Category Archives: Politics

Rising to the Occasion of Crisis

[January 31, 2017] 7:45 AM Vital information:

1) Full text of the executive order.

2) Current vetting procedures for refugees.

3) Contact numbers for your Senators.

Stay informed, my fellow Americans! Let your views be heard!

Let’s not forget, too, that the New Testament sets forth a pattern of crisis and conduct:

1) Rom. 13:11-14

2) 1 Cor. 7:29-31

3) Tit. 2:11-14

4) 1 Pet. 4:7-19

5) 2 Pet. 3:10-12

There is no doubt about the crisis, but is our conduct rising to the occasion?

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.]

A Christian View of Politics?

In the meantime, I thought I’d continue my review of Paul As Missionary (Bloomsbury, 2011). Daniel Hays’ essay “Paul and the Multi-Ethnic First-Century World: Ethnicity and Christian Identity” (pp. 76-87) may be the most important essay in the book. He argues that the early church developed in a multicultural setting. The world of the first century was comprised of a multitude of ethnic groups (ethne). So Paul is not just breaking down barriers between “Jews” and “Gentiles.”

He is declaring that the followers of Christ are a new and different ethnicity and their primary identity and group association must change from their old self-identity to this new one (p. 84).

As Christians, therefore, we have a brand new ethnic identity. Both Jews and Gentiles are members of the kingdom of God, with Abraham as their common ancestor. Hence “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is a highly political statement. Paul lived in a very ethnically diverse world. So do we. People tend to identify themselves ethnically — i.e., in terms of social, cultural, religious, territorial, and linguistic features. All of these elements, taken together, define one’s self-identity. When Paul calls for unity he does so along these very lines of ethnic markers.

Paul tells the new believers that their primary identity, i.e., their major group association (their ethnos), is no longer one of the many ethne they used to belong to (Phrygia, Galatia, Roman, Greek, Judean/Jew, Lycaonian, Cappadocian, etc.), but rather is to be found in their incorporation into Christ and his Church (p. 87).

He adds:

This now defines who they are, which family they are in and who their kin are, where their citizenship and loyalty lies, how they are to carry out religious practices, how they are to live and speak, who their true ancestors are, and where their future hope lies (p. 87).

This sense of heavenly citizenship ” … is a radical restructuring of their primary identity” (p. 87). Hays is adamant: If Christians continue to see themselves first and foremost as Americans or Chinese or Korean or Hispanic or African-American, they will end up “… relegating their identity in Christ to a secondary and subservient identity,” and “there will be disunity and ethnic division in the Church” (p. 87).

Let’s let that sink in. These reflections take us a long ways in understanding the distinctive emphasis of the New Testament. If the social ethics of the kingdom of God seem to be dramatically different from those of the world and the nation-state, it’s because they’re supposed to! Hays expresses a growing conviction I’ve had for several years now, namely that our only duty and allegiance as Christians is to God and His kingdom. It is out of our duty to God that we obey the civil laws and pay our taxes and pray for those in authority over us in the political realm. At the same time, it is also out of our duty to God that we inveigh against any practice or social norm that is inconsistent with His rule. This means that there never has been nor ever be will a distinctly “Christian” position on politics. Good evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Good evangelical Christians voted for Clinton. Good evangelical Christians voted third party. And good evangelical Christians didn’t vote at all. Pastor friend, if you’re going to wave pompoms for Trump, please remember that there are probably people in your congregation who didn’t vote for him. Good and decent people disagree about politics! If we focus our time and energy on politics, we will never experience a unified church. Instead, our focus and energy must be expended on replicating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to all people. The church, as Hays argues (and as the apostle Paul argued), is a new ethnos — a new nation whose only loyalty is to God, who sovereignly uses our Calvary-acts of love to transform the world into a domain in which He and He alone rules. Confessing “Jesus as Lord” automatically rules out an allegiance to any other person or thing!

To sum up:

  • People with the same faith commitments and values can and often do have fundamental differences about politics.
  • Everyone should vote his or her faith and conscience.
  • The fundamental job of followers of Jesus is to manifest the rule of God by imitating Jesus’ radical lifestyle.
  • There is only one “Christian nation,” and it is the blood-bought people of God.
  • Our fundamental loyalty has to be to King Jesus. A husband who is 50 percent faithful to his wife is no true husband at all.
  • We will no longer emphasize our political, national, or ethnic differences. There is more to unite us than to divide us in the universal body of Christ.
  • Beware of any deals with the devil to get the kingdoms of the world by short-cuts.

