Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mere Orthodoxy, MLA on the problem of counterculturalism in evangelicalism

Noting the obvious but necessary thing, that evangelicals with conservative values have seen the United States in particular and Western civilization in general in a hellbound spiral of decline, Matthew Lee Anderson has written a bit about the problem of embracing the narrative trope, the metaphorical alignment of "counterculture".

Anderson linked to a piece written by Laura Turner, who wrote that the problem she sees with a countercultural trope is that the first ethos is "against" rather than "for".

Invoking the creation of a counterculture was basically the tagline of Mark Driscoll's 2001 era Proverbs sermon series.  In a setting like Seattle what Mark Driscoll presented as "countercultural" looked pretty much like a Normal Rockwell painting (not that Rockwell wasn't an incredible artist, nind you).  To put it more bluntly, Mark Driscoll's idea of "countercultural" looked like a fairly standard issue whitebread middle American nuclear family suburban dream.  That's not even necessarily a set of bad things, either, but Anderson gets somewhat laconically toward the problem with that kind of thing, that there's always this possibility that today's counterculture becomes tomorrow's establishment. 

The rise and decline of Mars Hill in the last twenty years might be a case study for that.  While the church was on the rise and before Mark Driscoll had inked any book deals the public approach to intellectual property was, well, it was kind of a maybe outdated approach to things.  Everything was being given away for free and musicians were encouraged to use open copyright.  By 2004 the trajectory regarding intellectual property had changed.  To put it rather bluntly, Mark Driscoll literally had a book to sell by then.  Driscoll's reputation continued to rise in part due to how much material was being made available for free but it wasn't all going to be equally free for long. 

Driscoll used to write about how the decline of Christendom was actually pretty good because this meant a commensurate decline in religious nominalism and civic religion of the sort where people who thought they were Christians were really just Americans.  Driscoll was even weighing in against Hutcherson, the pastor at Antioch Bible Church that sent out Driscoll to start a church, and was writing to fellow MH members in 2005 that Hutch and Dobson had devolved into useless moralism and that gay marriage being nationally backed at all legal levels was simply a foregone conclusion.  Then by 2013 with A Call to Resurgence it's like some different Driscoll emerged. Or not, the proposal here is that it might  be possible to chart the shifts and turns and pivots of Mark Driscoll as a public figure with a few observations about whose money and intellectual property the budding and growing Mars Hill might benefit from.

Anderson's skepticism about the love ethic is warranted.  It's pretty easy to declare so-and-so failes "the love test" without really defining what that may mean.  Since we just passed through another Valentine's day and odes to true love, it's time for Wenatchee The Hatchet to revisit a lately stated idea--conservative evangelicals have lamented a crisis in masculinity but if we just switch over to secular progressive or even secular centrist writing the dilemma these days with respect to men is that the eligible men are fewer in number.  What seems to make the contemporary era different from past eras with respect to the status game of mating and breeding is that the modern West does not seem able or willing to grant that this whole realm of life is an inherently unequal playing field.  That the term "reproductive rights" even exists in modern English usage anywhere at all suggests that we've overlooked that sexual reproduction is a negotiated privilege whether inside or outside formalized state-and/or-church-approved marriage.

The crisis of males in the modern West may not be that there's a whole ton of guys with a "sexual market value" that has not risen to the level of marriage material, it may be that American Christianity is so assimilated into American cultural values about sexuality that the idea that there's an army of not-fit-for-marriage men and women is viewed as a crisis that needs to be solved.  Yet in Paul's epistles he went so far as to say that if you never get married that's an acceptable option and that if you do get married that's okay, too. 

Perhaps it didn't just so happen that the text for preaching from today at church was in Leviticus.  Leviticus is a fun read, actually.  As OT books go the slog would be the census results in the start of Numbers, not Leviticus.  But personal experience varies ... anyway ...

Leviticus 18:1-5 (NIV)
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.

The trouble with espousing a counterculture as a way to do things is that it's finally a rhetorical stance rather than a positive articulation of what you're for.  Let's face it, if a guy like Mark Driscoll could invoke the term "counterculture" for what he envisioned people doing with their lives the term has probably been divested of any of the range of meaning those who first coined the term probably imagined for it.

Let's throw out the idea that a problem with countercultural narratives and invocations is that to say you're not Egyptian doesn't mean you're not turning Canaanite and, sure enough, that was the problem with Israel after it left Egypt and arrived in the promised land.  That's one of the larger theme in the book of Judges, how the Israelites assimilated the customs, beliefs and practices of the groups in the land they settled into.  Barry Webb has a fine commentary on the book of Judges you can read if that interests you. 

Decades ago Francis Schaeffer wrote about America having become a post-Christian culture.  Setting aside for the moment some debates about what that even meant and how true it could actually be, the emergence of the Religious Right could be construed as a failure to learn the lessons of the Old Religious Left with respect to implementing Social Gospels.  There's a Social Gospel for the left and right respectively and it's ever so possible that that Social Gospel was ultimately and finally American rather than Christian. 

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