July 10, 2007
The Greatest Threat to World Missions
You'd expect Glenn Penner's idea of the greatest threat to world missions is the persecution of the church. After all, he blogs for "Voice of the Martyrs", an organization who's central focus is the persecution of Christians worldwide. But you'd be wrong.
No, I do not believe that persecution is the greatest threat to the continuing spread of the gospel. I am much more concerned about something that, at first glace, seems benign and even helpful but which I contend is far more insidious. I am referring to the dependency creating practices that ministries are increasingly promoting in the name of "partnership."
Such programs are varied and wide-ranging. Some claim to be "revolutionizing" world missions through their approach of having western Christians sponsor national missions, churches, evangelists, missionaries and pastors. Claiming to be more efficient and culturally adaptable, such groups appeal to the western desire to be cost and labour effective by claiming that such an approach provides more "bang for the buck." Or alternately, they bemoan the fact that these poor servants of God have to labour so hard to meet the needs of their families that they have no time to spread the gospel (to which I respond, "Paul didn't seem to have that problem. See 1 Thessalonians 2:9." Indeed, Paul seemed to think that his approach was the best possible strategy for spreading the gospel. But then again, I suppose we know better in the 21st century).
A careful study of the issue, however, demonstrates that dependency on western resources to spread the gospel has proven, in most cases, to be an absolute disaster.
Read the whole thing for why he believe this is the case.
(The political animal in me also noted that this "absolute disaster" mirrors quite amazingly a US government program that is also, in my opinion, an absolute disaster, and for almost all the same reasons. Read Glenn's blog post and see if you find the same thing I did.)
April 23, 2007
From the Heart
Our pastor's sermon this week, as I imagine for many pastors, was regarding the Virginia Tech massacre. A one-sentence summary I'd use to describe it (that doesn't do it justice) is "The problem with evil in the world is that it exists and is active, and this is a wake-up call to the church." I want to touch on these two points, and riff off Mark's earlier post. (UPDATE: Audio for the message can be downloaded here.)
What I read Mark as saying is that society wasn't asking the right questions about what really is affecting our youth. There are surface issues that, I believe, are just symptoms, not the causes, that Mark touched on; video games, movies, meds, etc. But in his post was an assumption he makes that I don't think society accepts, at least not like it used to. And without that assumption, even his list of real issues can't be addressed until this one is.
Chuck Colson, in a recent Breakpoint podcast, noted that in at least one society, we can't even agree on this base assumption.
I witnessed an extreme example of this therapeutic thinking during a visit to a Norwegian prison years ago. Throughout the tour, officials bragged about employing the most humane and progressive treatment methods anywhere in the world. I met several doctors in white coats.
That prompted me to ask how many of the inmates, who were all there for serious crimes, were mentally ill. The warden replied, "Oh, all of them." I must have looked surprised, because she said, "Well, of course, anyone who commits a crime this serious is obviously mentally unbalanced."
Stated differently, there is no such thing as sin and evil, and the only reason why people might commit serious crimes is that they are mentally ill. Thus, the best-and perhaps, only-response to crime is behavior modification and all of those other up-to-date psychological techniques.
The assumption I refer to is the existence of evil, and of man's predisposition to it. I know how some folks avoid church because they don't want to hear that, but without understanding the very nature of our being, how can we ever hope to properly deal with it. Here's how Jesus put it in Mark chapter 7.
He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "
Jesus tells us that evil is primarily a spiritual issue, not primarily a psychological one. This is not to say that there are no psychological results of evil-there certainly are--and this does not absolve society, video game makers or Hollywood writers of their role in creating an environment where we marinate in and, in many cases, uphold that which is evil.
While we in American generally allow this idea to have some effect on our thinking, it has been less so during this generation. Colson notes that we're not that much different from Norway, and we, like them and anyone else, have one real way out.
While the Norwegian approach would strike most Americans as very naïve, the difference between them and us is one of degree not kind. We also blame crime on external factors, like mental illness, culture, dysfunctional childhood, and the like.
We are uncomfortable attributing events like this to human evil, much less to a kind of evil that seeks to undo God's creation-what Christians call the demonic.
Yet without this idea, events like this massacre can never be understood. We might learn that the killer was "mentally unbalanced" or on anti-depressants. But, absent evidence that he was clinically delusional, this knowledge will not explain why he walked onto a college campus, locked people in a lecture hall, and killed them
Events like this not only horrify us-they unsettle us. We think of sin and the demonic as not-so-quaint relics from a superstitious age. And even more destructive, random events like this remind us how little we know about ourselves and what we are capable of, as well. But failing to call evil evil misleads us about the world we live in and our need for God's grace, the only real answer and hope for any of us.