God’s people need to be what they are — ambassadors pleading with men and women to be reconciled to God. Blessed are those saints who can see beyond their political, national, and ethnic differences. We followers of Jesus will always be a minority in a pagan world. We do not have to bow to political compromise to win the world. The only way to usher in the kingdom is by the cross.

(From Dave Black Online. [Nov. 21, 2016: 7:40 pm.] Used by permission.)

We Can Be the People Who Tell the Truth

5:18 PM Hello blogging friends,

I trust you’re doing well. I’m sitting here nursing a head cold and trying to grasp the significance of what our nation just experienced. But first of all I want to join President Obama and Secretary Clinton in congratulating Mr. Trump on his election victory. I also promise to pray for him as he begins his term of office. As President Obama put it today, “We’re all rooting for his success.”

As you can probably figure out, I’m pretty much a conscientious objector when it comes to the Left/Right political wars. I guess I’m a self-described “misfit.” I call myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Unlike some of my fellow evangelicals, I came out neither for nor against Mr. Trump. This kind of politicization within evangelicalism is nothing new. On the Right we hear that we are to vote for the platform and not the person. But on the Right we also hear that we are to vote on issues of personal morality and not merely on pragmatic ones. Hence the dichotomy: some evangelical Republicans were enthusiastically supportive of Trump, while others were adamantly opposed to him. Growing up, I was taught that Republican is always right and Democrat is always evil. That, to me, is a distinction without a difference. I think Russ Moore nails it when he says that, after yesterday’s election, we evangelicals are “to maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture.” In other words, be an equal-opportunity offender. He adds:

We can be the people who tell the truth, whether it helps or hurts our so-called “allies” or our so-called “enemies.”

He’s right. How can we defend a so-called “Christian” America that is hypocritical, homophobic, anti-immigrant, sexist, and bigoted? We can’t. Nor can we invoke a social gospel that ignores the personal gospel of faith in Christ. I believe that Left or Right, there’s an awful lot of corruption in politics. And the best way of addressing these issues, as my colleague Chuck Lawless put it today in his essay 10 Reflections on Today’s Election, is to acknowledge:

I am to be a good citizen of the United States while recognizing that the U.S. is not my final home. I am to stand for righteousness today even as I await the return of the Son.

I’ll add this. As far as I can see, I don’t think that past political dichotomies such as “Left” and “Right” matter that much to the students I teach. Younger evangelicals find themselves operating more and more outside of the traditional evangelical apparatus. For instance, younger evangelicals are more likely to have a gay friend than their parents and therefore tend to be more sympathetic to the gay rights movement even as they reject homosexuality as a sin. Ditto for issues of creation care and economic justice. They’re willing to probe theological and cultural issues that tend to be unwelcome in more established and traditional churches. They’re watching movies like Hate Rising. This means that at times they feel out of touch with the evangelical establishment. As I see it, this is a positive development. What we are seeing is the development of ordinary, rag-tag radicals who fear that both the Christian Right and the Christian Left have been allowed to pervert the gospel message and are determined to speak up about it. “Vote for so-and-so because he believes in Jesus as his personal Savior and supports ‘our’ values” no longer cuts it for them. They view such language as overly-politicized. And they’re not the only ones. Our evangelical “elders” have also struggled to make sense of the current scene in American politics – witness Wayne Grudem’s initial support of Trump as a “morally good choice,” then his taking a 180 degree turn from that position, and then finally expressing his support for Trump’s policies.  This sense of uncertainty and ambivalence is dramatically reshaping the evangelical political agenda in the U.S. In such situations, the church may have an opportunity. To quote Moore again:

The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election—as we have seen in every election in recent years—that this election is our “last chance.” And we can hear it in those who assume that the sort of global upending we see happening in the world—in Europe, in the Middle East, and now in the United States—mean a cataclysm before which we should panic.

Moore insists that such language “is not worthy of a church that is already triumphant in heaven….”

