Paradigm Shifts Required for Rebuilding in Negative World

A Review of Aaron Renn’s Life in the Negative World

Aaron Renn has written a very fine book called Life in the Negative World in which, having established his three-fold paradigm of positive, neutral, and negative world, he delineates how Christians might live in the unsavory circumstances in which they find themselves. This review extends gratitude towards Renn for his insightful work that gathers useful data for Christians to assess as they navigate negative world. However, it also offers a central critique, accompanied by an examination of particular applications of that central critique. This review will unfold accordingly: first, an overview of Renn’s work, second, points of commendation, and third, a critique with applications.

It merits mention that I serve as a minister at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, as well as a Fellow of Theology and Dean at New Saint Andrews College. Moscow appears in Renn’s discourse, particularly lauded for its exemplification of ownership within negative world. Moreover, the community in which I live serves as a focal point within the broader crisis confronting Christian America. Understanding this context aids in contextualizing the forthcoming critique. In other words, consider the source.

Summary of Life in the Negative World

Renn’s book is structured into four distinct parts, commencing with an elucidation of our contemporary situation and subsequently offering strategies for navigating it. The initial section serves as a retrospective, tracing the evolution of the interplay between Christianity and the broader socio-cultural ethos across three distinct epochs: positive world (1964-1994), neutral world (1994-2014), and negative world (2014-present). Renn identifies the catalysts behind the emergence of negative world, including the dissolution of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hegemony, the upheavals of the sixties, the sexual revolution, geopolitical shifts post-Cold War, deregulation, and the advent of digitization. Additionally, Renn delineates three evangelical approaches that characterized preceding eras: the cultural warriors, seeker-sensitive methodologies, and cultural engagement. The advent of negative world precipitates a period marked by evangelical discord and recalibration. While it is outside the scope of this review, this section on evangelical discord sparks high intrigue and warrants further attention.

Subsequent sections of the book delve into Renn’s prescriptions for navigating life within negative world. These encompass personal conduct (part two), institutional leadership (part three), and missional engagement (part four).

Personal life in negative world must be marked by obedience (chapter four), the cultivation of excellence (chapter five), and fostering resilience (chapter six). Noteworthy is Renn’s discourse on obedience, which integrates a brief discussion on natural law, yet another topic of great interest that warrants more attention than space provides. While Renn emphasizes the importance of legal proficiency for Christians, a notable absence lies in the lack of any discussion on biblical law. The harmony of biblical law and natural law, as well as an analysis of their place in grounding human law, is a facet of our legal quandaries meriting further exploration within the reformation of legal frameworks in negative world.

Institutional leadership amidst negative world necessitates the pursuit of institutional integrity (chapter 7), community cohesion (chapter 8), and the acquisition of social, cultural, and physical assets (chapter 9). Particularly salient are Renn’s reflections on the misconceptions surrounding the notion of “singleness as a gift” and the necessity of repairing our sexual economy.

The final section of Renn’s work advocates for missional engagement, stressing the imperative of embodying light (chapter 10) and truth (chapter 11), while also cautioning against the pitfalls of excessive or inadequate political entanglements (chapter 12).

Points of Commendation

One of the standout features of Renn’s work is his revisiting of the tripartite paradigm involving positive, neutral, and negative world. His analysis comes across as particularly compelling, urging the American Christian Church to squarely face our current realities. Furthermore, his socio-historical exploration of the origins of our present predicament proves enlightening, especially his insightful observations regarding phenomena like the sexual revolution, the decline of the WASP establishment, and the aftermath of the Cold War.

Another commendable aspect of Renn’s work is its commitment to Christian ethics throughout. You can almost hear someone asking, “Aaron, as a consultant steeped in data and research, is it wise to kick off a discussion on navigating life in negative world with a chapter on obedience?” Renn’s response affirms the necessity of such an approach. His advocacy for excellence and resilience, drawing inspiration from Taleb’s Antifragile, strikes a chord. Moreover, his emphasis on maintaining institutional integrity in an era marked by skepticism, coupled with his call for competence amid widespread incompetence, showcases a wealth of Christian manliness and wisdom. Renn steers clear of easy fixes, resisting the temptation to offer simplistic solutions for navigating the complexities in front of us.

