Tag Archives: politics

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.)

Gloom and Doom? Not Worried!

8:14 AM Oh my. Here we go again. Gloom and doom. America is going down the tubes. Especially if you vote for the other guy, who is a despicable fraud.

Quick, Dave, check your insurance premiums!

Frankly, I’m not worried. Not one bit. It’s the same old ads. Just different names. It reminds me of an operating room. The surgeons and nurses are clothed immaculately and the instruments are sterilized. But they refuse to wash their hands. “All that matters is that you trust us. I am a surgeon. See my diploma? I don’t have to worry about keeping clean. Condition is of no importance.” The result? Pseudo-politics, pseudo-Christianity, pseudo-orthodoxy, and pseudo-piety. “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, and they will believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). I’m not expert in eschatology, but it seems that Paul is talking about how God is preparing the world for Antichrist, the Big Lie, the final embodiment of all that is opposed to Christ. We are being primed for the final delusion, and as a result we accept cheap substitutes for the real thing. People believe the lie rather than love the truth.

I believe our Father would be pleased to give us much more if we had faith to ask for it.I’ve been rereading Elton Trueblood’s classic book, The Company of the Committed.

company of the committed.jpg

Trueblood was a lifelong Quaker, educator, and author. (He was also twice widowed.) His book is about Christian living, and the author wants to encourage a deep conversation about church and society. His main point is that the church as it exists today is ill-suited to fulfill its basic redemptive function since it has compromised itself in so many ways. “The movement we need is a movement in depth,” he writes (p. 10). This question is especially relevant in light of the fact that the line between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is becoming increasingly blurred in this election year of ours. While on the one had I have no problem with people being passionately involved in politics as they feel God is leading them, I simply maintain that politics should be kept strictly separate from what we are about as churches, and that no one should label their position as the distinctly “Christian” way of doing politics. Remember, in most wars in history, both sides firmly believed that their “God” was on their side. The unique call of the Christian is to pursue the kingdom, and this is accomplished in counter-cultural ways, including our willingness to sacrifice ourselves and even our very lives for others.

Trueblood gets this. He shows that many of the most “successful” programs in our churches will not bear up under close examination. “It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern Church seems irrelevant to modern man” (p. 17). From my own experience, I can tell you this is very true in post-Christian Europe, where I have lived. To be a Christian in Switzerland was the equivalent of putting your brain in park or neutral. But not only does Europe suffer from this malaise. I live in the rural South, and here the church often has only marginal relevance. To be sure, people are willing to put up with it as long as it does not require anything of them. Hence, writes Trueblood, the question today is not one of whether Christian fellowships exist. Rather, the question is what kind of character these fellowships have (p. 21). I personally think this distinction is very helpful. The Gospel is not the true Gospel unless it is about transforming people, one life at a time. I deeply appreciate Trueblood’s attempt to call the church back to its militant stance, which produced “the amazing vitality of early Christianity’ (p. 28). On p. 31 he writes:

It is perfectly clear that early Christians considered Christ their Commander-in-Chief, that they were in a company of danger, which involved great demands upon their lives, and to be a Christian was to be engaged in Christ’s service.

The “service” he’s talking about is a far cry from the typical worship service or political rally one attends today. As in an army, every soldier has his or her own duty to perform.

The key words are “one another” [he writes on p. 32]. There are no mere observers or auditors; all are involved. Each is in the ministry; each needs the advice of the others; and each has something to say to the others. The picture of mutual admonition seems strange to modern man, but the strangeness is only a measure of our essential decline from something of amazing power.

Christ, says Trueblood, is organizing a genuine band of brothers, a company of the committed. Jesus wasn’t asking for people to go to church. “He was, instead, asking for recruits in a company of danger. He was asking not primarily for belief, but for commitment with consequent involvement” (p. 34). “We cannot understand the idea of of a company apart from the concept of involvement” (p. 38). The soldier’s one desire is to please their commander in everything.

The undeniable reality is that many of us today are both under-trained and uninvolved. The easiest way to undermine Christianity is to appoint someone else to do the work for us. During the American Civil War, if you had enough money you could purchase your way out of the draft and let someone else do the fighting for you. The simple fact is that we have been called — all of us — to follow Jesus Christ in acts of radical Calvary-love, not someone else’s good ideas or movements or strategies, however good we may think they are. Whether you are a Republican Matthew or a Democrat Simon the Zealot, we can all get along just fine as long as we follow Jesus and stop making our political ideals the bullseye.

The Company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine; and it is not people making up an audience for a speaker; it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if it is received, it will change their lives (p. 45).

This is the kind of lay ministry that I have long espoused and have argued for in my various publications. In the words of Trueblood, “…in the ministry of Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, neither layman nor cleric [italics his], but all are one in Christ” (p. 62). If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you support my work? Not financially of course. Will you join me in praying for the church in North America in 2016? Pray that God will help us wake up to the political delusion that has descended upon us through well-meaning people. Pray that we start caring more about sacrificing for the country than controlling it. To me, the most basic and most difficult challenge of being a Christ-follower is what Trueblood addresses in this marvelous book. It’s becoming completely sold out to the Commander-in-Chief and living under His authority and in His love on a moment-by-moment basis. I want to encourage us to cultivate a surrendered attitude toward God. By all means, let’s express our opinion about politics. Let’s vote for the person of our choice (or not vote at all if our conscience prohibits it). But let’s never, ever forget where the hope of the world lies. Let’s obey Jesus and love others as He did.

You want security? Love each other and the world well, and your house will stand.

(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.

 

The Banner of the Cross above All Other Flags

Recently PBS published a story called Colorado Springs Evangelicals. The new head of Focus on the Family is interviewed in depth. His goal? To engage the culture without becoming “wrapped around the axle of politics.” He is so right about this! The bottom of the bottom line is simply this: politics and religion don’t mix. Look, you are I are called to follow Jesus and advance His kingdom, which is “not of this world.” It’s also important to remember that the earliest Christians loved and supported their communities. They did not look down on lost sinners. It’s a beautiful thing when you begin to hear people at Focus on the Family admit that it was a mistake to become cultural warriors. The truth is that our activism has been a loud gong that has drowned out quiet voices, so that the culture has lost interest in anything we have to say. The people who have changed the world have always been risk-takers who climbed down through torn up roofs while the rest of the world slammed doors. I was a stranger at first to this kind of thinking, but my reading of the Gospels completely changed all that. (See my The Jesus Paradigm.) I don’t believe that God needs an advocate in DC or a faith-based organization to promote His kingdom. So I urge us all to be careful who we pledge allegiance to. Let’s be careful to raise the banner of the cross high above all other flags. So watch (or read) this interview. It should make us all uncomfortable. But the more you read the Gospels, the more your comfortable life will be interrupted.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Politics and The Jesus Paradigm

From Dave Black Online:

I want to say a word about The Jesus Paradigm. Some reviewers have implied that it makes too much of politics for a book only about discipleship. Actually, the book is ALL about politics. I insist that politics is never enough and that the human problem is insoluble unless it be attacked on all fronts — the spiritual as well as the political and the economic — the whole point of the book being that the problem is too complex to be solved by political reforms. If you feel that something can be done along political lines and that it would be worth doing, that’s fine with me. But, alas, in view of what politicians and the voting public are like, hope must be mingled with a great deal of doubt. It seems to me that if we are to have better politics, we must also have a better philosophy. And the only philosophy I think worth defending is the ultimate anti-philosophy, radical Christianity. The hope of the world lies in people getting disgusted enough with politics to take the teachings of Jesus seriously and to begin serving their communities with Calvary-love.