We cannot save the house until we save the foundation, and only God, the Master Builder, who drew up the blueprints, knows what can be done.
The families and friends of the victims of the VT shootings, and even the family and friends of the shooter, deserve the most love and grace we can give them. Our desire to help them, grieve with them, and comfort them must come from the heart. But going forward, if we ever hope to rescue our society from further events such as this, we must remember what else Jesus said comes from the heart. It is the hearts of people that need God. The psychological, emotional and physiological will follow, but not until the hearts are changed. That's the church's mission; to bring the God that can change the heart to society.
(One thing I would want to note, lest an incorrect assumption be made; I don't dismiss out of hand the science of psychology; not by any means. I believe it has an important contribution to make in understanding the human mind and how it can be helped. But, using my earlier analogy, modifying the house without understanding the foundation may, in some cases, give us relief from problems without dealing with the underlying flaws, keeping us from seeking the One who can truly help.)
Our pastor asked and answered the burning question: "How long will events like this continue to happen? As long as the church lets them." The "salt of the earth" must not hunker down in its salt shaker. As it was used in the first century, it must be rubbed, not on, but into the meat before it rots any further.
March 07, 2007
First James Cameron trotted out bones to the Discovery Channel and made claims about them--that they were the bones of the biblical Jesus--that not even the man who discovered them claimed. Now ABC highlights a nut in Houston, giving him a platform to be legitimized, who claims to be Jesus. And the Anti-Christ. And who grew up stealing to pay for his heroin addiction. The headline reads, "Jesus Might Be Alive and Well in Houston", giving the story a "hey, it could be true" air.
(Hat tip to WorldViews.)
Amazing how the ever-sensitive media that blushed and turned away when the Danish cartoons of Muhammad came calling have no problem with airing the flimsiest story that calls Christianity into question. The gatekeepers have a very selective gate. As one commenter to the WorldView post said, "Do you think ABC would do a similar story about some character claiming to be Mohammed, Martin Luther King, Abraham etc?"
Yeah, me neither
January 24, 2007
Good News from the Front
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have opened doors to the spread of the Gospel.
More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ over the past decade than at any other time in human history. A spiritual revolution is under way throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia:
Iraq: More than 5,000 new Muslim converts to Christianity have been identified since the end of major combat operations. ... Also, more than 1 million Bibles [were] shipped into the country since 2003, and pastors report Iraqis are snatching them up so fast they constantly need more Bibles.
Afghanistan: only 17 Muslim converts to Christianity before 9/11/01, but now more than 10,000.
Other Muslim countries have also seen tremendous rates of conversion starting in the 80s and 90s. Read the whole article for the stunning numbers from Egypt, for example.
September 21, 2006
The "Theocracy" Myth
Joe Carter, in a recycled post at the the Evangelical Outpost which is just as relevant now as when he first posted it, deconstructs the idea that Christians somehow want to establish a theocracy in the United States.
When those of us on the “religious right” hear such paranoid ranting it naturally elicits a chuckle. After all, more than half of American evangelicals are either Baptists or non-denominational. We don’t even want a centralized church government much less a central government controlled by the church.
But since, as Joe notes, "even the most pernicious lie...contains some grain of truth", he looks into the history of the idea and what folks typically mean by it today.
July 20, 2006
Why Did God Create Oil?
Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty brings together the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a disconnect in environmentalism's disdain of nuclear energy, his answer to "Why did God create oil", and Mr. Fusion. If we want cleaner sources of energy, we need to be willing to accept them. It's not enough to be against a particular means of energy; you need to be for something to replace it.
July 13, 2006
Diplomacy and Christianity in North Korea
Rick Warren has accepted an invitation from North Korea to speak there. According to writer Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, in an interview printed yesterday in Christianity Today, this is most likely just a propaganda play and a possible diplomatic connection. He'll preach to a pretend church to help the North Koreans "prove" they have religious freedom. But supposedly this is one of the only real channels the North Koreans use with the West. Boyd-MacMillan says that Billy Graham did this for years, so let's hope this is some way to ratchet down the tensions.
Boyd-MacMillan talks mostly about what it's like for Christians in North Korea in this interview and some of the challenges in doing evangelism there. Very informative
April 20, 2006
The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship
A briefing was held recently dealing with the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship. This is a short declaration on the matter of caring for the environment in light of the love of God and the liberty He gives us, while considering sound science, sound economics and the needs of the poor. From Amy Ridenour's National Center blog:
Before a packed audience today on Capitol Hill, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), along with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and the Institute on Religion and Democracy held a lunch briefing at which top theologians and policy experts articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship based upon the Cornwall Declaration.
The title of the briefing was: "Pulpits, Pews and Environmental Policy: How the Cornwall Declaration is helping define the mandate of Biblical stewardship."
