Forty years ago we, in college, debated whether or not the “hot box” approach to Christian education was appropriate. Should we keep our children out of public school where there might be some influence? Should we keep them in Christian schools, isolated from the world, so that they might be better trained in the faith and thus be more effective for the Kingdom? The debate still goes on with may either believing or are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to make a change to a wholly Christian education. Yet there remains something more to the conversation.
We viewed the Christian school as a hot box. We treated it as something unique, something different from what the secular state had to offer. What we missed is that the secular state school system is its own hot box. It is a place where children and young adults are trained in a Marxist worldview, both generally and specifically. It is the place where society is formed.
Societies are built around a social conscience. They are not built around either ethnicity or custom. There are Christians in different cultures around the world. These different ethnicities comprise the global bride of Christ. Heritage, whether physical or cultural, is subordinate to the authority of the Lord.
A social conscience is a frame of reference that is held in common by the largest segment of society. One hundred years ago we might have said that both Christianity and Islam were the largest, most-commonly-held reference points for people everywhere. Even economies were somewhat subject to the restraints of these belief systems, though certainly more within Islam than the (using the term broadly) Christian West. But times have changed.
Today’s dominant worldview is Marxism. It pervades the Roman Catholic Papacy. It infects churches everywhere with the most insidious expression today being critical race theory along with some of its relatively trivial expressions in dialectical theology. (Ok that may be more Hegelian than Marxist, but the fruit of it generally tends toward Marxism with its emphasis on the modern concept of social justice and the like.)
It is no coincidence that the term “communist” is being applied in the political realm in the U.S. Many of the propositions of the political left differ only in enforcement powers. They do not differ in content. These include mandatory, monitored voting (Obama proposal), state-only schooling (Obama proposal), managed income (limited retirement income and universal basic income are broadly held by the major elected officials on the left), along with the removal of free exercise of one’s faith (Obama called this “weaponizing” the First Amendment and Nancy Pelosi made reference to one’s “freedom of belief” as exclusive of free exercise) and the right of self-defense (a removal of Second and Fourth Amendment protections). These are not the positions of a libertarian-oriented state, nor are they the positions of a restrained central government. And though the progress toward a more totalitarian central system may be incremental the course is set.
This nation is a hot box. We get one consistent message from the educational system, from major media and “news” sources, from business, from entertainment. If a person or company dares not comply the shunning gets serious. It is called “cancel culture” for good reason. Even a criticism of the injustice of the system can be met with job lost. The ouster of Brendan Eich from Mozilla sent shock waves though the tech industry for the level of totalitarianism at play. But those were quickly forgotten as today Twitter and Facebook are practicing this cancel principle on any serious criticism that might affect the progressive movement. Note the Washington Post and articles on Hunter Biden during the 2020 campaign season, or Facebook & Youtube (Google) demonetizing certain conservatives for their analysis.Think of this as the democratization of totalitarianism. The national hot box is not a passive structure. It is active and fully engaged.
We’ve been conditioned to think that if we have money and other excesses, such as the freedom to be obese, that we are free. Have your “man cave” and be happy? Get two weeks vacation or more? Get paid leave for maternity and paternity? Sure. Have you gotten everything from the government that you deserve? If not then you had better be asking for it! I’ve afraid we’re only being prepped for Thanksgiving.
I’m even more afraid that we are way too late. The pessimism of Russell Kirk and Whittaker Chambers is recognized. Twentieth century conservatism is no longer a political philosophy. Today it is merely a political and philosophical conversation. That is, it lacks the permanence (which it seeks but cannot find) of a theological foundation. As such it lacks the substance required to stop the progressive juggernaut. That’s why Kirk sough a theological foundation for his philosophical position. The postmillennialism that created Burkean conservatism is absent Kirkean conservatism. Postmillennialism’s optimism of a better world was reduced to a trivial numbers by the end of the First World War, being supplanted by the pessimism of premillennialism and its unwillingness to create any sort of kingdom. Premillennialism cannot create but can only wait for a kingdom. The third option, amillennialism, sits in the middle an seems as ambivalent in its kingdom-building practices as its position might indicate.
