December 16, 2004

A Kingdom of Which World? Further Thoughts on the Newsweek Kerfuffle

Blogizdat, in his contribution to the Hugh Hewitt Vox Blogoli VI discussion, observes from his Reformed perspective that:

The responsibility for the proclamation of God's truth does not fall to the Mainstream Media, nor does it depend on them getting the story right. Quite the contrary. We should not even expect fair and even-handed treatment. We - the Body of Christ on earth - have been promised that lies, slander and persecution would come our way because of our belief. (Read Fox's Book Of Martyrs for account of the early history of such things.) We have absolutely no reason to think that secular society, or the government and media that represent it, will be anything but derisive toward our claims of an incarnate God and a risen Savior.

This view echoes the Gospel of John, where Jesus says "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."

Yet the view of many Christians in this discussion has been a lamentation of the fact that Christiany was in some sense hegemonic in the culture, and there are those such as the MSM who would dethrone it and may have already done so.

Mark D. Roberts, a very thoughtful and learned Presbyterian pastor, for example, writes of the Newsweek story:

To Meacham’s credit, he faithfully recounts the extent to which most Americans believe, not only in Jesus, but also in his virgin birth. If you take the current population of the United States (294 million), the numbers are impressive:
246 million Americans claim to be Christian
241 million Americans view Jesus as God or the son of God
232 million American believe Jesus was born of a virgin
196 million Americans accept the Christmas story as history
But, once again, watch closely how Meacham continues. “Others, though perhaps fewer in number, are equally passionate about their critical understanding of the faith.” Stop. This is a telling statement in which Meacham once again shows his unbalanced bias. For one thing, if the vast majority of Americans believe what Meacham has just said they believe, then it’s disingenuous to say “perhaps fewer in number” are passionate about their critical understanding of the faith. There’s no perhaps about it. Even if every single person in American who doubts the historicity of the Christmas story were passionate about this doubt – which is highly unlikely – they would still be outnumbered by over 100 million!

Am I’m being too picky about Meacham’s words here? No, I don’t think so. Someone who writes a cover story for a magazine such as Newsweek ought to pay close attention to every word. (Moreover, Meacham’s article was surely edited by several top editors who should have caught his biased statements.) I’m paying close attention to Meacham’s words because here you can find his bias, his unexpressed assumptions. When he writes that there are perhaps fewer who are passionate about their critical understanding of the faith, he shows that he is, once again, wildly exaggerating the significance of the opinions of those who doubt the Christmas story.

Roberts seems to be saying that the Christian view is dominant among the people, and Meacham, the article's author, in defiance of that fact, is insinuating into a mass medium the views of a numerically insignificant and intellectually suspect groupuscule.

One of the points in my previous post is that our culture is historically Christian and still professedly Christian in its majority, and those of us who are not believers should accept and even rejoice that this is so, for this largely Christian country is a wonderful if flawed creation, in which even dissenters and skeptics can flourish. Moreover, a mere "absence" of faith in the culture would leave all of us bereft in some sense, because an "absence" is not a "presence." I would add that secular society has not provided an alternative that can satisfy most people, but rather lives off the diminishing capital provided by a culture that was once largely Christian (and in a minority sense, religiously Jewish). Where the disintegration of the religious tradition is further along, as in Europe, the culture and society become literally and figuratively sterile, so that its very survival is in question.

Blogizdat, on the other hand, reminds us of the view that God's kingdom is not of this world (kosmos), and believers should not expect acceptance from, let alone hegemony over, earthly society. The kingdom of God on earth is for some other time, as in Daniel 2:44, where the prophet says:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

So the question is, are the Christian faithful a saving remnant, swimming against the stream of a culture ruled by the "prince of the powers of the air," or should Christianity seek somehow to guide or permeate the culture. Where the church is too much of this world, its activity subsidized and its teachings enforced by the state, it seems to grow corrupt and weak.

From a Christian perspective, which is the appropriate response to the scoffing of the Meachams? Is it wrong but expected, like the fact that a spider is venomous, or is it a symptom of a terrible loss and hollowing out of the culture, which the Hughs, Marks, and Als justly strugle? As a sympathetic outsider, I can duck giving an answer, but I'd be curious to hear some.

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