The church must be, as Martin Luther King Jr. taught us—the conscience of the state. But we do that from a place of gospel power, not a place of cowering fear. That means that we—all of us—should see this election as important for our country, but not ultimate for our cosmos.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. The good news is that one day Jesus will win, not only all 50 states, but every tribe and nation. I for one am looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, having shattered the monopoly of the mainstream media and the political establishment in Washington, Donald Trump has revolutionized our entire view of evangelicalism. His “revolution” has shown that the old guard’s influence on the evangelical political agenda is still alive and well. This may well lead to new and profound changes in the way we American evangelicals conceptualize our role in society. I doubt, however, that younger evangelicals, the “ordinary radicals,” will be deterred in their efforts to develop a kinder, gentler form of evangelicalism. After all, they have begun traveling the downward path of Jesus. They’ve also begun reading their Bibles. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.

Staying centered in Jesus,

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission. David Alan Black is the author of a number of Energion titles, including The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and his most recent Running My Race. )

Reading The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

6:08 PM Today I started reading a wonderful little book called The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, who is perhaps the doyen of American history among evangelicals today. It is masterfully written and brilliantly argued.

the-civil-war-as-a-theological-crisisNoll tries to show how mid-19th century American Christians (both North and South) generally agreed that the Bible was authoritative but they differed on how that Bible should be understood. Not only this, but he shows how “the Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by the force of arms” (p. 8). He is so right about this! Indeed, how apropos to today’s political climate in the United States. Biblical interpretation in America today, even biblical interpretation by conservative evangelicals, has perhaps never been so divided and chaotic. Just as the American Civil War generated a first-order theological crisis over how to interpret the Bible, so this year’s presidential election is generating a first-order theological crisis over how to understand the work of God in our nation. The church of today has to a large degree become more or less subject to the controlling influence of public opinion rather than shapers of public opinion. The parallels with the 1860s are obvious. “Had white protestants been following the Bible as carefully as they claimed, they could not have so casually dismissed the biblical interpretations advanced by Pendleton and Fee and mentioned by Lincoln. The inability to propose a biblical scheme of slavery that would take in all races reveals that factors others than simple fidelity to Scripture were exerting great influence as well” (p. 56). I suspect that many Christians reading Noll’s book would be nodding their heads in agreement. I’m finding this book a compelling demonstration of this truth. That’s why today you will find leading evangelicals both defending Donald Trump and excoriating him, with both sides using the Bible to defend their actions. For my two cents, I cannot understand how anyone can defend Trump’s candidacy. Yet I want to end by saying that this doesn’t mean that I or anyone else has the right to condemn those who support Trump based on their own interpretation of “forgiveness,” “the God of a second chance,” “the sanctity of life,” etc. I thus have no right to judge my Christian brother or sister in these matters. But neither can I with integrity claim to understand how they can reconcile their views with the teachings of the New Testament. All of this suggests, I believe, that each of us has to wrestle with how to reconcile the facts of this year’s political cycle with the Scriptures. Above all, I hope we can all remember that we do not fight as the world fights — that is, by hatred and violence (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Instead, we are called to fight this battle by displaying God’s love to all people, including those with whom we might strongly disagree politically. My point is not that we shouldn’t have strong convictions about whether so-and-so is qualified to be president of the United States. My point rather is that we need to constantly distinguish between the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and the kingdom of this world. And to do this, we must be more about giving other people Jesus Christ  — not rules, not entertainment, not partisan rhetoric. I have no confidence in the political system but I have every confidence in Jesus.

I encourage us all to keep the Gospel first. It really is a big deal!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Responding to the Political Season

[07/29/2016]

Cheerleading with pom-poms.
Credit: OpenClipart.org

7:50 AM Finally, the conventions are over. I am wearied and not a little irritated. We are not a two-party system!

