June 26, 2016

How and How Not on Culture War

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

Al Mohler constantly criticizes libertarians, especially Christians who consider themselves such, for being attracted to libertarianism because it allegedly gives them a way out of the culture war. Russell Moore, on the other hand, seems to want to call a truce on the culture war and present the gospel instead. The theonomists (postmillennials that they are), in a still different camp, consider the culture war part and parcel of God’s building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

My own view is distinct, as it often is, from some of the common formulations.

For me, God reigns over two kingdoms: a broad kingdom that includes all men and women, and a narrower kingdom that includes only a select few. The narrower kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is promoted and advanced by intellectual means; by telling and believing the gospel-related true propositions. It cannot be expanded by the sword, by people behaving ethically, by a thriving civilization, and so on. This is because the kingdom of heaven is not a physical reality, but a spiritual/intellectual one. The kingdom of heaven expands regardless and independent of the trends of culture and civilization. Sometimes in the midst of earthly struggle and persecution, other times in peace.

Thus, making our culture better, more pleasant, more ethical is distinct from the building of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, this does not mean we have to ignore the development of culture. After all, we are part of two kingdoms and would very much like to leave behind a better world –temporary that it is– for our children, and for those that come behind. Nothing wrong with that at all. This desire simply should not be confused with the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, contra Moore, I certainly think we ought to engage in the culture war, informed by our Christianity, but also by our cultural preferences and traditions that we love.

One of the things that Reformed Christians often forget is that we are allowed to have preferences and interests about the world around us, we can have tastes, sentiments, opinions, and so on related to culture and society. We can, if we want, and as I certainly do, express delight about certain cultures and disdain for others. We can express frustration with the libertines, the liberal social elites, the cultural marxists, the multiculturalist egalitarians, the politically correct thought police. Not only are the themes throughout these camps wholly unbiblical and unethical, but they are also, as related to the Broad Kingdom, destructive toward Western Civilization. Now, concern for Western Civilization is not a Kingdom of Heaven issue, and is thus subordinate to eternal concerns, but nonetheless, there is no command in the Bible that we find zero interest whatsoever in temporary things. In this sense, let us fight for our way of life, our neighbors, our children, and the future generations.

However, contra Mohler, we libertarians don’t use the state to fight our culture war. In this, we are certainly a minority. In fact, we see the state as a magnificent enemy of all that is tasteful and decent. In Western Democracy, it is the state that has been the tool for the Progressive elite, for the advancement of the egalitarian cause. We find in the state a beacon of leftist propaganda and anti-family, anti-property, anti-individual rhetoric. We oppose the statist worldview which seeks to leverage this horrific tool for the defense of our cause. This is the difference between a libertarian conservative and a statist conservative.

In summation:

  1. We don’t confuse the temporary interest of culture with the eternal interest of soul-salvation
  2. We don’t find reason to reject the culture war completely
  3. We don’t use the state as a tool for this war

I say all this as preparation and background for an essay I am running tomorrow, written by Murray Rothbard, of his thoughts on some themes during the culture war in the 1990s, as things were really starting to heat up in the context of the cultural conservative revolution (that was probably defeated by the cultural left).

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • C. Stayton

    I’ve always disliked the term “culture war,” especially in the context of conservative Christianity, as it seems to sentimentalize a brief period of American history where Christianity had the majority influence over the values of the broader culture. Thus it spiritualized a very earthly pursuit of getting your neighbors to act more like you rather than focusing on conveying the Gospel truth. In general, American Christians are not good at presenting a de-culturalized (de-Americanized) version of the Gospel, nor are they aware of this shortcoming.

    Side note: CJE, I’m curious about your thoughts on Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.”