Immanentizing the Eschaton
The smashmouth wokeness warriors champion a poisonous utopian and Gnostic heresy
Dear friends and supporters:
Sharon and I are on the road this week. This issue of CultureChange will consist of four interrelated vignettes, brief but important.
Immanentizing the Eschaton
It’s a mouthful, but “immanentizing the eschaton” has a precise and vital meaning that’s worth pondering during these tumultuous days. It was coined by the political philosopher Eric Voegelin. It’s the modern attempt to yank the full blessings of the consummate (future, post-Second Advent, eternal) state back into our present history and in so doing, wreak social havoc. How did this theory develop?
Voegelin argues that the ancient pagans up through and including the Roman Empire divinized the world. The apostle Paul refers to this in Romans 1 as worshipping and serving the creation rather than the Creator.
Ancient men were usually pantheists: they worshipped trees and animals and fire and planets and rivers. Later, the more sophisticated Roman pagans worshipped the emperor. Pagans erased the Creator-creature distinction. Only Israel in its rare times of faithfulness was an exception. Everywhere else, men were creation-worshipers, world-divinizers.
Voegelin proposes that Christianity de-divinized the world. The transcendent God alone is deity, and his Son, equally divine, is the unique link between God and man. Christianity, in other words, restored the Creator-creature distinction. The world, or part of it, ≠ God. Therefore, unsullied virtue and perfection and justice are possible only beyond the present world, to be enjoyed exclusively in eternity. Augustine distinguished this latter City of God with our present City of Man.
Still, blessings of the eschaton can and do intrude backward into our history — but not all of them, and not in sinless perfection. Many in the Reformation tradition knew that the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ would advance in time and history. Voegelin even charged that the first eschatological immanentizers were the Puritans, who labored to establish an earthly “city on hill.” But despite some exaggerated expectations, their theology of Original Sin (see below) prevented them from truly immanentizing the eschaton. Heaven on earth arrives only in the eternal state (Rev. 21: 1–4).
The loss of Christian culture after the Reformation led to a re-divinization of the world, though not of the old pagan pagan variety. Rather, the re-divinization revived the ancient Gnostic heresy — the presence of evil (defined now in secular terms) must be purged from the created world by a cultural or political revolution that molds a utopia on a secular pattern analogous to what orthodox Christian understand as the eternal state. Christians pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Secular, revolutionary man brings a godless heaven down to a still-too-Christianized earth. This is what “immanentizing the eschaton” means.
This utopian, Gnostic wokeness program animates the current secular monument-toppling, Black Lives Matter, Cultural Marxism, the newest New Left, and “progressivism.” It is no different in spirit from the Jacobins of the French Revolution, the first secular Gnostics, who could tolerate no gradual mitigation of the late 18th century cultural evils they decried but demanded a radical purge to create a secular heaven on earth by breakfast next Tuesday.
These revolutionaries are always ethically un-self-aware. The American iteration currently ravaging our society are Pharisees of the Pharisees. They are eager to point out every historic evil of racism and slavery, whether actual or invented, but they seem entirely oblivious to their own evils: hypocrisy, pride, arrogance, avarice, envy, resentment, antinomianism, ingratitude, unforgiveness, utopianism, and Gnosticism.
Because history is a mixed arena of good and evil, they must destroy history. Note that it is not merely Confederate history that the present junior Jacobins are trying to topple, but all history. History is an unfriendly reminder to Gnostic lust. It reminds us that our greatest heroes have clay feet, the greatest men and women are sinners, the grandest human blueprints for society run aground, that young idealists generally are forced to become middle-aged realists, that our predecessors sometimes shared our own youthful idealism and were ultimately frustrated.
History is an enemy to all Gnostics because it frustrates their depraved imagination parading as coercive, cathartic cultural virtue.
And no barriers must stand in their way. A few years ago the concern of many conservative Christians was that the coming generation would be wildly libertarian — anti-authority across the board. Just the opposite has happened. The present generation of junior Jacobins is all for more authority, and the more coercive the better — as long as it enforces their own orthodoxy.
Like all historic attempts to create heaven on earth by “immanentizing the eschaton” (Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot), it will create hell if it succeeds.
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Cultural Marxists, the newest New Left, and “progressives” are all committed to linguistic imperialism: commandeering language for the purposes of atheistic social transformation.
Examples include: toxic masculinity, white privilege, heteronormativity, systemic racism, pro-choice, intersectionality, people of color, TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism), people who menstruate, Black Lives Matter, gender fluidity, homophobia, transphobia, transsexuality, and “they” for “he” or “him.”
In postmodernity, words have the power to reshape reality, and this revolutionary assault on language is one of the most pernicious weapons in the arsenal of militant social atheism.
Oppose it and expose it at all costs.
