Why does an individual identify with and maintain membership in a particular Christian (or other) denomination? Indeed, why should I belong to a larger group or church denomination at all, rather than just walk the Christian life alone (me, my Bible, and my Lord), or with a few local friends in a study group that splits every time it grows too large (house church)? It certainly would be easier to avoid many unpleasant disagreements this way. Or, to be realistic, surely just fitting myself into a local church’s identity in the community (congregationalism) would be enough, wouldn’t it?
At smaller and more local levels, the average individual can still exert some personal influence (express his or her “individuality” and be noticed) and have at least a truly democratic voice in the church’s activities. Many younger people these days seem to want to experience religion or church only at this level, primarily because they want church to feel “meaningful.” Perhaps this has always been true of younger generations, although in today’s complex globalized multicultural and pluralistic society, it manifests itself in fresh ways.
But after everything has been said on the complex realities of today’s world, the logically inevitable conclusion remains the same: Unity is power and influence. Even most young people soon realize this as they mature through college and beyond. So what most individual Christians have chosen to do historically and continue to do today is to join faith communities that are larger than their personal influence. They submit to the possibility that the corporate identity to which they belong may not noticeably or meaningfully include and reflect their personal identity or contributions to the larger group.
Seventh-day Adventism is one such “larger group.” Yet members still submit to identification with the larger group’s corporate identity because they have enough of a shared worldview, or way of looking at the world as a whole. A shared identity always implies the existence of a correspondingly shared corporate worldview. So what does a worldview really mean in this context?
Although one could imagine many possible answers to this question, Adventists traditionally have based their corporate identity and worldview on a biblically grounded doctrinal and lifestyle distinctiveness developed during a specific historical situation. This distinctiveness anticipates an eschatological context, which, interestingly, highlights America. Beyond this specific context, however, philosophically and sociologically, one of the primary purposes of most religious groups, churches, or ecclesiastical bodies is to foster a public witness through their corporate identity that testifies to their internal spiritual moorings.
As such, although spirituality may be discussed more frequently as an individual or personal matter in today’s postmodern culture, when people of similar beliefs band together, there is the hope that together they can more effectively witness to their understanding of authentic spirituality for the individual. The refrain becomes, “Witness our love for one another! Don’t you wish to believe and behave as we do?” Such persons strive for a specific public witness through their corporate identity, believing that God is more fully and clearly revealed through such a broader witness to people outside their group. Of course, such a corporate witness allows for the possibility of articulating a corporate worldview, meaning that a group’s beliefs and behaviors can be contrasted with alternative corporate beliefs and behaviors.
In a pluralistic society, there is a natural consequence of the above. After some time, elements of differing worldviews, whether purportedly religious or not, begin to compete, meaning they begin to engage society in all mainstream social, political, and economic issues. Essentially, every issue eventually becomes “political.” Ultimately it is not possible for anyone to avoid socio-political leanings or preferences. A worldview’s engagement or lack thereof on the issues of slavery, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, civil rights, abortion, homosexual marriage, equitable economic policies, vaccinations for children, environmentalism, the teaching of Creationism in public schools, etc., are unavoidable, and also, always, in some manner or another, political. The intertwining of one’s religious convictions and politics is inevitable at a foundational level.
The Contours of the Contemporary American Socio-Political Landscape
This is seen clearly with more votes on significant bills in Congress aligning almost strictly by party affiliation on both domestic and foreign-policy issues. The most expensive and important domestic bill in U.S. history, the 2010 American Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) well illustrates this division. Virtually all Democrats at every level supported it, while virtually all Republicans opposed it. This polarization, on many types of bills and policies, is unprecedented for this long a duration. Two competing “socio-political worldviews” have developed. Unlike some other democratic nations that may have more than two major parties, the United States essentially has only two significant political parties today, creating a sharper polarization than is found in most other countries.
And the broad contours of this “culture war” are not going away anytime soon. This is because a large-scale historic migration is underway from the countryside to urban centers and new megacities, meaning the culture war will continue to grow in ever-deepening ways. Sometimes one’s politics pertain more to one’s culture and lifestyle than to policy. Most rural or countryside multi-generational Americans vote Republican, while the growing and heavily immigrant populated cities vote Democrat.
