Because of a memory from 1970 I had to chuckle about the underlying premise of a provocative book, America 3.0, by James Bennett and Michael Lotus (Encounter Books, 2013).
They say the United States is going through its second major transition. America 1.0, based on family farms and small business, gave way after the Civil War to America 2.0, an industrialized society in which big—big business, cities, unions, and government—was beautiful. The future, though, belongs to America 3.0, a country of computer-aided small-run manufacturing and handicrafts, inexpensive housing and energy, drug legalization, and political decentralization with 71 states (including five Texases, three Californias, and a New York City separated from upstate).
America 3.0 amused me because a long time ago I sat in a course offered by Yale professor Charles Reich, author of a No. 1 bestseller in 1970 and 1971, The Greening of America. Reich argued that America had gone from Consciousness I, the mindset of rural farmers and small-business folk, to Consciousness II, the “organizational society” worldview that liked bigness and bureaucracy, and was on the cusp of Consciousness III, an egalitarian world of blue jeans, rock music, and marijuana. There everyone would do what was right in his own eyes, and everyone would get along.
Reich’s triple play was a left-wing vision and America 3.0 is libertarian, but neither vision is truly practical for many reasons, the shortest of which has three letters: S-I-N. The Bible regularly shows how affluence regularly leads to arrogance, and America is no exception. What’s the likelihood of our recapturing some humility and, through God’s grace, starting to follow what the Bible teaches rather than our own desires?
Greg Forster’s Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It (Crossway, 2013) goes deeper than Bennett and Lotus and far deeper than Reich. Forster argues, “Society needs to see it as normal and expected, not scary and threatening, when people have different beliefs about the universe—beliefs that are unspeakably precious to them and organize their whole lives. These unshared beliefs will create uncomfortable social tensions. Society must embrace these tensions as healthy and beneficial, rather than shying away from them in fear.”
In essence, the United States is a boardinghouse where different religions inhabit different rooms but share a refrigerator, and to survive we require each person not to throw out food belonging to others. “Freedom of religion requires a delicate balancing act: it does not enforce religion, but it requires religion. … The basic public morality that we all need to agree upon presupposes exactly the kind of metaphysical grounding that we don’t all agree upon, and never will.”
Forster says the way for Christians to lose influence is to hang around the corridors of power and kiss up to leaders. Instead, “We want the powers to hate us. Their hatred is an infallible sign we’re succeeding in blessing our neighbors. … If we see that the powers hate us, far from compromising with them in order to minimize conflict, we should ruthlessly double down on whatever it is we’re doing that serves our neighbors better.”
Forster wants us to be honest, though, in seeing whether the hatred comes from following Christ or our own desires: Sometimes, “if we see that the worldly powers have contempt for us, we should reexamine our approach to how we live.” Risking all to follow biblical teaching only makes sense if we uphold the doctrine of scriptural inspiration, although that doctrine is sometimes inconvenient: “A church that believes in looser theories of inspiration, which don’t treat the text itself as the inspired Word, has no external standard.”
The external standard Christians desperately need is not a prosperity gospel or an America 10.0. We can be Christian citizens without arrogance if we remember Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”