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#NeverTrump

[Sound of me, crawling out of Blogosphere Cryo...]

So, it’s been an interesting week, where (absent a delegate coup in Cleveland) Donald Trump has sewn up the GOP nomination, and Hillary is all but a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.  There’s no way to put enough lipstick on this pig: The state of the union is at its nadir if this is the best the two major parties can puke up for the electorate to choose from.

As if it wasn’t already obvious to those paying attention, I’ve come out a #NeverTrump, #NeverClinton voter, and it appears that a veritable Who’s Who of Christian and conservatives have reached somewhat the same conclusion.  But there are those, including some friends of mine, who’ve written to me privately or publicly, who are perplexed. If I am #NeverTrump, does that mean I want the Wicked Witch of the West Wing to return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?  If I am actively opposing the GOP nominee, am I not declaring that I am not (and, maybe, never was) a Republican?  Some even grant that the Donald Trump is indeed an odious individual, but if the only thing worse than President Trump is President Hillary, shouldn’t I vote for the lesser of two evils (or at least keep quiet about the whole mess)?  As a Christian, shouldn’t I do whatever I can to keep a crook and serial liar like Hillary out of office?  As a Christian, shouldn’t I vote for Trump and hope the best for him?

I’ve been praying about this for several months now, and hoping I’d never have to go this route, but that is the lot that was dealt.  In trying to figure out how to explain myself, I guess it was high time to log back in to PPP – where we have dealt with such questions in the past – and have a good go at a satisfactory answer.

So let’s roll.  And to get rolling, let’s start at the end.  In Revelation.

Dressed in White

In the past, I’ve written on the church of Sardis, in the book of Revelation.  The primary deity of that city in Asia Minor was Cybele (KIH-buh-luh), and one of the primary festivals that celebrated her was an NC-17 affair.  Men who were devoting their lives to Cybele would castrate themselves, place their family jewels on her altar, and then dance (?!?) down the main street, spraying/throwing their blood upon those along the parade route.  Everyone was dressed in white, and if you had the worshipers’ blood spattered on you , it was supposedly good luck.

And with this background, the Apostle John dictates Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

And so it is, with this bit of backdrop, that I will explain why I am #NeverTrump, and why I will invite any and all to come with me on that particular path.

I Remember

I realize that many of my younger friends don’t much remember the 90’s, outside of TNMT and awful music.  But I do.

Bill and Hillary took over the White House in 1992, and spent the next 8 years reaping the benefits of the Reagan economic reforms, while using 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their personal cash cow/brothel.  Even though the economy was good (thanks to nothing they had done), they were the most odious of individuals to have lived in those walls.  But much of the public was willing to turn a blind eye to the corruption and escapades, simply because times were good.  Sexual harassment of young interns?  That’s just a private matter.  Outright corruption (Whitewater, etc.)?  A vast right-wing conspiracy.  And on, and on.

But the one thing the critics of the Clintons’ generally had going for them was that their character, at least in the view of the public, was consistent and above reproach.  Because something that has historically differentiated Republicans from Democrats is the former’s unwillingness to stomach corruption within their own ranks.

When a personal scandal erupts with a politician with an (R) after their name, the other R’s will typically call for them to step down and take their punishment.  It goes right along with their law-and-order philosophy.  And, because they tend to go overboard in this regard, this is why the GOP sometimes is called “The Stupid Party”.

When a personal scandal erupts with a politician with a (D) after their name, the other D’s will typically circle the wagons, blame the accusers for pointing out the obvious, and cry “foul!” until the media narrative moves on.  And, because they tend to go overboard in this regard (paging Marion Berry…), this is why the Democrats are sometimes called “The Evil Party”.

Now, we’re on the verge of another Clinton administration. [Let's not fool ourselves.  There's no way, short of an indictment, that Hillary won't win the Electoral College by a larger margin that Obama in 2008.]  When that happens, only those who lived out #NeverTrump will have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing the corruption that inevitably follows the Clintons around, like flies in a junkyard.

All of those who voted for Trump will have white robes with varying degrees of blood on them.

Should a miracle occur and Hillary be indicted this time, we could end up with a President Trump.  He has already shown his ill temperament, his raging narcissism, and lack of judgment over the last several decades, and throughout the primaries.   When the rotten fruit of these fatal flaws come to bear, those whose robes have blood on them will be partially to blame, without a leg to stand on.  It’s not like they will have an excuse of “I didn’t know he was like that when I voted for him”.  Except for those who have drunk the Kool-Aid, it is as plain as the sun rising in the morning.

They will be no different than the people who voted for the Clintons in the 90’s, and turned a blind eye to their corruption out of reasons of economy and comfort.  And they will have blood on their robes.

The Lesser of Two Evils

But if Trump is the lesser of two evils, shouldn’t I support him, just to prevent the more evil of the two from getting into office?

Short answer: No.

Medium Answer:  The lesser of two evils can still be quite evil.

Longer Answer: “Of two evils, choose neither.” – Charles Spurgeon (and note – I am giving a positive quote of a Calvinist.  That says something.)  Since we are not compelled to vote – and there is no biblical instruction on “voting”, because no early Christians had a say as to who Caesar was – there is nobody forcing us to choose.  We can simply refuse to choose a Presidential candidate in November, or we can vote for a third-party candidate, or write in whomever we want.

Longest Answer: Trump has no moral center, aside from what is good for Donald Trump today.  So, whatever policy position he wakes up with this morning, be it good or ill, there will be MUCH more pressure on the congressional Republicans to cave to his wishes (because he is supposedly “one of them”) than if it was Queen Hillary proposing the same sort of nonsense.

Example: Yesterday, Donald Trump was suddenly for a higher national minimum wage (which – for the economically illiterate/ignorant – actually *hurts* the young and the poor), after months of being against it.  To this point, the Republicans have ignored Obama’s proposals to raise it to $9, $10, $12 or even $15 per hour.  They just say “yeah, I don’t think so.”  But if Trump were President and suddenly demanded the same thing, you know that 1) the press would have a field day with “will congressional Republicans block their own president’s ‘incredibly reasonable’ request?”; and that 2) the surrender caucus within the GOP, that would so love to be invited to the DC cocktail circuit, would immediately cave and give Donny what he wants, lest he take to Twitter and savage them and say mean things about them.

If you don’t know that this is true, you’re either a) not paying attention; or b) stupid.

So, honestly, a President Hillary – for all the damage she would do, especially to the court system – would be far better (and easier) to oppose than a Demon King from our own party.  This would be far more damaging than anything Herself would do, because we would be complicit in implementing the evil, and making it even more deeply-rooted, and hard to remove, from law.

To quote Alexander Hamilton:

“If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.”

It is because of this that some in the #NeverTrump camp have decided on #MaybeHillary, but I think that that particular route would also be a road too far, because it would still be voting for evil, but simply to serve our own purposes.

God before Country before Party

It’s kind of funny.  I’ve been a die-hard Republican my entire life, but I have been increasingly uncomfortable with many Christians who have conflated faith with party politics, to the detriment of both.  It’s like we’ve forgotten that our church was founded under persecution, without access to any levers of power, but once it tasted political power (see: Constantine), things have never been the same.  Our allegiance is first to God above country, and even then to country above party.   Somewhere along the line, we bought the lie that it was the job of the government to make people – Christian or not – to live as if they were Christians (by behavior).  While this might have made it more civilized, it has had unintended consequences.

