We live in a world of ideology.
Commitments to dogmatic forms of political expression, whether through partisanship or activism, pervade our cultural moment. Christians are certainly not immune. In fact, some of the greatest divides within evangelicalism have to do with issues dominated by ideological conflict. To be engaged in civil society means one cannot ignore the fray. Especially if one desires to live faithfully for Christ.
Now, there is no doubt the word “ideology” is thrown around far too flippantly, oftentimes to the behest of others, but when it comes to accurately describing various systems of belief it can be a useful term. As Maurice Cranston notes, the character of ideologies are often comprehensive (they profess to best explain human society), goal-oriented (they propose solutions its adherents must work towards), progressive (in the sense that this work entails a struggle against a perceived issue), loyalist (they require commitment from those who subscribe to their tenets), and intellectual (they are often led/spurred by thought-leaders) (Cranston).
All ideologies are problematic. As C.S Lewis said in The Abolition of Man, they “consist of fragments from [the truth of reality], arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation.” (Lewis 20) In the narrowness of their obsession for the particular, the particular ends up becoming the whole. As a result, they breed a certain fundamentalism that infects all who succumb to its vice. Conflict spurred by ideology is not just an intellectual dispute. It is more so than not marked by an inability to converse, a retreat into tribalism, an unruly dogmatism, and a paranoia which sees people as the sum-total of their (particular) beliefs. In practice, this often translates into cynical dialogue, frustrated activism, the creation of enemies who must be destroyed at all costs, and much, much propaganda. One does not have to think hard to know that this exists on all sides of the political spectrum.
Against this backdrop, we must realize that only Christ deserves our full loyalty. While there might be ideas in some modern-day ideologies one might agree with for various reasons, our allegiance is not bound to the whims of a social movement or tribal identity, instead it must be bound to God. Christianity is a comprehensive vision for human existence—it provides us with the structure to think, the virtue to be, and the wisdom to act. Nothing can properly substitute for the truth, as alluring as it might be.
In a world of ideology, the Christian heart is one unreservedly in pursuit of seeing the Kingdom (Matt 6:33). Every suffering soul, every political dispute, and every noble idea is contextualized with an understanding of what it means in light of creation, the fall, and redemption. The Christian must weigh the eternal significance of everything, a task ideologies are far too shortsighted to do.
The Christian heart seeks to persuade in love. It is not full of itself or overconfident, but sees dialogue as a means to communicating truth in an age where dogmatism hinders constructive discussion. It is marked by an ability to bear, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor 13:7). It is bridge-building. Christ does not call us to divide, in fact, we are called to avoid “foolish controversies” and pursue “good works.” (Titus 3: 8,9)
The Christian heart is one mature enough to face adversity; it does not run from it. The apostle Paul tells us that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12) As ideology increases in its assertiveness, so will it be difficult to live an insular and protected life. It is necessary to engage, not because of some political necessity, but because the integrity of our faith demands it. Christ calls us “walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
The Christian heart is one of radical humility. It cannot approach dialogue and civic engagement with a mindset seeking to aggressively dominate, as many do. Life is not a power struggle for the Christian. Instead, Christ calls us to pursue transformation—first, for individual souls through the Gospel, and then for our surrounding environment. While we should be earnest in these goals, our manner of living must be “worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness.” (Ephesians 4:1-2) The way we engage the world matters.
The Christian heart is one of sincere devotion. It seeks to shape itself in accord with well-ordered desires, so that every sphere of life will be in pursuit of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is commendable.” (Philippians 4:8) This heart seeks to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31). When approached with some ideological vision, its first question will not vindictively be “how can I defeat this?”, or “who are the people behind these lies?”, but one that simply asks, “how can I be loyal to Christ?” It starts with the right questions first before going any further. The Christian heart desires devotion above everything else.
When ideology continues to impose divides, sour discussion, and escalate social fragmentation, our posture must be different. We cannot afford to be part of the problem when Christ has given us such a wonderful gift through the Gospel. Our hearts must lay claim to this treasure, which is more precious than any ideological commitment or end. In doing so, all our efforts to love the good and pursue justice will fall into place. It will only be a matter of time.
Cranston, Maurice. “Ideology.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/ideology-society.
Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. Samizdat University Press Quebec, 1943, http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/cosmos/philo/AbolitionofMan.pdf.