It’s worth noting that this book offers a glimmer of hope through its very structure. While Renn foresees a long journey through negative world, he provides a blueprint for leading lives of faithful Christian discipleship, both individually and institutionally. In a landscape filled with pessimistic treatises on the decline of Western civilization, Renn’s constructive approach is a refreshing advancement, offering a practical vision for Christian action amidst turbulent times.

A Paradigm Shift Down Among the Tectonic Plates

However, no evaluation would be complete without critique. The heading above succinctly captures the essence of the critique: Renn has skillfully laid bare the enormity of the challenges we face, and the size of those challenges calls for a correspondingly robust response. We need a paradigm shift that is more foundational and counter-cultural than we have yet seen.

Renn aptly acknowledges the unprecedented nature of our circumstances—”we have not been this way before,” yet this critique suggests that his proposals, while helpfully pragmatic, may not fully address the root causes of our predicament. Grappling with negative world requires a profound paradigm shift—one that goes beyond mere adjustments to Christian behavior or political engagement without falling into political idolatry. Those changes are essential. And what follows is not a criticism of Renn per se, as he openly acknowledges the limitations of his endeavor. More than a direct critique of Renn’s work, the forthcoming is the fruit of his book which prompts deep reflection and stimulates considerations for a more fundamental restructuring.

The First Step

Above all, Christians must recognize their complicity in negative world. This doesn’t necessarily imply guilt but rather an acknowledgment that evangelicals often oversimplify the origins of societal problems by attributing them solely to external factors. Recognizing that negative world is, to a significant extent, a consequence of the Christian Church’s failure to fulfill its mandate—to disciple the nations—suggests a fundamental paradigm shift. Rebuilding amid negative world requires substantial transformation, a proposition that I’ll elaborate on through four proposed measures.


At its core, any envisioned American reformation inescapably includes the reinstatement of patriarchal societal structures. Renn’s insights into our sexual woes are quite helpful, albeit his solution is tinged with some reservations. While he acknowledges certain merits of the neo-patriarchy movement, he also highlights its inherent limitations, “However, there are also substantive problems with this approach, namely the reality that contemporary America is not a patriarchy, nor can patriarchal views likely succeed in our modern egalitarian society.” He aptly describes patriarchy as a legal and cultural system where male authority was institutionalized, drawing parallels with biblical patriarchal norms within their respective historical contexts. Furthermore, he rightly observes the contemporary dynamic wherein, as far as society and law are concerned, patriarchal authority is a pipe dream, underscoring the disparity between traditional patriarchal constructs and the prevailing ethos of egalitarianism. 

While I agree with many of Renn’s critiques of the neo-patriarchy movement, (indeed it is crucial to recognize the reactionary and, at times, immature dimensions within it), there is, nevertheless, no other option. Renn is not optimistic about the success of any attempt to recover a patriarchal structure in society. But the question in reply is, “Do we have the right not to try?” A reconstituted patriarchal society will not materialize overnight, but any pursuit of reformation must acknowledge its goal. While a nationwide restructuring is out of reach, a local community restructuring is not. 

It was indeed a concerted and strategic effort to dismantle patriarchal societal frameworks that led us into negative world. Compelling evidence emerges from the sexual revolution, a pivotal catalyst in Renn’s analysis of negative world. The Gay Liberation Manifesto of 1971 openly advocated for a comprehensive societal overhaul, including the overthrow of patriarchal structures—”Equality is never going to be enough. What is needed is a total social revolution, a complete reordering of civilization. Including society’s most basic institution, the patriarchal society.”1 Simultaneously, figures like Kate Millet championed a cultural revolution, targeting the American patriarch as a linchpin of societal upheaval and the dissolution of the American family. An analysis of her aims expressed in her revolutionary gatherings gives decent citizens what our grandfathers used to call the heebie-jeebies:

“Why are we here today?”
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?” she replied.
“The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded.
“By destroying the American family!” they answered. 

“How do we destroy the family?” she came back. 

“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.

“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” she replied.
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.
“How can we destroy monogamy?”
“By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution, and homosexuality!” they resounded.2

Scott Yenor’s treatment further elucidates the erosion of traditional patriarchal norms, exacerbated by legislative measures institutionalizing sexual interchangeability. Such developments demand citizens to acquiesce to a regime that coercively denies fundamental distinctions, thereby compromising individual liberty. In a recent article at First Things, Yenor articulates how America’s long-standing soft patriarchy has been disassembled such that the old sexual constitution is now criminal. Government power has played a pivotal role “in the replacement of the soft patriarchy that formerly guided men and women toward stable, complementary roles. That power has been deployed on behalf of a sexual constitution designed to promote sexual interchangeability. Put simply: Civil rights law and related court decisions have criminalized the old sexual constitution.”