How do I view this election? On the one hand, I reject totally any escape to spirituality that disdains the things of this earth. I am a very earthy man, for God has put me (and you) on this earth for a purpose and has given us a charge we can’t refuse. On the other hand, Christians can hardly become pom-pom waving politicos because this notion runs contrary to the command of the apostle Paul not to be conformed to the ideas of the present world system. In its history, the church has thrived under monarchists and dictators and republicans and imperialists. Hence the need for writers like Eller and Ellul whose writings form a very happy and much-needed counterbalance to conformism. Whether the state is republican or democrat makes no difference to the pilgrim and stranger, for whom no political party can ever be Christianized. Nor would I adopt a lesser of two evils philosophy to justify my vote. Jesus’ way bypasses conflict and provocation. He says that if anyone takes our coat we are to give him our cloak as well. I can’t condemn those who look to political power, but I think their revolt is ineffective as real revolution. The Way is the only Revolution that matters. During the age of Constantine, when the church became the official state religion, political power became a final court. But Phil. 3:20 remains in the Bible. I know how scandalous for non-Christians is a God who demands our ultimate and undivided allegiance. Our responsibility as Christians is to pray for the authorities including those in high public office. We pray for their conversion (obviously) but also that they may become truthful, renounce saber-rattling, etc. We realize that they have obtained their power only through God. Authorities are also people, deserving of the same understanding and sympathy that we would extend to any human being. But for the Christian, the starting point will always be non-conformism (Rom. 12:1-2), that is, we begin with the word of God and the will of God and the love of God. It might seem completely crazy, but Paul is calling the church to “unhypocritical love” (Rom. 12:9-21), which includes love among Christians, love for all people, and even love for enemies. We are to live peaceably with all. I have written a detailed exegesis of this “love passage” (Rom. 12:9-21) in case you’re interested. The curious thing is to see how Christian pastors have (to their embarrassment) fared when they have offered their services to candidates. The point of Revelation 18 is clear enough, I think: Political power always makes alliances with the power of money. And violence only begets further violence. Ultimately, the beast unites all the kings of the earth and wages war on God and is finally crushed when his representative is destroyed. In the meantime, the church is setting up a marginal society that is only tangentially interested in political matters and in which there is no power, authority, or hierarchy save that of King Jesus. As Ellul often reminds us, Jesus is not against earthly power, but He treats it with disdain or indifference. His kingdom is not of this world. And there is still plenty of room on the road that leads to this kingdom, but the gate is small and the road is narrow. Those who find it seem to be few indeed.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

No Lord but Jesus

9781893729568m(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm.)

2:08 PM Hey there, internet warriors!

Just kidding.

Sort of.

You’ll notice a dearth of blog posts here at DBO about politics of late. That’s pretty intentional on my part. Oh, I peruse the same political websites you do and I watch the debates and I read the daily news. But honestly, so little of what you read nowadays is trustworthy. Take this headline I saw today: “US blocks UK Muslim family from boarding plane to Disneyland.” Okaaaay. Last time I checked, there is an airport in L.A. and an airport in Orange County and an airport in Ontario, but not one in Disneyland. As for the reason, it was never stated in the article, though one MP in Great Britain is trying to blame it on The Donald. Who knows what went down in the airport? Maybe one of the family members is not a U.K. citizen and didn’t have a visa to enter the U.S. (U.K. citizens don’t need a visa to fly to America.) Maybe one of them is on the no-fly list. That happens, folks. (Senator Ted Kennedy was once stopped for being on the no-fly list by mistake.) Maybe airport security knew something we don’t know. Who knows! This I do know. Every nation I’ve ever visited (and that’s a ton of nations) is a sovereign country and as such can allow or deny me entrance at the drop of a hat and without any explanation. And why blame it on Trump? You’d think that maybe president Obama made Trump acting president while on vacation in Hawaii. That’s just insane. At the same time, let’s say real discrimination was involved. In that case, I would hope that someone would get into trouble, big time. But folks, I can’t with integrity say who’s right and who’s wrong in this case and neither can you. For my two cents, I can’t see how politics and Christianity are compatible. The church is set apart precisely because it’s not a part of the world system. At the same time, I grant that immigration is indeed a question of justice. But whose view of justice are you talking about: the left’s or the right’s? The Christian “cultural revolution,” it seems, is backfiring. Let me ask you: During the Reformation, whose view of justice was at work when Christians of all stripes were literally killing their enemies, including their fellow Christians? I’d like you to consider something else too. As Christians we have an obligation to distinguish between what is a kingdom issue and what is not. The Anabaptists refused to recognize a state church and, as a result, were sent to their deaths by the thousands (without fighting back, mind you — except for a loony who thought he was ushering in the Last Days). Paul’s “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is not wishful thinking on his part or an outlandish platitude. The context here is the key. Paul is contrasting those who set their minds on earthly things (3:19) with those who focus their attention on their heavenly citizenship (3:20). As Christians, our executive authority is not on earth but in heaven. We are nothing but resident aliens here on earth, from which “we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20). Now that will preach at Christmas! “Caesar Augustus is our savior,” boasted the Romans. Christians, however, have experienced a radical change in allegiance. Listen to Rush or Shawn and will you hear that message? Not on your life. You see, if your hope is based on an earthy agenda, you look to Caesar (government). But if your hope is based on your heavenly citizenship, you’ll look for the coming Savior from heaven. The essential difference between the risen Christ and all those who would “save” us is Christ’s unrivaled sovereignty, authority, and power. Christ, not Caesar, controls all things. Christ, not Caesar, displays the power of God. To Christ, and not to Caesar, are subjected all things. Therefore, Jesus Christ alone deserves acclamation as “Lord.” It’s just that simple.

