a concise articulation of the expressive individual and psychological subjectivity regarding the self that [traces] its development from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the present day.”[26] It is the creed of Philip Rieff’s “psychological man.” [27] In dramatic contrast to traditional culture, in which one looks outward to locate their identity in familial and institutional structures, we late moderns turn inward to discover our “authentic” selves[28] – often, and heroically so, against prevailing social conventions. The fully self-realized person then courageously expresses their authentic identity publicly, unhindered by prejudice, clashing expectations, or opposing cultural norms.[29] Of course, this has become a trope in American culture. Yet it reflects not merely our peculiar individualism ala de Tocqueville’s poignant observations nearly two centuries before.[30] More broadly, it expresses the promethean spirit of our post-Enlightenment age. We are the masters of our fate, the captains of our destiny. We even invent ourselves. God, blessed be His name, is dead; and we newly awakened gods have climbed onto his throne. What could be more progressive? The sentiment is memorably captured by Jeremy Rifkin:

We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of preexisting cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever.[31]

To this modern hymn of man, no Christian could give her “Amen!” It is our brave new hubris, monstrously bloated, unchecked and metastasized.

Christianity and Conservatism

Surely, then, conservatism is the safe landing for Christianity. Afterall, as a religion defined by the apostolic tradition – the one foundation, the “good deposit,” enshrined in ancient scripture, and to which we continually look back – ours is a fundamentally conservative movement. Having said that, the denouement of our religion isn’t past but future. We do not look backward to some golden age, but rather look forward to an impending reign “on earth as it is in heaven.” What could be more progressive than the coming kingdom of God? In light of our future hope, and fully acquainted with our collective depravity – both present and past – Christians ought never find themselves among the company of fools pining away, remember the good ole days? We are not aiming to make Christianity great again. It was never great … at least, not in the ways we often imagine it. But He is; and one day we will be great with Him. In the meantime, we strive for our yet-unrealized fullness in Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19; 4:11-14; Philippians 3:12-16). If we do look to the past, and we must, it is only so that we might more fully and resolutely face the future.

Sometimes in our conservatism we have failed to be properly progressive. We’ve faltered, having lost heart. Billy Graham, after initially supporting Martin Luther King’s desegregationist efforts in his own Crusades, distanced himself from the Civil Rights movement. He would refuse to participate in the March on Washington in August of 1963, and dismissed his brother’s belief, so eloquently expressed in the “I Have a Dream” speech, that one day “down in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls.” Graham demurred: “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.”[32]

I wonder how much of their differences here came down to eschatological convictions and how much to cultural commitments.[33]

Billy Graham later regretted his public political alignments. “I also would have steered clear of politics. … But looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”[34] Doubtless hindsight is 20/20, and the evangelist’s broadly “Christ Above Culture” posture – with which his fundamentalist brethren took such issue[35] – required further development. Nevertheless, we are grateful to God that Dr. Graham learned from his past mistakes, and finally endorsed a more biblically robust evangelicalism.[36] We are also grateful that Dr. King, though deeply influenced by the countercultural response of nonviolence in the Anabaptist tradition, did not adhere to an unqualified “Christ Against Culture” paradigm. Both of their mature views on Christ’s relationship to culture, then, were complex, nuanced and held in tension.

We tend to associate a compromising “Christ of Culture” paradigm with liberal Christianity. But it can be found among all camps – even among the most conservative. “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God,” Graham confessed. “Then I realized that God had called me to a higher kingdom than America.”[37] His early political involvement may have revealed a kind of triumphalist “Christ Transforming Culture” paradigm. It also reflected an unwitting “Christ of Culture” pattern – one that significantly shaped the fundamentalism of his youth. In his 1979 magnum opus, Richard Lovelace wrote:

…an insidious process of cultural fusion was going on in which Christianity was gradually identified with Americanism, patriotism and the preservation of the status quo. By the 1930s the average [white] American Fundamentalist was not, at least, a proponent of theocracy, but he did have a way of confusing America, the Republican Party and the capitalist system with the kingdom of God. … He felt that black people, including black Christians, were all right in their place (and that included a separate place of worship), but he was ready to focus all the hidden fears and pooled hatreds of his heart on those who did not stay in their place, and also on Communists, Jews and sometimes even Democrats. If sufficiently well-trained, he could recognize the fact that theological liberals were Sadducees, but very rarely could he see the point of the liberal contention that he himself was a Pharisee.[38]

The fundamentalist apparently hadn’t learned how to interrogate his own inclinations or suspect his own suspicions. He could not absorb in any meaningful way the liberal contention regarding his Pharisaism – probably because he dismissed his critic as “a liberal.” I suggest we who think of ourselves as conservative Christians are in a similar danger now in our very polarized moment. Billy Graham escaped significant pitfalls in his cultural prejudice. Can we?