It’s like Rich Mullins once said to me – “the problem with pagans today is that they are just too shallow“.  He went on to talk about how we’ve domesticated the pagans and taught them, by our actions, that Christianity is about sin management and good behavior.  And our demands of them have immunized them to seeing their need for a Savior.

And so it is that I’ve had friends in the last week question why “a good Christian man” with my “integrity” would want to do something that resulted in Hillary Clinton winning the White House.

As if God really cared or was not in control of the situation.

The truth of the matter is that Trump and Hillary are so corrupt and odious, each in their own way, that were I the deciding vote, I would abstain, and trust God to choose our poison via the flip of a coin.  Why on earth would I want to get blood on my robes for supporting either one of them?

If Hillary wins, I will be able to celebrate that Trump lost (and probably in spectacular fashion).  And then, in 2020, after 12 years of Democrats running the economy and society into the ground, perhaps the GOP can nominate a Christian man or woman with a sense of integrity, who should be in a position to easily turn the economy around by taking the boot of government off of the necks of the people and businesses.  And in the interim, I will be able to fight against 95% of what she proposes, to minimize the damage to clean up in 2020.

If Trump wins, I will be able to celebrate the Hillary lost (and probably be on her way to jail).  And then, in 2020, after 8 years of a Democrat and 4 years of an idiot savant running the economy and society into the ground, perhaps the GOP will primary the Orange One (if he hasn’t already switched back to his home party) with one or two good challengers (with anyone who ever supported Trump barred from running), since by then they will be embarrassed enough by his behavior.  And in the interim, I will probably be able to fight against 90% of what he proposes, because he will no longer have the need to pretend to support Republican policies.

Either way, the country will continue its path down the toilet – getting what it deserves from the leaders it has chosen – and the church will be there to help those hurt most by the decline, and – hopefully – will be less beholden to politicians in the next cycle.

What About Me?

A question I was asked: “As a Christian I would think that you would hope he succeeds. Instead you hope he fails.”

My answer: “As a Christian, I would hope that the leaders we choose are people we could point to as good role models for our children, because their words and actions are Christ-like. Neither major party has nominated an individual like that.”  [And, in truth, if any of my kids grew up to be like Hillary or Trump, I would write them out of my will.]

As for hoping he will succeed.  I will hope he succeeds as much as I hoped Obama would succeed.  I would hope that he would follow a path of smaller, less intrusive government that allows its citizens to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness w/o persecuting its citizens for thought crimes.  But I kind of know that he won’t – the same way I knew Obama wouldn’t – in which case I hope he fails spectacularly (see: Obamacare’s current trajectory into a death spiral), so we don’t try something/someone so stupid again.

But the GOP is the Stupid Party and the Democrats are the Evil Party, so I kind of temper my expectations accordingly.

So, before this gets WAAAY to long, I’ve included some final Q&A about the particulars of the view I am following and I hope that thousands of others will, as well.

Q: So who am I going to vote for?

A: If the Libertarians field a decent candidate, I will probably push hard for them, simply because a strong Libertarian party (strong enough to get invited to the debates, hopefully) will pull the GOP back towards smaller government philosophy.  If I can’t support the Libertarian (who will probably be Pro-Choice – but so are Trump and Hillary, so it’s not like I have a choice there), I will probably write in “Mitch Daniels” or “SMOD” and get a good chuckle.

Q: If I’m pushing for #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary, why should I (or anyone who takes this position) vote at all?  Isn’t that just a waste of time?

A: Not at all.  We need good, principled people (i.e. probably not Democrats) to win the down-ballot races to prevent/minimize the damage that a President Hillary or President Trump would inflict on the country for the next four years.  Either one of them will be a disaster, and the more power they have to assert their will, free of obstruction, the worse off the country will be.  So the down-ballot races matter immensely in staunching the bleeding that is going to occur.

Q: If I am #NeverTrump, am I not really just aiding Clinton?  Isn’t a vote for #AnybodyButTrumpOrClinton really a vote for Clinton?

A: Have you read what I wrote above?  Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.  Whoever wins, God will be in control, and my choosing not to support either monster allows me to sleep at night, knowing that God was in control all along, and I wasn’t complicit in supporting either repugnant, repulsive candidate.

Q: Hey Chris, I supported real losers put forth by the GOP – Dole, McCain and Romney – for the good of the party.  Why can’t you do the same for a change of pace like Trump, for the good of the GOP?

A: God before Country before Party.  I, too, held my nose and voted for Dole, McCain and Romney – even though I thought they were awful candidates.  They were decent men, who (generally) supported decent policies, and who lived by a higher set of standards.  Trump is an awful candidate with no moral center – besides himself – whose policies change from day-to-day, and whose lifelong inclinations, politically are anti-life, anti-freedom, pro-big-government.  It should have been obvious that the quality, tenor and demeanor of the #NeverTrump crowd has been far different than those that opposed past GOP candidates.  Opposing Trump, regardless of his winning the nomination, is easily a matter of principle I won’t lose any sleep over.

Q: You realize that the Libertarian Candidate will probably support legalizing marijuana and prostitution, right?

A: And I will oppose those policies, though if they passed, it would not be the end of the world, because I believe that the eventual backlash against such policies would “right the ship, itself”, and the coalition repealing them would not just be seen as “Christian busybodies”.  And either way, Trump and Clinton – even if they may not support these policies – have quite a few awful ones of their own.  But, chances are, the Libertarian candidate personal character wouldn’t be something I’d disown my children for emulating.

Q: What if Trump picks a good Vice-Presidential running-mate?

A: Whoever Trump chooses, if they accept his offer, is permanently barred from ever receiving my vote, because they will have shown themselves too stupid, naive, or corrupt to ever hold that office.  In my heart of hearts, I hope he chooses Kasich, and that the delegates (mostly Cruz & Rubio supporters who have properly consigned Kasich to Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell) reject Kasich and stick Trump with Palin, out of spite.  But that would be too much to ask for.

Q: Is there any scenario by which you would vote for the GOP presidential candidate in November?

A: Yes.  If the delegates in Cleveland are allowed the exception to “vote their conscience” on the first ballot, and they choose someone other than Trump or Kasich, I’ll gladly vote for the GOP candidate.  Heck, since Paul Ryan surprised me today by refusing to endorse Trump – the presumptive nominee – I’d love to see Ryan nominated.  The very fact that he would be good in the office, but is not seeking it, is a big plus in my book.  Or, if a strong subset of delegates walks out and holds an alternate convention that includes Indiana, I will vote for their candidate.

And so on.

Feel free to post any more questions in the comments, and I’ll be glad to answer them (and maybe add them to the end of this post, if they’re good enough).

Grace and peace to you.

__________________

EDIT: Cleaned up a bit of the language (feedback from the Mrs.), and corrected some typos.