If this sounds like an ECI redux, there are some differences.
Speaking about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a statement signed by some members of the evangelical community that promotes the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming, Beisner said "[We] disagree with their assessment of the scientific evidence of the extent of human contribution to global warming, their prediction of the impact of climate change on human communities and the rest of the ecosystem, and their prescription of major reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a solution to the alleged problem. The ECI does not specify how much emission reduction is needed to achieve its goals [to counteract global warming]. [This is] to ignore one of the most important aspects of the climatology debate: How much benefit would be gained at what cost to the global economy. And the global economy is not just an economist abstraction. It is real people who depend on that economy for jobs, income and the food, clothing, shelter, transportation and all other goods that they need."
Sometimes, considering cold economic facts is just as much good stewardship as reducing car emissions or turning off the lights.
I will say this in criticism of the briefing. They're a bit too critical of the ECI.
Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality, admonished celebrities, media and wayward religious leaders who are "twisting common definitions of ethics, morality, social responsibility and compassion for the poor to justify global warming agendas."
I respect, and in some cases know, some of the signers of the ECI, and I really don't think they're deliberately trying to twist words or have some overarching global warming agenda. Some may, but those I know don't, best I can tell. Now, I think the ECI may play into the hands of those with such an agenda, giving them a supposed common cause with evangelicals, but I don't think that was the intent.
While that part was a little much, Driessen goes on to give some criticism I tend to agree with.
Driessen also noted, "It is often the very policies they promote that actually represent the greatest threats to the world's poor. Over two billion of the world's people still do not have electricity for lights and refrigeration in their homes, for hospitals and clinics, for schools, shops, offices and factories, for wastewater treatment and other modern technologies that we often take for granted," he said. "And yet these poor countries are told they mustn't build coal or gas-fired electrical power plants, because First World countries are concerned about global warming."
Sometimes, turning on the lights is just as much good stewardship as reducing car emissions.
The over 1000 signers of this declaration include a number of people I respect, just as I respect a number of ECI signers. The Cornwall Declaration, however, includes more than just evangelicals. There are Jewish and Catholic as well as Protestant signers. Sometimes, gathering a group like this together leads to a least-common-denominator, watered down mission, but so far it doesn't appear that way.
This Cornwall Declaration is definitely worth a look.
See also: Cybercast News Service report.
UPDATE: Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute has an excellect comparison of the two tacts taken by the ECI and the Cornwall Declaration. His article is "Preserved Garden or Productive City? Two Competing Views of Stewardship".
August 03, 2005
More Christians in China than Communists?
China's rulers are said to be ambiguous about Christianity's growth. Some see its emphasis on personal morality as a force for stability. House churches which go along with the authority and theology of the official organisations are often left alone.
But many reject the party's control over Christian practice and doctrine, and these are seen as a threat. After all, 80 million members would mean there are now more Christians than Communists in China.
Few believe that many of the party's 70 million members keep the faith burning any more.
This year the Politburo made it easier for churches to register, but at the same time launched a wave of persecution of those which refused.
But will this make Christians the new "Falun Gong"?
May 30, 2005
The Mormon President
I seem to remember the NRO crew discussing this a while back at the Corner. The general consensus seemed to be that Romney's Mormonism wouldn't be much of a problem for the grassroots, which is proof that some folks at National Review know very little about evangelicals and Mormons.
April 19, 2005
Church and State
My colleague Jim, in a post below, has already demonstrated his concern that local, invidual churches become too involved in the national political process. I echo his concerns. I think there is a definite place for the local church to speak on community and even state issues; national politics is another matter. That said, I believe pastors and church leadership should speak out against the evils of abortion, pornography and other sins that are dangerous to both the soul and to society.
I disagree with our reader who commented "Some are conservative and some are liberal and I wish that they all would just shut up because I am sure that they do not represent God." Certainly God is not Rush Limbaugh, nor is He Howard Dean. But it is naivete at best, bad theology at worst to suggest that God does not have a position on some, though by no means all, political matters. As another reader commented, abortion has become a political issue and yet it would be foolish to suggest that this is an issue where God is silent.
Having said that, I want to offer some examination of the upcoming Family Research Council event.
To begin, I watched Senator Schumer make a royal imbecile of himself on This Week yesterday morning. His rhetoric was juvenile and embarrassing. Serious Democrats should reject his thinking, and it is to their political detriment if they do not. Hugh Hewitt has had much to say about Schumer's Orwellian contention that it is somehow unAmerican for the Family Research Council to hold this weekend's event.
