Rick Santorum is what used to be called a “cultural Christian” back when this meant that a person absorbed his or her religious beliefs from the surrounding culture. Of course, back then this usually implied that the person in question was either a Vatican II Catholic or a member of a mainline (“liberal”) protestant denomination. Not any more. To be a “cultural Christian” today means that a person embraces a “world view” similar to the “world view” embraced by most people in America.
Rick Santorum embraces that world view. President Obama does not.
So, what’s all this talk about the President’s “world view”? In case you haven’t heard, just the other day, in a speech he delivered while campaigning in Ohio, Rick Santorum accused President Obama of pursuing a political agenda based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” Later, when asked whether he was questioning the President’s faith, Santorum appeared to backtrack. “I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the president’s faith. I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian,” Santorum told CBS news. “I am talking about his world view, and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they’re different than how most people do in America.”
Confused? Let me help. “World view” is code. Radical right wing Christians came by this code by way of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer developed the code by combining Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics with Rousas John Rushdoony’s radical reworking of orthodox Calvinism. So, what does it mean? It means that it is possible to infer a single, coherent, interpretation of the contemporary world from a careful reading of the Christian Bible. For a small taste of what this view of the world implies, Schaeffer and his followers looked to perspectives (political, social, cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, scientific) common among Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The argument is: if you want to see what Christian politics, art, science, literature, philosophy, etc. looks like, then find a community of believers who are also the political leaders, artists, scientists, philosophers, and writers who make up the world of culture and science in their day. Since this was last the case in 16th and 17th century western Europe, it is here that we should look for an illustration of the Christian “world view.”
So, what’s so wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong. At least in my Church (the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.), we believe that Christians should ground their faith and practice in the Christian Bible. The Bible, however, was not written in the 16th or 17th centuries, or in western Europe, or within a cultural context that reflected the “world view” of Jesus, his followers, his religion, or even anything remotely like his religion. Indeed, as even the most conservative interpreters of the Bible will admit, there is nothing specially “Christian” about either the Greek and Aramaic languages or the cultural references through which God speaks in the Christian Bible. In other words, one can look high and low, up and down, left and right without finding a Christian “world view” in the Bible. Rather, what we find is a range of world views, from orthodox Jerusalem Judaism to the more flexible provincial Pharisaic Judaism to the ubiquitous popular Stoicism that runs through nearly all of the New Testament texts.
In the place of a “world view,” we instead find—no surprise here—good news about God’s emancipatory agenda in Christ through the Church. But here’s the surprise. While God’s emancipatory agenda is good news for the oppressed, the powerless, the foolish, and the poor, it is unilaterally bad news for the oppressors, the powerful, the wise, and the wealthy. This is not so much a “world view” as much as it is a commitment to radical discipleship and to prophetically speaking truth to power.
Which is why I question both Santorum’s faith and his world view. By his own admission, both Rick’s faith and world view are simply reflections of the world he stumbled into upon his birth. They are nothing but “how most people in America” view and think about the world around them. That’s all there is. There is nothing of the gospel in them at all, nothing of radical discipleship, nothing of speaking truth to power.
At best, Santorum is a “cultural Christian.” President Obama, by contrast, at least knows that his economic and military policies are contrary to the gospel. All that Santorum knows is that the way President Obama approaches problems are “different than how most people do in America.”
What a powerful and profound grasp of the Christian faith, Rick.