In Defense of Christmas Cheer

Nov 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Merry-Christmas-holiday-family-fun-time-lifepopper-food-magic-gathering-6‘Tis the season to be jolly!

Strike that. First, we need a few evangelical leaders to register complaints about our culture’s overly sentimentalized, consumerist take on Christmas.

It seems that every year I come across blog posts chiding Christians for allowing the shopping season to overtake the church’s calendar. Or bemoaning the early encroachment of Christmas music (“It’s the most wonderful time of the” — NOT YET!). Or reminding us that the real reason for the season must remain front and center in a world of sentimental mush.

The most recent take comes from Scot McKnight, who says that the Charles Dickens vision of Christmas (“about joy and singing and big family dinners and dashing to and fro giving and receiving, and caring for the poor and turkeys and frosty windows”) isn’t really Christian at all. In contrast, Scot lays out all the themes of the first Christmas, and these themes are about Israel, the Messiah, and a family under threat; they have nothing to do with snuggled up families watching snow and decorating Christmas trees.

Scot is absolutely right about Charles Dickens’ view of Christmas not being synonymous with the Bible’s. But behold a very good point, with a perfectly wrong conclusion! “I say the less Dickens the better,” he writes.

Bah humbug to Scot’s bah humbug!

I agree we need more emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas, but I believe, in this, Dickens is our ally, not our foe. Why? Because the Dickens vision of Christmas would be impossible apart from a society in which the values of Christianity had taken root. G. K. Chesterton described Dickens’ Christmas as a defense of “eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.”

“Joy and singing and big family dinners and giving and receiving and caring for the poor” may not be what the original Christmas was all about, but it’s certainly part of Christianity as an atmosphere, is it not? And no one succeeded at creating “atmosphere” better than Dickens.

Should we not marvel that even in our increasingly secular age people still sing carols packed with biblical truth every year? “Joy to the world,” indeed. As a fragmented society, we’ve lost the shared culture of “music that everyone knows,” except in those rare instances when a song communicates such joy that everyone starts to sing along. (Cue Pharrell’s “Happy,” please!) And except, once a year, when we reach back in time and listen to holiday recordings older than our parents, and sing along to hymns older than our great-grandparents. Sing along, ye cluttered aisles of Walmart!

Should we not marvel that in a world of broken homes that big family dinners still take place? That reunions still happen, and that people put aside their differences to share a meal? When Jesus spoke about His coming kingdom, He talked about food and drink, and the table. Surely in our Christmas celebrations we can hear a faint echo pointing us to the Church’s great feast at the end of time!

Should we not marvel that, in a dog-eat-dog world of competition run by the evolutionary motto of “survival of the fittest,” our culture devotes time to running “to and fro giving and receiving and caring for the poor?” It was Dickens who wrote of Christmas from the perspective of the poor, lifting up the needs of the forgotten in a bold challenge to the powers that be. Surely, we can see in this the image of the mother and Child, unknown the world, known to the heavens.

Christianity is not generosity, but generosity is part of Christianity. Who knows? Perhaps when caught up in the moment of cultural gratitude, the secular heart may long for Someone to thank.

But what of the sentimental mush included on the table for Christmas? What of the dangers of consumerism that infiltrate our Christmas cheer?

There’s no doubt those problems exist, but at the Christmas table, I’m not one to insist that the only thing we eat is carved turkey and mashed potatoes. Pass the banana pudding and Grandma’s sweet potato casserole, please. Yes, let’s make sure to glean sustenance from the main dish, but a few sugar cookies won’t ruin the meal.

Scot is right to remind the church about our mission “to tell the real story about Christmas, about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” Yes and Amen.

Playing Scrooge to his Scrooge, however, I would only add: the Dickens vision of Christmas does not take away from the truth, but complements it. ‘Tis the season for joy and feasting! So give me a hearty helping of meat and potatoes, and another slice of Dickens’ pie.