Consider for example the contemporary debate surrounding “critical theory.” According to many of its critics, this theory divvies up the world into oppressors and the oppressed, with the oppressed granted “epistemological privilege.”[39] Though rooted in a Christian predisposition to attend to the marginalized,[40] this simple dialectic of oppressor against the oppressed, together with a lionizing of oppressed perspectives, is quickly complicated by the gospel Jesus announced and enacted. Not only are the oppressed often oppressors in their own peculiar ways (and the oppressors variously oppressed), but Jesus scandalizes us by befriending both the downtrodden and the scoundrels wearing the red-heeled boots![41] Having said that, social advantages are real and notoriously difficult for those who enjoy them to see. This requires humility, even (especially) in the face of hostility. As Lesslie Newbigin writes:

Because we are also driven by our selfish desires and interests we will be aware that we require constant correction and that for this we must look to those who share the life in Christ but inhabit different cultural situations. We must always be ready to recognize that we have misrepresented the intention of Jesus because of our own interests. But that correction comes not from some supposed position of epistemological privilege outside the Christian story; it comes from the story itself when we expose ourselves honestly to the need of all people.[42]

This is easier said than done. Perhaps we’re anxious to avoid becoming victims of the ad hominem fallacy C.S. Lewis humorously termed Bulverism.[43] Or perhaps we’re just uncomfortable with the possible implications of the charges.

Either way, we are often very slow to admit the possibility that our social location is unduly influencing us as Christians – shaping our motives, suspicions and inclinations.[44] Though our social location can certainly be “weaponized” against the truth, a definite preparedness to recognize where we may “have misrepresented the intention of Jesus because of our own interests” should mark the saints. This is to be neither a merely theoretical acknowledgement nor an uncritical obsequiousness. It is to live soberly with our own flesh and the flesh of our own tribes. It is to live as realists in “this world with devils filled,” invading not only human bodies but bodies politic in a “spirit of the age” (cf. Ephesians 2:1-2). Simultaneously, it is to be grateful for the remarkable graces yet found in the world. Calvin convicts us:

Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.[45]

The same post-Christian culture that curses Christ unwittingly teaches his wisdom in the strangest of places – even at times rebuking us. Conversely, the “Christian culture” we’ve assumed to be God-honoring and uncorrupted by the world turns out, to our great shock, to have been thoroughly saturated in it.[46] There is something to be said, then, for a healthy “hermeneutic of suspicion,” especially when it’s directed at ourselves – to doubt our doubts and suspect our suspicions.

This is not, for Christians, a hermeneutic of despair. On the contrary! We expect and have experienced Christ to be powerfully at work through our churches. We hope to see and have been privileged to see lives, families, neighborhoods and even whole cities transformed. But in the course of our periodic, spiritual renewals as a nation, we’ve also witnessed a strange collusion. Not unlike our fundamentalist forefathers and mothers, we have been a party to that peculiar civil religion, long-cultivated in American soil: a broadly “Judeo-Christian” theism, variously conflating kingdom with nation, church with state; investing neo-liberalism with the status of quasi-orthodoxy and democracy with an almost evangelistic mandate.[47] But this is plainly idolatry. Christianity doesn’t comfortably fit into the mold of American conservatism. We may operate within it, yet always in dynamic tension. We may walk into the voting booth as democratic citizens; but we ever remain loyal subjects to the Crown. We may buy and sell in a free market; but we are stewards among the commune of saints, having no property of our own. We may contend for our freedoms and the freedoms of our neighbor; but we are quick to sacrifice our “rights” for others, even our enemies.