In this negative world social structure, the citizens that live under such a regime are slaves forced to deny what is staring them plainly in the face—

The regime has forced Americans to pretend that the most natural, obvious, and important distinctions in human life are of almost no moment—and that the purpose of government is to prevent us from noticing those distinctions and to stamp out any vestige of their former role in our social norms and practices. As we learn to live with and by such lies, we stop noticing the obvious and important, as the rise of transgender ideology demonstrates. Citizens who live under a regime that requires them to deny reality are no longer free.


The task of rebuilding amid negative world, and combating the pagan ideologies it embodies, demands a foundational paradigm shift in educational methodologies. While Renn acknowledges the imperative for change, his reservations inhibit a proactive stance. Notably, he asserts that while evangelicals bear no onus for the efficacy of public schools, many may legitimately opt for them, albeit cognizant of their anti-Christian ethos. However, a more robust call for educational reformation is warranted, aligning with Albert Mohler’s stark assessment of the dire state of government education—

Every week, new reports of atrocities in the public schools appear. Radical sex education programs, offensive curricula and class materials, school-based health clinics, and ideologies hostile to Christian truth and parental authority abound. These reports are no longer isolated and anecdotal. Forces opposed to what Southern Baptist churches and families believe dominate the public school arena–especially at the national level where policies are made and the future is shaped.

The clincher here is that Mohler, who might be called a careful, non-hasty cultural analyst for American evangelicals, wrote this article nearly two decades ago. It included a call for Christians to prepare for an exodus from government education.

Undoubtedly, the acid test for communities aspiring to combat the ideologies of negative world lies in their commitment to establishing distinctly Christian educational institutions. Moscow’s exemplification of ownership, highly praised by Renn, underscores this reality, stemming from a lineage of families disavowing government schools in favor of classical Christian alternatives. Despite its arduous nature and fiscal challenges, this endeavor is indispensable.

Furthermore, the renewal of Christian education must extend beyond mere disengagement from the anemic governmental system. Crawford Gribben’s appraisal of New Saint Andrews College underscores the breadth and depth of its curriculum, fostering intellectual rigor alongside a Christian ethos. In his 2021 Oxford University Press book, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, he aggregated a list of many of the texts student at New Saint Andrews work through:

In theology, students read Anselm, Athanasius, Augustine’s City of God and Confessions, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. In science, students read Euclid’s Elements, Newton’s Principia, and Darwin’s Origin of Species. In studying politics, students read Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Cicero’s Republic and Laws, Aquinas’s “Treatise on Law” and On Kingship, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Rousseau’s Discourses, and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. In history, they read Herodotus, Plutarch, Thucydides, and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. The poetry they read includes Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Beowulf, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. They read drama by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, and fiction by Bunyan, Defoe, Austen, Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Faulkner. They learn about art and architecture from Vitruvius, and philosophy from Aristotle, Aquinas, Boethius, Descartes, and Nietzsche. To develop skills in communication, they study Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Plutarch, and Montaigne.3

As Gribben attests, the institution’s expansive program nurtures graduates equipped to engage with the cultural milieu, which itself has forsaken truth, goodness, and beauty for the evil that Saint Augustine keenly identifies as a privation. This approach underscores the imperative of an educational reformation that engages in the present culture wars while, at the same time, inculcating substance as our own civilization attempts to embrace the void.

Boniface > Benedict

In his aforementioned work, Crawford Gribben illuminates a notable absence in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option concerning an evangelical and reformed enclave located in the Pacific Northwest. The oversight, attributed to sporadic controversies surrounding this community, underscores a distinction between what may be termed the Boniface Option and the Benedict Option. While Dreher’s Benedictine approach advocates for a retreat into seclusion to navigate the challenges of negative world, the Boniface Option espouses a more proactive stance, seeking to dismantle societal strongholds and effectuate change. A tangible manifestation of the Boniface Option is exemplified in a video produced by New Saint Andrews College, offering insight into its mission within negative world.