Yes, progressivism has a theological foundation. It has hijacked the structures of postmillennial theology but jettisoned God. It has the goal of a better world but instead of the authority of the Kingdom of God its authority is transferred to the Kingdom of Man. Until people see that progressivism is merely the repackaged outrage of the “evangelists” of the 19th century it will remain the voice of this nation’s conscience.
In the old video series “Out of the Salt Shaker,” Becky Pippert recounts her time in Europe where the Marxists acted as evangelists. They were out on the streets telling people about the benefits of Marxism. In the song “Speaker’s Corner” by the 70’s British blues rock Christian group Parchment (from the album Shamblejam) the lyrics challenge the proclamation of Marxism’s empty promises. I get excited when relatively young believers understand “the times and the seasons” and expose them for their emptiness and present the gospel. But Marxism has not changed. The continue to extol moral superiority despite rejecting morality except as the state dictates.
Our reactions to progressivism end up being nothing more than nostalgic reflections. We have little or no political or social power. Our churches are built around facilities, budgets, and retirement accounts. We have failed to educate our young and our mature. Many of us used our facilities but one day per seek, some for just an hour, while many of the most dedicated fundamental brethren use it for up to four hours. Few, may one out of a thousand, make more than four hours weekly use of facilities. We should be able to see clearly that little ministry takes place in the context of affluence but rather in the relationships where there is pain and sacrifice.
If we do not educate the mature how can we educate the young? Revivalism told us to deal with the imminent. Specifically, if Christ is coming back, and we expect that to happen Real Soon Now, then let’s not worry about education and teaching. Let’s just do evangelism. Then we hit twentieth century fundamentalism where we don’t need to learn anything but the Bible. The Bible is our only textbook. We don’t need theology books and we definitely don’t need philosophy books or anything else like it.
There’s a difference between an educational hot box and cocooning. A hot box can be used for full and rich training, even in the context of the local church. A cocoon is where you hide from the world. A cocoon is defensive. A hot box prepares for conflict.
It’s not common to hear sermons on the need for serious structural change. We don’t like pain so we avoid it. Then again there are many who like to hear those sermons but have become so accustomed to them that the idea goes in one ear and out the other. It seems time train our adults with some new language.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
“Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for him so great? Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first?”
You probably know who penned these words. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Elisabeth Elliot. These words are not to be taken lightly. They are a direct application of “I die daily” along with a host of other statements. This is language that we hear over and over but are unaware of its impact and depth. Why? Because we avoid pain at all costs.
At this point I am an optimist about the gospel and about the Lord’s capacities to change people and the world. But I am a pessimist about the church in the U.S. Few will stand up against government intrusion. Few are willing to practice loss voluntarily for their ministries but will instead wait for loss at the hand of federal, state, and municipal authorities. Then they’ll call a lawyer.
What is needed?
- Put money into people who engage.
- Put people who engage into visible educational roles in the church, during the week.
- Don’t abuse these engaging people. Meet their needs.
- Be inviting to people outside. Don’t shout at them. Teach them. Ministry is service.
- Train your own people. Not more sermons. More reading and studying.
Ok that sounds good. Now how about some curriculum, you ask. If you google “local church Bible institute” you’ll see a number of options. Some may be suitable but probably most are not. So start with a basic curriculum:
- Read the Bible through several times in a year. It’s really not that hard to do.
- Know what the Bible is getting at. Something like Henrietta Mears’ What the Bible is all About is readable by anyone.
- Read a basic theology book to start with. VanTil Introduction to Systematic Theology is a good starting point. It tells people what systematic theology is and to always begin with the Bible, with good exegesis. You may not agree with VanTil on everything (I don’t) but this work is a suitable introduction to thinking Biblically and theologically.
- Understand the world around us. Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences will like wake some minds. Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is also useful here, especially for its proposed solutions.
These are two solutions. You may have more in mind. Good. Go with them. We are at war whether we realize it or not. If that were not so the persistent attacks by the political left and theological liberal would not persist. But they do because they have goals we act as though everything will work out in the end. But that’s not how we’re called to act.