What would John Calvin do? (Marzolino/Shutterstock)

A reader commenting on the “Long Island ménage” thread posted a fascinating (to me) comment:

Rod, if you want to understand why some Protestants love you and some Protestants hate you, this quote [from me — RD] explains why:

“The point to take away from this story is that a society that has no strong concept of the Good other than granting individuals within it maximum liberty to live as they prefer to is not a society that has within in it the capacity to govern itself, or to endure. A religion that is only about formless ‘love’ is a religion that worships emotion, and that ends up making an idol of the Self.”

The Protestant church has basically been in a state of low-grade civil war since the Enlightenment. On one side, there are those who think that, with a few modifications, it can be made consistent with Christianity. In fact, they take pride in Protestantism’s role in starting the Enlightenment, while having certain regrets around how it has developed. Pietists (eg Bismarck, progressive evangelicals), neo-Calvinists (eg Abraham Kuyper and Calvin College), and mainline Presbyterians fall into this category. On the other side are Anabaptistic separatists and confessional Calvinists (including Netherlands Reformed Congregations / Gereformeerde Gemeenten and Covenanters). During the American Revolution, the Old Lights and New Lights went to literal war with each other.

However, most evangelicals are in a fog in the middle. This isn’t sustainable, and which way they twist will have huge repercussions. For example, most evangelicals believe that America is the best ever, because it’s founded on the idea of freedom. Yet, they also believe that America is the best ever, because it’s a Christian country. When this mental incongruence becomes untenable, where do they turn?

I think we’re starting to see the answer, with the rise of both the emergent church and Christian Reconstructionist movements. The former embraces Americanism, with progressive politics, consumeristic worship, and watered-down theology and practice. The latter endorses a revisionist history wherein America started Christian but later went bad, while also embracing homeschooling, “biblical patriarchy”, huge families, premillennialist alarmism, and the like.

This growing divide is what writers like James KA Smith are utterly scared of. They’re too conservative for progressive “evangelicalism”, but too cool and respectable for Christian Reconstructionism. Your reporting accelerates this divide, which will destroy their careers and their already-imploding middle-way churches like the CRC. As someone who is also in the middle, I share their fears. I don’t think it excuses his unfair article, but it helps explain it.

This is fascinating to me, as an outsider. I would love to know what Protestant readers who are more familiar with the dynamics this reader identifies have to say about it.