Friday, May 06, 2005

Constantinianism of the Left?

Jim Wallis' book tour for God's Politics made a stop at Calvin College last night. His presentation was disappointing (alot of slogan-mongering), but it was really his position that was disappointing. Though not surprising, I must say; I'm glad to have gone, if only to confirm my suspicions. There are a couple of areas in which Wallis either gets it wrong, or doesn't get it:

1. I would describe Wallis' position as a kind of Constantinianism of the left. While he's not out to establish a theocracy governed by a leftish god, his position is nevertheless deeply "statist." In Dan Bell's terms, he still believes in statecraft. What was most telling, I thought, was for all his talk about faith, and even "evangelicalism," last night, I don't know that he ever once mentioned _the Church_! Instead, he'll focus on "people of faith" getting out the vote, lobbying congress, and doing everything they can to marshall the political process to effect prophetic justice. But that kind of picture plays right into the hands not only of American liberal individualism, but also the deep anti-ecclesial individualism of evangelicalism. In contrast, I think the only hope for justice is a robust church, which requires an ecclesiological account of the formation of disciples. Wallis seems to think a good "moral" civics lesson is enough. Indeed, at the end of the day, he thinks that democracy trumps the Church, for as he put it (yes, this is a direct quote): "Religion must be disciplined by democracy."

2. I couldn't help but concluding that, whatever Wallis' earlier stance might have been, he's really just ended up as a humanist. The talk last night was riddled with talk of "values"--which is just the code word for some kind of vague, supposedly common American moral vision. So there's all kind of bluster about morals, faith, religion, and "values," but this is all aimed at the end of just creating a kinder, compassionate American civil theology.

Instead of Wallis' leftish civil theology, I'll continue to believe that our most important political action remains the act of discipleship through worship.