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.” 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. 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.
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.
In critiquing the liberal proponents of the “Christ of Culture” paradigm, Niebuhr aptly describes the error we are all tempted to make: “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. “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.”
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.” 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. 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. 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.
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. Such logic evinces the “triumph of the erotic,” in which sexuality dominates “notions of selfhood and human fulfillment.” 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” took root in America’s fertile soil.
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.” 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.
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. Specifically, the left remains enthralled to the Marxist vision of a secularized egalitarianism and, paradoxically, to the Freudian ideal of the detached subject. The present result is a “democracy devoid of the sacred.” Indeed, “the sacred” can only and ever be a pretext of repression/oppression. Rather, in the stead of any acknowledged “sacred order,” we find a technocratic proliferation of therapies.
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 at odds with “the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints.” If there is a “Christ of Culture” in all of this, 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.” It is the creed of Philip Rieff’s “psychological man.”  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 – 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. 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. 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.
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.”
I wonder how much of their differences here came down to eschatological convictions and how much to cultural commitments.
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.” Doubtless hindsight is 20/20, and the evangelist’s broadly “Christ Above Culture” posture – with which his fundamentalist brethren took such issue – 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. 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.” 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.
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.” Though rooted in a Christian predisposition to attend to the marginalized, 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! 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.” 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.
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.
Mere Orthodoxy is a reader-supported publication. Support our work by subscribing to our print edition.
- Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 7. ↑
- 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) ↑
- 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. ↑
- Christ & Culture Revisited, 40 & 62. ↑
- It is an error that Niebuhr himself makes as well. See Christ & Culture Revisited, 39. ↑
- Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Torchbooks, 1951), 109. ↑
- Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, 43. ↑
- Ibid. 64. See 62-64. ↑
- 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. ↑
- That is, there remains a Christian structure of hope, in various secularized eschatological frameworks. ↑
- See https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/91-744.ZO.html (accessed 11/26/22). ↑
- “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, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/12/is-sex-necessary (accessed 11/26/22). ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- Trueman, 233. Rieff summarizes Reich: “Abolish the repressions and end ideologies,” Triumph of the Therapeutic, 149. ↑
- 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). ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- Del Noce, 162. ↑
- “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. ↑
- “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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- See Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1998). ↑
- Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 304. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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). ↑
- “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). ↑
- Algen: A New Word – A New World (New York: Viking, 1983), 244. ↑
- Cited in John Blake’s “Where Billy Graham ‘missed the mark’,” https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/22/us/billy-graham-mlk-civil-rights (accessed 10/28/22). ↑
- By which I mean King’s personal and profound attunement to the experience of Black Americans and Graham’s (then) relative indifference. ↑
- Cited in Jeff Greenfield, “Billy Graham: Preacher to the Powerful” (accessed 11/27/22). ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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). ↑
- “What I Would Have Done Differently” compiled by Colin Hansen (accessed 11/28/22). ↑
- Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 195. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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). ↑
- See The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, 150-151. ↑
- Ibid. 152-153 (italics added). ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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. ↑
- The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15. ↑
- 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. ↑
- 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? ↑
- Christ & Culture Revisited, 64. ↑
- The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, 209. ↑
[…] Open the full article on the mereorthodoxy.com site […]
I agree that the two approaches to the culture are not mutually exclusive. I also agree that we need to be more patient, taking greater comfort in Christ’s finished work. A few thoughts come to mind.
First, the means of transformation matters. It appears that most white evangelicals are drifting towards a kind of neo-theonomic approach to transformation that’s ready to dispense with liberal democratic norms. The vanity project of National Conservatism is only going to make Christianity less relevant.
Second, as you note, white evangelicals need to develop a language for recognizing that they too have been guilty of conflating personal social preferences for biblical mandate. I’m not sure that this can be done. White evangelicals have staked a fair bit on issues concerning women and gays, despite Scripture’s rather ambiguous guidance on these questions. That’s not to say that Scripture is silent on these matters. But it has far less to say than cultural conservatives would like us think.