While it may not be un-American, I would suggest that it is not the wisest course of action. Do not misunderstand me. I believe that what the Democrats are doing is unconstitutional. I defy any reader who opposes the FRC to defend the Democrat's unprecedented obstruction. I believe these cynical actions on the part of Harry Reid and his cohorts are a legitimate danger to the Republic. Yet I also believe that increased involvement of identifiable local churches, acting outside the political parameters found in parachurch organizations, are running a very legitimate risk of watering down the Gospel and turning away those who would seek to find Christ within the walls of the Church.
Hugh Hewitt has joined with other bloggers (see Powerline and Althouse) in defending both the right and rhetoric of the FRC. While I fully believe in the constitutionality of the FRC's action, and I would not go as far as the Washington Post and call its action slander, I would remind readers of the Jurassic Park maxim: Just because we can doesn't mean we should.
Hugh Hewitt is correct when he asserts - see the bottom of this post - that the leaders of the Religious Right have not overplayed their hand. Politically, this is true, but I wonder about the local communities. What does the local agnostic think when he sees a church that is, in his view, more concerned with judicial appointments, however important they are, than with the destitute of body, heart and, above all, spirit within his own community.
Ramesh Ponurru is an ardent defender of social conservatives. A staunch Catholic, Ponurru does not shy away from following his Church's teachings in his political involvement. Yet he gently rebukes the views of Hewitt and others in a post this evening. Here is the money quote:
I'm with the Post on this one. I think it is true that many Democrats are enforcing a viewpoint test for judicial office that has the effect of screening out Catholics and many evangelical Protestants who are faithful to their churches' teaching about abortion. And I think Republicans have every right to hold Democrats to account for it. But opposition to Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism is not the same thing as opposition to religion in general, and opposition to pro-life views is not the same thing as opposition to moral conviction, either. The FRC's line that Democrats are filibustering "people of faith" is an overreach. The claim it is making is untrue, and it is untrue in a way that makes the Democrats look worse--which makes it a slander in my book.
I said before that I won't go so far as to use the word slander. I will say that this is a political miscalculation made worse by the fact that this broadcast will not be in homes or community centers; it will be in the local church. As a conservative and an evangelical, I can't support this with a clear conscience.
April 06, 2005
Christian Carnival LXIV
Next week's Carnival will be held at the interestingly named AnotherThink. Want to learn more about the Christian Carnival and add yourself to the mailing list? Go to Wittenberg Gate and Dory will give you the details.
March 16, 2005
This is over a year old, but I'm just now learning about the Emergent Church. EC leader Brian McLaren takes issue with this response by Chuck Colson. Maybe it's because I'm a close-minded conservative, but what on Earth is wrong with Colson's position?
If the postmodern, Emergent church opposes this line of thinking, then somewhere C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot are very, very annoyed.
March 14, 2005
Who Would Jesus Dismiss?
(Hat Tip: Brainpost)
You may not have heard that a professor was recently fired from the University of Colorado for his controversial viewpoint. No, I'm not talking about Ward Churchill -- he's still there. I'm talking about Phil Mitchell, a professor in the history department.
According to Family News in Focus, Mitchell lost his teaching position for assigning a history class to read Charles Sheldon's In His Steps -- the book that asks the question "What Would Jesus Do," the phrase that launched a thousand marketing gimmicks.
Mitchell said he was immediately terminated when one student complained to the history department about the assignment.
"I called the director of my program on Monday morning," Mitchell explained, "and he confirmed that the department was going to let me teach one more year and then I would no longer be permitted to teach history at the University of Colorado."
When asked about Mitchell, a secretary in the history department—who asked that she not be identified—angrily responded, "We don't let him teach here."
This isn't the first time Mitchell, who has taught at CU for more than 20 years, has taken heat for using conservative sources in his classes. He said that when he quoted from Thomas Sowell, a conservative black commentator, the department head berated him and called him a racist.
Now I'm not exactly sure why one would assign In His Steps in a history class, but I might make a guess or two. The message of the book -- "What Would Jesus Do?" -- is certainly a timeless one, but the book itself is locked to a particular era in U.S. history. Written around the turn of the last century, one can connect In His Steps to a period of religious revival -- what some might consider the nation's third "Great Awakening." Christians began to emphasize the sins of society. There were temperance movements calling for the prohibition of alcohol, and poverty was seen less as a personal problem and more of a societal failure. This religious revival probably resulted in a political revival that led to FDR's "New Deal," and other social programs that are still with us today, even while their religious roots have been lost in time.
In His Steps certainly touches on the problems of turn-of-the-century America, even as its wide cast of characters seek their own personal revivals by trying to do what Jesus would have done. But though the message is timeless, I might suggest that the book itself is not. When I read it a few years ago, I found it difficult to relate to the struggles of the book's characters. One, a newspaper publisher, rethinks his newspaper's decision to run stories about boxing matches. He believes that people should not be reading about such things and so excises them from his newspaper. Later he decides that people should not be reading newspapers at all on Sundays, "the one day in the week which ought be given up to something better and holier," though it costs him advertisers and subscribers.
