The most recent edition of “Alabama Citizens Watch,” the official newsletter of the Alabama Christian Coalition, features a bit of self-congratulatory indulgence. The celebration was prompted by comments from Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel.
In his book, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, Fogel writes that <America is in the midst of a great religious upswing. He believes this surge of religious sentiment constitutes a new “awakening.”
Part of this awakening is marked by conflict between a new religious movement, represented by the Christian Coalition, and an old movement he characterizes as “Social Gospelers.” He predicts the new movement will win out and groups like the Christian Coalition will dominate American politics for the next 50 or 60 years.
On the surface this sounds like good news for Coalition devotees. But Coalition members may want to dig a little deeper into Fogel’s book.
For one thing, Fogel is no great fan of religion. He describes himself as a “secular child.” This is evident as he avoids traditional references for God, preferring instead the more generic “transcendent being.” Fogel believes that the idea of God is useful primarily as a means of getting people to better themselves and society.
This betterment occurs through “the redistribution of immaterial resources.” Fogel believes these immaterial resources are secular virtues and do not come from God. They include things like “self-realization,” “self-esteem,” “sense of purpose,” “appreciation of quality” and “egalitarianism.” These resources need to be distributed equally across society.
So where does the Christian Coalition fit into this dubious awakening? Organizations like the Coalition are well-suited to help redistribute immaterial resources because they are already more political than religious. Fogel believes that even though the Fourth Great Awakening began as a religious movement, it will not continue as one. He believes it will evolve into a purely political movement with religious and spiritual issues being secondary.
Christian Coalition leaders should read Fogel—not for the praise they seem to think he is offering, but for the dire warning his insights provide for the Christian faith. If we agree with him and believe that God is useful primarily as a means of promoting some social agenda, then the Christian Coalition may proceed and not worry too much about subordinating faith to politics.
If it turns out, however, that God is more than a means to an end, then reducing our response to God to mere political networking may not be the best idea ever hatched.
There is a way to be faithful and political that avoids the overt politicization of faith which Fogel foresees, and even applauds. This other way calls for people of faith to maintain their faith identity in a relationship over against all political systems and parties. It involves a deliberate refusal on our part to allow faith to be co-opted for any purpose other than the worship and adoration of God.
If that view of faith could hold the field for the next half century, we really would have something to celebrate.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.