Third, Christians have to stop complaining about living in a society that is no longer nominally Christian. When we passed the new Immigration Act in 1965, we opened our doors to a large number of immigrants who were neither white nor Christian. By that act, we were implicitly saying that we were no longer going to be a nominally Christian country. The opposition to the Act came almost entirely from white evangelicals in the Bible Belt. But that battle was lost 60 years ago. One can quibble with the wisdom of passing the Act. But it’s rather pointless to spend six decades complaining about it.
Thanks for reading and responding. I also find theonomy a troubling response among evangelicals. It seems to me a fundamentally wrongheaded approach to politics as the church. And though I find Scripture to be fairly clear on the matters of gender and sexuality that the present debate often obfuscates, I think I agree that evangelicals have far too often used such texts as a pretext to justify their misogyny and bigotry. Regarding your third point, I think I agree with you again. If I remember correctly, James Davison Hunter argued that the Protestant hegemony within American culture had really broken apart before the turn of the 20th century. It isn’t that we’re losing the culture war, he’d say. We already lost that battle. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to contend for the gospel. But we should do so with the “meekness of Christ” – just as Paul waged his warfare in late antiquity (2Co.10:1-6).
Yeah, we basically agree. That’s for writing back. I’ve enjoyed both of your pieces.
I bring up the point about the Immigration Act because it explains why many elements of nominal Christianity have passed out of the culture. By cultural conservatives’ telling, their views are that of a silent majority that’s been marginalized by elites and enabled by unelected judges. But that’s just not the case. In the debate over the Immigration Act, cultural conservatives opposed it because they knew that mass immigration by non-Christian people would undermine the cultural hegemony of a kind of civic Christianity that prevailed at the time. This is a fight that cultural conservatives litigated and lost nearly 60 years ago. Folks need to stop crying over spilt milk.
On the gender and sexuality issue, I agree that Scripture is reasonably clear concerning the propriety of certain non-procreative sex acts. But it has very little to say about notions of sexual orientation and identity, as those concepts are mostly inventions of Freud and his progeny. A Catholic writer named Michael Hannon penned several good pieces in First Things in 2014 that propose a better path forward for the church beyond the Freudian categories that the church has too easily adopted and passed off as biblical. But the articles were mostly panned because they didn’t give the kind of easy answers that many want.
Consider, for example, much of the criticism of Revoice. Nearly all of the criticism is grounded in arguments that rest on the theoretical framework proposed by Freudian psychologist Elizabeth Moberly in the 1980s. Moberly’s work has been universally discredited, even among evangelical psychologists and by those who unsuccessfully sought to put her theoretical work into practice. She subsequently admitted that she conducted no clinical work to support her theories and concocted her conclusions for the principal purpose of creating a pseudo-scientific justification for the church and the wider society to marginalize gays and lesbians. Her work is not unlike that of white supremacists who promoted the “science” of eugenics to justify white supremacy. But the criticism of Revoice and incidents like the PCA’s years-long effort to expel Greg Johnson suggest that Moberly’s junk science continues to hold sway among a substantial majority of white evangelicals.
It’s not clear to me that evangelicalism will survive the coming split that’s going to occur on gender and sexuality issues. For many, maintaining a certain noble lie around gender-role performance—especially male gender-role performance—is seen as one of the central features of the white evangelical subculture. But there are a number of younger evangelicals who are interested in moving past the fetish for John Wayne. I suspect that these two groups will eventually end up in disparate institutional orbits.
Thank you, Ryo. I’m not familiar with Moberly. I look more into her. I think you’re right that our modern category of “the homosexual” is a post-Freudian construct (interestingly, “the heterosexual” was also of similar coinage … and framed as a sexual perversion! … that is, someone who inordinately desires sex with the opposite gender for non-procreative purposes). Yet the concept of the “effeminate” male, prone toward certain homosexual acts, is ancient. Whatever the case, Paul seems unpersuaded that one’s sexual attraction is determinative of identity or lifestyle in Christ (1Co.6). Having said that, the enormous heat generated over the question of someone referring to themselves as same-sex attracted, gay, etc., as a believer, does seem fueled by an anxiety that is less scriptural and more cultural or worldly.
I agree that the anxiety concerning Revoice seems to be mostly rooted in cultural concerns that ought not to play much role in guiding the church.