Even where we are clear-eyed, holding loosely to our American values, we must confess the slope is slippery. As Carson writes, “our nationalism easily identifies our own race or vision with the will of God, our democracy is in danger of claiming vox populi, vox Dei, and our liberalism is tempted to confuse the pursuit of liberty with the pursuit of God.”[48] However, we are not to live timidly here, but boldly – ever ready to “expose ourselves honestly to the needs of all people,” in accordance with the gospel that’s recreated us. We do this because we’ve learned in the school of Christ (and hard knocks) that our hope is not in democracy, or family values, or even in a “sacred order.” Our hope is in the Crucified One who now rules over all nations, principalities and powers, in heaven and on earth. His reign is both hidden and active; apparently weak and powerfully apparent. Christ stands opposed to a cultural dynamic here, speaks to us “through a glass darkly” in a specific facet there, complements what is lacking in a particular element of society now, then acts to secure justice through a corrupt state mechanism, all the while actively transforming another one.

“We are not conservatives,” Newbigin concludes, “who regard the [given] structures as part of the unalterable order of creation. Nor are we anarchists who seek to destroy the structures.” What are we?

We are rather patient revolutionaries who know that the whole creation, with all its given structures, is groaning in the travail of a new birth, and that we share this groaning and travail … in hope.[49]

In this hope we can rest secure, work tirelessly, and pray boldly: the once and future king reigns! But we need eyes to see it now. We need our anxious hearts quieted. This will come to us not in the reactions of the flesh, but in the response of the Spirit – the One who sustains and strengthens us in the tension.