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Trevin’s Seven

Nov 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture by Stephen Smith. Excellent book I consult often. Only $4.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. The Atlantic – What ISIS Really Wants. I’ve linked it before, and I’ll link it again. The best place to get an intro into the aims of this wave of Islamic terrorism.

2. Mark Amstutz – Two Theories of ImmigrationThe debate between cosmopolitans and communitarians raged fiercely this week, with evangelicals “all over the place” on the issue. Amstutz explains what the major theories are.

3. Victoria Le Sweatman – How To Be a Christian in the Era of Cable News FightsIt’s easy to get riled up online. Here are some ways to consider other perspectives and respond with wisdom and charity.

4. Allen Guelzo – The Illusion of RespectabilityA lengthy and challenging article that calls evangelicals to move beyond their “original sin.”

5. What You Should Know about the Biggest Pro-Life Case to Go to the Supreme Court in 25 Years.

6. Jamie Dean – Who Is My Neighbor? World Magazine reports on evangelicals across the country looking for ways to serve and influx of refugees.

7. The Seven Most Fascinating Letters from the Time Archives. I like this line from a letter written by Harry Truman about General Douglas MacArthur. “His blow-up was expected, of course, and it seems to be more personal than factual. When an egotist is punctured, a lot of noise and whistling always accompanies the escaping air.”

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Before You Debate, You Have to Agree

Nov 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

theview“Facts are our friends,” says evangelical leader Ed Stetzer, pointing out why we should not resist the facts, no matter what they might tell us. But what happens when people decide they only want “friendly facts” that fit into their preexisting worldview?

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” He’d have been surprised to see that, in a world of social media and multiple news sources, many Americans now feel entitled to both.

Entitled To “Your Facts”

This development is bad news for our nation. One reason our society’s debates are so frustrating is because we do not agree on what is true. A satisfying debate takes place when two people observe a particular situation, offer a good interpretation of that situation, and then explain why their vision is the best way forward. In other words, we look at the facts, interpret the facts, and then push in a certain direction.

But in a world of constantly-flowing, often-contradictory information, we rarely get to have a satisfying debate because we don’t agree on what the situation is. You can’t debate a “good” interpretation or discuss the “best way forward” if there’s no common ground of agreement.

An Example from the Left

Let me give you two examples, one from the left and one from the right.

On The View a couple of weeks ago, the hosts interviewed Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. When the question of abortion rights came up, Fiorina mentioned the sting videos showing Planned Parenthood harvesting and selling body parts from aborted fetuses.

Whoopi Goldberg stopped the conversation right there. “No one is harvesting baby parts,” she said. “Come on girl.” She would not let Fiorina go any further. Joy Behar was offended by the accusation. “That offends my sensibility to hear you say something like that when you know it’s not true!” (Watch the video.)

According to Whoopi, Nothing of the sort is happening. No one is harvesting body parts. No one is selling anything. The debate “ended” – not because of a satisfying discussion about that claim or what is “good” or “bad” or the “best way forward – but because Whoopi said, in effect, “We don’t agree on that fact.” No sense in discussing your opinions if you can’t agree on the facts.

The bad news for Whoopi is that even Planned Parenthood does not deny that they have sold the body parts of aborted fetuses. Whether you call the practice “harvesting organs” or “donating fetal tissue,” the “fact” is the same – the biggest abortion provider in the country was cutting up human fetuses and selling the remains. What’s more, the videos proved to be so controversial that the organization agreed to start donating the human organs free of charge. So now, no money will exchange hands, but little hands will continue to be exchanged.

Perhaps you attribute this abysmal interaction to the blood-pressure-raising atmosphere of The View. Or perhaps you see Whoopi Golberg as a liar deliberately seeking to lead the public astray. I do not assign those motives to her. I believe she truly believes her own facts and the media spin she has received from her self-selected news sources. She really does think Fiorina is just making up the “body parts” story.

Most likely, Whoopi hasn’t seen the videos. She takes for granted the news sources that make it sound like the videos were so “heavily edited” as to be completely fake. She is wrong, of course, as Planned Parenthood’s own testimony made clear. But here’s my point: we will never get to the substance of whether harvesting organs from aborted fetuses is good or best if we cannot even agree on whether or not the practice is real. 

