Chesterton observed — and why wouldn’t he? — that we drastically misunderstand the nature of our sin and rebellion. We like to flatter ourselves in our discontent, saying that the spirit of rebellion rises up within us because of all the things that are wrong. But the reality is the other way — things go wrong because rebellion has risen up within us.
Satan did not revolt against God because of the grim conditions of Hell. Hell is the result of him revolting against the delightful conditions of Heaven. Adam did not rebel against God because he was tired of living in a slum. No, his children live in slums because he grew tired of living in Paradise. Thus far Chesterton.
Now that history is mixed — good and evil mingled together — we have multiple opportunities to make our confusion on this point more plausible. There are evils present, and so we may readily point at them, but our revolt is actually against the good things that are present. That’s our story, and we continue on our way, sinners in search of plausible deniability.
This is the fundamental difference between radicals and reformers. Both recognize that good and evil exist, but the radical wants to blame the good as the root source of all evil. The reformer wants to fight evil, and so he does. The radical resents what is truly evil, but what he fights is the good. The reformer doesn’t resent evil — he is no sentimentalist — but he does hate it. St. George fights the dragon, and does so with a good will.
The radical blames sex; the reformer blames lust. The radical blames money; the reformer blames mammon. The radical blames the systemic nature of oppression; the reformer blames men and women.
Radicals want to mess with the categories. They operate with an intellectual dishonesty that is truly fundamental. How can you tell? It really is simple — they call good things evil, and call evil things good (Is. 5:20). The distinction between men and women is a good thing, and so they blur it with metrosexuality. Worldliness is a true evil, and so they pursue it in the name of cultural engagement. The ability to raise the poor from poverty by teaching them how to make money is a good thing, and so they blur it by condemning the ability to make money. Nowhere are the sentimentalist contradictions of radicalism so apparent as here. The fact that people are poor is an outrage, and the fact that the means exist for bringing them out of poverty is an even worse outrage. The disease is wicked, and the medicine worse.
So what we should be after is true engagement, not surrender. What we must pursue is cultural engagement, not cultural surrender parading itself as engagement. In order to keep our bearings, and in order to keep our heads, we have to reject every attempt to get us to compromise our fundamental allegiance to Scripture as God’s infallible Word to us. It all comes back to this. Yea, hath God said is a strategic move so that we may jump in there with here’s what I think.
The radical thinks that human sexuality is up for grabs. The reformer knows what God’s intention from the beginning was. The radical has no understanding whatever of basic economics. The reformer knows that envy distorts economic understanding, and is the only thing that really does. The radical believes that he has a vision that justifies all his social tinkering. The reformer knows that he cannot possibly understand anything so complicated as the simplest human economy, which is why God gave us His law.
Here is how the whole pattern of cultural engagement has played out in our nation, and in our generation. After evangelicals were forced out of their position of privilege in the public square in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they retreated to their cultural ghettos. When the general cultural apostasy forced them out of their abdication in the seventies, they came back into the process in force, and the religious right became an identifiable factor in national affairs again. Those who had taunted these religious conservatives for being disengaged were dismayed by what their engagement looked like, and so they began to taunt them for that. We were only to be allowed back into the public square if we immediately veered over to the left.
It turns out that what the radicals had meant by cultural engagement was actually code for “get with the program,” and the program coordinator, as always, needed to be a state so swollen it looks like Jabba the Hutt whenever his thyroid was acting up.
So we should be in the market for young Christian men and women who are willing to be trained in genuine cultural engagement. They won’t be embarrassed by old-fashioned virtues, like hard work and discipline. They will respect authority and defy the authorities. They won’t get fired from jobs because of laziness, and they will get fired from them because of something they said about homosexuality. They won’t resent money and success, and they won’t be dazzled by money and success. They will laugh at the hipsters, and they will laugh at themselves laughing at the hipsters. They will loathe the enticements of corrupt entertainment, and they will love a true story. They would rather die than become one of the cool kids. They will be cool.