Thursday, January 20, 2005

Top down or Bottom up?

[The following appears as a response to a post at the Dialogical Coffee House on Jan 19. It was so long I thought I should also post it here. Read the inciting post first...]

A few months ago, Derek Melleby gave me the CD of this speech, about which he was quite excited. "It will change your life" he said, tongue in cheek. On first listening, I found myself feeling that this was completely wrong. Because of my respect for Derek, I listened to it again a few days ago, taking notes. Here are my thoughts...

At some deep level, I felt this overall thesis...that culture changes from the top down and not from the bottom up...was wrong. If you hear the speech, Hunter is pretty categorical in saying that the predominant Christian view, that we change culture by spreading the Gospel to individuals and then the effects of that trickle up to the culture at large, is just plain wrong. He uses several examples to demonstrate that small minorities have leveraged huge changes in the culture using the principles posted above: Jews have inordinate (ie, beyond their numbers) influence in media; homosexuals have in a few years changed the sexual mores of the nation; Nietsche and Freud and even Billy Graham affected the larger culture through their association with various elites. Wilberforce was a member of Parliament and had powerful friends. Kuyper likewise. Jesus had a group of powerful friends and a network.

Uh, that last one is problematic. To be fair to Hunter, though he does use Jesus and the apostles as models, he does not suggest that the apostles were cultural elites, only that they created a network. But even this seems to belie the whole thing. Fact was, Jesus discipled a group of 12 "fringers", who then broadcast the gospel widely without any evidence whatsoever of an elite-directed, top-down strategy. Saul was not targetted by the apostles...he heard the gospel mostly at stonings, and was directly recruited by God, so to speak. Even Paul always went first to the synagogues, hardly the centers of power in the Roman empire. True, he ended up, at least a few times, speaking before power (usually in chains), but we have no documentation of any effects there, and he certainly didn't try to work himself into the elite structures directly. Then, we see this movement growing, not among the wise and powerful, but among the weak, simple, and numerous. Eventually it topples the Roman empire, not from the top, but from the catacombs, after hundreds of years. When it does, (if you see the conversion of Constantine as a climax), the resulting "Christendom", insofar as it now has power, begins to be corrupted.

I am troubled by Hunter's proposals because they seem against the whole flavor of the scriptures and the gospel particularly, that our power lies not in our own strengths, whatever they may be, but wholly in the power of God, and that God over and over again "chooses the weak to shame the powerful". Yet he has powerful examples of the culture changing from the top down, and one can hardly argue with his observations. The culture has been affected most recently, and perhaps usually, from the top down, yet there is no direction to us in the scriptures to work in this way. How can this be?

I will submit for your consideration the idea that there are two Cities in this world, Babylon and Jerusalem. Two kingdoms in conflict. This is not my idea. I believe it is very Biblical (see Revelation) but it has been articulated well by Augustine, Lewis, and others. I think what Hunter is observing is the means by which Babylon has always affected culture, and the trend which its culture always finds most comfortable. The elites of the Enlightenment write, "throw off the chains of authority and revelation, and become free to discover truth directly, through reason" and insofar as that appeals to Mankind, the majority of which are always citizens of Babylon, the masses follow. The elites of last century write, "throw off the chains of Christian sexual morality and express yourself sexually", and again, the following masses comply, because the message is consonant with their own sinful desires and with the major "truth" of their City, that autonomy is next to godliness. Kuyper rises to challenge his compatriots to adopt ways of God's kingdom, and he succeeds only to the extent...critical to note...that his people retain a remnant of their historic faith, which was there not top-down, but bottom up, through evangelism and discipleship. His effects did not last in the Netherlands, because that Jerusalem base was eroded, and when the base was replaced by the citizenry of Babylon, the ideas of Babylon gain full sway. Wilberforce and his network abolished slavery, and that effect lasted, probably because the idea of the liberty of individuals was and is consonant with Babylon's idol of individual autonomy.

In summary; I think there are two Kingdoms in this world, promoting two different directions, and having two differing methodologies of change. The kingdom of this world (Babylon) and its lord use top-down, power and elite-based methods to enslave and command its people. The Kingdom of God (Jerusalem) and her Lord undermine Babylon and effect change from the bottom up, changing the hearts and minds of individuals and creating a continuing insurrection with no single head that the enemy can take down. I think it was this method, working over 2000 years, that abolished slavery in Christian nations, and not Wilberforce or Lincoln and their elites. It, and not the feminist elites of last century, gave women dignity. It always percolates up into seats of power, and those Christians who find themselves among the elite do have both a special opportunity and a special responsibility to speak to power and to leverage their "capital." But we will be deceived if we think that we will change this culture, the culture of Babylon, by getting to the top and then working down. Our King works differently. He came to the very bottom, and works up.

No comments:

Post a Comment