We cannot debate what is good or best unless we agree on what is true.

An Example from the Right

Distortions can also take place on the right. For example, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as they seek a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act.

According to some of the articles and news stories I’ve seen online, it appears the Obama administration is “forcing” the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs. Not true. No one is forcing the Little Sisters to pay for abortion drugs.

The debate is over whether or not the Little Sisters should be required to fill out a form of dissent that, in essence, triggers the coverage of abortion-drugs from other sources. Notice the difference. It is a question of complicity, not coverage.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m with the Little Sisters on this one. As an advocate for religious conscience laws, I don’t want these selfless servants to feel that they must be even slightly complicit in what they see as a great moral evil.

But we do ourselves no favors by mangling the facts of this case. Instead, we harm the cause of religious liberty, conscience rights, and fail to engage in satisfying debates over what constitutes the government’s “compelling interest” when we pass along articles that get basic facts wrong.

Never Sideline The Truth

I’m glad to see the previous generation’s three-channel monopoly of news go away. I’m glad there are multiple places to get news and information.

But I do worry that our intake is so diffused that no news is treated as even close to “objective” anymore. Even the “fact checking” sites, launched as a way of cutting through the clutter and giving providing facts free of interpretation, have been exposed as politically motivated, just another weapon in the arsenal of partisan politics.

The temptation for conservatives and liberals alike is to sideline the truth in advance of the cause. As Christians, we must resist such a practice. We are a people of truth. We should care about getting the facts right. We should be the least gullible people online and the first to challenge viral posts or Facebook videos that reinforce certain narratives with inaccurate information.

As Christians, we can be truth-tellers and truth-spreaders, but only if we are willing to do our due diligence in exerting discernment and caution. Let’s point the way forward. Because, if we as a society cannot agree agree on basic facts, then we will never be able to debate big ideas.

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On Welcoming Refugees, Evangelicals Are All Over the Place

Nov 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Syrian refugee children climb on a fence to watch a football training workshop in a refugee camp to provide Syrian and Jordanian trainers with football training skills, at Azraq refugee camp near Al Azraq city, JordanIn this article for RNS, I lay out the differing opinions of evangelicals on the best way to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Evangelicals may be united that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority, but they are divided on how the Bible would lead us to respond to the growing crisis of refugees fleeing from Syria.

  • What is the best way to show Christian love and compassion?
  • How is the church’s role different from the state’s?
  • How do we show wisdom and prudence in securing the safety of our neighbors and nation?

These are just a few of the questions that evangelicals are grappling with. One evangelical pastor today told me, “My church members are all over the place on this!”

The situation in Syria is dire. More than 300,000 people have died. Half the country is now homeless. Millions are fleeing. The plight of the refugees came to national attention in September with a picture of a 3-year-year-old boy whose body washed up on shore in Turkey. Many evangelical Christians sprang into action, making plans for welcoming and serving the refugees.

I’ve seen evangelical compassion firsthand. I once served a church in a small town where hundreds of Somali refugees, the vast majority of them Muslim, were resettled.

Our church opened its doors and hosted fellowships; we devoted space to ESL and other citizenship classes. The makeshift mosque in our town may have been closed off to us Christians, but we made sure the doors of our church were open to the Muslim refugees. At their best, evangelicals are on the front lines of “welcoming the stranger.”

It’s no surprise then that evangelical leaders have been calling for Christians to receive and serve refugees. A Christianity Today editorial this fall called Christians to embrace the “unparalleled opportunity to love neighbors here and abroad, and to showcase the beauty of the gospel that proclaims good news to the poor, liberty for those stuck in refugee camps, and a new life for those fleeing from oppression.”

Evangelicals recognize that many of these men, women and children are “brothers and sisters in Christ” who are leaving behind the cradle of Christian civilization.

But since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, the debate over whether and how to receive refugees has intensified.