Then what about justice? Notice how Jesus Himself protested against injustice when He was here on earth — not by advising Caesar (or Pilate) but by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of government. Please don’t misunderstand me. I most certainly do believe in human rights and political freedom (democracy). But I do so not because I’m a Christian but because I’m an American. So let Christians continue to debate the virtues of this or that candidate. Let’s celebrate and be grateful for the religious liberty we enjoy in the U.S. But did you know there are probably more born-again Christians in China than in any other country, including the U.S.? Most of them are meeting in illegal home churches. For the most part, they have no church buildings, no sanctuaries, no religious freedom. Are they missing out on something important? Of course not. Naturally, if you do have freedom and the right to build church buildings, then give thanks to God. Let’s just be careful about investing any of these blessings with Christian significance. Actually, God does not live in our buildings. It would so helpful if we could avoid using terminology that implies that He does. Christ has brought an end to religion. So let’s not go back to the old covenant. The New Testament’s emphasis is always on one thing: Let the followers of Jesus Christ imitate His selfless love to all people and at all times.

There’s my “political” reflection for the day.

Cheers,

Dave

On Christian Faith and Politics

9:54 AMLast night I re-read Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The book reveals how the some of the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel. I could not agree more. In his book Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape advise his young cousin on how to derail a Christian:

Let him begin by treating patriotism … as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…. [O]nce he’s made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

That’s my take exactly on the issue, on where I stand vis-à-vis the politics of God. While I deeply respect my friends who seek to “take America back,” I really do wish they were aiming at a different bull’s-eye. As I wrote to a friend yesterday in response to their email:

I wonder why we in the church focus so much of our attention on gay marriage when it is so easy to overlook the sins that so easily beset us, such as gluttony and divorce. Did you see the link I put on my blog the other day about Baptists being the worst when it comes to obesity? It’s pretty scary stuff, but you should read it if you have a chance.

http://blog.randallthahn.com/2012/06/05/research-is-in-baptists-are-fat/

The report goes on to state that clergy are the worst offenders. And they are teaching us about self-control? And then there is the fact that many of our Baptist deacons are in their second or even third marriages. Jesus had a lot more to say about the sin of adultery (getting remarried when your first spouse is still alive) than He did about homosexuality. Perhaps we should make divorce illegal? It’s certainly more prevalent. It’s certainly ungodly in most cases (there is one exception — persistent, unrepentant sexual infidelity). I’m not saying you’re being inconsistent. But I do see some congregations jumping on the marriage amendment bandwagon whose own members are living in clear sin (adultery, gluttony).

At any rate, fight the good fight. But to be honest with you, I don’t think it will get you anywhere in the long term as our culture moves in an ever increasing secular direction. Jesus predicted as much concerning the end times. Above all, let’s look to our own households of faith. Jesus teaches us to consider our own sins as worse than others (Matt. 7:1-3). That’s where I think we sometimes fall down and open ourselves up to the charge of hypocrisy.

I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. So in my opinion there is neither “Christian” liberalism nor “Christian” conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, and there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons. Our homeland has its fixed location in heaven (Phil. 3:20)!

My feelings about politics didn’t change overnight. In fact, my mouth sometimes feels like it’s filled with cotton balls whenever I talk with others about the subject. But at least now I’m talking. So is David Kuo and others. “Evangelism provides a supernatural remedy for the needs of the world,” wrote Faris Whitesell. I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.