It is remarkable to see a 2008 U.S. presidential county-level political map that is geographically 85 percent “red-Republican” and realize that the 15 percent “blue-Democrat” side won the presidency easily with 67 percent of the electoral votes, reflecting the population density of where the majority live, namely, a few major cities. In fact, in recent presidential elections, geographically, the political campaigns have often been simplified to a few consistent “battleground states,” and even more intriguingly, a mere handful of “battleground counties” to determine the winner of the U.S. presidential election. Again, it must be pointed out that such an enduring and sharply defined polarization described above has not existed since the Civil War.
Religion Within the Socio-Political Polarization
The Religious Right. The rise of the so-called Religious Right (sometimes identified as Moral Majority and Christian Coalition) in the 1980s and 1990s matched the profile of religious people seeking a socio-political identity. The Religious Right has been pointed out and strongly emphasized by several prominent Adventists of differing theological persuasions during the past 25 years, almost unanimously predicting a central role for the Religious Right in the creation of a national Sunday law.4
In brief, the Religious Right represents a coalition of several conservative or traditional Christian groups and denominations (in particular the so-called traditional evangelicals) that share enough of a worldview to combine into a single socio-political identity; in their case, the Republican Party in the United States. That worldview, in Christianized language, could be loosely described as the “capitalistic moral gospel” perspective. It is important to note that though some Religious Right advocates do desire to create a union of church and state, the Religious Right also has many who sympathize with various aspects of their overall philosophy who could be described as more libertarian concerning church-and-state issues.
Of course, some members of the Religious Right also pursue their agenda through a postmillennial “kingdom on earth” eschatological emphasis, meaning that they hope to create a heaven on earth before Christ’s second coming, which they believe comes after the millennium in Revelation 20:1 to 10. This is evident in much of the thinking behind Christian Reconstructionism. However, it must be noted, not all members of the Religious Right are united on a single view of the “millennium” or the ideals of Reconstructionism; conservative Protestants and Catholics hold differing views among themselves, with the Catholic Church favoring an Augustinian amillennialism, “equating the Christian Church with the realized Millennium and postponing the Second Coming of Christ into the nonimminent future.”6
With the above in mind, if a year were to be given for the official birth date for the contemporary Religious Right, it would be 1980, when the Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan ran for President and won, and Reagan’s Republican Party adopted a few of the concerns promoted by the Christian Right expressed by individuals like popular evangelist Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority. Although it must be noted that the conservative impulses of more fundamentalist leaning or conservative Protestant Christians had intersected with politics earlier in the century, they had never quite crystalized together in the way the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition would do so with the Republican Party after 1980.
It would be remiss at this point to neglect to mention one of the primary motives that actually ignited the Religious Right in the first place, and that would be the use of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to desegregate some conservative Christian schools like Bob Jones University in the 1970s. This was a decade that included the term of the politically liberal evangelical Democratic President Jimmy Carter, though he didn’t prompt this governmental initiative. Yet, despite this poor choice upon which to initiate their political activism (in the eye of public opinion), the Religious Right also emphasized a number of other sensitive and more controversial issues, such as the government’s involvement in issues like abortion and gay marriage, alongside prayer and the teaching of Creationism versus evolutionism in public schools.
Collectively, these latter issues are the real reason the evolving Religious Right became influential politically, and indeed, for most of the movement’s eventual members, these latter issues constitute the real reason the Religious Right grew among Christianity generally. The Religious Right gains socio-political strength only relative to the proactive nature of the Secular and Religious Left. When the Left is quiescent, the Right is seldom able to muster support among the populace.
The rising importance of socio-economic issues in the world, which has been picked up in the mainstream media recently, has invigorated the Religious Left. However, as also touched on above, Leftist Christianity, understood primarily as corporate socio-economic transformation (Christianized socialism) which is seen by Leftists as a more theoretically concrete public goal than private moral transformation, has existed since the earliest European settlement of America with the Pilgrims, who underwent a transition from collectivism to individualism.