Continue Reading…

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The Church That Changed My Life

Nov 17, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Bible_study_pen_paperThe Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword. In the church I grew up in, I experienced the truth of that verse.

I was in fourth grade when my family first visited Northside. Nothing helped me disassociate “church” from “building” more than meeting in a high school cafeteria every week. The environment didn’t feel like the church I knew as a kid. We had no pews, no stained glass windows, and no baptistery behind the choir behind the platform.

But the experience of setting up and tearing down, of enjoying cookouts and fellowships out on the property (where the building now sits) taught me that the church is a people, not a place. And not just any kind of people – we were a people who gathered to hear God’s Word. The Bible brought us together.

Building On God’s Word

Here was a group of people who loved God, loved each other, and loved to listen to God’s Word!

We studied God’s Word in classes, sang its truths in worship, listened to its delivery in sermons. We passed out small, NIV New Testaments in our community. On the cover they said said “Here’s hope – God’s Word for you.”

I remember sitting in the Oakland High School auditorium, flipping through the pages of my Adventure Bible while the pastor preached. Over the years, I was flipping less and listening more as the Word was faithfully explained.

By the time I was a teenager, we had a building, but that was only a change of environment. We may have had new walls and a new roof, but our foundation was the same – the Word of God.

Digging Deep, Reaching Out

At Northside, we dug into God’s Word, then reached out with God’s Word.

It was those two activities – digging into God’s Word and then going out with God’s Word – that led me to join Northside mission teams going to Romania. We knew God was opening doors for our church to do ministry in Romania. So, the Word we dug into was the Word we reached out with. No matter what we did overseas – from medical clinics, to fitting people for eye-glasses, to school visits, to children’s ministry – we made sure the proclamation of the Word was at the center. Evangelism, mission, the church.

For ten years, from the time I was 9 to the day I bought a one-way ticket to Romania, I spent the most formative years of my church life in the Word. I listened to my pastor preach over 1000 sermons. If you include Sunday School lessons and youth group activities, retreats, VBS, and Disciple Nows, the number of times I was exposed to God’s Word goes up substantially. God’s Word was the foundation – the pillar – the constant of this church.

God, Not Gimmicks

As I’ve connected with people across the country and around the world, I’ve come to realize just how special that church really is. I once assumed that all churches were like ours – a refuge of friendship and community, centered on the serious undertaking of hearing and obeying God’s Word. Unfortunately, not all churches believe the foundation of God’s Word is solid enough.

I’ve seen churches go after fads and gimmicks – whatever might attract as many people as possible and be the best show. I’ve visited churches where lots of things are taken seriously – the structure of the church staff, or the production dynamics of the worship service, or the cultural relevance of the preaching – but where the faithful exposition of God’s Word is not taken seriously at all. The result is frightening – starved Christians being served a diet of junk food.

That was never the case at Northside. Health and growth meant biblical nutrition. And that’s what I got there.

It meant biblical theology, seeing how the Bible fits together and tells one overarching story with Jesus at the center.

It meant giving the gospel, calling people to repentance and faith and expecting them to respond.

It meant joining God’s mission, looking to see where God is moving in the world and joining Him as He changes hearts and lives through His love.

Head and Heart

At church, I didn’t find Christians of the mind only – bobble-headed believers filled with knowledge but no heart. Neither did I find Christians of the heart only – warm and winsome believers who didn’t know much about God and His Word. There, we had the combination of both head and heart. We knew God’s Word and experienced God. And that was life-shaping.

When I think of Northside Baptist Church, I am filled with gratitude. So many other churches have seen their young people walked away from the church after high school and college, with only a few returning. That’s not my experience. I am blessed to see so many who were in our youth group serving the Lord, whether through various ministries, in their various vocations, in their local churches.

Foundation for the Future

From mission to Romania, to local church ministry back in the United States, and now to LifeWay, where, five years ago, I was invited to start a new curriculum called The Gospel Project – the Word of God has been the foundation of my ministry, just as it has always been the foundation of this church.

