r m p

Theological Publications







 By Robert M. Price

(Author's Response)


I was very gratified at the response to my recent article "A Fundamentalist Social Gospel?” even though every letter was negative! This really wasn't too surprising since mine was the sort of piece that is liable to hit a nerve. On the whole, I noted that respondents did not attempt to challenge my main contention, that Young Evangelicals often unwittingly read their politics into the Bible, or alternatively apply biblical commands in politically unrealistic ways. Of course I have not claimed that all Young Evangelicals engage in such "hermeneutical ventriloquism" and "political snake handling,” or that any of them do it all the time.

Some objected to the admittedly charged terms used in the article and again just above. Well, sensibilities will differ, but personally I like to have a little fun when I write, and I think picturesque terminology helps to drive any point home. But I want to go on to some of the more serious criticisms in the recent crop of letters.

First, let me point out that I do not mean to paint the Young Evangelicals as either fools or villains. I wish them well. In fact I see in them the only hope for the future of Evangelical­ism as an intellectually respectable force. I’d even be willing to add that "some of my best friends are Young Evangelicals,” if it didn1t sound so cliché!

A related misunderstanding needs to be clarified. While I am not impressed, at least, not positively, by their strategy, I do admire the Young Evangelicals' goal of politicization. Some respondents seemed to think that I scorn the notion of making faith socially relevant, or that I deny that the advent of Jesus makes any difference for life today. Far from it. But it seems to me that for someone to draw such conclusions from my critique of the Young Evangelical platform, shows the very "intolerance for pluralism" of which I am accused. Is the Sojourners option the only one? But now we are getting to some real issues. What is my alternative? Justifiably some readers wanted to know.

Incidentally, I am about to prove that I do not have anything against unpopular theological perspectives per se. Not only do I commit the sin of finding cogent the "interim ethic" theory of Albert Schweitzer (and more recently Jack T. Sanders), but I now have to admit to agreeing with Friedrich Schleiermacher that religion and ethics are logically distinct, and should be kept so. Both are necessary, but neither can substitute for the other. This means that I feel it is fundamentally inappropriate to settle political questions on the basis of revelation or exegesis. I regard such a maneuver as "fundamentalist" (or as one perceptive respondent suggested "biblicistic") no matter who does it, whether Yoder, Stringfellow, Wallis, Carl McIntyre, Jerry Falwell, or Ayatollah Khomeini. Instead, I agree with Jose Miguez Bonino (at least on .this point) that "there is therefore no sacralization of an ideology, no desire to 'theologize' sociological, economic, or political categories. We move totally and solely in the area of human rationality - in the realm where God has invited man to be on his own" [Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation; emphasis his] In other words, with Harvey Cox, I call for the "desacralization of politics." We must resist imposing the heteronomous dictates of a "sacred scripture" onto the political realm. (Scripture, I feel, has a much different function. "Man, who made me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Luke 12:14.)

How then are we to calculate politically? Personally, I would recommend some variety of Natural Law ethics. You see, I am afraid of the implicit arrogance of what passes nowadays for "prophetic" politics. It sounds like "God is on our side" all over again. Let me take a few moments to develop this. When someone thinks it over and announces that "so-and-so political stance is God's will" (for example, no-nukism, according to Sojourners), they are perpetrating what I like to call the old "prophetic ramrod." Who is going to disagree with God? But I am not so sure that such an individual has a more direct hot-line to heaven than I do. I am willing to admit that my political analyses are merely human and probabilistic, but is my "prophetic" friend so willing? His/her opinions are no more infallible ex cathedra than mine or Jane Fonda's or William F. Buckley's. Why can't he/she admit it? This virtual claim to prophethood shields such people from criticism in another way. Those who take such a line are not liable to be prodded by criticism into rethinking and rechecking. .It is too easy to assure oneself that "prophets are always in the minority, naturally most people are going to disagree!” Of course, it is quite true that upholders of the right often do form a "majority of one." I am not advocating truth by majority vote here. I only want to point out a serious temptation to dismiss all criticism out of hand.

Along the same lines, a couple of letters invoked the Pauline dialectic "divine wisdom/worldly foolishness." "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27a). Of late, this slogan has been invoked to justify various unpopular positions, rejected by the evil "mainstream" as imprudent or impractical. I want to caution user s of this rationale. You can pretty much prove anything you want (and several things you wouldn't want) with it. Once it becomes a virtue on principle to do what most people think is foolish, we are in big trouble. The Apostle Paul was referring to the particular instance of the crucified Christ. In this case he had good reason for saying that what seemed foolishness to the world turned out to be God's wisdom.

In conclusion, I want to repeat that I hope my observations will be con­structive. One might see fit to adopt my own approach (though I am not asking anyone to do so), or one might continue to try to relate scripture to politics in a more direct way. It seems most probable to me that Young Evangelicals will choose the latter course. In my original article I referred to the extensive rethinking of hermeneutics now occurring in their circles. I would be greatly pleased if my observations have helped clarify things so as to facilitate this process.



Copyright©2008 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design