Culture versus Politics
One of the great errors of many modern conservatives is fixating on politics and marginalizing culture. Culture is deeper, stronger, more resilient, and less easily changed than politics, particularly in a democracy. Cultural tyranny is much more dangerous than political tyranny. It is much easier to overthrow political tyranny, because cultural tyranny almost always includes the enforcement of a plausibility structure — a pervasive way of thinking that simply cannot consider alternatives. Many laws can be changed with relative ease. But plausibility structures have a staying power that often requires generations to overturn.
The conservative obsession with politics to the exclusion of culture constitutes one explanation for the simultaneity of conservative political victories and prolonged cultural defeats.
Original Sin versus Purgative Moralizing
Eberhard Jüngel observes that whenever the church marginalizes or loses the doctrine of Original Sin, it creates a vacuum filled by moralizing. Original Sin is the biblical truth that our sinful nature in inherited from Adam (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22). We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
The medieval Scholastics did not deny Original Sin, but believed that it is washed away at baptism. Post-baptismal sins are purged by confession and absolution on the basis of Jesus’ death. This meant that baptized Christians are no longer at root sinners, but merely vulnerable to sin, a negation opening the path to moralism: as baptized, I no longer need Christ continuously to overcome my sinful being, though I need him for weekly sacerdotal absolution.
The Reformers drove a stake into the heart of this error. They knew that we never lose Original Sin until the eschaton, though in vital union with Christ’s blood and resurrection we can live in consistent victory over sin. There is no room for moralism, since our victory over sin depends on our moment-by-moment appropriation of Christ’s redemptive work.
The post-Reformation, Enlightenment abandonment of Original Sin translated into secular moralism of the most depraved kind. Man was seen as perfectible, not by the church, but by social engineering. This was Rousseau’s view. All evils, actual or assumed, are not due to man’s inherited sinful nature but to misguided or venal institutions like the church or family or business. These institutions must be eviscerated to purge society of its great sins like racism, capitalism, patriarchy, and homophobia.
A secular society that jettisons the dogma of Original Sin refuses an unpleasant peek inside the human soul for the source of social evils. It wars against retrogressive institutions that suppress evil and mitigate its cultural consequences. The junior Jacobins assume that in toppling all authority except their own; erasing the inconvenient truths of history; and rooting out all vice, as they define it, they will purge society of its long-standing sin on the journey to utopia. Because they simply cannot be Original Sinners, nor tainted by the retrogressive, oppressive worldview of their elders, their judgment is unimpaired, their morals are flawless, their certainty is untrammeled, and their program is unambiguous. They alone, finally at this late date in history, possess virtue and truth, and they aim to coerce society into their own sinless utopia.
This recipe has been tried before, and it always ends in the grossest cultural tyranny.
A thread weaving through these four vignettes is the tyranny unleashed by modern atheistic social philosophies. In turning away from Christian culture, that is, from the Christ who transforms culture, moderns have retained the impulse for social transformation while shedding the only One who can transform it without tyranny. We are rapidly approaching the cultural aspect of what Cornelius Van Til termed “epistemological self-consciousness”: consciously implementing in our life our own deepest convictions.
Secular man is much more epistemologically self-conscious than Christian man. Too many Christians want an interiorized faith, and consider Christian culture a distraction from their heavenly, otherworldly calling. If they only knew that the cultural evils about which they complain (abortion, homosexuality, pornography, racism, and socialism) exist partly because of their own unjustified recusal from cultural battles, they would reconsider their truncated faith.
It is time that sincere Christians put their most profound biblical convictions into cultural practice.
Jesus is not just the answer to my problems. He is the answer to all problems.
Sharon and I have been visiting long-time friends in Oregon and Washington. For the last several years I’ve prayed that God would exponentially expand CCL’s influence and that he would get all the glory. CCL’s growth since March (the onset of COVID-19 followed by the national protests and race riots) has been greater than the previous 19 years combined.
It is Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Please pray that God keeps the work burgeoning. Our desperate times need a biblically rooted, theologically catholic, intellectually credible, culturally relevant ministry. I humbly pray that God will continue to keep CCL being just that.
Here’s my dear friend Dr. Joe Boot, founder & president of the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Please navigate their web site for data on all sorts of Christian training programs for almost all ages. I address many of these events.
Joe is rhetorically gifted and, more importantly, a Spirit-anointed prophet of the Triune God. He’s delivering the final charge at the Wilberforce Academy held at Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge (Oliver Cromwell’s alma mater), several years ago.
We’ll finally be home next week. Next Friday’s title is “The Christian Counterpunch: turning the other cheek to cultural evil is not a virtue.”
Please pray for and donate to CCL to keep us forging ahead.
Yours for victory,
Founder & President
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List of Coronavirus-related posts and podcasts:
(Dr. Ardel Caneday and I address vital questions. This was a succinct, wide-ranging conversation discussing everything from the interpretation of Romans 13, radical 2-kingdom theology, the nature of the church, whether the church should cancel public worship,￼ whether the civil magistrate is bound to God’s law, the Founders’ view of human nature, the diabolical basis of coronavirus fear, and much more. The password is: 1j$@^=S#)