After a recent exchange on another blog, I’d like to address a few reasons why reasserters and reappraisers do not understand each others’ arguments. It seems to me that we see our current context with very different lenses, and thus our discussions easily veer off track.
What I’d like to offer are a series of broader issues, one that isn’t exhaustive, that shape the conflict. Perhaps by examining these descriptively, we can address our different prescriptions.
1. A general crisis of authority. Over the last 50 years, all our major institutions are not trusted by the laity. There has been a crisis in the authority of scripture and the church. This parallels a lack of trust in governments as well.
2. An alteration in the relationship between public and private. Sex was once private, but is now ubiquitous, in part because it is used to sell products. Public persons are not merely individuals representing institutions, but persons who’s private lives are also public.
3. The introduction of the market into institutions that had previously been sheltered from competition. These include the church, social service organizations, and unions.
4. The immediacy of communication. This undermines the virtues of reflection, prudence and even the Sabbath itself. Videos and emails are exchanged quickly without consideration about their underlying meanings or the proper audience. Although audiences are easily segmented, anyone can be a hearer, and may hear exactly the opposite of what the speaker intends.
5. The reconceptualization of place. Cyberspace dictates the rules of civil engagement. Geography has less of a hold on identity. Much of our battle happens in cyberspace, and not in person. However, it is still physical persons who make decisions and operate institutions.
6. The social engagement of more Americans with non-Christians. This directly impacts how the average lay person thinks of heaven, hell and the uniqueness of Christian doctrine.
7. The diminishing consequences of sex outside of marriage.
8. The effect of capital upon churches and the liberation of desire for the sake of profit.
9. Our lives and ideologies are generally fragmented, and we put them back together again sometimes in haphazard ways.
Until we can get an accurate description of our cultural context, it will be a challenge for us to even understand our proscriptions.
By and large, the progressive church has accepted the impact of liberal capitalism into the sphere of social relationships. Some have some antagonism toward neo-liberal / libertarian economic policies, but by and large it accepts the colonial, bourgeois, world-view. I am saying this as a description.
The conservatives generally accept, however, the place of the US as an empire, but are unwilling to adapt a pre-modern understanding of cosmology and the role of the church.
There seems to a be some link between social conservatism, political conservatism and theological conservatism, but I don’t think the links are intellectually necessary. One can be a theological conservative and an economic progressive; a theological liberal and a libertarian or neo-conservative. I can say that I share a cultural identity (bourgeois, private college, suburban/urban, Yankee) with people who call themselves “liberal.” What that means on a daily basis changes.