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A friend of mine pointed out this article today. It’s the story of the friendship between Shane Windemeyer (an LGBT leader) and Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-A) as told from the perspective of Windemeyer. It’s a bit long, but not nearly as long as the time that Cathy invested in building the friendship.

Go ahead and read the article (don’t bother with the comments) and then come back here for some random thoughts.

  1. How cool is it that Cathy took the time to do this?
  2. Imagine how hard he worked to make Windemeyer understand the distinction between his strong beliefs and his view of a person.
  3. I’m grateful that Windemeyer saw (and noted in this article) that Cathy was also taking a great risk by going public with the friendship.
  4. Remember the story that Windemeyer related about the frat boys displaying hate in the name of Chick-fil-A and how it bothered Cathy? Now substitute “professing Christians” for “frat boys” and “Christ” for “Chick-fil-A”. How do you think the Guy that runs that “brand” reacts to the same kind of actions?

There’s a wall of stereotype of how members of the LGBT community view Christians. Now let’s be charitable to the Christians and assume that the entirety of that wall is the fault of the LGBT community (that Christians have done nothing to contribute to the building of the wall) and that everything that comprises the wall is fallacious.

(Personally, I think that’s nowhere near the truth, but we’ll go with it for the sake of argument.)

Regardless of Christians’ involvement in the building of the wall or the veracity of its content, we have done extremely little to tear down that wall. And so, in order to form a friendship with Windemeyer, Cathy had to tear down the piece of that wall that was between those two men. And Cathy did indeed take a significant risk in going public with the friendship.

Why?

Because some people on his side of the wall would be upset that he was tearing down some of it.

Which pretty much destroys the charitable assumption that it’s all “their” fault. Oops.

Which, in turn, means that those who would be upset are either perfectly cool with the existence of a wall of falsehood or they actually believe the falsehood themselves. Neither of those scenarios put the Christian in a good light.

In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

We often cite this passage in conjunction with the first clause of Romans 1:16 (”I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”) and decide that the light represents — and the gospel is comprised of — solely our beliefs. But then we hide under a basket the fact that Jesus hung out with the most reviled people of His day. And we hide under a basket the fact that the apostles busted their butts to reach out to people who had never heard of this Jesus guy (or worse yet, had a completely incorrect view of Him).

Worst of all, we hide under a basket the fact that God became man to bring about reconciliation. He had to radically change His being to accomplish what He believed was necessary.

We don’t have to do anything that drastic. All we have to do is tear down a stupid wall.

The next verse in Matthew 5 says:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Our actions are supposed to turn people to God. And not just that, but actually cause them to glorify Him.

Why are the words “epic fail” ringing in my ears?

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A little more than a month ago, a newly-published Bible translation came to my attention, and I was able to get a copy of it.  The Voice, a translation commissioned by Chris Seay and the Ecclesia Society, is an interesting approach to translation that I believe is quite good, for what it seeks to be.

Before I go on, it’s probably best to get some comments out of the way about Bible translation.

A Messy Business

Unless you happen to speak fluent Hebrew, Greek and a smattering of Aramaic, you have to depend on somebody to translate the Bible for you.  There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 words in the English language, whereas there are only about 80,000 words in the Hebrew language, with only about 8,000 different Hebrew words used in the Bible.  Because of this, translators have to make lots of choices, informed by their own theology, as to what words and phrases they will use in English to approximate the words and phrases used in Hebrew/Greek.  As a result of this, whenever a translation is published, its language pattern is somewhat dated as time goes by (think of the Shakespearean English of the KJV compared to our day-to-day English).

In some cases, there is no real equivalent word in English, or a word is used as a special title, so the translators choose to transliterate the word, creating a “new” English word.  Examples of this are “Christ” and “baptism”.  In other cases, there are examples of wordplay in the original languages that are difficult to translate into English, so they translators have to decide between translating “word for word” (sometimes called “literal” translation) and translating “thought for thought”.  Other translators want to give readers a more narrative or “readable” version, so they choose to include some level of paraphrase in a “dynamic” translation.

Each type of translation has its own strengths and weaknesses.  It is important for Christians, as the readers of each translation, to understand what type of translation they are reading, why they are reading it, and not to try to make the translation to something it is not meant to do.  So long as you keep this in mind, there is really no such thing as a “best” translation.  If you are doing a word study, a dynamic translation is a poor choice.  If you are looking for a version to read out loud, or for a 90-day-through-the-Bible plan, a word-for-word translation will be frustrating for the reader.

Some folks get their panties in a twist over translations, claiming theirs is the only legitimate one (i.e. the KJV-only crowd) or they go the legalistic route of declaring the use of certain translations (or paraphrases) as sinful.  They all miss the point.

A Unique Voice

Probably the most well-known dynamic translation is The Message, a translation written by Eugene Peterson.  While it is more a paraphrase than a translation, The Message gives us Scripture in late-20th-Century English.

The Voice, also a dynamic translation, sits somewhere between The Message and thought-for-thought translations, like the New Living Translation.  A group of 120 individuals were involved in translating the original texts into The Voice.  Initially, a group of about 80 pastors, artists, musicians, writers and poets translated the Bible into literary/readable manuscript and then gave it to a group of 40 Biblical scholars.  Members of the translation team came from a cross-section of modern, orthodox Christianity, representing a healthy diversity of denominational backgrounds.

They wanted to have both intellectual rigor in translating from the original languages along with an artistic eye to assist modern readers in accessing Scripture.  This meant that they would have to make some choices, some of which contained no small measure of controversy.

Probably the most discussed choice they made was with the word “Christ” – a transliteration of the Greek word Christos, which was, itself, a translation of the Hebrew word for “Messiah”, which also meant “Anointed One”.   The translators of The Voice chose to translate this word, instead of transliterating it, as “the Anointed One”, or – when referring to Jesus’ role – as “The Anointed One, the Coming King”.  I remember a friend of mine who thought that “Christ” was Jesus’ last name (and that his parents were Jesus and Mary Christ), and this mistake is not uncommon.  The translators of The Voice sought to prevent this problem, as well, bringing cries of pain from the expected quarters of ODM-land.

Even so, this seems like a good choice.

Probably one of my favorite aspects of The Voice is that the translators chose to differentiate between the direct translation and the paraphrase by italicizing the paraphrased words.  In many cases, as well, the paraphrase pulls in referenced facts from earlier in Scripture (to remind the reader what the writer is referring back to) or to call out something that is foreshadowing later events.

Another feature of The Voice is that it is written in “screenplay” format, where speakers are called out in highlighted text (as if in a screenplay), which is very helpful in many of the conversation-heavy portions of Scripture.

In Conclusion

If you are looking for a dynamic translation, I would recommend The Voice as superior to The Message – both for its readability and for the increased rigor in the translation.  I would recommend that you download the New Testament portion of The Voice, which is available for free at the publisher, here, and try it out for yourself. (NOTE: You may have to add “.pdf” to the end of the file, depending on the browser you are using.)

Remember, though, if you’re looking to do a word study or teach a Bible Study, you should look to use a “word-for-word” or even a “thought-for-though” translation.  But if you’re looking to read through the Bible, or for a dynamic translation for other purposes, The Voice fits the bill very well.

