On Dobbs and the Growing Rift in America: Why Only a Spiritual Answer Explains the Division 

abortion[Photo Credit: Not The Bee]

June 24 is a date that all Christians should now mark on their calendar.

For nearly half a century, January 22 was the day that remembered the decision to make abortion available throughout America. And since the decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, January 22 has been a day of prayer, petition, and planning for the end of Roe. And now, that prayer has been answered. Glory be to God!

On Friday, when the Supreme Court decided that Roe was not constitutional, they gave us a new day on the calendar to remember the sanctity of life and to give thanks to God for his mercy. June, a month co-opted for gay pride, has returned the rainbow, if for a moment, to its rightful owner—the God of mercy who does not give us what we deserve (see Genesis 9). More on the rainbow another day.

For now, it is worth remembering how the removal of Roe has been a rallying point for Pro-Life Christians for decades. And now that Roe has been overturned, we should give thanks to God for answering our prayers, and we should honor all those who sacrificed in order to make it happen.

Simultaneously, we should acknowledge the ways that elections have tangible consequences. In the election of Donald Trump, evangelicals supported this polarizing figure not because of his skin color, personal faith, or Twitter personality (definitely not his Twitter), but because of promises like this:

Incredibly, he fulfilled those promises. And Roe is now history.

At the same time, Roe’s end should bring incrementalists and abolitionists closer together, as they work to implement laws which protect life. Abolitionists should give thanks for the work incrementalists have done to end Roe, and incrementalists should take up the challenge set out by abolitionists to legislate equal protection under the law. Far more could be accomplished if these two approaches to abortion would work together.

Still, this post and the sermon that follows are less about abortion qua abortion. Rather, they are a biblical reflection on the spiritual warfare that fuels the battle over abortion. Indeed, as already evidenced by 41 cases of vandalism against pro-life groups, Christians should be ready for the increasing hostility that will come with the Dobbs decision. This is the point I want to make here.

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Elections Have Consequences: Why I Am Voting for Tom Ascol in Anaheim

person dropping paper on box

As the cost of gas, milk, eggs, and bread continue to rise, we are reminded, among other things, that elections have consequences. Those who are in office will impact those who voted for him or her, as well as those who did not vote for the officeholder. This is true in nationally, locally, and ecclesially (i.e., with respect to the church).

In Southern Baptist life, presidential elections have been held in earnest every two years for as long as I can remember. That pattern was broken in 2020, when the SBC did not convene, thus granting J. D. Greear a third term. And that pattern is being broken again this year, as Ed Litton has chosen to serve only one term.

Accordingly, the messengers in Anaheim will have the chance to vote for a new president. And like in every other year, the impact of that election will have consequences. But it seems that the consequences of this election may have more impact that in other years. That is why I am flying across the country to be in Anaheim, and why I will be voting for Tom Ascol. What follows is an explanation for that decision and a brief commentary on a few matters related to the SBC.

For those who read this blog and are not in the SBC, you can check back in a week or two. Or, you can listen in and hear a couple thoughts on a convention that has had a massive impact nationally and globally. Indeed, given the size of the SBC, even non-Southern Baptists should take note of what happens in Anaheim, as it will have impact on matters outside of the SBC and will confirm or deny many of the concerns of our day (e.g., sexual abuse, wokeness, doctrinal drift, denominational integrity, etc.) Continue reading

Winsomeness, Wisdom, and the Way of Jesus: A Few Reflections on Christ and Culture from John 6

IMG_6015Winsome win(t)-səmgenerally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence; cheerful, lighthearted.

In the last few weeks, the word winsome has generated lots of discussion as various Christians have considered various ways the church has or has not properly engaged culture.

This all started with Aaron Renn’s article outlining evangelicalism into positive, neutral, and negative worlds. It continued with James Wood’s two posts on his critical appreciation for Tim Keller. And these two articles set off a firestorm of other articles variously critical of Wood. In all of this kerfuffle, I have found Kevin DeYoung’s non-specific and biblical response and Doug Wilson’s earlier appraisal of Renn’s article most helpful. (If you read any of these articles, start with DeYoung’s.)

