Scot McKnight on Being on the “Wrong Side of History”

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed, in which he takes issue with those who attempt to argue that those who disagree with them are on “the wrong side of history”.

In our age it is fashionable to look down one’s nose at ideas such as “manifest destiny”, “God’s plan for America”, or anything that might connect something like, for example, 9/11, with something else like, for example, same-sex marriage.  But ironically, there are lots of people running around out there who claim to know which way history is going, and that those who disagree with them are on the wrong side of it.  McKnight cites examples of those on the left who argue that religion is withering away, and others who argue the opposite, and those on the right who accuse Obama of being on the wrong side of history.

McKnight goes on to lay out several reasons why those who argue that their opponents are on the wrong side of history are wrong:  They read history as inevitable progress in their direction.  They make history presentist–that is, what is happening now is always better than what was happening before.  They destroy biblical eschatology by putting God’s blessing on their presentist reading of history instead of taking their cues from the kingdom which is still to come.  They claim omniscience by claiming to know where history has been and where it is headed.  They claim omniscience by assuming that all things in the future will be as they think.  They destroy both diversity and freedom, because to announce that history is headed in any one direction is to announce to those who disagree that their freedom to disagree is in jeopardy.  And they seek to centralize their vision in order to impose conformity, responding to failure of the centralized vision by pressing even harder for that vision and blaming its failure on the dissenters.

A prime example of this is the debates over gay marriage.  Speaking of which, our good friend Owen Strachan is at it again.  Just last week he dropped this doozy of a diatribe against Rob Bell, who has become something of a fashionable whipping boy among conservative evangelicals lately.  Bell now has a show on Oprah’s network; get too close to Oprah and your esteem among conservative evangelicals will drop like a brick.

Speaking of the likelihood that the church would affirm gay marriage, Bell said on Oprah’s show, in something of a history-is-moving-this-way argument:

“We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

Strachan then spent the remainder of the post explaining how Bell is dead wrong and the church is most emphatically NOT giving an inch on the issue of gay marriage.  But while that may be true in the regions of the church where Strachan and others of like mind hang out, it is not true of the church at large.  There are places in the church where, like it or not, gay marriage is accepted.  And there are other places where the church is quite content to let individual believers negotiate that territory on their own without rushing in with dogmatic pronouncements one way or the other.

Strachan and others of like mind believe that the church is under judgment from God for “compromising” by becoming more accepting of gay marriage.  Bell believes it is essential for the church to become more accepting of gay marriage in order to not be irrelevant.  But where will we be in another couple of decades?  Some parts of the church will be accepting of gay marriage.  Others will not.  And still others will not feel any compulsion to take a stand one way or the other.  And at the end of the day, we will have diversity.  Like it or not, no one is “on the wrong side of history” here.