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So, after Brendt’s post last week, I thought my temptation to write an article on this would pass.  However, after a number of DM’s, Tweets, Facebook messages and some emails, I think it might just save me some time and lots (and lots) of repeating myself.  Additionally, a good friend asked me what was going on with all of this, and my reply was “it’s a long story” (which I probably owe her at some point, anyway), and current events seem to be surfacing this topic, as well.

Background on “Christian”

Andy Stanley started an 8-part series a couple of months ago at North Point Community Church, called “Christian”.  The overarching premise is that “Christian” is a malleable word (a poor adjective) that can mean most anything these days.  It was a word given to Jesus-followers by outsiders, not the followers, themselves.  What the followers called themselves, and what Jesus called them, is much better defined: disciples.  As such, we, as followers of Christ, ought to try to live up to what Jesus expected us to be (disciples), not take the squishy road of “Christian”. [I highly recommend the entire series, FWIW.]

  • Part 1: Brand Recognition – This is the basic premise of the entire series, relayed above, where Stanley lays out Christianity’s reputation, outside the church as “judgmental, homophobic moralists, who think they are the only ones going to heaven and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell”, and then goes on to describe the difference between “Christian” and “disciple”
  • Part 2: Quitters – Picking up from Part 1, Andy tells the story of Anne Rice – leaving the church, rediscovering her faith, and then disavowing “Christians”, saying “Today I quit being a Christian.  I’m out.  I remain committed to Christ, as always, but to being ‘Christian’ or being part of ‘Christianity’.  It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.“  Stanley then goes on to describe the defining characteristic given to disciples by Jesus (see 1 John 4:7-8), that should differentiate us from the world around us, so that we don’t settle for the brand “Christianity”.  Key quote: We give up our leverage in society when we opt for anything other than LOVE.
  • Part 3: Insiders Outsiders – Andy follows the evolution of the early church – from a small, persecuted minority to a movement that toppled the Roman Empire.  He points to this event in time as a point where Christians stopped leveraging love as their distinguishing characteristic, and started leveraging other things – like political power – to impose their faith on others, by threat or force.  He examines how Christians should treat those outside the faith, and that we should not expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live as he commanded his followers to live.  (This sermon shared points with the incredibly good 1-sermon series last summer, The Separation of Church and Hate.)  Over time, though, Christians morphed the Great Commission into “Therefore, go and impose my teaching, values and worldview on all nations, threatening them with judgment and destruction if they don’t obey everything I have commanded you.“  The main point he comes to is that we are to judge disciples (who are acting against his commands), not outsiders (who never signed up to follow his commands).  [He uses Mark & Grace Driscoll's appearance on The View as an example of how to demonstrate this.]
  • Part 4: Showing Up -  The Sunday before Easter, Andy preached this sermon on how disciples should live – as salt and light – in the world.  He traces this from the experience of the early persecuted church, up to how we ought to live now – where how we treat one another and how we treat those outside the church (by “showing up”) – is to be such examples of Christ that when people see us, they see what he is like.  This is messy, and is not always immediately (or ever) visible to us, but our good deeds should shine in such a way that others speak well of Christ from seeing how we act.  “The way we act may make them feel guilty, but it should not make them feel that we are condemning them.”  (i.e. it should be their conscience that convicts them, not our criticism.)
  • Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy – In a theme common here, Andy touches on the tension that exists between grace and truth.  His basic premise, spoken several times and several ways:  “A tension exists between grace and truth.  If we try to resolve that tension, in either direction, we lose something.”  He goes through multiple examples in Jesus’ ministries where Jesus, described by John as the perfect embodiment of grace and truth, gives both grace AND truth.  For example, in the woman who committed adultery and as brought before him, Jesus response was “I do not condemn you” (grace) and “go and live in sin no more” (truth).  As Brendt quoted this sermon, “… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.“  This was a very good, but very difficult lesson (and the source of the controversy, covered below).
  • Part 6: Angry Birds – This sermon covers similar territory the previous week – this time via Jesus’ teaching, whereas Week 5 dealt with Jesus’ actions.  It examined Jesus’ teaching to the disciples about how to treat sinners, followed by the story of the Two Lost Sons (sometimes called The Prodigal Son).  In the first part, he says that if Christians are doing what Jesus did and following what he taught, we, too, should end up attracting the “tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes”, which will likely result in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to mutter that we’re associating with the wrong sorts of people.  Even though we have more in common, and nearly identical theology, to the ‘Pharisees”, the way we live our belief – if we’re doing it right – will likely result in the sinners feeling welcome and the self-righteous feeling … self-righteous and put out.  Basically, as Stanley follows on, we should be modeling the role of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
  • Part 7: Loopholes – This sermon continues on, examining how “Christians” (and, to some degree, non-Christians) try to use “loopholes” which allow our own sinful behavior, while condemning/damning the sins of those who are different than them.  He contrasts this with what Jesus taught – “Love God, and love your neighbor – all other laws flow from/are subservient to these”.  In the context of loopholes, Andy sums this up – to the Pharisees – as “Don’t you dare take a verse or a passage of Scripture and use it to unlove someone else, you hypocrites” and then continues: “Disciples don’t look for workarounds or loopholes – ‘Christians’ do that – Disciples ask ‘What does love require of me?’“  [I loved this particular bit, as well: "'Christians' use the Bible like a mace - 'Disciples' use the Bible like a mirror."]  If you only have time for one sermon in the series, I’d go here.  Very challenging stuff.  Stuff I often suck at.  Stuff that will make you uncomfortable.  Stuff that doesn’t require you to compromise, but requires you to love people who are not like you.
  • Part 8: Working It Out – In the final sermon of the series, Andy picks up from the final question of Week 7:  What does love require of me? In it, he notes that the people who have shaped us the most are either a) those who really loved us; and b) those who really hurt/abused us.  Originally, Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another.  Our defining characteristic was to be how we love one another, but over time it has evolved from being more about how we behave to being almost completely about what we believe.  If we want to re-brand “Christian” to become synonymous with “Disciple”, we need to follow the new commandment he gave us.  “We represent the commander, not the commandments.”  He finishes up the series by talking how to prepare ourselves to live in love: 1) Don’t do anything that will hurt you; 2) Don’t do anything that will hurt someone else; and 3) Don’t be mastered by anything.
  • All in all, this was an incredibly good series, and one that is challenging (for good reasons).  I encourage you to watch/download/listen to it all.  Twice.

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As you are likely aware, Chuck Colson died on Saturday. There have already been many glowing eulogies written about the man from all corners of Christendom.

In slight contrast, a friend of mine remarked that it’s sad that most of the articles in the secular press focus on his Nixon/Watergate years. One such article even (essentially) admitted to having to consult Colson’s web site to see what the man had been up to for the last 35 years. In one sense, this is sad. But in another sense, it’s a good thing. Though Colson was a prominent figure in the “culture wars”, he apparently did his fighting in such a way that he was not the focus.

Put another way, when John Doe heard the name “Chuck Colson”, he had one of two responses — either (1) “who?” or (2) “oh yeah, that Watergate guy.” He didn’t respond with, “oh yeah, that bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic jerk.” What does that say about who (or should that be “Who”) was most obvious in Colson’s life?