This may appear paradoxical, but that is precisely the point, suggests sociologist of religion N. Jay Demerath. Liberal churches were so effective at promoting their liberal values and injecting them into mainstream culture that actual church membership declined, because secular society came to reflect some of the central values of the liberal churches.13 Smith, concurring with Demerath, observes, “Liberal Protestantism’s core values—individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of human experience—have come to so permeate broader American culture that its own churches as organizations have difficulty surviving. . . . Having won the larger battle to shape mainstream culture, it becomes difficult to sustain a strong rationale for maintaining distinctively liberal church organizations to continue to promote those now omnipresent values.”14
Although opinions may differ among individuals, Republicans as a collective are known to be more questioning toward the scientific consensus on a number of major issues, not least among them economic policies and philosophy, a key point of contention between the Secular Right and Left. Indeed, overall, “Republican voters are united by their economic conservatism, divided by their cultural values. Just as Democratic voters are united by their economic liberalism, divided by their cultural values.”16 But within the even broader picture, the apparent or relative disdain for science by the Right has not been neglected for ridicule by Leftist secularists, and as the issues that science is applied to multiply, it appears harmony may be elusive.
The Significance of the Religious Left and Religious Right Today. The significance of the Religious Left and Religious Right in America is simple in their relationship to socio-political identities. Few other countries have such a simplistic reduction into just two major political parties, making America uniquely accessible for philosophical analogies and illustrations. Basically, as has been noted, the Left and Right have come to align with the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, in 2015. Thus, more than a century of development in religious political philosophy in America has “simplified/reduced” things down into two major positions or stances.
Of course, reality is always much more complex than such simplifications. Nevertheless, simplifications are also useful, even when reality is acknowledged to be more complex. Thus, although the labels of Religious Right and Religious Left align all too easily with their political counterparts, Protestant denominations and major movements labeled Right and Left do actually follow alongside the present secular or mainstream socio-political split at statistically significant percentages. In other words, most major denominations and religious groups do also have a single socio-political identity. This is because they were forced to choose one or lose relevance amid the confusion in the eyes of their members and the public.
More and more Americans are urbanized, representing various cultural/ethnic minorities, neither of which has been a strong suit for traditional conservative Evangelicals or Republicans. Unless there are some unexpected demographic changes waiting for America, the Religious Right will indeed enter a permanent and uneasy co-existence with the Religious Left during the next 25 years, and remain very much prone to ceding its dominance entirely as the more influential religious socio-political identity, even without superior drive and organization. Indeed, primarily secular independent groups on the Right like the Tea Party are writing their own epitaph with the demographic groups they have been neglecting, such as recent immigrants and various non-white minorities.
The takeaway point of the above situation, however, is not simply that most notable denominations align, overall, with a single socio-political identity. They must do so to remain relevant in the eyes of the public. In the U.S., all denominations or otherwise closely affiliated churches have fractured or are experiencing severe fragmentation affecting their missional outreach that do not maintain a super-majority preference by their ministers and members with a single socio-political identity.
Those that are divided socio-politically are fragmenting and declining the fastest. For example, in some instances, as with the mainline denomination United Church of Christ (UCC), one can easily understand how they are struggling with identity, growth, and outreach in today’s polarized American climate, when 77 percent of their ministers identify as Democrats, but only 51 percent of their members identify as Democrats.18 People don’t know the identity of such a church, rendering them mostly irrelevant to the big picture.
Overall, then, the fastest growing and significant church movements in America have a united socio-political identity. Churches that are divided socio-politically are either fracturing or shrinking. There are, however, a couple of notable exceptions.
The Socio-Political Spider Web
What is the relevance of all of the above for Seventh-day Adventists? There are several possible ways of answering this question.
Foremost among such responses is that American Adventists and Catholics closely share an important corporate identity marker that is somewhat unusual in the religious world for large ecclesiastically united religious groups that are prospering overall, which is noteworthy as Adventism emerges into a major world religious identity. “In 2014, for the 10th year in a row, more than 1 million people became Adventists, hitting a record 18.1 million members. Adventism is now the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide, after Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and the Assemblies of God.”20
American Adventist and American Catholic individual members are equally divided on their secular socio-political worldview identification or leaning. (It must be emphasized that most Adventists, as do most Christians, claim an independence from politics; nevertheless, even in articles where such independence is claimed, it is not difficult to identify leanings.) American Adventist and Catholic members are split roughly 50/50 (this is a broad but accurate enough generalization) between favoring Republican and Democrat policies and emphases over the past 10 years.
