Return To The Margins: Understanding And Adapting As A Church To Post-Christian America, by Terry Coy
There are a variety of ways that one can take the understanding that America’s superficial civic religion with a patina of Christian values over elements of nationalism and rationalism is crumbling in the face of cultural decadence . Some people get angry about it, some people seek to formulate strategies against it or encourage others with the strength to resist a corrupt majority culture, and others like this author seek to make a virtue out of necessity. As someone whose own religious worldview has always been at the margins of society because of an adherence to the biblical commandments regarding the Sabbaths and different beliefs about the nature of God, I find this book somewhat intriguing in the ways that the author points to the coping mechanisms of being on the margins and having religious beliefs that others tend to stigmatize and that may cause one to suffer in one’s life and even face persecution. Without citing religious authorities like Barna, the author comes to many of the same conclusions about the political liability of holding to biblical beliefs about personal morality as well as the way that many Evangelicals except those of the far left social justice movement have refused to give biblical solutions to larger questions of social justice, which a movement to the political margins may help in so doing because of the fact that one need not pander to libertarians any longer for the sake of political alliance.
Like Gaul, this book is divided into three parts and should not present any challenges in terms of its reading difficulty as each of its chapters has its own thoughtfully cited and sometimes extensive endnotes. After a foreword and introduction where the author discusses the contemporary sociopolitical climate, the author spends the first part of the book talking about the collapse of Christendom, the fading of American Civil Religion, and the triumph of secularization. Both Christendom and American Civil Religion are the alliance between church and state where the church urges patriotism while the state grants a monopoly or legitimization to religious life. This alliance has clearly broken down all across Western Civilization and the author makes the case that it was a bad deal for Christianity to begin with. The second part of the book discusses ways that people cling to authority and how Evangelicals can learn from history, learn from Christians in other nations undergoing persecution from officialdom as well as from the history of black Christianity which has always lived on the margins, and how we can change our minds about the desirability of political power and influence at the cost of giving only a partially biblical message. The third part and the shortest one gives a contrasting set of responses based on fear, trust, and joy and how Evangelicals can truly enjoy a place on the margins without adopting a siege or ghetto mentality or abandoning interest in the physical world by seeking comfort in eschatology. Each of these parts is interlaced with a second layer of organization where the author presents three parts to a plan for action for evangelicals to deal with political and cultural realities.
There is a lot that I find myself in agreement with in this book. The author, looking through history, has found various groups in history that existed on the margins which he can relate to as an Evangelical. He shows a willingness to get along and work with those who share fundamental similarities with regards to the authority of scripture as well as the need for believers to show outgoing concern for others, and unlike many authors he does not beat readers over the head with unbiblical Trinitarian speculations. The author appears to be someone who has seen the long-term social trends, understood the result of demographics and the fact that cultural elites are spectacularly hostile to a biblical worldview and correctly, at least in my judgment, seen the implications of that corruption of our elites and the fraying of the social contract between Christianity and our civilization’s political order. Moreover, the author sees an opportunity for believers to come to terms with a history where those who claimed to be Christian acted in a manner inconsistent with biblical law and precept, even pointing to the complicated example of Bonhoeffer as a model for contemporary believers . Unlike many Evangelical writers, this is a man I can see myself having a friendly and serious and biblical conversation with over a meal, and that alone makes this book well worth appreciating by those who are concerned about social trends and the place of an authentic and whole Christianity within an increasingly corrupt society.
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