Revisiting Mt. Carmel

Testing our social philosophy
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It is time for a nonviolent return to Mt. Carmel. In Elijah's time, most Israelites had forsaken Yahweh to worship Baal, so Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a public confrontation on Mt. Carmel. Elijah proposed that both he and the prophets of Baal place a slaughtered bull on an altar and then each call on his god to send down fire to devour the sacrifice. "The god who answers by fire is indeed God" (1 Kings 18:24, NRSV). The prophets of Baal failed, but Yahweh's heavenly fire consumed Elijah's drenched sacrifice.

Today two competing worldviews and two competing views of persons offer different solutions to our social problems. Naturalists say that nature is all that exists and people are just complex socioeconomic machines—therefore all you have to do to end poverty or correct societal dysfunction is adjust the external environment, modify the economic incentives, and change the educational inputs. Much social policy in the last few decades worked with this assumption. But if historic biblical theism is true, should we not expect social programs combining spiritual and social transformation to work better than either purely secular or nominally religious programs?

President Bush's forming of a White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) continues to generate controversy, even in Christian circles, but I believe it gives us an opportunity for a nonviolent reenactment of Elijah's contest with the false prophets.

Let's challenge the secularists to a test. Let's invite our best secular universities to have their top social scientists conduct careful, sophisticated comparative evaluations of at least three types of social-service providers: the secular, the religiously affiliated, and the holistic ...

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