The culture we live in is shifting rapidly. Many churches will get swept up in the tidal wave of compromise, bowing to the idols of our age. But the churches who have their foundation on the Word of God will remain firm, a witness to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord, and His Word is still powerful today.

Happy 25th Anniversary, Northside Baptist Church!

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Courage and Compassion in the Midst of Fear

Nov 16, 2015 | Trevin Wax

eiffel-tower-01-800My newest article at the Washington Post:

The Eiffel Tower was engulfed in darkness on Friday night. Today, schools and government offices in France are closed down until further notice. The borders are closed, a curfew has been established, and the country is considered to be in a state of emergency.

Still, thousands of citizens gathered in the streets this weekend to proclaim one message: “Not afraid.” Even after watching on video people running for their lives from a crowded theater, after witnessing the carnage left in the wake of Friday’s attacks, the people of France made it clear that the most powerful weapon in the terrorist arsenal — fear — would not win.

The march of the Islamic State in the Middle East takes a new turn with the recent events in Europe. The War on Terror has entered a new phase, where the violence we have sought to contain in Middle Eastern countries is sweeping into other societies — bringing violence, causing heartbreak.

When I think of the ways the Islamic State could achieve its objectives in its war against the West, I consider its militant plans and our government responses. Yes, there are well-worn paths of appeasement or containment, which are reminiscent of Europe’s bumbling into World War II. There is always the specter of nuclear warfare or the random targeting of unsuspecting civilians.

I cannot speak to the possibility of the Islamic State scoring military victories against the United States or Europe, because we cannot look into the future to see what kind of forces will be marshaled against us. But I do know this – one way that the terrorist wins is by immersing the world in fear.

Terrorism thrives on fear, and fear — if left unchecked — can spread into the deepest, darkest corners of our hearts and lead to decisions and choices that, in normal times, would be unthinkable. The apostle John wrote in the New Testament of “perfect love driving out fear.” From a Christian perspective, there is no fear in love because love is the primary purpose for human existence. There is no fear of God’s judgment when we love as we ought.

Almost a thousand years ago, the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas, whose interactions with Muslim thinkers led to some of his greatest works, wrote, “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

Aquinas is right. Fear and compassion cannot coexist. The former inevitably drives out the latter.


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Trevin’s Seven

Nov 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: My book, Gospel Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture is only $2.99 right now.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. Revisiting Faithful Presence — To Change the World 5 Years LaterThis free eBook is a fantastic resource that features several essays interacting with James Davison Hunter’s influential book. Don’t miss Forster’s essay especially.

2. John Piper – Winsome WierdosI appreciate this “serious call to Christian exiles” from Pastor John, based on 1 Peter.

3. Laura Vanderkam – The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long WinterThis idea wouldn’t work for everyone, but it seems to work well for Norway. Fast Company always has interesting articles like this.

4. Matt Chandler – You Create Your Own Treadmills. Insightful interview with Matt from the folks at Leadership Journal.

5. Eric Geiger – 5 Thoughts on Makers and Managers. Most organizations need both. Eric explains why both are vital.

6. Nana Dolce – The Cosby Show: Black Image and Respectable IdolsNana explains how Cosby impacted the country and what that means for the African-American community today.

7. Tim Keller – Know Your OceanGood article interacting with Tim Keller’s reason for using “late modernity” as a description of our age instead of “postmodern.”

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Don’t Let Guilt Crush Your Efforts to Live on Mission

Nov 12, 2015 | Trevin Wax

guilt-free6Guilt-driven Christianity leads to burnout, whether it’s feeling guilty because you’re not doing enough for God’s kingdom, or because you continue to struggle against so many entangling sins. Guilt is a huge de-motivator for service in God’s kingdom.

  • I’m just not good enough yet, not Christ-like enough yet!
  • I am never doing enough for God’s kingdom!
  • If you only knew all the sins I battle on a daily basis!
  • God wouldn’t use me because He could have His pick from so many Christians who are better than me!

If it’s not the great needs of the world that overwhelm you, it’s the great sins of your heart that threaten to keep you from God’s mission.