For my contribution, I simply want to point to the sermon I preached Sunday, which engaged with the word winsome. Admittedly, I overshot many in my congregation in addressing the problems of winsomeness—a good reminder that what happens online does not best capture what happens in real life. As I learned Sunday night, more than a few members of our community group had to look up the word. Clearly, and thankfully(!), they are not attuned to the latest tirade on Twitter. Continue reading

Is Racial Justice Essential to the Gospel?

Gospel,+Race,+&+the+Church

Earlier this month I joined Nicholas Piotrowski, Charles Ware, and Gus Pritchard for an event in Indianapolis called “Gospel, Race, and the Church.” Through six short messages and six panel discussions, plus a Q & A we worked through many subjects related to contemporary discussions on race and justice in the church. While this subject is fraught with landmines, the overall tenor of the event was positive, biblical, and prayerfully helpful.

To encourage candidness, the audios were not made public, so I can’t link to those. But what follows is one of my two messages. Lord willing, I can add the other next week.

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“Racial justice is essential to the gospel.”

Have you heard that statement before? Or what about this one, “The gospel must include justification and doing justice.” Or maybe you’ve had the question: “What does the gospel have to do with race and racism?”

In the last few years, there have been many ways the gospel, social justice, and race have been combined, and in this post, I want to talk about that triangle—the gospel, justice, and race.

As I will argue in a second article (out next week), I believe sinful partiality, hostility, and discrimination are better described in terms of ethnicity than race. As Acts 17:26 makes clear, humanity comes from one man (hence one human race) and is composed of many different nations (ethnicities).

For now, however, I will sidestep the question of race versus ethnicity. And I will answer the question: “Is racial justice a gospel essential or a gospel entailment?” I will first highlight the way some have enlarged the message of the gospel by making (racial) justice essential to the gospel message. Then I will try to outline what the gospel says and does not say, does and does not do. Biblical precision is needed in our discussions today and hopefully I can offer a few straight lines in what follows.

Three Voices Who Enlarge the Gospel 

A Golden-Ruled Gospel

For starters, Scott Sauls, a pastor in Nashville, has included the great commandment (“Love your neighbor”) in his definition of gospel in a panel discussion about racism and the gospel. He says, “Last time I checked, love your neighbor is part of the gospel.”

Perhaps this is just sloppy, or maybe this is how Sauls actually thinks of the gospel—adding the Golden Rule to the good news of saving grace. Whatever the case, the result is the same. The content of the gospel is confused and the power of the gospel to forgive sinners and set them on a path to loving their neighbor is missed.

In short, the essential message of the gospel is confused with an essential entailment. And sadly, this confuses both good news and the good works that flow from believing the good news.

A Cosmic Redemption Gospel

Anthony Bradley is another voice who enlarges the gospel. For those unfamiliar with Bradley, he has authored many books and serves as a professor at King’s College in New York City. In a 2019 Fathom Magazine article, Bradley contrasts “Great Commission Christianity” (GCC) with “Cosmic Redemption Christianity” (CRC).

Critiquing GCC as reductionistic and historically complicit with slavery, Bradley argues for CRC which widens God’s purposes of salvation. Citing Tim Keller, Bradley defines the gospel like this:

It is the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos.

Then he goes further, speaking about the kingdom of God which is “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ over the entire cosmos. Redemption, then, is God’s work to restore the whole of creation to himself.”

This statement of life in the kingdom of God is good, as far as it goes. But in adding man’s agency to “God’s work of restoring the cosmos” it goes too far. Why? Because it tasks new creatures in Christ with the duty of liberating creation from the stranglehold of the devil. To be sure, the scope of redemption is cosmic, but Bradley’s definition of the gospel changes the finished work of Christ on the cross to the ongoing work of God in the cosmos.