The only other American religious identities doing anywhere near as well as Adventism and Catholicism have succumbed to the pressures of embracing only one socio-political identity, either the Right or the Left. Even major ecumenical movements must embrace only one or the other, with conservative churches coalescing together, and liberal churches doing the same. Of course, this means that Catholics are uniquely well positioned to adapt to either Right- or Left-leaning ecumenical movements.
Although no precise numbers exist for American Catholics or American Adventists and their socio-political leanings, as one sample survey indicates (alongside my own observations during the past 15 years at the diverse Adventist school of Andrews University), Adventists vote roughly in line with the general population,22 including following the population’s widespread stereotypes. (If you weren’t an Adventist, how you would vote depends simply on the rest of your demographic background. If you match the profile of a Republican or Democrat, respectively, chances are high that’s how you’ll vote as an Adventist).
To be clear, being or becoming an Adventist apparently makes no difference in how you see the socio-political world. Adventist theology does not create a unified American Adventist socio-cultural-economic-political worldview; rather, our increasing diversity has left us fragmented in an ever-more-polarized secular political climate. This is a curious phenomenon, and sadly, one that keeps many Adventists intellectually divided at the socio-economic level of our worldview, if not also on some theological issues, as inevitably they eventually interrelate. (It must be noted here that some theological conservatives are politically Leftist, although few theological liberals lean politically Right. In this regard, Steven H. Shiffrin, a non-Adventist, says, “There is no easy correlation between theology and [one’s] political position,”23 even if statistics reveal interesting patterns and trends).
The above situation is one of the more complex reasons for the present polarization and fragmentation of American Adventism theologically; we have developed no systematic way of connecting how our theology informs our overall worldview at the level of socio-economic engagement and theory. This is not necessarily, in itself, a bad thing. Adventists were frequently cautioned to avoid “political questions” by Ellen White.24 Yet, it also raises the question of how carefully Adventists actually think about the relationship between theology, philosophy, and society. Are we thinkers, or mere reflectors, of other people’s ideas? If we are not meant, as Adventists, to have a socio-economic worldview, then there must be reasons for this that we have not yet formally explored. Thus far, it appears we are reflectors, not thinkers, succumbing to the influence of whichever news sources we prefer.
Importantly, on this note, although American Catholic leaders have had a “conservative-Republican” stereotype by most American Adventists over the past few decades because of two hot-button “culture war” issues, gay marriage and abortion, which aligned well enough with Pope Benedict XVI’s agenda, the current Pope, Francis, is much more left-leaning, and has also been hailed as above such culture wars, a Pope who can bring Catholics together, from more Left-leaning and Right-leaning Catholic perspectives. Pope Francis has followed through on this initiative, becoming the first modern Pope to explicitly downplay the political importance of culture war issues like gay marriage and abortion, while yet still maintaining theological orthodoxy. Such moves have gained him tremendous popularity after just two years as the Pontiff.
Indeed, some view Pope Francis as the single greatest threat to emerge that could challenge the existence of the Religious Right. When Francis removed one of the more-outspoken critics of abortion and gay marriage in America, the conservative Raymond Burke, from the Congregation for Bishops, it signaled a change in the Catholic approach to the American situation, a turn toward those that are less “heavily invested in culture wars.”26 As such, it seems that the more popular sentiments that are winning the day point toward Pope Francis as a great unifier, able to bring together the Left and Right, here meaning Catholic and non-Catholic Republicans and Democrats, winning over an overwhelming majority (92 percent of American Catholics and 69 percent of non-Catholics),27 and becoming Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2013.
If there is one group that is consistently skeptical or critical of the agenda of Pope Francis, it is the Republican Tea Party, the most conservative-libertarian American group of political activists. Their outspoken opposition to Francis, however, is being drowned out in the overall euphoria of such a popular Pope capable of uniting people. It is doubtful that Francis can actually unite the Right and Left presently as some speculate, but, at least at a surface level, he does demonstrate that a single figure can be popular with some members of both sides.