Indeed, the Christian Church’s progression necessitates a confrontation with the post-Christian order and attendant societal structures emergent in negative world. These include, but are not confined to, the egalitarian fabric of contemporary society, John Dewey’s secular paradigm in education, issues surrounding abortion, the devolution of the common law tradition within our legal theory and practice, and the encroachment of scientism, exemplified by ethically contentious practices such as the Orwellian surplus of frozen embryos and instances of reproductive malfeasance, demonstrated in one fraudulent infertility doctor who has now, unbeknownst to his patients, become the biological father of over ninety children.4 Acclimatization to the prevailing corruptions of negative world is both a pertinent temptation for an evangelical church which has a history of adapting to the times rather than transforming them and antithetical to the pursuit of faithful Christian living.

Genuine Community

A pivotal imperative for navigating negative world lies in the embodiment of deeply held convictions within communal contexts. However, the fabric of community itself is dissolving. Anticipating objections to the Boniface Option as exacerbating an already strident cultural discourse, it should be acknowledged that the real conservative frustration arises from the dearth of opportunities for genuine conservative community in which the conservative mind might be realized. Both the structures and culture of the nation have aligned with the leftist framework which long ago forsook Richard Weaver’s “metaphysical dream” for baser appetites. Conservatives are left without their traditions, families, or cultures, with fragmented institutions and crumbling communities. They are good and angry and not without reason.

Renn’s assertion regarding the indispensable role of communities as sites of equipping rather than insulation resonates. However, there persists uncertainty regarding the requisite steps for establishing and nurturing such communities. Prevailing individualistic predilections and an abiding preference for convenience present formidable obstacles to the sacrificial commitment essential for community-building endeavors. Moreover, long-standing communities have succumbed to fragmentation, complicating efforts at revival as a younger generation must uproot in order to find more fertile ground that has not been scorched by the winds of wokeness.

Yet, amidst conservative impulses to uphold tradition, apprehensions regarding the efficacy of substantive change persist. Negative world regulates the realms within which Christians navigate and attempt to get along with life amid the downgrade. That is, if we let it. While the establishment and nurturing of genuine communities necessitate a vision and resolve heretofore unseen in American evangelicalism. We simply do not have any other options. We are desperately in need of renewal, one that requires a paradigm shift down in the nether regions. At a minimum, this shift involves a societal expression of masculinity and femininity, the pursuit of Christian education grounded in the liberal arts and humanities, the integration of Christian ethics into institutional and civil frameworks, the application of divine and natural law in legislative and judicial deliberations, and the cultivation of authentic communal bonds ordered according to a pattern that predated the onset of positive world. A tall order. But the order of the day.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 4 footnotes
  1. Manifesto Group, Gay Liberation Front Manifesto (London: Gay Liberation Front, 1971).
  2. Mallory Millett, “Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives,” Frontpage Magazine, September 1, 2014, ruined-lives-mallory-millett/.
  3. Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 112.
  4. Molli Mitchell, “The Top 5 Most Shocking Moment from ‘Our Father,'” Newsweek, May 11, 2022,
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Jared Longshore

Jared Longshore serves as an associate pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He is also the Dean and a Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College. He has served in pastoral ministry since 2007 and holds an MDiv and PhD from Southern Seminary. He has authored Wisdom for Kings and Queens, Strong and Courageous, and The Case for the Christian Family. He and his wife Heather have seven children. Jared writes at

6 thoughts on “Paradigm Shifts Required for Rebuilding in Negative World

  1. Renn isn’t post-mill, so in my opinion doesn’t have the theological framework for the optimism required to pull this off. However, we welcome all Christians to this endeavor because the Visigoths are all the gate, and the eschatology will take care of itself.

  2. Before we identify as victims of a world’s negative view toward ourselves and our faith, we should note that those in other groups have faced similar negative views toward their own groups. One of the groups that many of us see as our cultural arch enemies is the LGBT community. Now rest assured that that community is not monolithic. In fact, hardly any group is. And that should give us give us a little peace in knowing that not all, and perhaps a great majority, of those in that community feel that what was quoted above from Kate Miller does not represent them. In fact, having known quite a few people in that community, I have yet to meet a person from the LGBT community who would agree with what Miller said.