OK, to be fair, one John Doe did have that response. But Franky Schaeffer has a history of selling entire books that bash on dead guys (like his own father) in order to prop up his own agenda. So one measly blog post is hardly noteworthy.

Outside of special cases like Schaeffer, the only people who seemed to have a major beef with Colson were from a segment of Protestantism that was far too uncomfortable with his work with Roman Catholics on ECT and the Manhattan Declaration. Now, it has been well established that Online Discernment [sic] Ministries [sic] are wildly Romophobic. So, I cynically asked some friends recently if they wanted to start a pool on which ODM would be first to dump on Colson for his associations with Catholics. After all, they have a history of using not-yet-cold dead guys to prop up their agenda, too.

Ya know what? As far as I can tell, none of them “went there”. Kudos to them.

So that’s all I have to say. I just wanted to praise the authors for not …

Wait …

What ?!?!?!

(And you thought this post was over ….)

There’s a very prominent Christian blogger out there — we’ll call him Tom.

As is my wont, I’m not giving his real name. My issue is with the actions/attitudes, not the person. Though I don’t have any real desire to give the person any Google juice either.

Several years ago — I think it was in a comment thread on iMonk’s blog — someone referred to Tom as being “irenic”. At first I thought that was a typo, but “ironic” didn’t fit the context, so I hit an online dictionary and found this definition for “irenic”.

favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

And I thought, “yeah, that’s a good description of Tom”.  While he had no “Randy Alcorn” moment of major reconciliation, Tom is (was?) a very even-keeled guy who would seek to get rid of the dividing lines in Christendom when they weren’t of primary theological importance. Further, while not specifically addressing their Romophobia, Tom had — on more than one occasion — spoken out against the ODMs for their tendency to wantonly bash their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Heck, he even once had a meal with Rick Warren and came to the conclusion that he is not the anti-Christ (contrary to what ODM authors seem to believe). Tom disagrees with Rick on several issues, but he did not let that stand in the way of genuine fellowship.

So it was rather surprising (and massively disappointing) to watch Tom throw that irenic nature out the window and go for Colson’s jugular. In his article, he expresses “surprise” that others’ remembrances of Colson are uniformly positive. While giving Colson some credit for some of his work, Tom then accuses him of working “against the Lord’s church”, laboring for “outright sinful causes” and “undermin[ing] the gospel”. All of his accusations revolve around Colson’s work and alliance with Roman Catholics and those of the Orthodox faith.

Sigh.

Now — ya want to take the irony up another few notches?  Another definition of “irenic” is:

a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects

Yeah, I think we can stop applying that word to Tom from now on.


UPDATE: Since I started writing this, one of the ODMs did “go there”. But it’s pretty obvious from the ODM article that Tom’s article was both the impetus and inspiration for the ODM article. So Tom still retains a good bit of his uniqueness.

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Forward: Bono once wrote a song called The Wanderer. He didn’t sing it on the record because he thought it would sound pretentious if he did. Instead, he had Johnny Cash sing it. No pretense there. I don’t have Johnny Cash to write this post and remove all the pretense. Forgive me, please, in advance, if this sounds pretentious.

I do not know Rachel Held Evans except that some of the other writers here frequent her blog. I don’t know how involved they are except that every now and again we will talk privately about one of her posts. I do want you understand, however, that I am not writing this as a personal attack on Ms. Evans. Maybe it is unsolicited advice. Maybe it’s a parable. Maybe I’m just thinking aloud. That said, I am going to write.

I am sure that Ms Evans has had a difficult experience in the church (with a little ‘c’). I can tell after reading her post 15 Reasons I Left the Church. She cites a few others who have also written about their own reasons for leaving the church including someone who wrote an entire book about why people 18-29 have left the church. 18-29 is a tough age for anyone, but I suppose it is especially so for church folk who are looking for just the right place to call church-home. (It seriously does not require a book to expound the reasons why.)

I do not for a minute doubt the sincerity of Ms Evans’ post, but I confess it is a terribly depressing lot of reasons she gives for rejecting the local body of believers. She wrote, with what I presume to be as much angst as a 30-something can muster up, the following:

I left the church when I was twenty-seven. I am now thirty, and after trying unsuccessfully to start a house church, my husband and I are struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.

There’s a lot of first person pronouns in that explanation.

As I am now 41, not so far removed from 30-something angst, allow me to say: Good luck!

I’d like to tell a story. Nearly 3 solid years ago, I was unceremoniously removed from the congregation I had loved and served for nearly 10 years. I was finishing a week of church camp with my beloved Junior High students from several area churches. It was Friday night, parents were picking up children, I was waiting on everyone to leave so that I, too, could go home and prepare for the sermon I was to preach two days later. It was in the midst of all this that I received a call from, not one of the elders nor one of the deacons, but from one of the church trustees–a man whom I baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He informed me that I needed to be at a meeting the following day.

At the meeting the next day, I was given an ultimatum: stay and we will fire you, give you two weeks’ salary; leave and we will give you six weeks’ salary. Ah, congregations know the way to a preacher’s heart. Of course I took the money. I have regretted it every day since July 12, 2009.

After the meeting, that same trustee informed me: “It’s nothing personal.” Seriously.

Making the matter more compelling is that less than a year before all this happened in July 2009, my wife and I, after 17.5 years of marriage, and 10 years with the same congregation, bought our first house. That six week’s worth of salary was not going to go far. Ah, churches, blessing upon blessing. (I will spare the details of what this episode did for the faith of my sons and my wife.)

Don’t get me wrong. Of the 15 reasons that Ms Evans gives in her post, I actually believe that six of them are solid complaints–serious problems that need to be addressed in the american version of the church, complaints that I, too, would have no problem echoing. Not least among them is her complaint about churches being involved in the politics of the world. I cannot tell you how sick to death I am of hearing preachers and christians staking the course of the christian faith upon the outcome of some god forsaken election. It makes me think that most christians put more faith in the election of conservative politicians than they do in the Lord Jesus. We christians place so much faith in the democratic way of electing leaders that Jesus could no longer say to Pilate, “You would have no power if not given to you from above.”

Pshaw!

OK, I’m off track…my point is that churches, in general, are full of nasty people. I have met them up close and personal–I can give you names, addresses, birthdays–the church is full of ugly things, ugly thoughts, ugly words, and ugly sinners. It’s a nightmare and when a preacher calls them on the fact that it has been so for the better part of their 40 year existence, he is summarily dismissed without so much as a farewell tea or carry-in dinner.

That is, churches are full of people like me. I know that.

For all the bitterness I have masticated the past three years, I also know that for the better part of 10 years I loved and was loved (at least by most). I don’t think we should fly by Ms Evans reason #10 too quickly.

Oh, there was this one time, when I was still in college, that I was filling the pulpit in a church somewhere in the Northwestern part of the state of Ohio. It took probably 4 hours to get there from Lansing, MI, and when I was done preaching, I was given a whopping $30 honorarium. Another time while doing pulpit supply in a church near Detroit, my wife accidentally sat in some old woman’s pew seat. You would have thought we killed her kittens and burned them before her eyes while feeding live bunnies to wolves. I’m serious. In my first church after college, I served for about a year and a half before the church decided that the money given to them by the atheist next door neighbor was more important than hearing the truth on Sundays.