This isn't exactly a modern moral dilemma, which might explain why Sheldon's great-grandson decided to write an updated version a few years ago.
Meanwhile, back to Phil Mitchell.
The timing of the controversy is especially odd, considering how the campus has rallied around Churchill.
"I think it's interesting," Mitchell said. "People are marching for Ward's academic freedom, and I think—to a point—that's legitimate. I just wish somebody would march for mine. I don't have any."
I could see assigning In His Steps in a history class if one is discussing the social and political issues at the time the book was written, particularly as they relate to religious revivals which are certainly a historical reality. I have no idea if that was the context in which the book was presented.
I would love to know more about this story.
March 12, 2005
Liberals Are Going to Hell?
My last post over at Matt Crash! wasn't so well-recieved (though if any conservatives read it and support it, some comments or e-mails would be nice.)
I'm about to head off to Atlanta to catch the finals of the SEC Tournament, but let me make a few statements and ask a few questions. I hope this post garners some response, and Christian bloggers (both Catholic and Evangelical) can begin to take a serious look at this issue.
First, the statements:
- I do not believe you have to be a political conservative to be a good Christian.
- I do not believe liberal Christians are going to Hell.
- Christ is the center of salvation, not George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh or William F. Buckley.
- I will be sharing heaven with Christians who lived on Earth as liberals, Socialists, Democrats or even Auburn fans. I realize people disagree and even make mistakes, but those who have accepted Christ will spend eternity in His presence.
That said, perhaps I have not been clear enough in my questions. Let's go for it:
- You have two Christians. They might even both share the same approach to faith. Let's imagine they are theologically conservative Evangelicals. One is essentially a free market capitalist, the other is more left-leaning, preferring a British or Canadian approach to welfare, health care and the economy. Here is my question: Is the Bible silent about the views of these believers? Can these people just believe whatever they want about these matters?
- Are MoveOn.org or the ACLU the sort of organizations that a Christian should openly support as "participating...in the concerns of our God?"
- Is Scripture completely indifferent to the policy views of Jim Wallis and Jerry Falwell? (I am not dealing with their approach and personality; just their policies) Can Don Miller and John Mark Reynolds take such drastic stances from one another and both still be "ok" in light of Scripture?
The point here is that politics is not Yankees vs. Red Sox. This is not Alabama vs. Auburn (well...). The political concepts we consider to be liberalism and conservatism eventually end up at very, very different places. Does Scripture accept this difference? Does Church history? I'm not accusing. Our liberal readers are still Christians; their salvation is not dependent upon their policy views. I am simply asking some questions, but to date, I haven't gotten many convincing answers.
February 24, 2005
Evangelical First Things in Public Life: 12 Things We Should Expect of Evangelicals
After the election, I wrote a post at The Rooftop Blog titled What Do the Evangelicals Want? As evangelicals continue to gain visibility, I think it is worthwhile to turn the topic around and ask: What Should We Expect of Evangelicals in the Public Arena?
What is the role of individual followers of Christ in the public arena? By this I do not mean solutions presented by the political parties and the governing philosophies that must guide public policies. For evangelical Christians in public life there must spiritual first things--the bedrock that precedes and provides the foundation for actions, traits, and political positions, and that must supercede interest in re-election.
Individuals that are engaged in the public arena in any way find it tremendously difficult to find—and even to do—thinking about public policy and public life that precedes political philosophy and does not rely on the positions articulated by politicians, media commentators, and other political observers.
With some exceptions, Christians looking at public issues are faced with religion-based information in two groups. First, biblical teaching on spiritual life and personal growth that does not attempt to address public issues. And second, political discourse that starts with political philosophy then seeks biblical proof-texting.
I agree with what Jim Wallis wrote in the introduction of God’s Politics: “The best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan but to maintain the moral independence to critique both the Left and the Right” (pg. xix).
Unfortunately, Wallis immediately puts his counsel in question by his own measure when a few pages later he reprints the copy from his pre-election advertisement: God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat. The language sounds like it is directly from a John Kerry campaign speech (“Do the candidates policies pursue wars of choice or respect international law and cooperation.” “Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war.”) How is repeating the Democratic litany for international cooperation anything close to a biblical issue or moral independence?
I have probably posed bigger questions than I can come close to addressing at this time, but I will plod forward, nonetheless, with brief thoughts in 12 areas. Perhaps I will return to each at another time.
12 First Things
What should we be able to expect of evangelical Christian in the public arena? I suggest that there are the 12 first things that should be embraced by faithful Christians whatever their political philosophy. While there can be honest and worthy disagreements on how to apply political philosophy to adddress these concerns, they should transcend the call of the party.
