Many in Tennessee and across the nation are appalled at the callousness toward human life underlying the abortion-to-the-moment-of-delivery law passed by New York’s legislature and praised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But does today’s version of evangelicalism have a good basis upon which to object?
What makes me ask the question is the statement Gov. Cuomo made about how he, as a Catholic, could support the law:
I have my own Catholic beliefs, how I live my life … That is my business as a Catholic. I don’t govern as a Catholic. I don’t legislate as a Catholic.
Before any Protestant heaps scorn on either Gov. Cuomo’s views or the theology of the Catholic Church, a little self-examination is in order.
Catholic theology, as I understand it, has tended to see God’s grace as bringing a donum superadditum to nature, a gift (of grace) added on top of the natural creation instead of a gift (of grace) that restores and renews a fallen and corrupted creation. This is a form of dualism that distinguishes between the natural order of things, often called the “secular” realm, and the spiritual realm. That’s what I think Gov. Cuomo was describing.
But is this dualism not also rampant within much of what we today call evangelicalism?
The Scriptures about the Christian setting his or her mind on heavenly things, keeping himself or herself unspotted from the world, and Christ’s Kingdom not being “of this world” have been interpreted by many of today’s evangelicals to reflect a dualism not unlike that which I described.
Today a number of evangelical Christians abandon the “secular realm” as “worldly,” “profane,” and “secular” for “spiritual” pursuits like Bible reading, prayer, and faithful church attendance, not even realizing they are disconnecting the Bible from anything other than the inner spiritual world of the individual and the petition that God’s Kingdom “come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven” from the Lord’s Prayer. Sure, Christians everywhere recite that prayer, but many spiritualize the “Kingdom come” to the point it has no present earthly meaning.
Many strains of modern evangelicalism have effectively washed statements in the Bible like those noted above through a thoroughly Platonic view of reality, which saw the material world as less good than the immaterial (spiritual) world. This kind of view of the world, when joined with a belief that the salvific work of Jesus Christ was limited to an internal spiritual-only redemption of the individual, would certainly justify a “Protestant” version of Gov. Cuomo’s statement!
Christians need to reject this false dualism. Those who do and who engage the culture (and its politicians) do not see themselves as “polishing the brass on a sinking ship,” a statement attributed to a noted 20th-century evangelist.
Rather, they see themselves doing what Adam was first called to do in Genesis. As descendants of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 15:45), they work toward and look forward to a final consummation of all things that will bring about a new heaven and earth, one that will be fully restored from the effect of Adam’s sin.
Evangelical leaders who insist on a Platonic, dualistic view of the world and see grace as just an add-on to life to help them hang on until they can escape to heaven better expect more of their ranks to join with Gov. Cuomo over time.
After all, it will be “good news” for them when they realize their “brand” of evangelical theology will allow them to go along with the world and avoid being labeled intolerant, backward, and uneducated so long as they don’t personally have an abortion and just believe in their heart that abortion is wrong.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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