The Undisciplined Nature of Political Liberalism and the American Church, Part 1

Are Christian citizens in America any more disciplined than the average non-Christian citizen?  Are we less in debt?  Less obese?  Less lax in our standards?  Less prone to cheat?  I wondered today when reading two articles in the Orlando Sentinel.

One was a front page article entitled—“Not a Coincidence? Debt, Obesity Soar.”  The other was entitled “China tells the US to ‘learn to live within our means.’”

The first went on to talk about how we are undisciplined in our in our eating habits.  It cited growing obesity rates in Florida—up 80% in the last 16 years.  But then there is a parallel rise in our indebtedness. Consumer debt has also soared in the last 15 years.  The article asks—”is there a connection?” and suggests there is.  Something is wrong in the way we Americans “do” freedom.

It went on to say that in the 1950s, Americans had a deep sense of responsibility and discipline. But starting in the 60s, things changed.  Freedom went wild.  There is now an “I want it now, I want it big, and I want it intense” mindset that has taken hold.  “In our culture, we don’t delay satisfaction like we used to. There’s no waiting, no saving, no discipline necessary,” said Karen Gurney, financial psychologist.

This week everyone’s worrying about how markets will fall after the US credit downgrade. In one article, even China chides us—yes, China is telling us to cure our addiction to debt!  Of course, they have an interest in this because China is the largest foreign holder of US federal debt.

So here we are, mounting up deficits and national debt, spending like crazy.  And our nation’s leaders are asleep at the wheel thinking it is still the 1990s!

On top of that, evidence of our national lack of discipline is growing.  Friends of mine who teach in the public school system complain that kids are cheating, and parents are rescuing them from the consequences of it when they are caught!  Our national test scores seem to keep dropping.  Even “Higher” education keeps getting lower.  We don’t enforce immigration laws.   We have the highest incarceration rate in the world—more than Russia and China combined.   Corporate scandals have been rampant, revealing the lack of a common ethical compass in the business world.

Something has changed in modern American political liberalism.  Classical liberalism (which is what held sway until the middle of the last century) was based on a certain view of freedom.  It believed that freedom needed tradition, authority, law, morality, a constitution and religion.   But then a shift took place.  A new kind of liberalism was promoted by a new liberal elite, akin to the kind that was promoted during the French Revolution.  This kind of liberalism sought to get rid of tradition, authority, law, morality, as well as any meaningful adherence to a constitution or revealed religion.  It wanted total freedom.  It is characterized by a rebellion against permanent things.  It revels in dissolving boundaries and breaking down the restraints upon personal conduct.  Why?   Because, according to this new view of freedom, any restraint that limits human freedom is bad.   Its famous slogan is “it is forbidden to forbid!” This stuff has been in the Kool-Aid we’ve been drinking for the last 40 years.  Its corrosive effects are becoming more apparent as the capital of the old kind of freedom erodes away with each passing year.  In fact, it is killing us as a culture.

Look, freedom is a great blessing, but if it becomes a stand-alone thing, it becomes destructive. We used to celebrate freedom under God. But today we insist on freedom apart from God, and this is insane.  Total freedom is akin to what the book of Proverbs calls folly.

Freedom is one of the greatest blessings of life.  It was in the Old Testament times when Israel was liberated from slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh. But they were freed in order to
be God’s covenant people.  Their freedom prospered within his covenant.  This finds a parallel in the New Testament when Jesus says  that “the truth will set you free” (John 8.2).

As our culture is caught in its spiritual and moral freefall, are Christians honestly showing a better way?  Do we, and have we, modeled an ordered liberty that is shaped by Jesus Christ and his liberating gospel?  Are we any more disciplined than our corrupted culture?

At the heart of the New Testament is the Great Commission is Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them……and teaching them to obey everything he commanded” (Matthew 28).   Of course, this commission has everything to do with the gospel. But it also has a lot to do with discipline!  A disciple is, among other things, one who is disciplined. Jesus called his followers to take his yoke upon themselves, to be disciplined by him.  In other words, he envisioned a disciplined people.  This discipline is not opposed to grace;  it is lived out in the context of grace.  But it is discipline nonetheless.

More than ever, the church needs admonishment these days to once again come under the yoke of Christ and be a disciplined people as we live out our lives in a culture of non-discipline.

But how does this fit with the gospel of God’s grace?  What should this look like?  And how does it happen?  I’ll attempt to answer these questions in my next post.

Categories: America, Politics