Redefining Conservatism with Peter Viereck to Find Answers for Contemporary Evangelicalism Distinct from Ideological Conservatism and Progressivism

Aug 31, 2021 by

By Rollin Grams, Bible and Mission:

Peter Viereck distinguished his understanding of conservatism from the merely political/economic conservatism of the mid-twentieth century.  This distinction is helpful at the present time of social turmoil.  It is helpful for Christians trying to negotiate the present social context in which there is again a question as to what conservatism entails (not only in the United States) and a crisis posed by a radical progressivism that intends to dismantle Western civilization.  Christians, even Evangelicals, are caught up in both challenges. 

The purpose of this essay is to travel with Viereck some distance to make the distinctions that are needed to get beyond the present failure of conservatives and avoid the allure of a progressive elite of politicians, journalists, and intellectuals.  Many Evangelicals, who are typically ‘conservative’ in some sense, have identified themselves with a conservatism that seems (whether legitimately or falsely) heartless in its opposition to national health care, its nationalist self-interest, and the xenophobic rhetoric of some.  Such accusations against conservatives in general seem to be mostly false, and they appear to be interpretations from an alternative worldview rather than based in fact.  Even so, this calls for clarity.  Some issues (like health care) do need solutions even if not as nationwide programmes administered by bureaucrats.  Conservatives do not approve the radical redefinition of gender, sexuality, and marriage, but they have by and large refused to fight the culture on these issues…

…A minority of Evangelicals, on the other hand, have willingly identified with the alternative, a postliberal progressivism that is, fundamentally, a post-Christian activism.  Progressivism is a version of liberalism that more eagerly shifts its weight towards activism.  Its activism is much less along the lines of an American than a French form of revolution.  Its theorizing is much less a matter of Lockean liberalism than Marxist socialism—communism.  In its historical development, it is not merely the political-economic version of Marxist communism but also and especially a less defined social reengineering that seeks to march through the institutions of culture (as in Critical Theory).  By following this sort of activism, these elitist Evangelicals hope not to be labelled ignorant, uncaring, and irrelevant.  What Viereck describes as liberalism also applies to this progressivism.  If so, then it is essentially anti-Christian in its anthropology (claiming that people are essentially good), history (insisting that Christian civilization must be cancelled), politics (trusting in big government, even more than in the Church), social analysis (succumbing to Marxist Critical Race Theory), and ethics (defining social justice in terms of groups, with preference given to certain groups in the interest of ‘equity’, not ‘equality’).

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