Nevertheless, the depth of the divide in Catholicism is not a mere surface phenomenon. It penetrates deeply into their philosophy, particularly at the socio-economic level. American Catholics are deeply divided between economic “conservatives” and “liberals.” Some Catholic theologians hold “that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of [false] liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm (‘conservatism’—better designated as market liberalism).”28 Both are, ultimately, flawed, in the view of some Catholic philosophers and theologians, who are theologically orthodox but highly critical of the Religious Right. Such Catholic theologians, such as David L. Schindler, claim that “an economic system itself already embeds, indeed is also, a theology and an anthropology and a culture,” and that his understanding of traditional American liberalism is as such a false theology that denies freedom,29 based as it is upon the faulty Enlightenment understanding of autonomous reason and the rise of classical deterministic science that dominates the modern world.
On issues of socio-economic interest, like poverty and government involvement in wealth distribution, universal health care, and global issues like anthropogenic climate change or global warming, as well as other issues like long-ages evolution, which most Fundamentalist Right-wingers oppose, the Catholic Church has solidly placed itself behind a progressivist/liberal Democratic flag, and it is doubtful that it will change on any of these issues, as supporting them grants Catholicism greater influence over society. When it comes to economic philosophy, namely, the best way to accomplish their above agendas, American Catholics are, as noted above, deeply divided, but lean, if anything, to the Left globally, which is important because socio-economic Leftism is more conducive to totalitarian control.
Such a reality should temper concerns by some, especially in Adventist circles, that the Catholics are about to unite with those from the Religious Right, or, more particularly, the religious members of the Tea Party. Put simply, it’s just more complicated than that, and sharing this simplistic narrative repeatedly in our outreach and evangelistic materials is not helpful or useful, and does not penetrate into the much deeper and important philosophical and cultural issues at play.
Adventists should pursue the philosophical issues relating to libertarianism, which is a more complex and fruitful subject than many realize, and, overall, focus less on politics and religious-liberty issues as they are discussed within the mainstream socio-political spider web. This is not an endorsement in itself of libertarianism, but rather a suggestion that we should endeavor harder to understand it. The socio-economic issues our world faces are often more complicated than society might wish us to suppose. Stepping into the spider web of socio-politics and economics, it is too easy to become entangled, and, eventually, even prey for the spider. We must avoid such false dilemmas and situations. Rather, let us allow the central role of the gospel and personal spirituality within the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 to resound more clearly.
Adventism in the Spider Web. As it pertains to Adventism, in particular, there are many consequences of the socio-political spider web, perhaps none more important that the extreme confusion that the younger generation is experiencing in understanding what it means to “think” and “see” both the world and the church within it as an Adventist, particularly living in America. What is the “Adventist worldview” in a wholistic sense?
It is a mistake to assume that the Great Controversy meta-narrative provides a clear, complete, or wholistic worldview, as philosophers are inclined to describe one; in other words, that it tells how to view economic matters within and outside of the church. A worldview contains more than a theological meta-narrative like the Great Controversy as it is typically discussed. A worldview addresses issues that socio-political ideologies address: matters of economics, social justice, religious liberty, foreign policy, the nature of mathematics, etc. (numbers being Plato’s ideal example inspiring his “two worlds”). The question of how all these issues and disciplines should be approached from within the Great Controversy narrative has not yet been articulated, encouraging present divisions on the above “secondary” issues.
Fellow Adventist friends who are, respectively, anti-Republican or anti-Democrat, aren’t going away. We should be cognizant of the fact we’re sharing our Adventist message within the context of two competing socio-political narratives concerning the condition and direction of America. Take a polarizing issue like abortion, and you’ll find Adventists, even of varying theological persuasions, firmly planted on both sides of the question. Nevertheless, we must never become known as the Seventh-day Republican or Seventh-day Democrat Church.
Why are Adventists and Catholics uniquely capable of remaining within the prevalent tensions in the major American socio-political identities? If nothing else, this is interesting precisely because it is not the trend in other sizable socio-religious groups in America. Is this because, in some senses, both sides are necessary to see the wholistic picture, even if both are, obviously, incomplete and even flawed? Does this mean that Catholicism, as a philosophical and theological system, better understands (having a more deliberately developed systematic perspective over many centuries) the wholistic nature of reality than Adventists presently do?