1. Value Character
2. Support Human Rights
3. Develop a Consistent Ethic of Life
4. Honor and Protect Families
5. Help the Poor and Imprisoned
6. Be Responsible Citizens
7. Be Good Stewards
8. Do Justice
9. Recognize Evil
10. Seek Spiritual Vision
11. Demonstrate a Graceful Spirit
12. Share Your Faith
Now, a closer look at each of these:
1. Value Character. Recognize, honor and create public policies that promote personal character and virtue, such as personal responsibility, temperance, duty, respect, kindness, perseverance, and patience. These and other virtues are clearly held in high regard in the Scriptures, and they need champions among policymakers.
2. Support Human Rights: I do believe that the basic human rights of safety from abuse and bondage, the opportunity to worship as we please, freedom of movement and livelihood, and fundamental fairness are God-given, not government-given. It is the role of government to confirm and protect these human rights.
3. Develop a Consistent Ethic of Life: The ethics of life are perhaps the most difficult and divisive issues in the public arena, although there are those who would say that they are the simplest.
When people say life ethics are simple they are in most cases speaking of the unacceptability of taking innocent human life through abortion. I agree that it impossible to develop a Christian ethic that supports abortion on demand as a means of birth control.
To back up a bit, it is essential that the Christian in public life develop a consistent ethic of life. Something like this: To influence culture and create laws to best save and extend lives; to honor the inherent value of human life, made in the image of God; and to safeguard lives in the present and in future generations.
A life ethic that argues only against abortion is not complete. I believe it must also re-examine the death penalty, which is routinely supported on both sides of the aisle. The taking of human life by the government is always troubling, and must be constantly scrutinized. If execution is necessary to save lives, then there is an ethical reason to continue is use for capital offenses. But both the death penalty and life imprisonment without the chance of parole effectively remove the perpetrator from society. As such, the death penalty is not necessary for that purpose. If, however, it can be proved that the death penalty is a deterrent to other potential murderers, we should support the death penalty, because it will save lives. I haven’t seen such findings, by the way, but would be open to this proof.
Is it necessary to kill a murderer in order to exact justice or fairness, or is that simply retribution masquerading as “closure?”
Life is a precious gift of God. But what should we allow when the gift is terrible burden to its holder. Should we allow the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. Strong emotional arguments for euthanasia are presented in cases where an individual’s pain is overwhelming or remaining days will be essentially unconscious. But as merciful as it seems at times, and do not believe that we are granted the divine right to take innocent life before God’s time.
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D. wrote:
"... we must be wary of those who are too willing to end the lives of the elderly and the ill. If we ever decide that a poor quality of life justifies ending that life, we have taken a step down a slippery slope that places all of us in danger. There is a difference between allowing nature to take its course and actively assisting death. The call for euthanasia surfaces in our society periodically, as it is doing now under the guise of "death with dignity" or assisted suicide. Euthanasia is a concept, it seems to me, that is in direct conflict with a religious and ethical tradition in which the human race is presented with " a blessing and a curse, life and death," and we are instructed '...therefore, to choose life." I believe 'euthanasia' lies outside the commonly held life-centered values of the West and cannot be allowed without incurring great social and personal tragedy. This is not merely an intellectual conundrum. This issue involves actual human beings at risk..."
Our Christian duty as we approach the issues of war and peace is to first look at them as issues of life and death, not geopolitics. Although the temporal issues may need to be factored, questions of life must be first because warfare kills people. Not going to war can either save lives or cost many more lives that the war itself. That recognition is why a longer view of impact must be considered in life ethics. I do believe that strength is the best peacemaker, a contention that has gained great credibility with the collapse of communism.
However, war is unacceptable to satisfy national ego, to gain creature comforts, or to settle scores.
4. Honor and Protect Families: God ordained the institution of the family and His children need to try to keep it together. We must recognize that the family is the primary conduit of the values that civilize us. The leading cause of economic and moral poverty is a broken families. Kids need to grow up with a mom and a dad to love them, to teach them virtue, and to train them up in the ways of the Lord.
There is probably no greater challenge for our culture than maintaining strong families, and there are many forces pulling in the opposite direction. Curbing these negative forces is a worthy role of the public servant.
(By the way, I believe the advance of homosexual unions is way down the list of dangers to the traditional family).
5. Help the Poor and Imprisoned: There is no clearer mandate in Scripture than to bear good news to and serve the poor, those in prison, and the brokenhearted. (Luke 4:18). To care for the widow and orphans. This should be high on the agenda of individual Christians and the church. It is vital that believers personally demonstrate that they follow Jesus Christ by their care for the poor.
How do we deal with this mandate as it relates to the levers of government?