Certainly, God is at work in cosmos, and the gospel is bringing about a new creation, but this cosmic restoration is an effect or entailment of the gospel, not its primary essence. The content of the gospel is directed towards persons estranged from God and the redemption offered in the gospel is equally person-specific. Thereafter, God’s new creatures in Christ will do all kinds of good works, but this remains an effect or entailment of the gospel, not its core message.

Justification and Doing Justice

Finally, Eric Mason is Philadelphia pastor who, in the name of justice, enlarges the message of the gospel to include doing justice. This may appear to secure greater ethical results, but at what expense? Let’s consider.

In Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, Mason devotes a chapter to defining what the gospel is and what it isn’t. And importantly, he makes “doing justice” a core component of the gospel. He writes,

Justification is a huge greenhouse of truth that extends beyond ‘being declared righteous’! Justified isn’t merely a position, but a practice! Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us by faith leads to our being made right with God as well as our making things right on earth. (45)

Don’t miss the enormity of this point. The Protestant Reformation fought for justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. But here, citing Anglican theologian, Fleming Rutledge, who in turn cites German NT Scholar, Ernst Kaïsemann, Mason redefines justification as an attribute of God and an action of God and man (46).

Recognizing the impact of what he is saying, he defends himself from those who would accuse him of preaching a different gospel (44). He says, “The way we are taught about these aspects of the gospel deeply affects our understanding and the way we process justice. When we have a reductionist understanding of justification, we fail to see the holistic picture of the gospel” (46).

For Mason, this holistic gospel is one that combines justification and doing justice. But is Mason right? Is doing justice part and parcel of the gospel of the kingdom? Consider two responses.

Reigning in the Gospel of King Jesus

First, there is an irony in the fact that Mason cites two white theological liberals, Fleming Routledge and Ernest Kaïsemann. (Bradley also sources Tim Keller). I make this awkward observation to say, that in making their points, Mason and Bradley are not making the black argument, so much as they are making an ideological argument—and one that fits nicely with the social gospel. Sauls too adds a “social dynamic” to his definition of the gospel.

That is to say, when the church’s mission includes making the world a better, more just place, the social gospel is not far away. This is not to frivolously label all champions of justice as advocates of the social gospel, nor do I expect anyone who is preaching a gospel-plus-justice message to agree with me.

That said, I would maintain that whenever the church and its leaders prioritize overturning systems of injustice, the social gospel is waiting in the wings. For those who discount that take, I would encourage you to read Christopher Evans, The Social Gospel in American Religion: A History.

For now, we should simply remember that anyone who speaks for the black church, the white church, the Asian church, or the Hispanic church, cannot speak for the whole. Within every tradition there are different theological beliefs. And this is where we need to focus our conversation—chiefly, on the content of the ideas being debated more than the color of debaters.

Now let me walk that back a bit, and make my second point. If Sauls, Mason, or Bradley did cite a black voice, they would do well to consider Charles Octavius Boothe. Boothe was the founding pastor of Martin Luther King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1890, at the height of Jim Crow, Boothe wrote a short treatise on theology called Plain Theology for Plain People. And what is remarkably absent from his book is anything that approximates the social justice championed today.

Instead, when Boothe speaks of justice, he describes the character of God and God’s judgment on sinners. In other words, Boothe’s doctrine of justice and justification is chiefly vertical, not horizontal. Though enmeshed in the world of Jim Crow, Boothe’s explanation of the gospel and the mission of the church approximates Bradley’s Great Commission Christianity, which Bradley associates with the white church.

Moreover, when he speaks of justification, Boothe speaks of it entirely in terms of what God has done to save sinners by grace. For instance, he lists a number of Pauline passages on justification and concludes, “it appears that justification is the act of God.” To which he explains in full (70):

The ground of justification is found in the work, the whole work, of the Son of God, whom God ‘gave that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What a ground the Father hath given us for the fullest belief in Christ! What reason for devout thankfulness the redeemed have! What a motive to induce them to live, not unto themselves, but unto him who has brought to them a salvation so helpful and so glorious!

Hallejulah! That is the biblical gospel.