Given Adventist belief that the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6 to 12, alongside Revelation 12:17 are global in nature, it is probably good that Adventists are somewhat divided on socio-political sympathies. This aids evangelizing to a world, and a country, America, that is polarized. Adventists can express honest sympathies with aspects of the Right and Left, while not partaking of their philosophies in full. We can say “I recognize” your way of thinking to anyone. Not all church denominations can do this.
The Future of Christian Socio-Politics and the Rise of GloboChristianity
Notwithstanding Pope Francis’ unifying charisma, the status quo in America points toward continued polarization, even among Catholics. Thus, if the Right and Left can’t unite themselves as Christians in this modern age within Christendom (nations strongly culturally influenced by Christianity), then something or something may unite them from the outside. Any union between the two sides is possible only by the initiation of outside events and ideologies that conflict with Christianity at large. We may need to look beyond America to see what is encountering Christianity from a global perspective. A number of provocative books have been written recently discussing the future of Christianity that are fully aware of its internal divisions between the Right and Left. In particular, Christian philosopher and theologian Carl Raschke offers an assessment that points to a global picture.
“From God’s point of view,” writes Raschke, “the ‘abomination of desolation’ in today’s culture is not the level of sophistication, or purity, of one’s supposed take on how we know what we know, or do not know what we know. That is theological arrogance and self-deception. It is the installation of a swinish and self-congratulatory intellectual faddism, found in both conservative and liberal religion, in the holy temple of the Christian faith. We need to turn over the tables and throw out not only the money changers—the growth gurus who both run and ruin the evangelical churches—but also the traders in conceptual currency who transform God’s [church] into a brothel of philosophical and cultural fashions rather than a genuine house of prayer; we need to open our hearts and minds into authentic relationship with the Lord.
“The traders lamentably are not only legion on the right but are also increasingly found on the left. A postmodern Christian who wants to stay pure to the gospel needs to navigate carefully, not running off the road into the ditch on either side. In American Christianity much of the debate about modern and postmodern, conventional and Emerging, has degenerated into just one more skirmish in the ongoing culture wars, with unmistakable political overtones mimicking familiar campaign bluster. The leadership of the emerging movement has increasingly pushed the discourse from what it might mean to follow Jesus to what it might mean to follow the policy agenda of the Democratic National Committee. If the criticism of the now-fading religious right was that one cannot make Jesus into a Republican, it is equally true that one cannot simply convert him into a Democrat. . . . In many respects the emerging religious left is just a fun-house mirror of the religious right; it is defined by its spirit of contrariness and a kind of passive-aggressive incredulity about what is lurking out there in the world at large. The culture wars are of no more consequence for the coming GloboChristianity than [a] . . . sectarian strife.”30
Raschke realizes clearly that mainstream Christianity is at a point of crisis, both in America, and even more importantly, globally. It is struggling to define its identity. Yet, through this ongoing struggle, it is also encountering a new challenge, one that is unique in the history of Christianity, as it finally approaches its goal of sharing the gospel message throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). And it is not secularism, or atheism, that is Christianity’s primary challenge on a global scale.
Put simply, Christianity’s evangelistic impulse through “missions—whether old-guard or postmodern. . . has been unable to come to grips with the challenge of Islam.”32 Needless to say, violence serves no useful role as part of any solution to this challenge for Christianity or the West, however much secular powers may feel it to be necessary at times in the light of recent violence demonstrated by certain Islamic groups.
Similarly, Jenkins observes that “at the turn of the third millennium, religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world’s ongoing civil wars and political violence, and in most cases, the critical division is the age-old battle between Christianity and Islam.”35 Although such tensions are obviously not desirable, and while some may point toward a hopeful coexistence, it is impossible to avoid the long-term potential for the fundamental transformation of our cultures stemming from this tension.
