An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Sandford: Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right's Vision for America

Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right's Vision for America
Examining a Radical "Worldview" and its Roots
James C. Sanford
Providence, Rhode Island: Metacomet Books
ISBN 978-0-9747042-0-3; 278 pp; hbk; £15.34

Sanford wrote this book originally out of curiosity, the book then evolved into a ‘history and role of Christian rightists ideology, or Christian Worldview.’ He looks at the origins of worldview, its development into an ideology by the Christian Right and finally, the agenda of the RR. It is a fascinating and well researched book. He looks at the term Christian Worldview as it has been used by the Religious Right (RR) in the States (the capital's are Sandford's).

The term Christian Worldview is obviously not the prerogative of the Christian right and is not univocal. Sadly Sandford - despite his protestations to the contrary - seems to treat it as if it were. How Abaraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd used the term worldview and how Francis Schaeffer and Charles Coulson and how the Christian Right use it are not the same. Sanford maintains that 'The Calvinist prototype developed by Kuyper was eventually to become the gold standard for today's Christian Worldview'.

Sandford sees the development something like this:

He  maintains that 'The historical record shows that Christian Worldview was formulated by doctrinaire theologians reacting with hostility to the rise of empirical science, secularism and popular democracy.' (The historical record - as David Naugle has shown - shows nothing of the sort.)

Sandford also writes:  'The concept [of worldview] was first developed by conservative theologians in Europe who wished to restore a more doctrinaire form of Christianity to a position of dominance'. That may be what it is used for now by the RR, but certainly was not the idea behind James Orr's (1844-1913) and Kuyper's development of it. Sanford rightly notes worldview is subject to 'different shades of meaning' but tends to treat it as if it weren’t.

He is right that 'Kuyper's ideas of antithesis and sphere sovereignty were critical in shaping his political views' but these views do not necessarily lead to a right wing manifesto. Reading Kuyper's own political programme, recently translated into English, soon lays that misconception to rest. Kuyper also had a strong view of the role of common grace that 'tempered' the antithesis.

Sandford recognises that he is not neutral and has a bias in favour of ‘pluralism, tolerance, and evidence-based thinking, and against the absolutist agendas in the political sphere.’ The irony is that it was pluralism and tolerance that was the outworking of Kuyper’s worldview and sphere sovereignty in his own political programme.The blame of the Christian Right in the sates can’t then be placed at Kuyper’s door.

The term worldview evolved over time from a pre-theoretical concept to an ideology. In a sense Francis Schaeffer popularised it and the Reconstructionists, such as Rushdoony,  politicised it. I would have liked to have seen more in the way the term worldview has morphed into an ideology.

In the book Sandford makes some interesting observations; for example, ‘it wasn't until communism was perceived as a threat to American society ... did evangelicals gradually begin to show a renewed interest in political.’  Political activity it seems was reactionary. Regarding VanTil he has this to say: 'When he published articles and books, he did so almost always in non-refereed publications, whose editors offered little critical challenge to his ideas', and 'Dooyeweerd invented his own unique vocabulary and was renowned for his lack of transparency'.

As this book shows the (mis)use of worldview has become an ideology in the hands of the Religious Right. What Sandford fails to see is how his own worldview is operating in his own writing. If there is a God who is concerned with redeeming all of life, who has laws and norms for every area of life then these will also apply to mathematics, science, architecture, art, sociology, business, … and even politics. When it comes to politics God is not silent.

Christians may well disagree with the way it has been outworked in the RR - I would share many of the concerns Sandford highlights - but it does not mean that we should, as Sandford seems to want, ignore those God-given laws and norms. The issue is whose laws and norms do we obey - humanity’s or God’s? Sandford it seems want Christianity to change minds but not institutions, to be private but not public. 

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