The Germans frequently have just the word for it. Taking joy in the misfortunate of another is schadenfreude. That feeling of embarrassment you get on behalf of another who ought to be embarrassed himself but somehow isn’t is fremdschämen. I bring this up because we either need to coin or find another word for another condition. I am talking about the very common evangelical pursuit of taking up an offense or concern on behalf of a hypothetical stranger.
Let me use a very pedestrian example. We can’t switch from grape juice to wine in communion because “what if” an alcoholic comes to church, and he has been clean for a year, but then we stumbled him? This tactic never works in the other direction, so don’t even try it. You are not allowed to hypothesize the existence of someone who grew up in a suffocating fundamentalist home, and is considering leaving the faith altogether until that glorious day he discovered the existence of Bible believers who actually believe what the Bible says.
A principle is always a two-way street. Equal weights and measures. The judgment with which you judge you shall be judged. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. A scam is a one-way street. Whatever argument serves the interests of the imperious one is considered to be a sound argument. Whatever argument does not is simply dismissed.
Now the wide-spread acceptability of this technique is why the squishy middle of evangelicalism has been such a band of suckers when it comes to our modern identity politics. This is why our so-called “cultural engagement” has largely been a matter of slow motion surrender to secularism. What we call cultural engagement is actually capitulation to whatever the cool kids want us to do, from rejecting the patriarchy, to opining how black lives matter, to admitting that homophobia is actually a thing.
When we are charged to alter our behavior completely on the basis of how some hypothetical persons might take offense if we don’t alter our behavior completely, many of us leap to the challenge. This is what we do. It is who we are. We call it maintaining a good testimony, and we cite verses that talk about becoming all things to all men so that by any means we might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). We have been protecting non-existent offendees for decades. What’s a few more?
But Pauline citation is not the same thing as Pauline practice. Forty-year-old-pastors who are trying by “all means to save some” usually wind up getting the odd hipster tattoo, and wearing skinny jeans. But “all means” could include getting a Smith & Wesson belt buckle, and going to work as a chaplain in an oil field in a state that went for Trump by twenty points. When we say all means, do we mean all means?
Here is another example. Over the years I have had good and warm relations with black Christians. The overwhelming number of my conflicts over race have been, just that, conflicts over race, not racial conflicts. In other words, the overwhelming number of my conflicts have been with whites who were busy managing the hypothetical concerns of others (a very white activity, by the way). When I engage with black brothers, I usually get a good conversation. When I engage with white brothers about black brothers what I usually get is intransigence. This is because the person being protected from offense is always, at least conceptually, to the left.
The lame nature of our leadership can be seen in a toxic combination of two things. The first is the retreat to commitment, in which we cling to our “core values” but make a point of doing so in private, within the boundaries established by our mystery religion. Our public behavior conforms to whatever the reigning deity requires. Here is some more background on that. And also here. All of it is stage-managed by the trahison des clercs,
The second thing is related. We are allergic to the authoritative word. This is what I mean. We think we are not allergic to such a word because we think we accept the authority of that word down in our hearts. We think we are submitting to Jesus when we are actually submitting to the sovereignty of individualism.
Those of us who are involved in cultural engagement pay tribute to that “authoritative” word as the motivating force that caused us to come out to support of whatever the anointed cause currently is. The world sets the agenda, and evangelicals throw their support behind it because motivation x in this case is consistent, or so we say, with supporting cause y. Motivation x is that mysterious Jesus thing, and cause y is whatever the world is currently saying, and which is consistent with the Christian faith provided it is viewed from 30,000 feet. Nothing wrong with racial reconciliation, saving the planet, and so on. The poison is rarely found in the pithy mission statement on the front of the glossy brochure. It is not until we get down into the policy prescriptions that we find out that racial reconciliation is antichrist, saving the planet is antichrist, and affordable housing is antichrist. And you heard me—antichrist.
So all this foolishness is not really cultural engagement at all—running the world’s cars on our version of fuel. Jesus is not supposed to be like 10% ethanol.
Jesus gives the authoritative word. Jesus is Lord. He issues commands. He summons us to deliver His authoritative words to all the nations who do not accept His authority. Abortion? Thou shalt not. Same sex mirage? Thou shalt not. Socialist predation and theft? Thou shalt not. In other words, we need to get beyond the reason why I joined our army, and start to get into the reasons why all the soldiers in the rebel army need to lay down their arms.
This is the authoritative word. In the great culture war in which we are engaged, the authority of Jesus Christ extends over the entire battlefield. If we go up against Jericho and spare the “accursed thing,” and take it home to hide under the floor of the tent, the only thing we succeed in doing is taking the accursed thing to ourselves and thereby becoming the accursed thing. What Achan did was not cultural engagement. Achan became the accursed thing by adopting the accursed thing.
And so, if we want to get away from taking offense on behalf of others, by which means we are routinely steered into places where we shouldn’t want to be, then we must adopt an explicitly Christian and biblical approach to politics. And by adopting it, I mean adopting it with the understanding that all men will eventually do the same.
This means we must abandon our current stance of offering our conditional surrender to the world, and adopt instead a stance that the Lord Jesus extends to the unbelieving world. He insists upon unconditional surrender. It is Jesus or nothing. Christ or chaos. Scripture or secularism. Good or evil.