Whatever Happened to the Christian Principle of “Love Paternalism?”

Roger E. Olson | 12/10/2019 | Staff
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What Ever Happened to the Christian Principle of “Love Paternalism?”

I am very interested in studying the mores and norms of contemporary American Christians today (2019) compared with what I know they were fifty and more years ago. Let me explain one example of where I think contemporary American Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, has nearly totally forgotten a biblical principle that was often preached and practiced fifty and more years ago.

Interactions - Students - Christian - Homes - Churches

What I am saying is that I believe, based on my almost daily interactions with American Christian students who grew up in evangelical Christian homes and churches that this very prominent biblical principle has nearly disappeared from American Christian consciousness. And I know for a fact that fifty plus years ago it was a principle widely preached and discussed in American evangelical churches and parachurch organizations (and families). I think this is worth considering. Why has this happened? What does it reveal about American Christianity?

The principle I speak of here has a scholarly name: “love paternalism.” Many Pauline scholars know immediately to what that refers. It was never called that among the grassroots; it’s a scholarly term. For what? For Paul’s forceful command in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-9.

Sitz - Im - Leben - Paul - Paternalism

The specific Sitz im Leben into which Paul spoke this “love paternalism” was whether eating meat offered to idols in a pagan temple ceremony may be eaten by Christians. The “strong” said yes and Paul agreed with them. The “weak” said no and Paul disagreed with them. However, along with chiding the weak for judging the strong, Paul also chided the strong for caring more about their liberty from laws (rules and regulations about things like meat) than about the spiritual condition of the weak.

“Love paternalism” is the scholarly term for Paul’s principle that the strong in faith should put aside their...
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