Your idea of someone living on mission is a victorious Christian who has, if not fully, at least satisfactorily gained victory over the bigger sins in their life and can now focus outward on the world around them. They’ve won the inner battle; now they can look outside.  

When Jesus’ commissioned His disciples on the mountain after His resurrection, He told them they would take the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This was a ragtag group of men who weren’t the most educated or most financially endowed, and yet the need of the world didn’t overcome them. If anyone could have looked at the task and said, “It’s too big and we can’t handle it!” it should have been them, right? We’ve got more opportunities to spread the gospel today than they did, and yet they didn’t balk at the task. Why not?

Perhaps we can find the answer in the verses surrounding the Great Commission text (Matthew 28:29). Just before Jesus tells His disciples to go into the world and make disciples, He makes this statement: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (v. 28). And after He commissions the disciples, He makes this promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 30).

Hence, the question: What effect do you think Jesus’ statement of authority and Jesus’ promise of His presence made on the disciples, when considering the mammoth task they had been given? Or, to ask ourselves personally: What role does faith in Jesus’ promise of presence play in helping us overcome our feelings of inadequacy?

Jesus didn’t commission perfect people back then, and He doesn’t commission perfect people now. Peter would later compromise his witness to the gospel and would be confronted by Paul. The early Christian churches battled false teaching (Galatians), dealt with immorality (Jude), struggled for unity (Corinthians), and forgot their hope (Thessalonians). And yet through these churches and their leaders, the gospel went forth.

What was the secret? Christ was in them. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote:

God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Jesus-Continued-219x300Too many times, we see the Christian life as something we are doing for God. Nothing will wear you out more than thinking the mission is all on you. Others feel like it’s Christ and me, like we’re wrestling against the devil and whenever we need Him to take over, Jesus comes into the ring and takes a few swings. The Scriptures remind us that it’s Christ in us who brings victory.

For Further Reflection: Take a few minutes to read Romans 8, Paul’s chapter on the victorious life of a believer. Count how many times he refers to the Spirit. What does this tell us about our need for the Spirit as we battle our sinful flesh?

This is an excerpt from the eight-week Jesus, Continued Bible Study co-written by me and J. D. Greear. For more information on the books and video, click here.

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“Ressentiment” – The Danger That Destroys Your Hope

Nov 10, 2015 | Trevin Wax


The greatest challenge facing Christians in North America today is not external. It is not an action by the Supreme Court, or the threat of losing tax exemption, or the political and financial pressures to compromise basic Christian ethics.

It’s an internal challenge – the temptation to see yourself as part of a persecuted minority that finds its identity in being wronged.

What Is Ressentiment?

This is the challenge of ressentiment—the Nietzschean concept warned about by James Davison Hunter. According to Hunter, ressentiment is

“. . . grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity.”

You can see ressentiment on display in the discourse surrounding some of our most pressing political debates, from the LGBT community, to gun rights advocates, to ongoing discussions on race relations. You can see the same approach among many Christians, who form organizations and set up media outlets to solidify support and rally the base around the protection of rights or the opposition of all kinds of injustices  – some real and some perceived.

Please note that some of these injustices are real. There are legitimate grievances expressed by the LGBT community. I have spoken out on the real and enduring issues raised by African American brothers and sisters. We do well to recognize recent infringements on the religious rights of Christians who do not affirm same-sex marriage.

So, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that there is no injury against these groups. Nor am I equating these grievances. There are indeed issues of injustice, some more pronounced than others.

But ressentiment goes beyond recognizing and opposing injustice. Ressentiment is when the community thrives on its sense of being injured. The group rallies around its identity in being wronged.

Betraying Your Christian Hope

The political landscape in North America is heavily influenced on rights, wrongs, and a mindset of entitlement. Too often, Christians have fallen into, what Hunter describes as, a “discourse of negation”—a strategy for cultivating solidarity around a group that is afraid of further injury or that needs to mobilize against the newest threat.

The problem with ressentiment is that it is, fundamentally, a worldly way of addressing the challenges we face.

