If we are to understand the times we live in, we have to do a better job understanding them, if you catch my meaning.
The system, the Establishment, or the Man, as we used to call it, is a ramshackle, rundown dive of a house, greatly in need of some repairs. Let us call this world our crack house culture. All of us live in it, there being no choice in the matter — to live at all is to live here. At the same time, the inhabitants of said house divide into three main groups, distinguished by the different approaches they take to what we should do about this sad reality.
One group has simply accommodated itself to the way it all is. The house is what it is, and cannot be altered in any significant way — but this does not mean that such people cannot labor to improve things, but their vision for the house is nonexistent. At the self-serving end, they simply work to feather their own nest, and at the more understandable end, they work to make their immediate surroundings tolerable for those close to them. Who would begrudge someone cleaning up their own bedroom if he had to live in a dump of a house?
The second group belongs to the revolution. They see the problems with the house, and the inequities that have developed (some have cleaned up their own rooms quite nicely, which natch, makes them the envy of all the others), and so they want to do something about the problem of “the house” as a whole. Because they are revolutionaries, it is an article of faith with them (held with a religious fervor) that the only thing we can do is burn it down and start over.
This is not simple arson — the idea is an eschatological paganism. Without a Creator God, the father of any order that happens is chaos. And since the process is random, and there are times when chaos throws off some abortion of a world — which has apparently happened in our case — this means there is nothing for it but to destroy it all down to chaos again and let chaos have another throw. Two out of three? Baby needs a new pair of shoes . . .
But because a lot of us are living in this dive, it is not possible for these people to simply soak all the furniture in gasoline and strike a match. There are too many people in the first group who would say, “Hey! What do you think you are doing?!” Because of this, the radicals have to be duplicitous about their aims, which is just a fifty cent way of saying they are liars. They have taken to describing the gasoline as “furniture perfume,” and when pressed about it say only that it is “for the children.”
They are after one thing only, and that is power. When they get real power of the sort they want, it will be the power to destroy — and destroy they will. In the meantime, they raise many different “issues,” to confuse those who think they might be sincere, but as their godfather Saul Alinsky taught them, the issue is never the issue. The real issue is power, as measured by them in gasoline and matches.
These arsonist revolutionaries have gone under many guises, and have had many names. I will simply describe them in one lump as anyone to the left of Chris Christie, and for ease of reference, we will simply call them “commies.” Some of them are dupes, and some are zealots, but all of them smell like gasoline.
The third group, among whom I happily number myself, sees the house as a fixer-upper. This would be a monumental task all by itself, even with no residents present, but we have to do this remodel job while we are all still living in it. We have to do this, we handymen . . . we few handymen, we happy few . . . sorry — got distracted.
We have to do this with secular conservatives fighting the improvements we want to make to the house, and at the same time we have to keep the radicals from burning it down. Whenever we have thwarted an arsonist, he will accuse us of being one of “those conservatives,” who do not want anything changed whatever, not even that appalling wallpaper in the foyer. And when we have successfully changed something, making a real improvement, the secular conservatives will accuse us of being radical revolutionaries, and they will go through our tool chest looking for the gas can.
But the only reason we fight to save the house from burning is so that we might, led by the Spirit of God over the course of generations, subject the house to a different kind of extreme makeover. The only reason we fight those who want to preserve the house just the way it currently droops is because we want to preserve it in restored glory.
Now the way I have stated all this certainly tips my hand. Which option do I think is the Christian one? But we have to be careful here. There are professing Christians who belong to all three groups. There are even sincere Christians — the kind that go to Heaven when they die — who belong to all three groups. There are sincere Christians who think Jesus wants us to help the commies, and there are sincere Christians who are genuinely attached to that wallpaper design in the foyer — I didn’t go into it before, but it is covered with American bald eagles, Lincoln’s top hat, various semper fi designs, and other assorted patriotic detritus. All of this simply goes to show that we really are saved by grace, and not by works. If we were to be saved by works, everybody is hosed.
But the third option is the biblical option. I say biblical option, not Christian option, because it might be odd to tag as the Christian option an approach that most Christians don’t take. But that is neither here nor there. Christians have been struggling with the relationship of the city of man and the City of God since at least the time of Augustine. It is a tough problem, made tougher by the study conditions in this stupid house. I remember one time picking up a paperback copy of Augustine’s great Civitate Dei, only to have the back cover copy inform me that Augustine was laboring to teach us that Rome was the eternal city, which was of course the photo negative of his thesis. Even editors get these blues. This is too bad, but things are tough all over.
Christians need to cultivate a robust biblical eschatology, which will direct us on what we are supposed to be doing with the house. If we refuse to do this, we will usually drift into an ad hoc “brighten the corner where you are” approach, which usually results in us cleaning up our own little evangelical enclaves pretty good, but for no altruistic or biblical reason, which means that we can then be easily guilted by the commies when they show up to indict us for our guilty complicity in the system as a whole.
Now some of us don’t want to give the commies the time of day — they slaughtered over 100 million people over the course of the last century, and looking ahead to the next century, they would be happy to do it all over again. Some of don’t think we should be the ones with the hangdog expression.
All this said, it is not enough to know which group to identify with. If you pick the group with the tools, as I hope you do, it is still necessary to learn how to use them. We need to learn the basic principles; we need to learn the rules for reformers.