“I see the Bible with a lot to say about caring for the less fortunate, but I never see Scripture advocating that we use the state as a means of doing so. If anyone can provide with clear Biblical teaching and some church history that suggests otherwise, I'm all ears, but I've yet to see it. I don't believe that the state is an effective means of curing poverty. It has never proven to be such a thing.”
If government largesse was effective at creating anything dependence, I believe we could assume biblical support. The Bible certainly doesn’t prohibit action of the state to assist the poor. But our history shows that government isn’t good at anything but providing relief. Government fails at community and personal development.
6. Be Responsible Citizens: As Christians we are called to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13). Although in cases when the laws of the state violate God’s laws civil disobedience is the right path, there are far fewer times when that is necessary than some lead us to believe. The Bible clearly calls for submission in most cases, even when the authorities are unjust.
Christians in public life must lead by adhering to this teaching, but must also appreciate and teach the tension between the state and the church. In The City of God, Augustine wrote:
“The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away. Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, though it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as the earnest of it, it makes no scruple to obey the laws of the earthly city, whereby the things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life are administered; and thus, as this life is common to both cities, so there is a harmony between them in regard to what belongs to it.” (Book XIX, Chapter 17)
7. Be Good Stewards: We should expect evangelicals in public life to acknowledge that all good gifts are from God and that He calls on us to be grateful for them and to be good stewards and worthy caretakers of all he has given us.
When there is bounty, God calls for personal generosity. We are to enjoy good things in moderation. And we are to care for the earth, our temporary home. It is right to determine the truth on the impact of human actions on the environment, and exaggerations and blatant lies have undercut the credibility of environmentalists. We cannot fall prey to the emotional earth-worship of hyper-environmentalism.
However, there is simply no biblical support for being anti-environment. When we blindly follow the ravings of many conservative commentators in their criticism of all things pro-environment, we are falling in line with a political strategy, not biblical teaching.
8. Do Justice: When we hear someone calling for justice, it is usually a cry for a right to be wronged or for the government to help with pay-back. Getting even. Micah 6:8 says that God requires us to “do justice,” or to “act justly.” The task of the public servant is to look deeply at the biblical call for justice, which has embedded the understanding of fairness, of justification, of equal treatment, and of reconciliation:
"[In biblical times] when wrongs were done, ordinary people went to the city gates to seek justice in a 'legal assembly' in which citizens participated. The focus of this court, sometimes called an 'organization of reconciliation', was not to satisfy some abstract concept of justice but to find a solution. Restitution and compensation were common outcomes. Biblical Justice seeks first to solve problems, to find solutions, to make things right, looking toward the future." (H. Zehr, Changing Lenses, p. 140-1, 152)
9. Recognize of Evil: The Bible teaches that the forces of evil are aligned against the forces of good. Evil is not a concept; it oozes from every heart not constrained by love. It seeks to overcome the world. The Christian seeking to impact public policy must recognize what the founders did—man is inherently inclined toward evil and dominated by self-interest. It is not a popular thought, but thinking otherwise makes for deadly policy.
“The total depravity of man,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is the one doctrine empirically validated by 4,000 years of human history.”
We have lost sight of this in modern society, which endangers the republic.
“The most common myth of [our time] is that people are good. We aren’t,” wrote Charles Colson, who after a career in cut-throat politics and 20 years in prison and prison ministry knows of what he speaks.
10. Seek Spiritual Vision: The Christian cannot view the struggles and triumphs of our days only through the lens of our immediate interests and of our age. The eyes of the Christian soul must see further, with a view of the unseen (spiritual vision) and a view of the world (world vision).
Although we acknowledge in our churches and personal study that we are only passing through this world, it is difficult to apply this to the rough and tumble struggles of our days and in public life. When we are granted spiritual vision, we see a spiritual dimension to how history is unfolding and our role in it. Paul wrote: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).
Also, I am not sure that a mature Christian can be a thorough isolationist, at least not as he or she becomes aware of the violation of human rights around the world, and the persecution of the church. This requires a world vision.
11. Demonstrate a Graceful Spirit: The Christian in public life undercuts his witness and diminishes his effectiveness if he does not show the grace that his been shown to him by God. For the many in leadership the twin challenges in this area are showing humility and forgiving others. Both of these graces are in rare supply in the halls of power and there is no higher work for the Christian public servant than to model these disciplines.
C.S. Lewis said to British servicemen after World War II (the text of which was to become Mere Christianity):
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. “That sort of talk makes them sick,” they say. And half of you already want to ask me, “I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?”
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must no deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.” There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do.
