I have lots of friends that scoff at the "Co-Exist" bumper stickers.
I actually don't mind them. Here's why.
Carl Trueman argues against the ordination of women to church office at Yale Divinity school.
Two very different men, both saying we should interact with those who are wrong theologically in a way that respects them when they continue to disagree with Scripture as we understand it.
Marsden suggests we stop using warfare imagery in public. Rhetoric like "taking back" our country or schools leaves secular folks no room or respect were we to do so. Would we do the same to them that is now being done to us - bake the cake for the gay wedding? Make Intervarsity not discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring its college campus leaders? If we wouldn't coerce the atheist to pray in a school we're running, we should say so, and loudly. The Christian worldview gives the most religious freedom to disagree in conscience and practice in the public square.
There is no way to make an absolute wall between private beliefs and public actions.
There is no way to have a naked public square that is perfectly neutral and devoid of any religious assumptions.
But does that mean we must defeat and conquer our enemies in the culture wars?
In one sense, conquest IS required. Jesus calls for it in the Great Commission, when He tells us to go disciple the nations, since He has all authority on earth. It's Joshua's conquest of Canaan, redux and souped up to extend to every corner of the globe.
But in another sense, in the mean time, in the interim, should we allow people time and freedom to disagree, until they are conquered by the Gospel? What should that freedom look like? As Marsden puts it, do we have "a place for the other [unbeliever] in [our] vision of public life - except as a defeated adversary driven from the field."
Marsden turns interestingly to Abraham Kuyper, a celebrated figure of my own Dutch heritage. As Prime Minister Kuyper kept government out of religious questions - it's sphere of authority was not to evaluate religious claims, but to protect the rights of citizens. Of course that protection has a religious foundation, says the pre-suppositionalist, and I agree. But since we do not have a government taking Exodus-Deuteronomy as its legal code, is it morally wrong for a government to protect blasphemers instead of stone them?
My answer to this is that God wants government to reflect as much Biblical truth as the society accepts. Civil government should be a bottom-up exercise (Deut 1:13-15), not a means of bringing Christ's kingdom to an unwilling people, not an imposition of law it doesn't believe. Paul's dealing with Philemon on slavery is a case study on this. Since the law wasn't on Paul's side at the time, he appeals to Philemon's sense of right and wrong, leaving the legal matter to change, as hearts (like Philemon's) do.
So we co-exist even as we seek to conquer.
This plan of co-existence doesn't mean we need to hold back in our apologetics. We ought to vigorously assert the inconsistency of all worldviews that are not biblical, and show people how they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Co-existing doesn't mean watering down truth claims, or declaring them all equally valid. But at the end of the debate, when they still don't agree with us, can we co-labor with them in the workplace, can we maintain friendships, can we be cordial and respectful? This is a key missing component to long-term evangelism in the church today.
So Marsden has a point. He also goes a bit too far. He asserts that everyone needs to recognize the reasonableness of other points of view. No one, including Christians, has a monopoly on reasonableness. I would argue back that only the Scriptural view is reasonable. But I functionally agree with Marsden - a few things keep me from treating as unreasonable people who disagree with me.
- my own failings in communicating the truth. I don't convey it in a way people can hear it. Either my words fail me, or my posture isn't humble or graceful or clear and hinders the truth getting through.
- the blindness of others to hear the truth, without the Spirit's enlightening. They are groping in the darkness (Acts 17:27), and I pity rather than berate them. They are like the dwarves in the stable in Lewis' Last Battle, unable to see the truth. This is excruciatingly frustrating, but we shouldn't take it out on them, but pray God will have mercy on them.
Marsden also says that "except in extreme cases, religious differences should be honored along with other differences." I agree, but wonder who gets to define what is extreme. I think Sharia's dhimmitude of non-Muslims and treatment of women is unjust to the extreme. But many now seem to think that Christianity's rejection of homosexual practice as sinful is just as extreme. Who gets to decide and impose their view on the public square?
We should co-exist and stay in contact with those groping after the truth with blind eyes, out of love for them. One day they may come to believe, admitting they have been mercifully conquered by the Lord of Lords.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
"But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will."