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  1. Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 7.
  2. This is apparent, for example, in Kirsten Sander’s response to Tim Keller (who in turn is replying to Simon Kennedy’s claim that recent events have “vindicated” the analysis of Aaron Renn and James Wood). In reading her article, one might well be confused as to why the church-as-witness is set against the “witnessing church,” that is, as engaging in the apostolic mission of persuading others (2 Corinthians 5:11). Such a reading is possible only by a selective proof-texting that ignores or fails to integrate other relevant biblical accounts of God’s exiled people, as Alan Jacobs highlights. Carson addresses this problem at length (see below and Christ & Culture Revisited, 36-58)
  3. Carson does seriously doubt the scriptural and historical validity of Niebuhr’s second paradigm, the “Christ of Culture” pattern (see Christ & Culture Revisited, 36, 40). This pattern sees Christ as “the one who fulfills [the culture’s] best hopes and aspirations” (16). Nevertheless, Carson concedes: “a highly modified form of this ‘Christ of Culture’ pattern can be construed, one that does not abandon the elements of biblical theology. In his mercy, God leaves traces of himself and his ways in every culture,” (61). One thinks here of Paul’s surprising appeal to stereotypically Greek virtues in describing the ideals of Christian leaders and faith in the Pastoral Epistles. E.g. see Reggie Kidd’s excellent essay, “Titus as Apologia,” Horizons in Biblical Theology, 21.2 (December 1999) 185-209.
  4. Christ & Culture Revisited, 40 & 62.
  5. It is an error that Niebuhr himself makes as well. See Christ & Culture Revisited, 39.
  6. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Torchbooks, 1951), 109.
  7. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, 43.
  8. Ibid. 64. See 62-64.
  9. For instance, in a recent interview Rosaria Butterfield criticizes the “theological triage” approach of her “Baptist friends” (e.g., Gavin Ortlund, Al Mohler). As I understand it, the triage approach is a systematic re-articulation of the Augustinian maxim, “In essentials unity, non-essentials, …” etc., which finds expression in every Christian tradition. Butterfield suggests that such thinking will logically tend toward a downgrade, eventually placing all matters in a second or even third tier. This is a real danger. Yet she seems wholly unconcerned with the opposite error, in which every difference of view becomes a potential nail for the heresy hammer.
  10. That is, there remains a Christian structure of hope, in various secularized eschatological frameworks.
  11. See (accessed 11/26/22).
  12. “The ideal of sexual liberation was inspired in part by Freud’s theory of repression, which describes sexual desire as a kind of hydraulic force, which will burst out in surprising places unless ‘repressed’ by the superego. … Sex was henceforth seen as the release of desires welling up from the ‘real me’ inside. …To deny their release is to repress them, and repression of the sexual urge is also oppression of the individual,” Roger Scruton, (accessed 11/26/22).
  13. Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 301.
  14. Philip Rieff observed, “There is a curious Marxism among the post-Freudians that calls for an explanation. Reich may well have been the first Freudo-Marxist, as he titled himself; but he was not the last. In contrast to Reich’s original Bolshevik stridency, the post-Freudians have been democratic and socialist – though Marxists, nonetheless,” The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 46.
  15. Wilhelm Reich “placed his hopes in America, as he declared in the preface to the fourth edition of his book in March 1949: ‘I assure the reader that I am also fully conscious of the reactionary tendencies in the United States. But here, as nowhere else, it is possible to stand up for the pursuit of happiness and the rights of the living’ (his emphasis).” Augusto Del Noce, The Crisis of Modernity (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 168. Similarly, “It is interesting to note that Reich regarded America, with its deep tradition of individualism, as the place where the sexual revolution was most likely to take root,” Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 231, fn.11.
  16. Trueman, 233. Rieff summarizes Reich: “Abolish the repressions and end ideologies,” Triumph of the Therapeutic, 149.
  17. Wilhelm Reich, Sexual Revolution: Toward a Self-Regulating Character Structure, trans. Therese Pol (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974), 25. Reich concludes, “The social struggles of today, to reduce it to the simplest formula, are between the interests safeguarding and affirming life on the one hand, and the interests destroying and repressing life on the other” (cited in Del Noce, 166).
  18. What Del Noce observes in his masterful essay, “The Ascendance of Eroticism,” regarding the European Left applies equally in the American context: “Freud and Marx are still the guiding lights of the current situation; and today’s left is defined precisely by its unwillingness to reject either Freud or Marx,” The Crisis of Modernity, 166.
  19. Note the Rousseauan fantasy of a primitive egalitarianism in Marx and Engels’ theory. Though it’s been labeled an economic egalitarianism, strictly speaking Marxism is to be differentiated from egalitarianism proper.Yet various expressions of neo-Marxism, such as Reich’s Freudo-Marxism, or so-called “cultural Marxism,” expand Marx and Engel’s “class struggle” account of history (e.g., Erich Fromm), aiming at a more comprehensive elimination of social and political inequalities.
  20. Others might label it “the liberated subject,” who, enlightened by the “analytic attitude,” is not only willing to negotiate virtually any and all social demands or strictures of conscience in addressing repressed desire, but, more significantly, cultivates a profound ambivalence toward all commitments. See Rieff’s argument in Triumph, 55-65. “Indeed, the therapy of all therapies, the secret of all secrets, the interpretation of all interpretations, in Freud, is not to attach oneself exclusively or too passionately to any one particular meaning, or object,” 59.
  21. Del Noce, 162.
  22. “Any ‘dialogue’ with the advocates of sexual liberalization is perfectly useless, simply because they start by denying a priori the metaphysics that is the source of what they regard as ‘repressive’ morality,” Ibid.
  23. “By this time men may have gone too far, beyond the old deception of good and evil, to specialize at last, wittingly, in techniques that are to be called … ‘therapeutic,’ with nothing at stake beyond a manipulatable sense of well-being. This is the unreligion of the age, and its master science. … The systematic hunting down of all settled convictions represents the anti-cultural predicate upon which modern personality is being reorganized,” Rieff, 13.
