Mere Christendom: As Evangelical as Billy Graham

We find ourselves in Easter season so the question naturally arises, “What hath the resurrection to do with Mere Christendom?” Investigating this question will protect from two dangers. If these two dangers were rattlesnakes, one of them rattles just around the corner and we should really watch out for him. The other has already bitten us and well, that’s not great. But, take hope, Christendom-via-Resurrection will serve as the antivenom.

The bite we have already suffered is the modern evangelical mindset which says the resurrection has nothing to do with Mere Christendom. This mindset insists that we stop talking about Christendom, culture-shaping, Christian Nationalism and the like, and we must stop post haste. If we keep talking Christendom, then we are going to lose the gospel altogether, such is the claim. Paul claimed to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and if we go pushing everything out to the edges, then we’re going to lose the center. 

Now for the other rattler. Snake number two, rattling just around the bend, claims that we can usher in social, cultural, and civil change from the outside in, top down, and the whole process is really quite simple. But this approach smells too carnal, employing the wisdom from below. It seeks to exercise authority as the Gentiles do, lording it over others and what not.

If we would heal up from the bite we’ve already received, and avoid the other, then we need Mere Christendom via the resurrection. But first another illustration in order to paint a clear picture of our times.

Culture-Shaped; It’s an Ugly Mold

Along with these two snakes, we can conceive of our present moment by way of two Christian teams, neither of which are ready to shape culture and build Christendom: the conservatives and the progressives. The conservatives are anti-woke, and God bless them. These conservatives like to conserve and good on them for that too. Many, however, wobbled on wokeness until they saw which way the chips were going to fall. Even more of them wobbled on COVID. The root problem with this group however is that they don’t really have a plan for where to go. Going somewhere would involve progress and these folks are too busy for that, their time being spent conserving the house the liberals gave them.

The second team is the Christian Progressives. These lack the resisting impulse of the conservatives. They have drifted into varying levels of wokeness. Christendom sounds too much like a kingdom with teeth for them. It sounds like people wouldn’t have enough options. Christendom, even mere Christendom sounds like a world in which you couldn’t exercise your right to krump in a thong before Mrs. Harrison’s 2nd grade class. And without that right my friend, we would be persecuting the Free Methodists in no time.

Christendom Coming

Both of these groups must come to grips with the inevitability of Christendom. As Abraham Kuyper once said, “The situation has always been and will be until the end, Christianity or Paganism, the idols or the Living God.” In God’s kindness, He is revealing to us, among other things, that Christianity indeed is a religion, the sacraments matter, and civil authorities are servants of the Triune God. All of this is good news, but it leaves the conservatives that I pencil-sketched above thinking that we are sacrificing that inner beauty for a Reformed and Evangelical pope. Not only do we not need such a pope, but I claim that if we don’t get on board with Mere Christendom, then we will lose that holy, inner, puritan devotion that we have come to know and love. The vast majority of the men who penned those lovely prayer in the Valley of Vision are with us on the Mere Christendom thing.

A Frame for the Resurrection

So we are after Mere Christendom-via-Resurrection. But to hear the full thunder of the glorious resurrection, we should lay some groundwork, a frame for the glory of Easter morning. Chesterton once said, “When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock. We must answer that it is magic . . . The only words that e3ver satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fair books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ . . . A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.”

This Chestertonian enchanted world is foundational to resurrection power and our pursuit of Mere Christendom. We are tempted to say that our culture, nation, civil leaders, etc. are natural, merely natural, purely natural; and not a few conservatives don’t like Chesterton getting fancy with the spices describing the intersection of nature, fairies, and spells. FOX news must be kept in a particular box labelled political, physical, practical. The box labelled spiritual and heavenly is kept at the other end of the garage to be opened after I’m done watching Tucker Carlson, mmmkay? Thus, the conservatives.

But the progressive Christians have the same basic frame job on their intellectual house, they just play it the other way. “Yes, you see,” they say, “that FOX news is not spiritual and that is why I don’t watch it. I stay in the spiritual box. I stay in the juicy middle, refusing to pick sides in these earthly battles.” Ah, but both of these groups are discovering that the world is not wired up the way they thought it was. 

Francis Schaeffer warned us about all of this many years ago with his upper story and lower story. The lower story (earth and earthly things) has been untethered from the upper story (heaven and heavenly things) and this is bad juju. The result is that the upper story is devoured by the lower story. Progressive Pietism wanted to keep itself in the heavens, in the box labelled spiritual. But come to find out there were intersectional principalities and powers in that box teaching a false gospel leading big evangelical conferences to yearn for an answer to why they were so white.

On the other hand, Earthly Conservatives have rightly gone to war with Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. But whatever holiness and spiritual power they get when they spend time in the box labelled spiritual doesn’t translate when they get into the box labelled earthly. I have said before, these folks may not be terribly concerned with the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven, but they sure do want good neighbors . . . and the neighborhood kids to stay off the lawn.

Schaeffer gets us going in the right direction so that we can begin to hook things up the right way. He warned against leaving Christianity in the upper story. He knew it had to touch down on the things of earth. But when it touches you, you know what you have, you have Mere Christendom. 

These troubles with heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical, are nothing new. Irenaeus set those straight who taught that the virgin born Jesus was not the heavenly Christ—”But there are some who say that Jesus was merely a receptacle of Christ” (Against Heresies, 313). Irenaeus cites several texts demonstrating that the Son of God took on flesh, and it was this Godman who rose from the dead—”concerning His Son, who was made to Him of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was predestinated the son of God with power through the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” And again, “who was the seed of David according to His birth from Mary; and that Jesus Christ was appointed the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, as being the first begotten in all the creation” (Against Heresies 315, 316).

Christ came from heaven, took on flesh, descended into Hades, and rose again bodily. He is the Second Adam, not merely a living soul but a life-giving Spirit. Which box is He in? In this resurrection glory, we hear, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

The Secret Sauce

The secret sauce to culture shaping and the pursuit of Mere Christendom is the truth that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us. And He lives in all of us. This is a blood-sealed reality of the new covenant. All of the saints that want to divide, that want to carve out a little kingdom within the kingdom, those saints who are too cool to stand by others, they have lost their grip on the nature of the new covenant. 

The law has been written on our hearts. Hearts of stone have been removed and hearts of flesh have been given. The new covenant is a more fleshy than the old. Our kingdom labors are labors by the Spirit, not by the flesh. They are inside out not outside in. But they are labors that touch upon the flesh and done in the flesh for the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God. That Son rose bodily, redeeming His people, soul and body. 

If you want the gospel of Jesus Christ, if you want the power of the Spirit at work in the heart of man, then it is time to sign on for Mere Christendom. We are a kingdom of priests, and our message is: Be reconciled to God. The present movement toward Mere Christendom, the one moving in resurrection power (for no other will live), is a matter of defending justification by faith alone, the virgin-birth of the Messiah, and it possesses a heart more evangelical than Billy Graham.

It is a Great Commission Christendom, that not only obeys but anticipates the successful completion of our Lord’s instruction: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).