In “Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society,” R. R. Reno gives the reader an object lesson in the destructive processes of the Progressive movement. To do this he presents two cities, Belmont and Fishtown, and observes the changes that occur in these towns from 1960 to roughly the present time.
Belmont represents a comfortable middle-class community. People there have solid professional careers, safe neighborhood, and manicured lawns. Ok, he doesn’t discuss their lawns. But you get the idea. It’s the place people dream of as the fruit of being successful.
Fishtown represents the blue collar world. People there are working hard for a living. Though they struggle to make ends meet, at least in the beginning their families and homes are generally stable and the fruit of their labors is something peaceful.
Then comes the 1960s with its promises. What the poets wrote of and the folk singers preached to the world came to pass. There was a new sense of “freedom” from the burdens placed on the oppressed. But things don’t always work out for one group the same as they do for another. Some principles don’t translate well across the various cultural and economic lines.
The people of Belmont could afford and had the discipline to manage themselves in these new freedoms. But in Fishtown things were different. There is often a lower level of internalized discipline in this world. When the conventions of the past, like marriage, were thrown off then the trouble began. Fishtown went from merely a blue-collar community to something less, a people with a greater need. We’ve all seen the statistics on poor single mothers after divorce. That’s the price of this supposed “freedom.”
The progressive ideas of the 20th century have harmed many people in many ways. Mr. Reno is thorough in his assessment. By presenting the problem through a sort of case study he makes things very real to the reader. He brings a sense of optimism, something that has been missing in the conservative movement for a long time.
But there’s a weakness in his book that has been inherited from the conservative movement. With the death (lack of dominance, that is) of postmillennial theology the conservative (who is the first progressive) comes to the argument missing an eschatology. Of course the modern progressive only pretends an eschatology (a better world) because they can’t deliver on their promise. In short there is little purpose.
That’s the condition of our society in which Mr. Reno, like so many others, has written. Our assessments of progressivism may be spot on but we don’t have anything that can replace it. We may lament the losses for generations to come if we have nothing better to give.
Proposal. We need a proposal. Mr. Reno gives us no proposal in terms of strategy to make our hope and purpose universal. Burgess Owens did the same thing from a Mormon perspective in his book, “Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps.” As an evangelical I would ask for this from the various evangelical authors on the same topic. It is past time for some evangelical ecumenism (disregarding the liberal and so-called “dominionist” voices) to set a cooperative strategy for evangelization, education, discipleship, and the subsequent formation of that Christian society.
Strong arguments clearly are not enough.