Crossing That Temptation Bridge When We Get to It

In his next chapter, James Davison Hunter sets the stage for his alternative approach to our cultural engagement in the late modern world, which may be described as faithful presence within.

“Over against the ‘Defensive Against,’ ‘Relevance To’ and ‘Purity From’ paradigms, I would offer an alternative: ‘Faithful Presence Within'” (p. 237).

He has a good discussion of the tension that exists between affirmation of the good of creation, and God’s common grace to the fallen human race, on the one hand, and the necessity of remembering the antithesis, and the sobering detrimental effects of the fall, on the other. For Hunter, all social organizations “exist as parodies of eschatological hope” (p. 234). At the same time, Hunter believes that we can find good things everywhere that are “in relative degree, in harmony with God’s will and purpose” (p. 232).

Hunter sees the tension here, and says that we simply have to work with it. But given his acknowledgement of the inescapability of this tension, his dismissal of “those who have claimed the mantle of leadership” (p. 236) seems more than a little harsh and unkind. He seems far too quick to saddle other Christian leaders with failures, especially when he believes we live in a world where there are no real successes. Much of what he describes in this chapter is quite accurate. But what benchmark should I use as a working pastor to say that this is “failure of leadership” and that is “learning to live with tensions”? In a moment we will cover the fact that Hunter has removed all possibilities of keeping score, and so the whole thing can easily become self-serving. It seems to me to be a bit convenient if it always turns out that I am the one living with the inescapable tensions, while those leaders over there are the ones not comprehending the nature of the challenges that confront us.

Not surprisingly, Hunter’s difficulty, again, is eschatological.

“Where Christians participate in the world world building they are not, in any precise sense of the phrase, ‘building the kingdom of God.’ This side of heaven, the culture cannot become the kingdom of God, nor will all the work of Christians in the culture evolve into or bring about his kingdom” (p. 233).

 

“For Christians to regard the work of culture in any literal sense as ‘kingdom-building’ this side of heaven is to begin with an assumption that tends to lead to one version or another of the Constantinian project” (p. 233).

Hunter says the problem with this is that it leads to a dualism in which Christians always think of themselves as “winning” or “losing.” But I would much prefer to take to the football field of life in which a “dualism” of winning or losing were present, than to take the field with a much more pernicious dualism in my head and heart — which would be that of playing for an earthly team while at the same time playing for a heavenly team, and trying constantly to figure which plays belonged to which.

He says that all versions of Constantinianism “tend to lean either toward triumphalism or despair” (p. 234). But notice, just as Constantinianism is simply assumed to be a negative, period, end, so also there is no category of gracious victory, or grace in victory. But is there such a category in the Bible?

“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea” (Ex. 15:1).

“O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph” (Ps. 47:1).

“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise” (Ps. 106:47).

“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).

“And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).

Let us grant that there is such a thing as triumphalism and vainglory. But the prejudice against earthly victory that has been instilled in us by a persistent dualism (for that is what this is) has made us adopt as an unquestioned assumption the idea that there is no triumph without triumphalism, no victory without conceit, no success without arrogance, and no great achievments without a cluster of worried believers gathering around, urging the victor not to get a big head. But not all triumph is triumphalism.

When Jesus told us to disciple all the nations, He did not tell us that we could shrink back if we thought that fulfilling the Great Commission would expose us to the temptations of pride. I dare say it will. Let’s do what we were told, and cross that temptation bridge when we get to it.

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