I also agree with you that our identity should lie in Christ. But if we’re going to demand that gay people not claim an identity in being gay, then we need to make the same demand of straight people. After all, the concept of homosexuality depends on the concept heterosexuality. White evangelicalism has broadly accepted a Freudian view of sexuality and identity with a few guardrails thrown in. Sanctification ought to be moving us towards a kind of sexual asceticism. But we’ve largely replaced the call to asceticism with a call to heterosexuality. If we’re going to demand that gay people disabuse themselves of an identity defined by their sexual attractions, then we have to be willing to ask the same of straight people.
Lastly, I agree that Paul and the other biblical writers were almost certainly aware of the underlying biological phenomenon of same-sex attraction. We seem to forget that this tendency to pathologize same-sex attraction is rather recent. These attractions often exist in a rather inchoate form. If you grow up in a culture that tells you that sex is the prime way in which those attractions are satisfied, then you tend to take that lead and head down that path. If you grow up in a culture that tells you differently, then you can end up in a very different place. In Japan, where I spent a decent chunk of my adolescence, it’s quite common for guys to talk about feeling attraction to other guys. But the Japanese don’t assume that such feelings must necessarily find their end in sex. I’d suggest that white evangelicals tend to read more into Paul’s prohibitions than what’s there because they won’t disabuse themselves of Freud and their own cultural assumptions when they come to Paul.
As I noted, I lived in Japan when I was younger. I work for a French company and spend a fair bit of time in France. I feel fairly straight in both places. The Japanese don’t tend to see same-sex attraction as problematic, and assume that it can be directed in socially beneficial directions. And the French tend to accept that people’s attractions are all over the map to the point that it’s useless to moor social identity to something so complex and fluid. In the US and the UK (to a lesser extent), we’ve tended to define “normal” far too narrowly. Therefore, we end up disqualifying too many people from enjoying normal social identities or we force people to lie and experience unnecessary shame as a condition of enjoying a normal social identity. It seems to me that we’ve created many of the problems around LGBTQIA issues because we cling to fairly unrealistic notions concerning the range of attractions that people have for each other and the necessary connection of those to sexual desire. I see that Japanese and French approaches as far more grounded in reality. So, it’s no surprise that there’s very little cultural acrimony surrounding these issues in those countries.
This was a very well written post and I found it extremely informative. That said, I must take issue with few statements that I believe are inaccurate.
First, In what way is the Christian view of history driven by a moral economy and ordered toward a globally benevolent end? While we may individually support a “moral economy” (whatever that abstract term means), I find nothing in scripture that requires me to view human history as inexorably moving towards some “globally benevolent end.” Certainly Christ’s return will bring about his kingdom on earth, but we humans and our history do nothing to bring that about. That event will come to be according to God’s own wisdom and timing. I find nothing in scripture that requires me to ignore the observable fact that history repeats itself, or rhymes, with alarming regularity and adopt the fantasy that history is moving towards some “globally benevolent end.”
This brings me to your odd contention, “What could be more progressive than the coming kingdom of God?” The return of Christ will be a restoration and there is nothing less progressive than that. The defeat of Satan’s rebellion and dominion over this world will represent a return to the status quo that existed before.
I believe in your desire to be evenhanded you misrepresent conservative thought. Your representation of conservatism as essentially backward looking in it desire to preserve or return to “good ole days” is directly contradicted by Edmund Burke, the godfather of Anglo-American conservatism. He observed that “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature” and that “A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Conservative thinkers from Russell Kirk to Roger Scruton have recognized that you can’t turn the clock backwards. The goal is to use the lessons of the past to prevent, or at least ameliorate, recurring mistakes in the present and future.
Conservatism isn’t an ideology (a derivative of a French word that means science of ideas) with a rigid dogma, it is a philosophical orientation. Consequently, it’s inaccurate to describe it as a mold into which Christianity could be placed. It is too broad and amorphous for such purposes. I guess if one conflated the Republican Party and its public policy platform as identical with conservative philosophy they might make that mistake. Nevertheless, it would still be a mistake. The broad range of conservative thought on a myriad of subjects, and the strong disagreement between conservative thinkers on those subjects, prove that point.
Joel, I meant to reply, but accidentally posted separately below.
I agree with your point about conservatism. Within the Anglo-American context, to be a conservative has generally meant that one is a Burkean. We’ve generally used the term “reactionary” to refer to those who promote a kind of crown-and-altar political ideology more reminiscent of Continental conservatives.