  • It lacks faith because it assumes the worst in every person, casts opposing viewpoints as belonging to enemy oppressors, and takes umbrage at every perceived slight.
  • It lacks hope because it assumes all is lost unless every injustice is corrected right now.
  • It lacks love because all it can do is keep a record of wrongs.
  • It lacks grace because it grows from the roots of entitlement.

Hope in Future Justice

So, what is the solution? Hope.

Christian hope is a sword that cuts through the marrow of ressentiment. Hope challenges our fear of injustice going unnoticed by reminding us of the future when God will right all wrongs.

This does not mean that Christian hope should lead us to a quietist approach to life and politics, as if all we should do is quietly endure abuse or injustice, without speaking for the truth. No, rejecting ressentiment does not mean advocating retreat.

But hope means that we keep ever before us the truth that any loss experienced is only temporary. Any political setback is just that – a setback, not a defeat. Pressured, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Struck down, but never destroyed.

Christian Hope and Cheerful Courage

Christian hope challenges ressentiment with cheerful courage. We betray our faith when we are united more by bitterness and grievances than by cheerful confidence in God’s good purposes for the world and our love for the people who may injure us. When we are united by outrage, we look and sound just like the world.

I recognize that what I am saying here applies primarily to Western cultures. In a society where Christians feel entitled to privilege, ressentiment is one of the primary temptations. In other societies, where persecution is rampant, and injustice has become an accepted reality of everyday life, the greater temptation for Christians is despair. However, even in those societies facing those circumstances, the darkest times are the moments when hope shows itself as a piercing light.

Missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin challenged believers to look back to the resurrection when facing discouragement, for

“the way we understand the past is a function of our whole way of meeting the present and the future. The community of faith celebrates the resurrection of Jesus as the ground of assurance that the present and the future are not under the control of blind forces but are open to unlimited possibilities of new life.”

Hope in the Darkness

Hope is what leads someone to soldier on, especially in the face of evidence that says the cause is lost. Matthew Lee Anderson is right to point out the distinctive vision of Christian hope:

“It was not their love which made the early Christians such an irrepressible force. In the midst of an over-stretched empire that had grown decadent and fat off of its own success, and which had ceased to see any life beyond its own horizons, it was the hope of the early Christians that allowed them to kiss the dying, to hold their own bodies in chastity, and to turn their martyrdoms into murals.”

To maintain faith when the signs indicate things are working out as one would like is not hope. To rest assured in in the coming victory is hope, even when all seems to be failing, and this is the hope that grabs the attention of a world that knows only false hope in the wrong future.

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Trevin’s Seven

Nov 06, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Innocent Blood: Challenging the Powers of Death with the Gospel of Life by John Ensor. $1.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. N. T. Wright – What is Marriage For? Tracing God’s Plan from Genesis to Revelation. The ­biblical picture of man and woman together in marriage is not something about which we can say, “Oh well, they had some funny ideas back then. We know better now.” The biblical view of marriage is part of the larger whole of new creation, and it symbolizes and points to that divine plan.

2. Time Magazine – The Early Suffragettes Would Not Agree with Today’s Feminists on Abortion. The early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. believed that the rights of mother and child are inextricably linked and that the right to life and the right to vote are rooted in the inherent dignity of each human person.

3. Jake Meador – Evangelicals are not Gnostics, but Materialists. Three cheers for Jake Meador showing why Christian beliefs about human sexuality are rooted in foundational beliefs about humanity and creation.

4. Chris Martin – New Data Says Millennials are Less Religious Than Everyone Else. So What? Chris looks at recent Pew data and offers some insight into the best way to interpret the statistics.

5. Eric Geiger – 10 Differences Between a Boss and LeaderA short post packed with practical insight.

6. Scot McKnight – How Western Culture Challenges the Church. The Western world, North America, the USA, and in particular Christians in that culture challenge church at its core.

7. Sarah Boxer – The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy. Was Snoopy the best thing or the worst thing to happen to Charles Schulz’s comic strip?

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