Progressivism Trumps Pietism


Earlier this week I stumbled upon this quote from a book that I read a few years ago. The book, I Wear the Black Hat, is intriguing and entertaining. It could be described as “pop-psychology”. It’s about why we root for or are intrigued by the bad guys. Think Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and so on. Chuck Klosterman, the author, is not a believer, but I believe he makes many accurate observations about human interactions and our very nature. I am looking forward to rereading this book in the near future and I’m equally looking forward to putting his keen observations in a proper Biblical and Covenantal framework. Even when Klosterman covers the most trivial of topics (Saved By the Bell comes to mind) his insight in how people think often has more than a bit of biblical truth to it.

What caught my eye about this particular quote isn’t directly connected to the thesis of the book. My rambling thoughts on that will have to wait. Anyway, without further ado, the quote.

“Everyone knows history is written by the winners, but that cliche misses a crucial detail: Over time, the winners are always the progressives. Conservatism can only win in the short term, because society cannot stop evolving (and social evolution inevitably dovetails with the agenda of those who see change as an abstract positive). It might take seventy years, but it always happens eventually. Serious historians are, almost without exception, self-styled progressives. Radical views–even the awful ones–improve with age.”

Klosterman nails it. Anyone who honestly looks at the last hundred years of American history knows that social progressivism has, well, progressed. But there’s certainly more to add.

I think this quote very aptly demonstrates the importance of a biblical outlook on history. Most of American political conservatism and evangelicalism (if there’s any difference) have what amounts to a pagan view of history. The goal is always to get back. The goal is always to preserve the society of their forefathers. It’s a culture dead set on trying to get back to the good ol’ days. It’s an idolization of a mythical “Golden Age”. Depending on which Conservative you ask, their golden age may be the first fifty years our “glorious” nation state, the Antebellum South, or 1646 Scotland. Or, as is often the case, an imaginary version of America as it was when he was a kid. This is in a very real way the foundational view of nearly all pagan religions on history. It’s all about either going back or preserving the status quo. It’s about recreating a “Leave it to Beaver” society, going back to “simpler times”, or reforming back to the exciting times of the giants of our faith. .

It should be no great surprise to us that modern evangelicalism is doing nothing to very little to hold back progressive ideologies and cultural shifts. I think the reason for this failure is because the great majority of Christianity in America has a pessimistic view of history and a pietistic vision of their mission on earth. There is no looking forward with any hope. There is no expectation of victory, so there is no preparation for the victory. All of these popular Big Evangelicalism pastors, bloggers, and podcasters continually remind their millions of dedicated listeners that trying to reform culture is like “polishing brass on the Titanic” or that they’re “only passing through”, and then we have the audacity to sit and wonder why culture doesn’t go our way. Popular Christianity is inherently pessimistic and social Conservatism was built on that sinking foundation. Big Evangelicalism does not build. It attempts to preserve. They attempt to preserve pure doctrine as if the doctrines weren’t meant to do something more than be pondered on under steeples and over coffee (nothing against coffee. A bit against steeples). The mission of the American Church is functionally only the preservation of the Church. To be clear, we must preserve truth. We must be salt, but we can’t be salt while hiding our light under a bushel. We get both or we get neither. And that’s why the radicals and the progressives win. Progressivism trumps pietism like something trumps nothing. Sometimes with a Trump, and sometimes with a Hillary.

Progressives win because they are building. We, as human beings, are meant to progress. We are meant to build, reform, and transform. And that’s because we are created in the Image of God. God, our maker, is the maker of all things. He is the epitome of creative. He is the Lord of transformation, knowing what He did in my own heart. Modern progressives win not because their ideals are superior or because the victory of their ideals is a foregone conclusion, but rather because they are relentlessly building their kingdom. Human beings are kingdom builders. And that is a good thing. 

We as Christians go against the grain of our very nature when we do not build, do not reform, and do not transform. The humanists, I’m sad to say, understand at least elements of our nature better than most Christians, and that’s why they win.

The Christian view of history certainly should be one that looks back in order to see perspective and correction, but our hope isn’t in any “ golden age” of the past. I do not want the failed societies of the past, I want the Kingdom of God. Like our Father in Heaven, we are meant to build, we are meant to transform as our hearts have been transformed. All of this world is under the Kingship of Christ, and we are His Royal heirs. Our commission is indeed great, and it is no less than all of nations of the world coming under the dominion of Christ by the power of the Gospel. Our task is great, but we know that the power that draws us to the Cross is the same that is with us as we go about the work of the Kingdom. As I said, we are meant to be kingdom builders. But when the king of that kingdom is not Christ the King, then it is already doomed to crumble. No matter how strong the kingdoms of humanistic progressivism and the faux-christian kingdoms of the traditions of man may seem, they are built of sinking sand.

When Klosterman explains why Godless progressives always wins, he is contrasting leftist social movements with a Church that rejects its future and rejects its mission. He is contrasting fallen man building something with an impotent Church building nothing. With the understanding of what he is talking about, I can’t agree more. What he does not know is the Church of the Living God has already won. It may take many generations, but the hope we have is secure. Yes, it is secure, but God uses His own, so we must understand our calling. Because we reject this calling, the progressives acting according to their God given nature will win. That, however, is temporary. The progressives have not combated the Church yet.  The victories of all the hip Bernie acolytes will be placed upon the ash heap of history in due time. We haven’t even stepped into the arena. But when we do, game over.

“I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Psalm 2:7-12

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