  24. For instance, in addition to Reich’s work, see the bald anti-Christianity of French Surrealists Jean-Louis Bedouin and Andre Breton, representing another species of Freudo-Marxism, quoted at length in The Crisis of Modernity, 171-174. De Noce claims, “…Surrealists were almost the only ones to realize a fundamental truth: the decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution,” 178.
  25. See Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1998).
  26. Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 304.
  27. Of whom Rieff writes: “In what does the self now try to find salvation, if not in the breaking of corporate identities and in an acute suspicion of all normative institutions?” To what great end is this “anti-cultural” work undertaken? Nothing more than “amplitude in living itself … with a minimum of pretense to anything more grand than sweetening the time,” 19, 22.
  28. James K.A. Smith notes that the concern for authenticity, which has come to us with a vengeance through Martin Heidegger, is in fact rooted in an ancient Augustinian-Pauline line of thought. However, unlike Heidegger’s secular existentialism, Augustine’s pursuit of an authentic self is a process of not inventing but yielding ourselves to God. See Smith’s excellent On the Road with St Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Souls.
  29. Yuval Levin defines this “expressive individualism” as “not only a desire to pursue one’s own path but also a yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity. It is a drive both to be more like whatever you already are and also to live in society by fully asserting who you are. The capacity of individuals to define the terms of their own existence by defining their personal identities is increasingly equated with liberty and with the meaning of some of our basic rights, and it is given pride of place in our self-understanding,” The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (New York: Basic, 2016), 148. See especially Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).
  30. “Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself,” Democracy In America, chapter 2 (accessed 11/26/22).
  31. Algen: A New Word – A New World (New York: Viking, 1983), 244.
  32. Cited in John Blake’s “Where Billy Graham ‘missed the mark’,” (accessed 10/28/22).
  33. By which I mean King’s personal and profound attunement to the experience of Black Americans and Graham’s (then) relative indifference.
  34. Cited in Jeff Greenfield, “Billy Graham: Preacher to the Powerful” (accessed 11/27/22).
  35. Fundamentalism’s self-conception falls into Niebuhr’s “Christ Against Culture” paradigm. Typically, deviations from this pattern of relating to the culture were seen as morally compromising, an instance of “worldliness.” For this reason, fundamentalists would become vehement critics of Graham and his methods.
  36. When asked why he never affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, he replied: “I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice.” Jonathan Merritt, “Billy Graham, The Last Nonpartisan Evangelical?” (accessed 11/28/22).
  37. “What I Would Have Done Differently” compiled by Colin Hansen (accessed 11/28/22).
  38. Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 195.
  39. The term is Lesslie Newbigin’s in The Gospel In A Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1989), 149-150. This means oppressed groups are assumed to be unburdened by the ideologies and unbaffled by the mystifications employed by those who exploit them. More broadly, it is argued that the voices of the oppressors/powerful are already privileged, by definition, and so a balancing is required in order for the voiceless to be now heard.
  40. On this note, I commend Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. See also Paul E Miller’s brief but insightful analysis, “The Jesus Origins of Secular-liberalism” (accessed 11/27/22).
  41. See The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, 150-151.
  42. Ibid. 152-153 (italics added).
  43. Lewis writes: “We have recently ‘discovered that we exist’ in two new senses. The Freudians have discovered we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. … And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire.” “Bulverism,” God In the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 271-72.
  44. Many conservatives have deflected the charges by turning them against their progressive opponents. As Lewis points out in his essay on “Bulverism,” the right is just as adept at this fallacy as the left (Ibid. 273-74). Mark Sayers has similarly commented that the conservative critics who most fiercely denounce ‘critical theory’ are often its most virulent practitioners. Replace Marx’s “the bourgeoisie” with “the elite,” and “means of production” with “means of cultural production,” and the resemblance is striking.
  45. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15.
  46. To cite just one example, consider the sexual revolution. As orthodox Christians, we are rightly horrified with its poisonous fruits, which are shamelessly celebrated among the libertines of our day. Yet how many Christian men have not only had their sexuality long-shaped by an adolescent indulgence in these fruits, but continue to consume them into adulthood … often justifying their lapses with a Freudian logic of unsustainably repressed desire. This is to say nothing of the systemic breadth of sexual abuse found among American churches and para-church ministries.
  47. I assume most of us would agree with Winston Churchill that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones. But its dangers are real, and should not be whitewashed. Speaking of the “mystique of (especially Western) democracy,” D.A. Carson avers, “it has also proved proficient at throwing off a sense of obligation to God the Creator, let alone the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is another way of saying that it is proficient at fostering idolatry … ‘Live free or die,’ one state slogan puts it. It is hard to imagine any state with the slogan, ‘Be holy or die’ … it is easy to uncover ways in which the worship of freedom may actually displace the worship of God,” Christ & Culture Revisited, 127-129. Along a different track, Alex de Tocqueville prophetically wrote, “not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart,” chapter 2, Democracy In America. Perhaps our bowling alone was inevitable?
  48. Christ & Culture Revisited, 64.
  49. The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, 209.