Category Archives: Christianity
Last night I tuned in to the Democratic primary debate between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders. It’s the first Democratic debate I’ve watched during this election season. After watching a couple of big tent circus acts called the Republican debate, it was refreshing to actually see two accomplished leaders in our country spar over ideas.
Granted, Clinton and Sanders share the same basic world and life view. Consequently, their debate was within a shared framework. But the exchange included very direct questions from the moderator and panel of questioners as well as some substantive policy discussion. It was far more than I’ve seen elsewhere.
Among the things that stood out to me were the direct questions about religious faith. An audience member asked Senator Sanders whether God was relevant in his view. The same questioner asked Secretary Clinton if she prayed and to whom she prayed. Frankly, the answers were lackluster.
This morning I’m more concerned about what such questions suggest about those of us who ask them and the place of such questions in our political discourse. Here are three such concerns:
The questions encourage hypocrisy.
As I think about it, Sanders and Clinton (any candidate) asked about their religious faith are tempted to hypocrisy. How do you answer that question in a way that presents yourself honestly and avoid offending significant swaths of the American voting public? The politician feels a responsibility for not offending people. They are, after all, seeking to be public servants.
But we live …
Thank you for your question the other day. I thought it was a good one and I’ve been spending some time trying to get my mind around an answer. “Why don’t some Christians seem concerned or interested or even oppositional to calls for social justice?” There are a great many answers that could be given to your question. But, personally, as an evangelical Christian, I find your question has more teeth if I ask it specifically of myself—of evangelical Christians like the pastor who told you all that the only thing that would help is the gospel. I know how hollow that felt to you, and I have at least one idea for why.
There are many Christians who are escapists but don’t know it. Learning to spot gospel escapism is vital as you try linking arms with Christians. They think escapism is a matter of believing falsehoods. But strictly speaking believing false things is not the strongest form of escapist. The strongest form relies on the comfort of the truth. It’s that escapism which embraces abstract truth without bothering with actual application.
The escapist is like the kid whose balloon slips from his hand and floats away. He can still see it and recognize its bright red orb against the cerulean sky. But the child’s actual enjoyment of the balloon is entirely a matter of memory or imagination. He no longer feels the actual tug of the string as the wind jostles the balloon or the ability to make …
My darling Niece,
It was good to receive your letter the other day. Letter writing must be among the lost arts of our time. That you would take the time to actually hand write a letter rather than sending me a series of instant messages, tweets or emails made hearing from you all the more special. You imparted grace to me simply by scribing.
But you shared so many things in your letter it’s difficult to know where to begin. Rather than try answering your entire letter, let me start with a general observation and burrow into it.
Equality is too slim a basis for human relationships.
Don’t get me wrong; legal and social equality is a good and necessary goal. And, you’re quite correct to say this country never intended the African American to have such equality. That you and I should have the same rights and privileges of white men was never the design. So you correctly see that the fight for equality has been uphill all the way and that the fight is necessary. But I think that’s at least partially inaccurate and unhelpful. It’s unhelpful because there are at least two defects with equality—(1) if it can be given with the stroke of a pen, it can be taken by another; and (2) people only want equality with their superiors. Fundamentally, seeking and granting equality are acts of power and pride. Power because it locks “superiors” and “inferiors” in battle for a perceived scarcity. Pride because the disenfranchised only want …
We pastors often find ourselves speaking during troublesome and difficult times. We address biblical texts with thorny truths that offend people. We appear at bedsides to comfort the dying and the grieving. We sometimes get called upon to help the wider community navigate calamity and crisis. Pastors speak. And there are times when not speaking amounts to a dereliction of duty.
But that doesn’t mean we always know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes circumstances defy easy speech. Add to that the fact that we pastors have not finally mastered our tongues, that there’s a world of fire in our mouths too, then we understand that not only must pastors speak but they must do so while warring against the flesh and facing the lions. You cannot be a pastor without courage.
That’s why I appreciate these pastoral comments from Sandy Wilson regarding events in Ferguson. Sandy serves as senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN and as a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Over the years that I’ve known Sandy, he’s been nothing but gracious, thoughtful, earnest and desirous of God’s best for all people. He’s a model of charity, clarity and courage in pastoral care.
Watch these five minutes as Sandy addresses his congregation and let us all grow in grace:
Last night I had a twitter exchange–one of many–with an assertive brother insisting that I was biased in my view of the events in Ferguson and in my assessment of the grand jury process. We pressed each other on various points until we agreed that we could no longer hear one another and should stop for the night. I’m grateful we talked. And I’m grateful we stopped.
The stopping allowed me to process one part of our exchange in particular. My interlocutor at one point mentioned that it is government’s job to bring justice in the case of lawbreaking. I asked if he would give me a definition of “justice,” to which he replied “the virtue which consists in giving everyone his due.” My friend was certain justice had been served in the shooting of Brown if Wilson acted in self-defense. Brown, in that case, had received “his due.”
