In America, we had the Nazis and the Japanese to fight, before that I suppose it was the slaveholders vs. the abolitionists, and Whigs vs. Democrats, etc. After WW II ended, we moved on to Communism. The entire nation, and much of the church, defined itself by being anti-communist. There was an evil enemy our there that we had to destroy. And communism was evil and did need to be opposed. But the wall fell, it came crashing down. For the period of the 90’s, we cast around not knowing how to define ourselves as a country. The left feared militias, the right feared Clinton, thinking he was going to put people in concentration camps or some absurd thing.
Then 9/11 came and gave us our new enemy. For Christians, it is true that Islam has been a vicious opponent from its inception. But America latched on to having a new enemy. Defense spending started skyrocketing again, and the right quickly churned out reams and reams of literature about this new threat that came out of nowhere and now demanded military and political exertions of power in places we had never heard of (and oh yes, lots of money).
Much of the church is the same way. It exists in a constant act of opposition, not against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but against other branches of the same tree. You might see this manifest itself in statements that say “Catholics believe this but we believe that.” Who cares what Catholics believe? Why do you have to always define yourself against what they believe? Are there only two options?
An extreme example of this in America is the very small world of Reformed theology. We in the Reformed camp like to think that we are the center of the universe intellectually, but really that’s not the case. And in terms of numbers globally and in America, the Reformed slice of the Christian pie is very small. That won’t matter to any of these folks though. “Wide is the gate…” and other such verses will be used by them to justify their insignificance.
But even in this small slice of the world, there is an overwhelming need for enemies. Can you imagine a century of Reformed thinkers who simply build the kingdom and elucidate a positive theology? No, we must always be defining ourselves against enemies. If it’s not theonomy it’s six day creation or Van Til or the emergent church or charismatics or something. There just has to be an enemy all the time to generate newsletters, blogs, books, and hate. It’s nice to have a mission, and since by and large the Reformed aren’t known as the world’s evangelists, the mission is often theological battle, followed by church court cases. The Federal Vision is a perfect case in point. Most people have no idea what the term even means, and then they conflate it with the New Perspective and Norman Shepherd – how this happens I really don’t know. Perhaps they are intellectually lazy and so can’t figure out that the three have nothing to do with each other, or perhaps they think it is all part of some evil paradigm to destroy ‘the gospel.’ But the Federal Vision is the whipping boy of the moment for brave keyboard theologians, tapping away at all hours to defend the 123 Reformed denominations (as measured on 6/16/2007) from the perils that are inside the gates. These fearless defenders are bravely sending out fresh blasts into cyberspace, standing in the shoes of Calvin and Edwards to smite the modern day Papists, er, FV-ists. Perhaps they author things like, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Rule of the Federal Vision” or “The Death of Death in the Death of the Death of the Federal Vision” – good titles like that. They have the enemy firmly in their sites and they are going to stop at nothing to defeat them.
But there is one problem – what do you do when the controversy ends? How do you find another enemy? What will whip people up into reading your journal, your magazine, your blog, or listening to your radio program? Well, I’m sure we will have that answer soon. Let us all watch together as a new enemy will rise up. It should happen in the next year or two.