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THE STORY IS TOLD OF A PREACHER WHO IN A SUNDAY SERVICE began with the prayers this way: 'O Lord, have you read this morning's New York Times?' The Lord has seen the comings and goings of many things that at the time impressed his creatures as being of inordinate moment. We are all susceptible to the imperiousness of the present. I say 'all' advisedly, even though many of us try to resist the claims of immediacy by, as we say, keeping things in historical perspective. The proposition is nonetheless compelling that the past is past and the future is not yet and therefore the present is all we have. On the Christian view of things, that is a highly dubious proposition. In truth, it is false. It is false, that is, if God is the Power of the Future who lovingly holds close to himself every past moment as he leads us through the present to the promise of what is to be.Failing to participate fully in our own lives, we seek participation in realties constructed by others. To the extent a person has a life of her own, it is a life defined by limits. With respect to innumerable things that are happening we are 'out of it,' thank God. Engagement in everything that is happening is an impossible imperative. That is why is has been attended to by God and is not our job. Our job, our vocation, if you will, is to attend to that to which we have been called. Readers of this book presumably are of the opinion that they are called—in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree—to attend to what is happing in American religion, politics, and culture.
Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, 'Come, let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.' . . . And there was a trembling in the camp of the Philistines, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling.
Fanaticism is contagious. It tends to evoke a similar response from opponents not ordinarily given to being fanatical. When this happens, it becomes almost impossible to blunt the do-or-die edge of politics. Nothing so sharply hones that edge as the frictions of religious passion. Pascal said it more than three centuries ago: 'Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.' Little wonder that modern societies have tried to keep religion at one remove from the public square. History throws up too many instances in which the perfervid mix of religion and politics has destroyed the possibilities of civil discourse. That happened during the wars of religion in seventeenth-century Europe, and the memory of that devastation was a major factor in shaping the secularist doctrines of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. When politics is conflicted by putatively divine revelations, there is little room for reasonable argument and compromise.is not because, being more respectable, they are better able to influence what is thought of as the religious and cultural mainline. It is because they bid fair to become the mainline. Capturing the emphatically mainline appellation 'evangelical' was a good beginning.