But notice, he distinguishes the work of the Son from our works. He says that the finished work of Christ is the motive to doing good works. In other words, the gospel has entailments. Doing justice is a necessary entailment of the gospel. It is necessary, yes! But it is a necessary entailment—meaning that biblical ethics follow a Spirit-empowered reception of the gospel.

In fact, we can learn from Booth himself. Living in a world of ethnic partiality, hostility, and discrimination, Boothe did much to fight injustice and promote the well-being of blacks in the South. That said, doing justice was not an essential part of the gospel message, for Boothe, it was the work of those who had been justified. And that distinction is what is lost on many today.

In order to champion good works, many pastors—with various hues of melanin—are making justice an essential part of the gospel message. But the effect of this inclusion is to undercut the power of the gospel. Why? Because such an addition—as well intentioned as it may be—changes the message of the gospel, thereby challenging the power of the gospel.

And that’s the problem. If the gospel is a message of justification and doing justice, it ceases to be good news and it becomes instead a chimera of grace and law—which is always a deadly combination. So, with these concerns outlined, let me offer five truths that are essential for keeping the gospel straight.

Keeping the Gospel Straight

1. The Gospel is an indicative, not an imperative.

To say it differently: the gospel is good news, not good advice (Michael Horton). It is the declaration “It is finished,” not the command to go and do likewise.

Many people have made this point, but recently I came across it in Thaddeus Williams’ book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth. On this point, he says,

The difference between an indicative and an imperative is no small matter for grammar nerds. The good news upon which eternity depends hangs in the balance. . . . A gospel with additional requirements [e.g., feed the hungry, end sex trafficking, oppose injustice] is not good news. For those who know themselves well, if the gospel is not about Christ’s finished saving work alone but about any commandment we must keep, then the good news turns out to be very bad news. If my salvation is 99 percent God’s doing and 1 percent my own doing, I would find a way, in my fallenness and stupidity, to mess up that 1 percent and be damned. (112–13)

This is the problem with the gospel plus justice paradigm. It turns the finished work (the indicative) into the already and not yet work of justification and do justice (the imperative). Yes, the Bible clearly teaches the kingdom is already and not yet. It clearly teaches a biblical way of doing justice and loving our neighbor, but to load these into the gospel is to lose the gospel of grace.

2. The Gospel is fixed, not fluid.

This means that there is a certain content to the gospel which does not have room for more or less. For instance, the gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul defines the gospel as the death of Christ for sins and the resurrection of Christ on the third day. Moreover, both of these are defined by the Old Testament (i.e., “according to the Scriptures”), and the blessings of Christ’s death and the resurrection must be received by faith, lest someone perish for their own sins.

Similarly, Romans 1:1–7 defines the gospel, as does the rest of Romans 1–11. And after Paul spends 11 chapters explaining how sinners can be justified by grace through faith, only then does he turn around and say: “I appeal to you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.”

In short, there is a gospel logic in Paul’s letters that teaches us that doing the law (i.e., the third use of the law) follows believing in Christ who fulfilled the law for us. Here’s an important distinction: Just because something is biblical, or important for Christian living, does not give us permission to add it to the message of the gospel. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is the eternal plan of God to redeems sinners in all ages, in all places, and from all conditions of sin by the finished work of Christ.

To make the gospel the solution to every problem, therefore, may blind us to see how the gospel tells us what the problem is. In a word the problem is sin! Moreover, because the gospel defines the problem, it also offers the solution to that problem, and only that problem. Christ died and rose again to justify elect individuals who will repent and believe when God calls them to himself in the gospel. Only after that calling can individuals and the groups they form (i.e., churches) begin to justice with the righteousness God requires.

By contrast, to add justice to justification will only result in a loss of both! So remember, the gospel is fixed, not fluid.