But that’s changing. You don’t hear too many echoes of Burke in the MAGA movement, which is gradually redefining what it means to be conservative.
Agreed, Ryo. MAGA has moved rather away from Burke, and particularly Friedman.
Thanks Joel for reading the article and giving your thoughtful reply. I’d like to address each of your points in turn.
“First, In what way is the Christian view of history driven by a moral economy and ordered toward a globally benevolent end? While we may individually support a “moral economy” (whatever that abstract term means), I find nothing in scripture that requires me to view human history as inexorably moving towards some “globally benevolent end.””
By “moral economy” I mean that history is not an amoral process, but guided by a moral God. According to the Christian doctrine of providence, God rules all of history … whether in the rise and fall of empires or the mundane details of individual lives. We know from the Hebrew prophets that God brings empires and civilizations to an end in judgment and he raises up others in their stea,. We know from the apostles that God institutes all governments for the sake of justice, and is at present bringing his wrath to bear against the rebellion of the nations (Ro.13:1-7; 1:18-32). But this entire process of upheaval, of rise and fall, of humiliation and exaltation, of decadence and renewal, is directed according to God’s eternal purposes, which will climax in a renewed heaven and earth. That is, unlike the pagan view of history, the view of the eternal return (which Nietzsche sought to resurrect), the cycle of samsara, the circle of life, etc., the Bible teaches us a linear history moving toward a grand finale, an eschatological fulfillment.
You write: “Certainly Christ’s return will bring about his kingdom on earth, but we humans and our history do nothing to bring that about. That event will come to be according to God’s own wisdom and timing. I find nothing in scripture that requires me to ignore the observable fact that history repeats itself, or rhymes, with alarming regularity and adopt the fantasy that history is moving towards some “globally benevolent end.””
I am not speaking of history apart from God, but as guided by God – which of course includes His grand irruptions in both the first and second coming of Christ. The first irruption was both divine and human. It was simultaneously a sudden act of God and a seed sown into the historical process. The second will also be both divine and human, not only because our Savior is both, but also because the historical processes that led to the final cataclysm will have some measure of continuity within the new order (I can unpack that more if you’d like).
This brings me to your second point: “The return of Christ will be a restoration and there is nothing less progressive than that. The defeat of Satan’s rebellion and dominion over this world will represent a return to the status quo that existed before.”
I would argue that it is not a simple “return to the status quo,” but actually an elevated status of creation. The new heavens and earth are not merely the old order renewed, but a transformed creation. We were in Adam sons of the earth. In Christ, we will be sons of heaven, with resurrection bodies of a different order or spiritual character than our earthly bodies (as Paul argues in 1Co.15). According to the Apocalypse of John, we don’t return to a garden, but to a garden city – developed, mature … perfected. History doesn’t return to the beginning of the story. We actually go somewhere.
You then note: “I believe in your desire to be evenhanded you misrepresent conservative thought. Your representation of conservatism as essentially backward looking in it desire to preserve or return to “good ole days” is directly contradicted by Edmund Burke, the godfather of Anglo-American conservatism. He observed that “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature” and that “A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Conservative thinkers from Russell Kirk to Roger Scruton have recognized that you can’t turn the clock backwards. The goal is to use the lessons of the past to prevent, or at least ameliorate, recurring mistakes in the present and future.'”
I agree with you. To preserve what’s worth preserving, it is obvious we must adapt. But, of course, what our best lights have said are not always faithfully followed (on that note, Edmund Burke’s thought has been rightly, I think, labeled as a “conservative liberalism” by Yuval Levin). I was here riffing off the popular desire among American conservatives to return to the “good old days,” when people respected authority, families were stronger, morality was traditional, when America was “great,” etc. It’s very feel, and very strongly felt.
Finally, you wrote: “Conservatism isn’t an ideology (a derivative of a French word that means science of ideas) with a rigid dogma, it is a philosophical orientation. Consequently, it’s inaccurate to describe it as a mold into which Christianity could be placed. It is too broad and amorphous for such purposes. I guess if one conflated the Republican Party and its public policy platform as identical with conservative philosophy they might make that mistake. Nevertheless, it would still be a mistake. The broad range of conservative thought on a myriad of subjects, and the strong disagreement between conservative thinkers on those subjects, prove that point.”
