After my previous post on Pearcey and the pomos, one correspondent wrote to me, asking me to respond to this review of Pearcey’s book by Alissa Wilkinson.
Now in the review, Wilkinson has a laudable “credit where credit is due” pattern that I appreciated very much. But at the end of the day, she was unsettled by Pearcey’s book.
“This is precisely what made me so uncomfortable as I read the book: the feeling that in so emphatically stating the truth, Pearcey was leaving little room for thoughtful disagreement or the knowledge that those who hold different views are often incredibly intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful people who care about the world and desire to lead significant lives. They are not simply misled away from a Christian worldview by secular ideas. They are not stupid, or insufficient. And I am not more intelligent or worthy than they are because of the way I look at the world.
Instead, for many in the “secular” world, the church has simply failed to show them a picture of a good life, a good society, that they see as worth their time. While Pearcey mentions this, she spends too much time on pointing out wrong ideas and too little time observing that the church’s embodiment of the Bible’s teachings has been insufficient.”
In short, the problem is Pearcey’s militance. And when you are a militant leader, and you are in a culture war groove, you often get simplistic and reductionistic militance from some of the followers. This is quite true, and you can get a good bit of it from high schoolers with two weeks of worldview seminar instruction under their belts. Yeah, that’s a problem, but it is minor one. More on that in a minute.
So two quick reponses then. The first deals with the second objection above. This is that Pearcey’s whole book is predicated on the assumption that the church has serious problems. She is writing the book to address those problems. But the reason this kind of humility doesn’t resonate with Wilkinson is that Pearcey’s criticism of the church is coming from the opposite direction. Wilkinson, and other soft worldview engagers, want us to tell the world they have a point, wants us to meet them halfway, wants us to have a conversation. Pearcey is criticizing the church from the Bible side, from the God side, and Wilkinson wants her to criticize the church from the other side, from the vantage of the values of secularism. Here’s a sample batch. “Why is it that gays feel so unwelcome in conservative churches? Why won’t your pastor preach on racial reconciliation on the nearest Sunday to MLK day? Why are conservative Christians so focused on abortion all the time?” The issue is not the presence of criticism, but the direction from which it comes.
Now the tone problem. Say you teach worldview thinking to teenagers (which you should do), and you teach it from a basis grounded in God’s revealed absolutes (which you must do), you are going to get bloviating apologists for a time, who will mock what they don’t fully understand. That’s right. That will happen. But if it is true that we wrestle against principalities and powers, and if it is true that we are in a fight against wickedness in high places, and if it is true that we are engaged in a campaign to bring every thought captive to Christ, we are not going to be slowed down (not even a little bit) by this. Young Demetrius of Ephesus, who got caught up in Paul’s soaring rhetoric about spiritual warfare, and told his mom on the way home that the “devil was going down,” is going to have to grow into some more wisdom. So let’s let him, and let’s not tone down the book of Ephesians, because that won’t really help. Sophomores will always be sophomoric, which I suppose is their right.
I think of one of those panoramic views of the D-Day invasion, with hundreds of amphibious landing craft from the left frame of a very wide picture extending over to the right frame, and smoke coming off the beach already. And then, we notice the little conversation coming out of one of the craft. “Sarge! Williams here says that we’re going to go in there and kick Jerry’s butt, and I am not sure I appreciate his tone.”
What is the problem with boasting apologists? They underestimate the danger and potency of the enemy. And what is the problem with those who want to speak in the way Wilkinson urges above? It is exactly the same problem — underestimating the nature of the conflict, and the danger and potency of the enemy.
When you go from the trash-talking infantryman in the landing craft to Eisenhower in his war room, you are not moving from one who is combative to one who is less combative. No, you are moving from one who is combative with limited information to one who is even more combative because he has a lot more information. Eisenhower isn’t up there worrying about the many German soldiers who “simply want to live significant lives.”
To think this way is to surrender beforehand. And this is why pomo apologetics, or pomo-style apologetics, is never going to get us anywhere. Preparing to lose is just that — preparing to lose.