And since I am on the preacher side of things, I could tell you about the ministries of several other preacher friends who have suffered the same or worse at the hands of power hungry elders (or their wives), tool-like trustees, or unhappy people who simply enjoyed eating preachers and their families for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and second dinner.You think it’s tough being a parishioner? Trying being a preacher. Try listening to the reasons why church members leave churches.

Yet I still belong to the church (with a little c). The church we worship with is anything but perfect. The people are sometimes as unfriendly to me as I am to them. Sometimes there is an air of conservative politics pervading the worship and overwhelming the presence of the Spirit. And worst of all, the pastor is a man! (Gasp!) I hold fast to the thought that american christians really have no clue how to define suffering. But, for all my complaints, I believe Jesus is among those people. I can tell because while they were losing their building to the Episcopal church, they were giving themselves away in ministry to local people. They could have took; instead they gave.

What I have learned is that no church is perfect and that, really, it takes faith to belong to the church with a little ‘c.’ It takes a lot of humility–something I confess I lack. It takes a lot of courage–especially when that church doesn’t always line up with your theological or political or biological expectations. It takes a lot of love–especially for gossipy old ladies whose favorite pastime is running down the preacher while getting their hair done and gossipy old men who do the same at McDonalds over coffee. It takes a lot of grace–after all, Jesus showed us that same grace when he welcomed us into his church, the church of which he is the charter member and the head. It’s not just that Jesus has something to do with the church, it’s that Jesus has never left the church. All these years. All that sin. All this ugliness. All the politics and compromise with the culture. Jesus is still here. With us. With the church.

Sometimes I think God allows the church to be as imperfect as it is precisely because there are people like me who have so many problems with the church, who have been mercilessly crushed time and time again by the church, who have been spoon fed to the devils and sifted in the wind, people like me who need to be humbled, and taught what grace really is. In other words, old ladies will always be old ladies, and never mothers, until I humble myself, forgive them, and love them as Jesus has loved me.

I’m not saying church is perfect.* I’m not saying there are never reasons to leave the church. I’m not saying I have it all figured out all the time. I’m not saying I haven’t been the reason other people have left the church. I’m certainly not saying that I am any better than Ms Evans; our lists are just different. I’m just saying that I am still there and that is so for one reason: Jesus is still there.

And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man…’ (Revelation 1:12-13a).

*Thanks to JM and BWW for crushing me one day with the problem I wasn’t seeing: I.

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Shawn & BrendtMeet Shawn. Shawn was my best friend in high school.  (That’s him on the left at his graduation, and me still looking 12 after my first year of college.) When we were in our fundy Christian high school together, Shawn was planning on being a pastor. He even preached a few times in our weekly chapel service. We lost touch a couple years after this picture, but I caught up with him on the phone about 5 years after college. When I asked what he was doing (work-wise), he hemmed and hawed a bit before finally “admitting” that he was a social worker in the county where he lived. He was happily surprised that I wasn’t disappointed (in him) that he wasn’t a pastor.

I asked if he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do and he affirmed excitedly that he was and gave me a couple of recent examples in which he had seen God working through him at his job. Then I noted to him that being a pastor was a logical choice back when we were kids, given the environment that we were in. Back then, it was made clear to us (caught, if not necessarily taught) that a man who wished to truly follow God’s will for his life — and Shawn did want that — would be in “full-time Christian service”. This pretty much limited the options to (1) preacher, (2) missionary, or (3) Christian school teacher. A woman had the options of #2 or #3 or (better yet) the spouse of any of those options. There was lip-service paid to the legitimacy of the “Christian businessman”, but the overall influence showed that it was merely lip-service to the guy who actually paid the bills, er um, tithes.

In short, if you weren’t one of the big three, you were a second-class Christian.

Fast-forward to today. I saw a video whose overall theme still has me a bit puzzled, but it had a particular thought in it that conjured up the same tired old images of second-class Christianity. In addressing the Christian viewer about having heard and believed the gospel, the speaker threw a frickin’ bone to those who may have heard it differently than he did:

even if it’s a gospel that a guy like Barnabas would preach, as opposed to an apostle like Paul

Say what? When did Barnabas get ranked below Paul in anything?

If anything, in those days, Barnabas had a better grasp on grace than Paul did (Acts 15:36-39), something of which Paul apparently later repented (2 Timothy 4:11). But I digress.

I was so confused that I felt like I had to keep listening, in the desperate hope that he’d explain that gem.

The speaker’s text was Acts 11:19-26. I’m going to divide the passage into a few pieces so as to comment on the story as it progresses.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

OK, so we’ve got unnamed guys (”from Cyprus and Cyrene”) who were preaching Jesus and leading people to the Lord.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

Hey, this sounds pretty cool. Go check it out, Barney.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Barney confirms that it is way cool. And he encourages them in their faith.  A few good things are recorded about him, and apparently his influence led to others finding Jesus, too.

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Hey, Paul, you gotta see this! And so Paul comes and the two of them stay there for a whole year, teaching.

So, we’ve got a movement of the Spirit that starts with guys that the Bible doesn’t even bother to name, then Barnabas gets to throw in, and then Paul does too. It definitely seems that this whole thing is all about God, both from just the general gist of the story and that whole “the hand of the Lord was with them” thing in verse 21.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ !!!! Wrong !!! Thanks for playing.

This isn’t about God. This is about Paul. You see, according to the speaker, the reason that Barnabas went for Paul was because the people at Antioch wanted to know more than Barnabas could teach them. And Paul knew the Scripture better than Barnabas and had actually had a (brief) physical encounter with Jesus.

Yeah, I’m not sure what bodily orifice the speaker got that one out of, either. Is it possible that there was such a need/desire and that Paul could better fulfill it? Sure. But nowhere near with the factual certainty that the speaker classified it.

Oh, and the disciples in Antioch being called “Christians” — that was a direct result of Paul teaching them.  (See previous bodily orifice reference.)

When it comes to doctrine, Paul could kick anyone’s asterisk-dollarsign-dollarsign. So it’s really a toss-up as to whether this junk is Paul-olatry or doctrine-olatry. Either way, though, it ain’t good.

In short, Barnabas was (in the speaker’s mind) a second-class Christian. I guess the unnamed guys were third-class. So brush up on your doctrine, boys and girls. Otherwise, you’re disappointing God.

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Lost in the furor over hell (primarily) and heaven (secondarily) in last year’s Love Wins, by Rob Bell, (and its excellent companion volume) was the underlying thesis about God’s love, and its primary quality evident in man: libertarian free will.  What differentiated man from the angels, and the primary evidence of God’s love for man in His creation of him was the true gift of free will: the permission/ability given to man by God to choose whether or not to accept or reject Him.

As Paul writes:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures, Jesus and his Apostles make clear the fundamental difference between the Law and the Spirit.  Jesus’ primary beef with the Pharisee party was that it had built up a series of regulations, or “hedges”, around the law to prevent anyone from possibly breaking it.  Yet, in doing so, even though they followed the letter of the law, their hearts were not changed.  The Law, itself, was not evil, but it could not change the hearts of men.  Jesus’ teaching on the importance of loving God with all of oneself, and loving their neighbor was one of freedom, not coercion.  Later, Paul noted that what we eat does not make us sinful, but if we abuse our freedom in a way that hurts others, we are sinning – not against a law, but against God’s desire.