3. The gospel justifies individuals, it does not promise universal justice.

To double down on who benefits from the gospel, it is important to remember how person-specific the message of the gospel is. While the gospel must be carried to the ends of the earth and preached to all peoples, it is not a message that addresses nations as nations, groups as groups, or political clans as clans. No, the gospel confronts sinners in their individual sin, and calls sinners—one-by-one—out from the nations (see Rev. 5:9–10).

In other words, just as John’s Gospel is filled with individuals coming to faith in Christ (see Richard Bauckham, “Individualism,” in Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology),  so the gospel that raises people from the dead is a message that confronts the individual. When individuals are justified by grace this will create households of faith who exist on all parts of the earth. But this does not mean the object of the gospel are groups, the gospel addresses individuals.

Even more, when nations who hear the gospel experience wide-ranging regeneration—what we might call a revival—those nations will be impacted. In the Early church, the proliferation of the gospel in Africa had a marvelous impact on the church. The ecumenical councils, the early creeds, the rise of libraries and colleges, all of these rose in Africa—a fact often missed when thinking about the character of “African Theology” (see Thomas Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind).

Later, in the Reformation, the European church experienced wide spread revival. And the world, especially in America, continued to experience the blessings and benefits of the Reformation. Still, the gospel that reformed Africa and Europe and produced all kinds of good works was a gospel that impacted individuals. Only secondarily did it change families, communities, cultures, and nations. This is how the gospel works. And we should labor to see the gospel change individuals and then we should equally labor to see Christians fulfill their vocational callings to do good works in all realms of life.

Where confusion sets in today, is when those who desire immediate justice can easily become impatient with God’s ways. As a result the gospel can be distorted, in order to see widespread and visible change. When that happens, we should ask: Is this how the gospel really spreads? What does the Bible report? Such an answer is larger than I can provide here, but as I can tell we find a singular report in Scripture: The gospel justifies individuals, it does not promise universal justice.

4. The gospel creates individuals who do good works.

Without denying the place for good works, and affirming the possibility of Christians impacting culture, we must remember how good works are borne. First, we learn from passages like James 2 that faith devoid of works is not genuine faith. Conversely, there are good works that can counterfeit faith. Therefore, in order to maintain the gospel, we must not just content ourselves with behavioral change—personal or systemic. We should trust in God’s power to change individuals and that when individuals are changed and equipped with the whole counsel of God’s Word, their lives will bring about charity, justice, mercy, and righteousness.

In the same vein, God creates people in Christ who will do good works (Eph. 2:10). These good works include loving neighbor, ending injustice, feeding the poor, and making good policies. But lest we neuter the power of the gospel to change individuals, we cannot include doing justice as an essential part of the life-giving, sin-removing gospel. These things are fruits of the gospel, not the gospel itself—a point that brings us to our last.

5. Biblical justice is an entailment of the gospel

To say that justice—in all of its forms—is an entailment of the gospel means that justice is carried forward by men and women who have justified by grace through faith and who have been given grace to do good works.

It is correct to question the faith of someone, as Charles Octavius Boothe did, if their love of neighbor is missing or if ethnic hostility is present. Nevertheless, the ongoing sinfulness of a Christian or the inconsistency of a Christian church should not lead us to change the gospel in order to make it more powerful or more pervasive. Rather, we should simply evaluate all things by the Word of God.

And when it comes to racial justice, we should do all we can to stand against racism, biblically defined. But calls for racial justice should not confuse something that is biblically important with something that is absolutely essential to the gospel message. Something can be biblical and important, even if it is not part of the gospel message.

Making this distinction, which says that racial justice is not essential to the message of the gospel, but is an essential entailment of the gospel, is critical for maintaining the gospel and the health of the church. Truly, if we are going to enjoy and maintain the fellowship of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we must get this right. Because getting this right will go along way to aiding conversations about this matter.

And so, we should continue to build our arguments from the clear teaching of Scripture, in order that we can rightly discern the difference between the essentials of the gospel and essential entailments of the gospel. That may sound like a small difference, but in these contentions days that difference makes all the difference in the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Theological Seminary

Tearing Off the Masks: Celebrating Oceania’s Freedom . . . When Nothing Has Changed

kissOceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
George Orwell, 1984

But test everything; hold fast what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21

In preparation for the upcoming removal of masks, the self-congratulations of politicians, and the ticker tape parades of liberated citizens kissing in the streets, I offer this selective reading of 1984. Let the reader the understand: Nothing has changed.