One Man’s Justice
On the drive to school this morning, the children and I rode mostly in silence as I thought a lot about our exchange. I thought a lot about the iron-clad certainty some people have in judging Brown’s shooting “just.” And I thought a lot about how that certainty is informed not by their knowledge of the events of that morning (my partner was honest enough to admit he wasn’t there and didn’t know) but by the menacing portrait of Brown and his family developed and spread in some quarters. Our conversation began with my friend asking me to comment on this graphic:
I am an evangelical. That statement needs explanation.
I am a theological evangelical. I believe the Bible is the divinely-inspired word of God. I believe it is inerrant and sufficient. I believe a person must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apart from this spiritual resurrection, we die in our sins and we suffer God’s eternal wrath forever. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, atones for our sin in his death on the cross. He provides our righteousness by his perfect obedience. There is no salvation from sin and judgment apart from that Christ offered in the gospel. None. But by repentance and faith, all that Christ is and all that Christ has done is ours. Evangelicals at our best are “gospel people.”
But being “gospel people” comes with a peculiar pitfall. It’s possible to be the kind of “gospel people” who use appeals to “the gospel” as a way of escape rather than engagement. Let’s call this “gospel escapism,” that attempt to flee from either the banality or brutality of life by superficial recourse to the gospel. These “gospel people” use the word “gospel” in their writing and speeches a lot. They think simply mentioning the word is the same thing as applying the various truths of Jesus’ life and work to the exigencies of life. It’s escapism because it fails to see in any deep way how Jesus’ Incarnation, active obedience, sacrificial and substitutionary death, resurrection, heavenly session and imminent return for sinners speaks …
I really enjoyed listening to this recording of C.S. Lewis addressing British audiences during the War years. The series of addresses became “Mere Christianity.” Apparently only one recording survived. Enjoy!
I’ve read exactly two articles by the British columnist Matthew Parris. An avowed atheist, I find Mr. Parris refreshingly honest and genuinely insightful. Having read two columns (here’s the first), I’m pretty sure I comprehend his body of work. Not really. But I like what I’ve read.
His latest (second) piece to catch my attention–“As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God“–makes the bold (for an atheist) and undeniable (for a Christian) claim that Africa needs God! He means Christ, not pagan, tribal witchcraft. That, too, staggers the imagination given the more strident anti-Christian atheism en vogue these days. What can I say? This man is worth the read.
Anyway, back to Africa and God. Here’s how Parris begins his piece:
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution …
In recent weeks the evangelical world has found itself reeling from cultural setbacks it once took for granted. The re-election of President Obama, state passage of “gay marriage” initiatives, the uninviting of Louie Gigglio to the Inauguration, and even last night’s Super Bowl have signaled to some that Christians and Christianity have lost their welcome place in the public square. For the first time, some evangelical conservatives feel like an oppressed minority in the country.
As I’ve watched the chatter mixed with laments and jeremiads, I couldn’t help but think of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” founded in the late 70’s and defunct by the late 80’s. For nearly a decade, the Moral Majority exercised its political voice largely in southern states.
It seems to me that the very notion of a “moral majority” rested on two assumptions that some evangelicals no longer find tenable. First, it assumed the basic morality of most of the country. It assumed basic “Judeo-Christian principles” shaped and framed the moral reasoning of the average citizen, making your “average Joe” basically friendly to the aims and concerns of conservative Christians. Second, it assumed privilege. The very notion of “majority” suggests strength in numbers, a perch from which to rule for no other reason than outnumbering one’s opponents. The last couple months have upturned both of those long-standing assumptions and some evangelicals find themselves at a loss for how to handle it, claiming to be “persecuted,” “rejected,” and “shut out” from the public square. Many who …
Dare anyone deny that Christians are among the most tribal of peoples in the world? I’m not thinking of the way Christians may legitimately distinguish the church from the world, the saved from the lost, or the way lines must necessarily be drawn between orthodox and heretical views, or even about denominations (as Trueman likes to point out: “Denominations mean that somebody somewhere still believes something”). Rather, I’m thinking about the way Christians divide and gather, further divide and gather into value-based societies distinct from and uncooperative with one another. Is it me, or is the problem pandemic?
On one level, the problem exists simply at the label of labeling. We have and need ways of describing ourselves, our commitments, and our ambitions. The natural tendency is to create a moniker, a one-word or one-phrase representative of deeper meanings. I don’t know that this is avoidable or good even if it were avoidable. We’ve been naming things since Adam, and good names carry meaning, history, and identity. That’s why any call for doing away with labels won’t work. Sometimes we hear things like, “Can’t we just call ourselves ‘Christians’?” But what is “Christian” but a label? And what must “Christian” mean in order to escape a reductionism that leads to rank individualism? We need labels–good labels– that communicate who we are. So, we’ll never escape naming ourselves and the quest for a one-size-fits-all tag seems quixotic.
But there’s something deeper than naming that feeds the tribalism. Beneath it all run three tributaries that dump into the lake of …