And so, we have freedom – liberty.

It is God’s desire that we should love Him, but we can also reject Him.

It is God’s desire that we should care for the poor, but we can insulate ourselves and never even meet them – or, at best, send them a check.

It is God’s desire that we should be generous, but we can keep our blessings for ourselves.

It is God’s desire that we should have joy and contentment in Him, but we can be dissatisfied with what we have and covet.

It is God’s desire that we should be open and honest, but we can be insular, closed and secret.

It is God’s desire that we should care for our earthly bodies, but we can abuse them, to our own detriment.

It is God’s desire that we should love our neighbor, but we can despise them because they are different that we are.

The aim of God’s desire cannot be legislated, because the heart cannot be changed by a law.  Compliance is not acceptance.

America the Free?

For all of the things they got wrong, the founders of America got at least one primary concept right – an underlying principle that eventually eroded the most glaring error of those fathers: the allowance of slavery

That principle was this: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

The only rights held by men were those given by God, not the government.  The purpose of the government was to protect those rights, not to grant them.  Those rights, given by God, would allow free men to choose whether to do good or to do ill.   The laws of the land only existed to prevent people from depriving other people of those God given rights:

Freedom of expression – whether in support of God or against Him.

Freedom to worship God – or to reject Him.

Freedom to associate with anyone else – or to reject them.

Freedom to own property – whether or not one was a godly steward with it.

Freedom to live and to work – or to be lazy and die.  The freedom to succeed, or to fail.

These freedoms, given by God, as we all should know from our own experience, do not guarantee outcomes.  An evil person may prosper and a good person may suffer.  Even so, it is the freedom, itself, that is a gift and is a reflection of the Spirit of the Lord.

Pharisee Nation

Recently, I’ve read The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky, which traces the roots of charity in America and its drifting from its original purpose (to help those in poverty to help themselves in escaping those conditions) to its present manifestation (which actually enslaves those it desires to “help”).  Olasky points out that charity is shared, personal, one-to-one suffering with those who are in need, not blind handouts, and that for almost a century and a half, the church managed the care for the poor far more effectively that the government could do, or has done since.

One of the things most clear to me, in reading it, is that many of us have shifted our reliance on God as the source of rights to reliance on the government to secure our rights.  While the Spirit of the Lord only guarantees us freedom, government seeks to guarantee our success and to outlaw failure.  In doing so, it has enslaved many – even in the church – and is doomed to fail, in the name of “compassion”.

We have taken the words of the Psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

And we have altered them to be:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from Washington, the righter of wrongs.

And we now suffer for it.

The church used to care for the poor and the sick and the needy.  (How many hospitals are named after various Saints?)  Now we don’t need to, because Washington has it taken care of.

The church used to care for widows and orphans, but now the government has it taken care of.

The church used to care for the elderly (and to instruct families to care for their parents and grandparents), but now we’ve got Social Security and Medicare to take care of that for us.

The church used to help those who suffered from failure.  Now we have Uncle Sam to bail us out:

Banks fail, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

Car companies fail because they churn out crap cars with overpriced labor governed by byzantine rules, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

People who bought houses they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t have go bankrupt, and we cry out to Washington to bail them out, as well.

All in the name of “compassion”.

But really, now, let’s get a clue.  There is absolutely no such thing as government “charity” – Charity is something freely given in direct accordance and relationship with the person receiving it.  Taking money from Peter, under coercion, for the sake of “compassion” on Paul is an abomination that sets up the agent of “compassion” as the true god of those who support it.  At that point, God is no longer the guarantor of rights.  He is now absent from the transaction.

And we all suffer for it.

But the church can’t handle the need is a cop out and an utter lack of faith in a God who parted the seas, ruptured the grave, fed the masses and rescued the lost.  It is the voice of despair from the acolytes of the church of man in support of a system that is doomed to failure.  “But the church can’t handle the need” is the cry of the Baal worshiper in the face of Elijah.   It is a story nearly as old as the Bible, like the prophet of God, Balaam, who sold out to His enemies because he thought he was choosing the winning side.

We have become a Pharisee nation, where we feel we must regulate the hearts of men, lest they make a bad decision.

Smoking is bad for you, so we must ban you from smoking.

Trans-fat is bad for you, so we must ban you from eating it.

Wearing a seat belt is good for you, so we must require you to do it.

Health insurance is good for you, so we must require you to buy it.

And on and on.

The only help the church and the people of America need from Washington is for it to become utterly inconsequential in their lives.  Allow the church to become the church and stop trying to regulate away failure and legislate the hears of men.  It won’t work, so stop trying.

I don’t believe that God chose you, and blessed you so that you could heap those blessings up upon yourself. I believe God chose you, and you, and you, and every one of you others because He wants to make a difference in this world. And you know what? what I think is scary about God is He didn’t come up with any ‘Plan B.’ That He left the Church here, and the Church is the only group of people, and the Church is the only institution in the world that can bring about a change. This government cannot do it, so stop depending on the government. Educational systems cannot do it, so stop trusting educational systems. The Church was chosen by God to make a difference. – Rich Mullins

Amen.

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Recently a friend of mine messaged me to ask me what I thought about this article.

Things got a little out of control so I decided to post it since I’d spent so much time on it.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe the scriptures endorse any economic system, and I believe a case could be made that it rejects all of them in some sense.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’m a little stunned at how terrible this article is. The author’s bio seems to indicate he’s a Jewish Rabbi who has lead congregations but I feel like this level of misunderstanding of scriptures is usually one seen only in publications that are overtly secular, with no understanding of scripture outside of a few verses casually read. Take for example, his use of the scripture “six days ye shall work”. The claim made is that this is an affirmation “that on a day-to-day basis work is the engine that brings about man’s inner state of personal responsibility”. However, this is the opposite intent of that scripture. Now, I don’t know precisely which scripture the author is referencing because that phrase is used approximately 9 times in the Torah. They are the commands concerning the Sabbath. And generally they go something like this: “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working. This gives your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It also allows your slaves and the foreigners living among you to be refreshed.”

What was unusual about this command was not the command to work, as the author claims, but rather the day of rest. The ancient world in which the scriptures were birthed wasn’t really filled with lazy people. For example, the Romans had a five day week, and you worked all five days. The command to take a day off each week was extraordinary. So extraordinary that in Exodus 31.17 God tells his people that this day off each week is “a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel” Not only was this an act pointing to God as creator, but also as provider. It was an acknowledgement that even when it would benefit survival to work all the time their faith in God is such that they will take a day off out of every seven for worship and rest, and God will provide for them. The claim that this command is an endorsement of work misses the point of one of the central commands of God to his people. Coming from a Jewish source I can’t believe this came from ignorance or only casual familiarity with scripture. I suppose I’ll have to be gracious and believe that it comes from being blinded by his commitment to an economic theory over and above his religious commitments.