What Covid-19 Has Wrought

As the State of the Union address is presented mask-optional tonight, it is important to remember what has  changed and what has not. Today, the air is the same; immune systems are the same; and threat of Covid is the same. Covid-19 and its various variants are still deadly for those with underlying conditions and it is still innocuous for those with healthy bodies, especially children.

At the same time, masks still do not work. Fauci said as much privately before the pandemic, then he changed his mind publicly during the pandemic, and now he, and the CDC, and others have waffled back to some compromised position. Very presidentially, he was for same-sex marriage, before he was against it, and now he has returned his original position. Just replace Obama’s subject matter (so called same sex marriage) with Fauci’s (masks, mandates, etc.) and you will understand the convoluted logic of a career politician.

Yes, Covid-19 was political before it wasn’t. And how do we know? Because “end” of Covid has come by political fiat, not by a substantial change in the conditions. As the Washington Post reported in early February, governors are changing mask mandates for political reasons. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, that bastion of liberal catechesis, has performed a skit that is not funny but is informative. Watch it here. (This the first and I hope the last time I share something from SNL).

 

For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is not science, nor the man who declared himself to represent Science, that has made the final determination about masks—it is politics. Under threat of losing control, politicians are moving to a position that appears to give freedom to the people. And SNL is helping prepare the masses for the stunning realization that the last two years of draconian mandates were more fiction than fact. And what are Christians do? Should we celebrate with the masses? Or should we realize how farcical this whole pandemic has been.

Continue reading

A Witness Against Wokeness: What Modern Christians Can Learn from an Ex-Communist

moises-gonzalez-e7qDqyaH99I-unsplashIn recent years, interest in socialism has risen and conversations about Marxism, especially cultural Marxism, have permeated public discourse. From the Gallup Poll in 2019 which reported that four in ten Americans saw socialism as a good thing to the rise of Black Lives Matter whose founders openly identify themselves as “trained Marxists,” we are living at a time when Christians in America need to re-learn what past generations knew, and what Christians living in Cuba, China, and Czechoslovakia know, all too well: Communism, and its younger sibling Socialism, are godless ideologies that harm the masses.

As The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press) reports, nearly 100 million people died during the twentieth century under Communist regimes. And hence, it was both right and responsible for evangelicals during the Cold War to stand opposed to ideas of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto. As Grant Wacker reports in his biography of Billy Graham (America’s Pastor), the late evangelist often included a message against communism in his revivals. And more strategically, many Christians, evangelicals and otherwise, participated in the conservative project known as fusionism, in large part, to stem the tide of communism.

Today, however, with a generation of Americans untouched and untaught about Communism, the ghost of Karl Marx has risen again. In his book, Live Not by LiesRod Dreher addresses this very concern, when he begins by highlighting the concerns many from Eastern Bloc countries have had with modern America. He writes,

What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups ethnic, sexual, and otherwise and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. (6)

What made these men and women flee Europe is now rising in America. The same thing is happening in Canada. Ivan, a trucker from Ukraine, put it like this when asked why he was joining the freedom convoy: “We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom” (What the Truckers Want).

Importantly, this rise in elite-controlled social justice, woke racism, and identity politics is not something that stands outside the church either. Wokeness is making inroads within the church, too. From calls for social justice (largely undefined) to cries that Christian Nationalism (also undefined) are threatening our country, those in the church are missing something that previous generations did not and could not miss—namely, the evil that comes from a man-centered, God-denying, government-enforced attempt to build back better.

Indeed, while Critical Race Theory has gotten the most attention, one of its underlying promises, a vision of more fair and just society matches up well with Christians who want to do more than talk. In other words, advocates of social justice gain adherents by calling for a better world. And because some of the religious language maps onto Christian concerns, the result is an unholy fusion of Christ and cultural Marxism. 