12. Share Your Faith: Those who observe evangelicals for any length of time should at some point be aware that they are telling others about their faith in Jesus Christ for the grace to live each day and for eternal salvation. IN a day when “proselytizing” is said with curled lip and a sneer, it should be known in the public square that this is part of the Christian’s obligation. To be obedient we must tell of the hope that is in us and the source of that hope. It is gives us joy to do so. To do otherwise creates a much high level of condemnation.
Observers should also expect evangelicals, along with everyone else, to fail. We are but “jars of clay” who recognize that it is through our weakness that God’s strength can be seen.
February 15, 2005
Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis
I can 't remember ever being so embarassed to be a conservative Christian as I was last night driving down the highway listening on the radio to Jerry Falwell lambasting Jim Wallis on the Sean Hannity show, without any regard for civilty, decorum, or good taste.
Falwell's boorishness sunk to its lowest level when he began namecalling Wallis a "secularist liberal." And then flashed some of the famous Falwell arrogance as he demeaned Wallis spiritual credentials because Wallis is a church attender but not a church member.
The gospel according to Jerry is that the mark of a Christian is church membership. Particularly if we disagree with your politics.
I am delaying any comment on Jim Wallis' new book God and Politics until I read more of it. I've followed his Sojourners work for decades and find it interesting that he has emerged from virtual anonymity at this time.
I am no fan of Wallis' political views. But this is a man who has spent his entire adult life living among the poor in Washington, D.C. He has, as we used to say, "walked the talk." This doesn't make his political views any better, but I believe it earns him more respect than Jerry Falwell showed him last night.
Actually, everyone has earned more respect than that from a follower of Christ.
February 14, 2005
How "transformed" are we?
Ten years ago, Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, asserting that "notwithstanding all their other virtues, . . . American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking." Now comes Ron Sider's The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, which asserts that we evangelicals aren't exemplary for our virtues, either.
In the latest issue of Christianity Today's Books and Culture (a fantastic bi-monthy that should appeal to any thinking Christian) Ron Sider writes what must be a sort of condensation of the conclusions of his book. It's loaded with statistics, but if these statistics are reflective of the truth about Evangelical Christians, then we must face up to a sobering truth -- we do not live like people whose lives have been transformed by Christ. In fact, on the whole we're not much different than those whose lives we would say need transforming.
The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.
Alan Wolfe, famous contemporary scholar and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, has just published a penetrating study of American religious life. Evangelicals figure prominently in his book. His evaluation? Today's evangelicalism, Wolfe says, exhibits "so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music that it loses what religious distinctiveness it once had." Wolfe argues, "The truth is there is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-'em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches." It is not surprising that George Barna concludes, "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change." We have very little time, he believes, to reverse these trends. African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete, and with the religion tamed, it is open season on the West's Christian heritage. I worry about a West without a moral center facing a politically resurgent Islam."
Sider quickly points out that our first concern "must be internal integrity, not external danger." (Although, to phrase that last statement another way, there should be some concern whether an America with no moral foundation can face an enemy with a strong foundation of anti-Americanism.)
In the article, Sider cites a series of statistics that should be cause for self-examination in the church, if not a call for outright reform.
In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent). In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same. In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans — a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ.
. . .
John and Sylvia Ronsvalle have been carefully analyzing the giving patterns of American Christians for well over a decade. Their annual The State of Christian Giving is the most accurate report for learning how much Christians in the richest nation in human history actually give. In their most recent edition, they provide detailed information about per-member giving patterns of U.S. church members from 1968 to 2001. Over those thirty-plus years, of course, the average income of U.S. Christians has increased enormously. But that did not carry over into their giving. The report showed that the richer we become, the less we give in proportion to our incomes. In 1968, the average church member gave 3.1 percent of their income—less than a third of a tithe. That figure dropped every year through 1990 and then recovered slightly to 2.66 percent—about one quarter of a tithe.
. . .
Popular evangelical speaker Josh McDowell has been observing and speaking to evangelical youth for several decades. I remember him saying years ago that evangelical youth are only about 10 percent less likely to engage in premarital sex than nonevangelicals.True Love Waits, a program sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, is one of the most famous evangelical efforts to reduce premarital sexual activity among our youth. Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise. The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."
Read the whole article here.
Sider is the president and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and a professor of theology and culture at Eastern Baptist Theolgical Seminary. A lot of people would call Sider a "liberal," including Tony Campolo, perhaps the poster boy for liberal Christians. But I don't know if Sider is that easy to nail down.
Here's an article in Christianity Today on Sider -- from 1992, I'll grant you, and people certainly change over time -- but it may be a good starting point.
Here's an interview with Sider regarding the "Evangelical Agenda" for Bush's second term.
I haven't had the time to read either of these two articles yet, but plan to soon.
In the meantime, I think I'll pick up Sider's new book. If even half of what he says is true, then all of us need to pay attention.