You probably overlooked this statement (or I should say I overlooked it the first two times reading through): “Regarding mankind, no theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility.” Frankly, this is such a misjudging of the scriptures its breathtaking. The story of the scriptures is of God working to free his people. From stories like God sending home most of Gideon’s army, to David defeating Goliath, to the work of Christ himself the theme is that God is powerful and God saves his people. A Bible that is thematically about personal responsibility is a Bible in which everyone is abandoned by God.

Let’s shift focus to the author’s view of money and power. The author takes as an assumption that the accumulation of money and power are desirable. Look at his endorsement of a powerful military, as well as the assumption that the best economic system is the one that produces the highest GNP. These assumptions are easy ones to make in our present day, however, they were also easy ones to make when Jesus burst on the scene. That was, after all, precisely what the Jewish people were waiting for. A king, a military commander who would make the streets run red with Roman blood, and bring about a larger GNP for the chosen people. We see this expectation run into the buzz saw of Christ’s goals in John 6.14-15:

When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

What Christ continually teaches is that he came to establish an entirely new order. One that was based on servanthood, and denial of self, rather than building up the self as glorious, and powerful. What the Jewish people wanted was to out Roman the Romans. What Christ wanted was to be the anti-Caesar of a new Kingdom that would be the anti-Rome. In Matthew 20 Jesus teaches explicitly about it: “But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In light of this teaching, is it faithful to the scriptures to say that an economic system should be evaluated by the light of scriptures based solely on its ability to garner GNP, and produce a military capable of shattering rivals?

The author also makes a claim that capitalism is obviously Judeo-Christian because Judeo-Christians created the US, and the US is capitalistic. This paragraph is the one I refer to: “No country has achieved such broad-based prosperity as has America, or invented as many useful things, or seen as many people achieve personal promise. This is not an accident. It is the direct result of centuries lived by the free-market ethos embodied in the Judeo-Christian outlook.”

Is the Judeo-Christian outlook also overtly racist? You know where I’m going with this just by that question. The reality is that America has been a racist country from its outset. And the less Christian it has become overall, the less racist it has become. I would, personally, deny that racism and the scriptures go hand in hand, but if you accept that the state of America defines what is Judeo-Christian as the author does when it comes to capitalism, then it is consistent to reason in the same way when it comes to things like race.

While I agree that being made in God’s image means we are creative, and that work is good, I disagree with his characterization of entrepreneurial creativity as the norm for capitalism. Obviously, there has been some of that as we have things like sweet little coffee shops, Findley Market, Etsy, and a variety of other such endeavors. But the norm has been to treat humans as labor units. Coal miners, factory workers, assembly lines, and other such machines of economic activity all were focused on humans as labor units and nothing else. It took government involvement such as anti-trust legislation and the NLRB to get anything resembling fair treatment of workers. And, I would add, this has continued as much of what we laud as creative enterprise such as Apple is only made possible by viewing a massive Chinese workforce as units of labor and nothing more.

The author sneaks into his writing the idea that only a capitalistic society believes people should work. He spends a lot of time linking the idea of work to scripture and then through scripture to capitalism. However, a survey of collectivist oriented cultures would demonstrate that’s just not true. The only difference is the motivation. Working for family, city, and country is the motivation rather than for self through earning money is found throughout collective thinking cultures, many of which are found in the east and so are not Judeo-Christian in addition to not being capitalist.

One final point that I think caps off the view that this author has allowed his idealization of capitalism to overwhelm all other views, obligations, and scripture itself. The author states: “More than any other nation, the United States was founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective.”

Really? So all those countries that rose to power and political independence in the wake of the Reformation like Germany, France, England and Spain are all less founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective? Countries founded with state churches, where the churches wielded actual political power weren’t founded with morality with a specific religious perspective above and beyond that of the United States? The more I think about this the more absurd it gets. I can’t not think of countries that were founded with morality with a specific religious perspective.

There are certainly cases that can be made for an individuals’ participation in capitalism, but this isn’t a source for those arguments, in fact, I’m not really sure what this is a source for other than misguided application of scripture.

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I doubt I’ll ever forget the day.  There are a series of days burned into my memory. My wedding day. Graduations (both mine and friends). My kids birth. The phone call from my dad telling me that my mom had died. The day Rob put his hand on my shoulder.

It was dark in the shed. “I come to the garden alone…” was being sung by pastors all over. I had prayed 30 minutes before that I needed some confirmation from God about the direction I thought He was taking me. I knew there were dark nights ahead. My soul lanquished inside of me. Raw wounds stung my heart and bled all over the place.

My wife and I had been at our current church for 18 months. They had lied to us throughout the process until we moved there. My wife was hurting. My bloody soul was literally in shock. I felt used, abused and betrayed by the church, Christ’s bride. Now, I was going to move my family to Michigan without a job? And I was going to have to tell people that we moved because God told me to do it? To say, I didn’t trust the church would be an understatement (and this was before I knew about angry “christian” bloggers).

So I prayed, “Dear God, I’m going to do what I believe you are telling me to do one way or another but I need a sign. I know it’s weak to ask for a sign but I need one. I need one for the cold, dark nights of doubt that I am sure are coming. I need one because my faith will be tested. If You would, I’d like to ask…I mean, I was hoping…Here’s the thing God, I’m going to go up on that stage and I’m going to pray right at the foot of that cross. I’m going to pray and if I really am hearing You, would you have someone from staff here touch me? I don’t care if it’s a preacher, or a janitor. I just need a ‘I asked the LORD and He answered me’ moment, if you know what I mean God.”

Then I went and prayed.

As I was getting ready to get up and call it a day. I felt a hand on me. I looked up and it was Rob sitting there just offering me comfort. God moved in my soul at that moment. That was January. We moved to Michigan in April. It has been the best decision we ever made. We’ve since left Mars Hill so that our family could worship in the community in which we actually live. We want to give our kids roots and Mars is about 40 minutes away.

But man, the things I learned while I was there! The healing that occurred in my life. I am not sure I can do it justice. God used Rob and Mars to bring healing to my life, and that of my family. He Rob and Mars to help me get over my hurt with the church. Rob taught me the best way to answer your accusers because he did exactly what Jesus did and ignored them. Rob taught me that Love Wins. Rob preached three of the best messages I have ever heard on forgiveness.

Sure, he preached things I didn’t agree with all the time. He said things that made me stop and scratch my head once in a while. He also taught me that it’s OK for people to disagree. We can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. Being creative doesn’t mean you hit a home run every time. You know you have really good material when the stuff you’re cutting out and leaving on the floor is really good.

He also taught me that we can have real live humans that we look up to. Before Rob, I used to say that my heroes were all dead, that way they couldn’t let me down.

Rob taught me that you can be a flawed human, with a wealth of insecurities and still change the world.

Man, I’ve debated writing this post because I am sure that people are going to read it and want to attack him. There are going to be people who say that God didn’t really talk to me that day. I may actually lose business over this post. I’ve decided I don’t care. If it were not for Rob’s influence in my life, I might not be in church today. God used him in my life in a might way.

So like John Piper once famously (or infamously said), “Farewell Rob Bell.” I would add, “I and my family will miss you.”

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