“The Christian church must learn to detect the presence of ideologies in their various states and societies…[we] live among semi-fascist, liberal-capitalist, and neo-socialist and communist ideologies of every sort…”
-Johannes Verkuyl, The Message of Liberation in our Age
Serving on a university campus, I cannot help but notice the ways in which such ideologies tear at the fabric of our community, ripping it into ragged blocks with unrealized hopes and dreams for the future of our state, nation, and world. Ideologies clothe human wisdom with absolute authority, and exalt their progenitors with savior-like fervor.
Perhaps, even more worryingly, like the leaven of the Pharisees, these ideologies all too easily infect and spread throughout the church, tearing her apart as well. And as I look around the university campus, as well as the rural communities, and urban centers, I cannot help but see the ways in which these ideologies are seeking to choke out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what are we to do? How does the church respond? Verkuyl gives basic, but crucial, advice for anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear:
Recognize ideologies for the pseudo-religions that they are
Verkuyl lays out six traits of ideologies that are all-too-evident in our world today:
Their totalitarian claims that formulate some sort of eschatological expectations—blue prints for the future—that seek to reshape the whole of life and society.
They are full of half-truths masquerading as the whole truth, catching the eye with clever slogans and, in our day, retweetable lines.
Pseudo-religious ideologies merely serve as means to maintain or establish a position of power and the ability to strike down “the enemy.”
They feed on hate towards any and all who disagree—lacking in love, tolerance, or understanding—utilizing this hate to keep the wheels of progress turning.
Every pseudo-religious ideology is at odds with faith, “demanding of people and societies a loyalty which only the living God deserves. (91)”
They are inclined to denigrate one another with labels and lies, and make an effort to snuff out ideas at odds with their given position.
Detect which one(s) are present in your community, as well as in the church
However, it’s not enough to simply recognize the traits of ideologies in general. In much the same way as we contextualize the biblical text to resonate with our congregations, we must also detect the contextualized ideological forms at work in our midsts. We will fail in our efforts to expose these divisive ideologies in the light of the gospel for the “weak, fallible, human attempts at solving our structural problems, (93)” that they are if we are blind to the specific forms effecting our communities and influencing our neighbors, friends, and fellow believers.
Critically test and evaluate ideologies in the light of God’s law and gospel?
Bringing ideologies into the light of God’s law and gospel helps to clear away all that obscures the reality and truth claims they make. In the light of God’s Word, Verkuyl instructs the church this way: “The Christian church is to ask questions such as:
What are ideologies?
How do they arise?
Who sent them?
Where to they come from?
Whom do they serve?
What do they aim at with respect to God and man?
On what kind of future do they set their sights? (93)”
Openly combat these ideologies by professing and enacting the powerful freedom found in the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
Far from the coercive, restrictive, and silencing nature of ideologies, the Christian church has the liberating, freeing message of the Gospel. Whereas ideologies pressure people to either align with them, or identify with the “enemy,” the church freely offers the message of Christ and the Kingdom, lovingly presenting it in word and deed to a weary, hurting, and hope-starved world. Rather than following in the footsteps of ideologies that divide and pit people against one another, the church can witness to the unifying power of the gospel bringing men and women of all colors, nations, social classes, education levels, and backgrounds together in worship of the true God. Rather than utilizing persecution, job deprivation, social ostracism, political discrimination, or imprisonment to effect our vision, Christians can present to the world a tolerance unlike anything any ideology professes to offer because of our confidence in the sure working of God to effect his redemptive plan in his timing through his instruments in his ways.
All text citations from Johannes Verkuyl, The Message of Liberation in our Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970).