Raschke is offering a subtle critique of the West’s historical responses to Islam, from that of engaging it militarily to ignoring it. Both are ultimately inadequate. Put more precisely, “Western secularists have not yet figured out that Islam has more allure among the perceived victims of globalization and Westernization than anything they might offer up because it provides a collectivist vision that is also deeply spiritual. Evangelicals, in contrast, have tended to hang on to the old colonial mentality, which regards Muslims as on the same level as tribal animists or folk religionists rather than acknowledging Islam as a redoubtable force that at one time almost completely overwhelmed—and in the right circumstances could still overwhelm—the Christian West.”38
Interestingly, Raschke observes that “the only way Christianity can hope to succeed against Islam in today’s global context is to put aside the secularist project altogether. That is not to say that Christianity . . . must adopt some form of quasi-Marxist liberation theology in answer to Islam. . . . Christianity today must become far more radical than it has ever imagined.”39 But he is not speaking in favor of Christianity’s past unwise and un-Christian efforts, nor of the Secular Right’s solution today to entrench the West within an openly antagonistic stance. Rather, indeed, “the fulfillment of the Great Commission will not be without struggle.
“The struggle is ultimately a spiritual one, but it is real, it is contemporary, and it will become more intense as the years wear on. Through dialogue, Muslims and Christians may come to agree on common points of their mutual Abrahamic faiths, but the differences will always outweigh the similarities. The differences make the difference.”40 And such differences will constitute the development and success of Christianity in the future, both globally, and, eventually, within America. Raschke concludes by noting that our global postmodern (what he calls “globopomo”) resurgence, which includes religion, “has set us on an inescapable collision of eschatologies”41 with Islam.
Adventism Within the Future of GloboChristianity. If the answer to the polarization in mainstream Christianity’s future, including particularly in America, is not found in the Religious Right or Emerging Left, as Raschke contends, then where may it be found? In James Smith’s introduction to Raschke’s book GloboChrist, Smith, while summarizing Raschke’s book, invites him to “consider becoming a fervent devotee of ‘remnant’ theology—committed to the sense that God is present with the ‘few’ who remain faithful.”46 Such an invitation is one that Adventism has long welcomed with its emphasis on a remnant theme in our philosophical theology’s eschatological focus.
The kings of the north and south are both representatives of false religious and political powers and influences. Thus, Adventists cannot support, as a movement begun by those mostly living in the Christian West, the methods of the king of the north in opposing the king of the south. We are, as Sabbatarians, “caught in the middle” between Sunday-worshiping Christians and Friday-worshiping Muslims, and are thus a remnant seeking to influence the world by informing people of the true nature of present events while simultaneously awaiting our rescue from it. We are trapped in the middle of this global clash of cultures, which is both philosophical (ideological) as well as manifesting itself in a geopolitical form that is recognizable to us with European Christianity located north of the predominantly southern Islamic countries.
Adventism’s greatest evangelistic challenge is navigating through this global context. As such, if viewed philosophically, traditional interpretations that place Adventism and spiritual issues at the center of Daniel 11:40 to 45 can still be regarded as true while simultaneously accepting the external global geopolitical context Roosenberg presents. To aid in explaining this, essentially, one common interpretation of the king of the south in Daniel 11:40 to 45, atheism, is not a viable philosophical counter to Catholicism. Atheism is, in a philosophically technical sense, a phantom in the Western world, a natural consequence of Platonic/Aristotelian Christianity taken to its logical secularized conclusion.
Islam, however, remains such a counter to Christianity, precisely because it mirrors Catholicism in utilizing a Platonic/Aristotelian philosophical framework. This provides Islam with a metaphysics comparable to Catholicism and places it within a religio-ethical context. As such, Islam provides the only genuine competitor to Catholicism at a philosophical level. The only serious alternative to the Platonic/Aristotelian framework would be Eastern religions, which are not necessarily atheistic, often leaning to pantheism.
These complex issues offer a compelling reason to study contemporary events with a renewed and sharper focus. Adventists have something to offer, both in sympathy, and critique, to the American Right and the American Left, as well as how they each currently relate to the global context. Adventists also have something to offer, both in sympathy and critique, to the people from both of the broader global cultures of Christianity and Islam. We have a message to the entire world concerning its impending end and the second coming of Christ. Realizing how our message fits within the American and global context may invigorate our evangelistic message, particularly in relationship to the philosophical issues undergirding the Great Controversy, as well as aid in clarifying our prophetic and eschatological message for people living at the dawn of the 21st century.
Michael F. Younker has a B.A. in both History and Religion, and an M.A. in Religion from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where he is currently a Ph.D. candidate studying philosophical theology.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
42. Ibid., p. 144.
49. Ibid., p. 51.