I love his stuff.
Until, that is, he starts talking about evangelicals devoting too much time and energy to politics.
Then, he loses me completely.
According Phil, evangelical "obsession" with politics (which includes pro-life efforts) is distracting the faithful from our primary mission, evangelism:
How did the evangelical movement get so far off track? I wouldn't suggest that evangelicalism's recent obsession with political activism is the only factor, but I do think it's a major one. If the same energies and resources that were poured into failed political efforts had been channeled into evangelism instead, I'm convinced that would have been instrumental in producing more spiritual good and hindering more of society's evils than all our lobbying, demonstrating, and voting combined.I'm curious how he could know such a thing.
Indeed, if one is going to claim that evangelicals spend too much time with political activism, at a minimum I would expect the person making the claim to provide the following:
1. A reasonably clear definition of what "political activism" means and how such activity distracts one from evangelism
2. A distinction between acceptable political activity for evangelicals and non-acceptable political activity, with reasons given why some activities are okay and others are not
3. Examples, backed up with evidence, of how evangelicals are spending too much time on non-acceptable political activities
4. Evidence that evangelicals as a whole are spending more money on political campaigns than they are on world missions and evangelism
5. Evidence that evangelicals as a whole are spending more time lobbying their Congressmen than sharing Christ with friends at work
6. Evidence that evangelicals as a whole are talking with their friends more about Republicans than they are Jesus Christ
7. Evidence that a majority of evangelicals are politically savvy enough to know how a bill gets introduced in Congress and how to either defeat it or affirm it with coordinated lobbying efforts
8. Evidence that a majority of evangelicals could tell you the current political state of affairs on key issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning (for example, what does Roe v. Wade and it's companion case Doe v. Bolton really say? What are the two competing cloning bills before Congress for the last three years and how do they differ?)
9. Evidence that a majority of evangelicals could convey the moral logic of the pro-life position to friends and neighbors
10. Evidence that a majority of evangelicals could name their Congressman, two federal Senators, and, where applicable, their State Senator and State Representative.
11. Evidence that a majority of evangelicals actually vote in most elections
12. Evidence that even 1 percent of evangelical churches with 500 members or more are equipping their people to persuasively defend a pro-life worldview in the secular marketplace of ideas and then encouraging them to engage the culture politically
Phil doesn't present one shred of evidence that speaks to even one of the items listed above. From my vantage point, it's far from obvious that evangelicals are spending too much time and effort on politics--unless, of course, you simply judge the entire movement by what Pat Robertson says.
Thankfully, Joe Carter calls Phil on his unsupported claim:
Aside from the false dilemma and the assumption that energy and resources that produced a failure would have been successful had they only been applied elsewhere, Phil's contention fails for the simple reason that his premise is based on a myth.Joe then provides an example of how evangelicals like to talk about politics but do little about it:
Contrary to what many secularists claim--and many Christians believe--we evangelicals are not all that politically involved. Sure, like most Americans we talk a lot about politics, especially in an election season. But the claim that we are involved in actual political activities--lobbying, organizing, campaigning, etc.--would be difficult to support with actual evidence.
I say this not only as a self-professed (and self-critical) member of the "religious right" but as one who has direct observation post on the political battlefield. From my vantage point it is easy to see that the commitment--much less the influence--of Christians in politics is wildly overstated.
[The] Family Research Council (FRC)--the premier lobbying organization of the Christian right in Washington, D.C.--has been attempting to collect signatures on an online petition asking President Bush to approve new Title X regulations ensuring that no taxpayer money goes to subsidize the abortion facilities of groups like Planned Parenthood.Joe notes that although the FRC and similar groups attempt to rally evangelicals for action, they are unable to lead an alleged army of politically engaged evangelicals because no such army exists!
To date, almost one million emails have been sent to Christians asking them to do nothing more than add their name. This is about as minor a level of commitment or involvement as it gets yet only about 3% have done so. More Christians voted for the 5th place contestant on last week's American Idol than have petitioned to defund abortion mills.
This is the typical reaction at the grassroots level to almost every political initiative in the "religious right." Lot's of talk; little to no action.
Joe then hits the nail on the head when it comes to the topic of abortion:
I would argue that the truly bitter irony is that this is perceived as the "number one" political issue for evangelicals when it really isn't one of our top priorities. If evangelicals--and Christians in general--truly cared about this issue, abortion on demand would not be the law of the land....Imagine if every pastor in America had the courage to stand in the pulpit and deliver the Gospel-centric message that God abhors this slaughtering of the innocent and that for the church to tolerate this sin is a fecal-colored stain on the garment of Christ's bride.Amen!
But it will never happen because the evangelical church isn't committed as the church to rectifying this grave injustice. We never have been.
In short, Phil Johnson has it all wrong. Why should anyone suppose that pro-life advocacy detracts from the biblical command to go make disciples? Simply put, the answer to a lack of evangelical fervor for the Gospel is not to withdraw our political advocacy for the weak and vulnerable; it’s to encourage Christians to do a better job presenting the gospel. We don’t have to stop rescuing the innocent to do that.
(My own thoughts about evangelicals working to reform culture can be found here.)