At the same time, some scholars have defined and denounced evangelicals, especially white conservatives who made a compact with the Republican party during the 1950s and 60s. One example of this is Kristin Kobe Du Mez in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. Expressing concern with the way patriarchal, white males championed the military and stood in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, she excoriates evangelicals for using their positions of power to prop themselves up and push others down.

Leaving a full evaluation of her book for someone else, I will simply say that she does not adequately consider the role Communism played in the 1950s and 60s. As Proverbs 18:17 reminds us, she who speaks first seems right, until someone else comes and questions her. And while she mentions Communism in her book, she does not consider the way Communist spies were infiltrating the halls of power throughout our country (see more below).

Like most of my generation, Du Mez has forgotten, or not cared to consider, how wicked communism was and is, and because she and others do not share the perspective that our Czechoslovakian neighbors do (see Live Not by Lies), they cannot appreciate the ways that evangelical leaders and conservative politicians worked together during the middle of the twentieth century. Nor, can she appreciate the fact that all the liberating works of the 1960s were suffused with communist ideas (see Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America). Even as civil rights were extended, and racial prejudice became illegal and unconscionable, there remained a set of rules for radicals that derived their origins from Cultural Marxists.

Today, the radicals of the 1960s have become our presidents and leading politicians. And in the church, the demands for egalitarianism, social justice, and gay rights are simply leftovers from the 1960s. Likewise, the progressive ideals of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and those who follow them, have shaped the way evangelicals—progressive and conservative—have approached culture. Indeed, thawed by the heat of Twitter, these old ideas are hatching new consequences. And because so many do not see or care to see the evils of Communism (consider NBC’s reporting of the Olympics) or the moral injustices of socialism, many of the radical ideas are facing little to no opposition. And that matters, because when the ideological offspring of Marx are given space to procreate, death not life results.

So with that long introduction out of the way, let me bring a witness to the stand, a man by the name of Whittaker Chambers. Continue reading

Raising Oaks of Righteousness: Ten Public Disciplines to Consider in the New Year

victoria-palacios-dfo06_DqxpA-unsplashAt the beginning of the year, we should be considering habits and practices that will build our most holy faith (Jude 21) for the next 365 days. Such disciplines begin with personal habits that enable us to commune with God. And books on practicing spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen habits to consider.

For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Whitney also has another book on corporate disciplines. Similarly, but more mystically, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identify, there is an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

A Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? In addition to personal disciplines and church practices, could it be that there is a third horizon that must be developed in order for a disciple to walk worthy of the gospel?

Continue reading

Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 

More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.

What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?

According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.

Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.

Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading

Between Christ and Culture: 7 Books about the Word and the World (December 2021)

assorted books on the shelf

In November I read some books. And as with any book I read or listen to—the majority of what follows are books I’ve listened to and taken notes on—they help me understand God’s Word and God’s world. For matters of personal record-keeping and public commentary, I share a few thoughts on each book. If you have read any of these, or books like them, I welcome your feedback. Please put it in the comment section below.

Bible and Theology

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism by Kevin T. Bauder, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Roger E. Olson. Edited by Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson.

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, co-editors, Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson, have assembled a collection of essays that outline the unifying and dividing features of evangelicalism. Admitting the inherent challenges of defining this movement, Kevin Bauder, Albert Mohler, John Stackhouse, and Roger Olson define their positions as Fundamentalist, Confessional Evangelicalism, Generic Evangelicalism, and Postconservative Evangelicalism, respectively. And over the course of this introductory work, the reader is introduced to a number of the complementary, contrasting, and competing views of various evangelicals. As I listened to this volume, here are a number of the points I found interesting and/or helpful. Continue reading

Thou Shalt Not (Believe) Lie(s): Faithfulness in an Age of Fake News

people holding a poster asking about facts on coronavirus

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —

In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.

In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)

In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.

Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.

Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies. Continue reading