No doubt, conservatism, like progressivism, is a diverse phenomenon. But as you note, the coherence of the label speaks to a consistent philosophical orientation. That orientation, from Burke to Friedman, found its classic expression in a neoliberalism that has come to typify American conservatism. Bound up in this neoliberalism is a host of assumptions and values (about free markets, small governments, democratic ideals, etc.) that are not clearly biblical. Moreover, the effect of these values being centered – to the neglect of other values – is not always edifying, especially among the saints. This is what I meant by our faith not fitting comfortably in the mold of American conservatism.
Thoughts? Thank you again for engaging!
James, Thank you for your response. That was very illuminating and I understand better what you were conveying. Consequently, I think we agree far more on those points than I originally understood.
I could not possibly agree more with your statement that “God rules all of history … whether in the rise and fall of empires or the mundane details of individual lives.” However, I don’t believe we humans have any ability to understand how and why God does this beyond acknowledging that all things work to God’s purpose. As the saying goes, “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” Furthermore, because God grants us a measure of free will to make our own decisions and, human nature being what it is, we regularly keep making the same mistakes, nothing we humans do or design will affect God’s Devine purpose which “will climax in a renewed heaven and earth.” Consequently, we should never fool ourselves into thinking the world is moving toward an end we can discern, let alone create, beyond accepting Christ’s ultimate return.
I’m afraid I must disagree with your statement that “The second will also be both divine and human, not only because our Savior is both…” Certainly, Christ became man when he came to earth to die for our sins. But he is not man, or even part man, now. He is with the father and will one day return in his glory. What is the support for claiming Christ is still part man?
I guess what I meant by Christ’s return being a restoration and a return to the status quo was the return of God’s unquestioned dominion over heaven and earth. Certainly, you are correct that we don’t return to the garden but then again restorations are never carbon copies of what was before. Additionally, I guess I have to take a certain issue with your assertion that Christ’s return will change us from sons of Adam to sons of heaven. Did we not become sons and daughters of God by accepting the gift of salvation? Isn’t that what John 1:12 and 1 John 3:1 tells us?
I certainly don’t claim to be a biblical scholar and there is much I don’t know. So if I got something wrong please let me know.
I’m glad to hear we’re in agreement regarding God’s sovereignty over the nations and the whole of history, as well as other points in the essay.
Regarding the humanity of Christ, your view would appear to be at odds with historic orthodoxy (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant). The church has always believed that when “the Word became flesh,” the mysterious joining of both natures (divine and human) resulted in an eternal “hypostatic union.” To cite the Council of Chalcedon:
“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”
When Christ rose from the dead, far from shedding his humanity, he perfected it – that is to say, he brought our human nature to its divinely intended fulfillment (which Adam and Eve had temporarily frustrated and complicated by their disobedience). In this sense, what was “of the earth” in Adam became “of heaven” in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven,” (1 Cor 15:48–49).
Notice the future tense there. We shall bear that image. We don’t at the moment. This relates to your question about our of adoption as sons and daughters. There is a sense of course in which we are already adopted (and sealed as heirs) by the Spirit of Christ through faith (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:25-4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; etc.), as you noted. Yet there’s another sense in which we still await our full adoption – the revelation of the children of God in glory, the redemption of our bodies, Paul calls it, which is the resurrection to come (see Romans 8:20-23).
Once again, thank you for your kind and informative response. Upon further research and consideration, my initial understanding of the humanity of Christ after his ascension was incorrect. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Furthermore, I now understand your point regarding sons of Adam and sons of heaven and agree. I appreciate the instruction.
Joel, I admire your humility and earnestness. It has the aroma of heaven (Jas.3:17). May your tribe increase!
Thank you both for this discussion. I enjoyed reading it.
I enjoyed and was edified by this timely reflection on Christ and Culture. Good insights. Thanks to the author.
Thank you, Mark, for the kind word. I’m grateful to hear it was an edifying read for you.
Outstanding read…and a warm, welcome and as it appears mutually edifying exchange of ideas in the above comments. So grateful. And still so much to learn.
Thank you, Rtsquid, for your encouraging comments!