    But we also have to look at the negative world those in the LGBT community faced. They faced incarceration, job discrimination, harassment, beatings, accusations of mental illness, and being portrayed as being so very immoral, all of which contributed to their legal punishments and social marginalization for centuries. Now when we look at the world’s negative view we face, it is safe to say that the negative view that those in the LGBT community faced had more in common with the negative view that the first century Church faced than to what we face now.

    We could now look at the workers of Marx’s world. The proletariat were objectified and thus dehumanized, they suffered deprivation of and the loss of necessities of life, and they were exploited and oppressed by the bourgeoisie ruling class. I am not sure if they suffered marginalization in society, but suffice it to say that they too suffered more from the bourgeoisie negative view of them than what we Christians are suffering from now.

    Finally, we could look back at the Church in the first century. They faced, persecution, marginalization, death, imprisonment, among other things. And so I’ll go out on a limb and say that the world’s negative view they had to endure was harsher than the one we endure now.

    So my question is this, which of those 3 groups is the above article calling us to imitate the most in our response to the negative view that world has of us today? The answer is most decidedly not the last group; it isn’t the First Century Church and perhaps the reason for that is found in the answer to the next question: Is the revolution hoped for by Renn and others there to reestablish WASP hegemony or to carry out the Great Commission? We should note that the Church in the time of the Apostles knew but were apathetic to the fact that they were the victims of the world having a negative view of them. They were focusing on evangelizing because that is how they were taught to carry out the Great Commission.

    Romans 12 tells us to not conform to the image of the world, but be transformed by God’s grace. But what is becoming prevalent in Europe and America today? One of them is the emergence of authoritarian ethnocratic movements. Those movements have both secular and religious chapters. And it seems to me that what is being called for in the above article seems to be more similar to what is being practiced in the world than to what the Apostles taught about what it meant to be transformed by God’s grace.

      1. Andrew,
        If my comment was so braindead, you should be able to point out why without any problem.

        But because your comment was just an insult, I have no idea as to what you are disagreeing with.

    1. I don’t see the relevance of your comment to this article or to Renn’s book. What does negativity toward other groups of people or toward Christians in the past have to do with the response required in this moment to negativity toward Christianity? What does persecution toward the Church in the first century, before America was even founded, have to do with persecution toward Christians in the U.S. in 2024? Tactics in this moment require educated strategy derived from the knowledge available to us now, not replication of some other past strategy based on knowledge available then.

      And lastly it goes without saying that however we (ie Believers) respond, we do so as those transformed by God’s grace. It is implicit in the message of the book and of this article that the words are directed toward those redeemed by Christ and transformed by His grace. (But remember…..we are all still sinners fluctuating between sinner and saint, as did Paul in Romans 7 and 8, and will behave accordingly)

      I honestly don’t get the point or relevance of what you’ve written. It comes across as contrarian, not helpful.

      1. Jill,
        I gave 3 examples of groups that faced a negative view by the world, today’s Christians are not the only ones who have had to face the world’s negative view. That tells us that we are facing similar enough situations that others have faced. And so we can now compare ourselves with others. Here, we can compare how the article is telling us to respond to the world’s negative view of us now with how a few other groups have responded to the world’s negative views of them. Also, here, we are comparing more than just tactics, we are companies strategies and strategic goals being used by each group. And, again, we can do so because we share similar enough experiences with not only the first century Church, but the two other groups mentioned.

        Many in the LGBT community and those who followed Marx called for revolution and forcing change on society to raise their group’s place in society, in its institutions, and in its values so that its group could exercise more control over society. The first century Church focused on evangelism and sharing the Gospel in order to build the Church. So now the question is, which group does the above article seem to tell us to be like the most? Is it telling us to have our own revolution and try to force changes on society, its institutions, and values so as to, at least partially, restore Christianity, or WASP hegemony to be more precise, to its original position of influence and control over society? Or is telling us to imitate what the first century Church did by focusing on evangelism and teaching God’s Word to build and maintain the Church?

        Again, I am not asking us to compare methods and tactics only; I am asking us to compare strategies and strategic goals too. And we don’t have to have identical circumstances to compare ourselves with those from history; we just need similar enough circumstances. If that was not the case, then there would be little to nothing worthwhile for us to learn from history.

        Finally, some contrarian views are helpful. We have to judge them on a case by case basis. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on a door in Wittenberg, he was presenting, what was, then and there, a contrarian view. Certainly I am no Martin Luther. But that example shows that some contrarian views are helpful.

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