Book Review: What Are Christians For? by Jake Meador

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Jake Meador, What Are Christians For? Life Together at the End of the World. IVP, 2022. 192 pages.

Stephen Wolfe has written an excellent review of Meador’s new book for Sovereign Nations and, in light of the praise being heaped on the book by high profile evangelicals, the review is must-read.

A few excerpts:

Near the beginning of Jake Meador’s new book, he speaks of the “possibility of persuasion” when people share “reality together through observation and careful thought, and then reason about it together” (27). I thought about persuasion often while reading this book, mainly because I found little attempt on the part of the author to persuade, or at least to persuade people like me. The title What are Christians for? suggested to me, a Christian, that I would learn what I’m for, and I suppose I did—being a white male Christian. As a white man, I play the villain in an American creation-fall-redemption narrative. To be sure, I’m not offended that I’m at the center of a narrative; I’m disappointed that the author felt no need to reason with me about it.

Indeed, the “reasons” given show an interesting rhetorical two-step: assert something bad about the Western world and blame it on the white male; or assert something good and then blame its opposite on the white male. This is the pattern throughout the book, and in this way the work reflects the new conditions of persuasion in the Christian world—not the rational demonstration of conclusions but the author’s credibility to make assertions. Meador—a white male—can “prove” his assertions only by out-grouping himself and by speaking ill of his civilization.

The best explanation is that Meador’s argument, far from restoring emplacement, works only to displace the heart in order to further demographic displacement. And in doing so, he actually exploits true whiteness—for whiteness is receptive openness, it is a self-destructive contradiction, it is a will to die. Thus, we see manifested in the Western world certain contradictions: to have a place you must be displaced; to belong somewhere you must belong nowhere; to have a people you must identify with all people; and to be good you must be immutably bad and act only for the good of the outsider.

Most white people in the United States and Europe indeed feel less and less at home and more and more foreignness. But it isn’t because of some ideology that began five hundred years ago. Rather, it is the limitless flood of immigration, the unchecked crime, and the hostile capture and racialization of institutions. There was plenty of belonging and sense of home, until recently. If “whiteness” is anything, it is a set of contradictions that leads to one’s own displacement.

In a few places, Meador praises the Bruderhof, an anabaptist community in upstate New York. He envisions an “almost Bruderhof” for all of us non-anabaptists. This betrays the contradictory nature of Meador’s project. The Bruderhof in upstate New York is largely composed of white people, who follow a highly particular set of practices with strict conditions of membership. To my knowledge, there are no Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, homosexuals, queers, atheists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, or Mormons living as part of the Bruderhof community, nor is there any pressure to open up the Bruderhof borders to diversify. (Are they too on stolen land?). Now, I have no problem with this homogeneity in itself, but Meador’s “almost” is doing a lot of work, especially if he wants us to be radically receptive. I’d actually prefer that we were more like the Bruderhof community in this regard—radically exclusive. But that is not allowed for the non-anabaptists. Can a radically exclusive community really be a model for radical inclusivity?

So what are Christians for? It turns out that if you denounce our society as uniquely terrible, cruel, cold, selfish, heartless, rootless, and “deeply inhumane” (14), it is easy to make ordinary care for others seem pretty radical. One wonders though, who are these terrible people? You know, those people, not us radically ordinary people. And therein Meador confirms the animating prejudices of his audience—that those people out there, somewhere, need to hear this and be corrected.

Be ordinary is essentially Meador’s conclusion—find rootedness, be generous, and commit yourself to your community. Certainly, we all could strive be more ordinary in these ways; I understand that criticism. But it doesn’t follow that we white people are uprooted, utterly selfish, and have no commitment to our community. The average reader, if he is not pathologically self-deprecating, has to feel the gaslighting—that this moral critique nowhere touches upon actual reality but rather arose from some deep-seated resentful imagination. Do we share the same realty as Meador?

Give the whole thing a read at Sovereign Nations. You won’t regret it. Be sure to return, also, when you see the book praised by the darlings of fashionable evangelicalism.

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