December 17, 2017

Why Electing Palin or Huckabee Makes More Sense To You Than Reforming Your Church

dubleImagine, for a moment, that I came to your typically conservative evangelical church and asked to visit with your young people, high school through young married couples. I want to ask them some questions.

-What do you think of the President?
-What is your position on abortion?
-What do you believe about the legalization of gay marriage?
-Are you in favor of any version of Federally controlled health care?
-What is your church’s definition of the inspiration and authority of scripture?
-What is a brief definition of the Trinity?
-How does your church’s beliefs differ from Roman Catholicism?

Unless your church is very unusual, the first three questions will draw unanimous and vocal responses from everyone. The last three questions will draw considerable silence and much less coherent and confident answers.

Is it an anomaly that the culture-wide impression of Christians increasingly relates to their positions on social and cultural and not to their beliefs about the Gospel?

I’ve explained this many times: the Biblical culture “war” is not a war. It’s the proclamation of a victorious Christ and his ultimate claims over the world, the nations and every person. Jesus created, empowered and invested himself in a movement centered around the Gospel. That movement is a sign of the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom is the triumph of the only “culture” with significant impact on the Christian.

Of course, Christians will have a view of social and political issues that is influenced by the righteousness, justice and compassion of God. Christian vocations in the world should reflect that compassion and justice.

The church is the ultimate counter-culture. It’s been demonstrated more than adequately hundreds of times in history that if the church becomes more concerned with the manifestation of the Kingdom in society than within its own community, worship, discipleship and spiritual formation, it will become a tool of forces in practical opposition to Christ.

The following is an excerpt from my August 2006 post The Tactics of Failure: Why The Culture War Makes Sense To Spiritually Empty Evangelicals.

I am suggesting, therefore, that the increasing interest in the culture war among evangelicals is not an example of a reinvigorated evangelicalism remaking its culture. Instead, I believe the intense focus by evangelicals on political and cultural issues is evidence of a spiritually empty and unformed evangelicalism being led by short-sighted leaders toward a mistaken version of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Culture War makes sense to Christians who have little or no idea how to be Christians in this culture except to oppose liberals and fight for a conservative political and social agenda- an agenda often less than completely examined in the light of scripture, reason, tradition and experience. Those evangelicals- like Greg Boyd- who have challenged or broken the identification with the political right can testify to how they are immediately viewed. Dissenting evangelicals are labeled as pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and pro- Democrat instantly. The rhetoric of the culture warriors is relentless in associating dissenting evangelicals of every kind with the issues of abortion and homosexuality. No one could be blamed for believing that evangelicalism was a modestly spiritual movement with the goal of banning abortion and gay marriage.

In this scenario, there are a number of bizarre takes. The SBC’s most well known theologian doesn’t write books of theology. He hosts a daily talk radio program on cultural war issues. Rod Parsley may preach about miracles, but he uses his influence to elect candidates and promote political causes. Politicians elected by evangelicals get re-elected by appealing to the hot button culture war issues, but their positions on issues like gambling or Aid to Africa are unpredictable and often unknown. The Left Behind movies become video games where the godless are shot by Christians defending themselves. And of course, Ann Coulter appears on TBN, promoting her take on why evangelicals ought to care about the influence of real “godless” liberals.

Where is the Gospel? Where is the missional calling of the Christian? Where is the church’s ministry of spiritual formation? Where are ministries of Word and Sacrament? All of these are increasingly buried under doublespeak and culture war rhetoric. Evangelicalism is being betrayed by many of its leaders who are building their “ministries” by the appeal to anything but the Gospel and compassion of Jesus.

The culture war agenda increasingly makes sense to evangelicals who are spiritually unformed, distracted and misled. I cannot approve of Greg Boyd’s theology of God’s knowledge, but I can say that his stand against the encroachments of the culture warriors- encroachments that come from outside the church and seek to dictate the work of the ministry itself- is commendable.

Why is Ann Coulter on TBN? Because we understand her and her war against liberals.

We are to be the best possible Christian citizens while we are here. And while we are here, our passionate pursuit is God’s counter-cultural movement. We are to be formed by Christ, not by the culture war. And these days, it’s not hard to see the difference.

Comments

  1. There are actually two sides of me on this issue. First, I really agree with Michael on this post. However, at the same time I almost want to be on the other side of the people that seem to be so much about politics and religiosity in the Church– you know those people that want to hang on more to their religion than they do the cross or Jesus Christ.

    Is it possible Michael, you think, that a portion of the growth “liberal churches” is actually caused by conservative theology that is NOT focussed on the Gospel? A church that does not use the Gosple to heal sinners but wants to create walls if isolation in their brand of religion. In other words is the Church at fault for creating their supposed opposite because we are less about Jesus and the Gospel and more about how our specific brand of religiosity is more important to us than the cross.

    I know I leave open on this discussion a pointed argument for reformed truth bible warriors (said tongue in cheek) but is not the truth of Gods word summed up on the cross?

    Is conservatism responsible for the growth of liberalsim in other words because conservatims is an inaccurate reflection of the cross that forces people to take sides and polarize?. I dont know???

    Just some thoughts.

    • I don’t know if liberalism is growing. Secularism is growing, and I believe the situation of the church has contributed to it. We don’t create a strongly viable alternative and we don’t create disciples who can function in it.

      The culture war produces a kind of discipleship that is more “hothouse” than “real world.” More or less. Do the trumpeted “cultural” victories of evangelicals- CCM, Fireproof, etc- seem like much of a response to the secularism that surrounds us or the entertainment of Christians?

      Taking the Gospel into the culture here will be just like it is anywhere else: difficult. Very difficult. Churches built for the easy path will turn out a lot of people whose affiliation with evangelicalism will be short term.

      • that phrase about “entertainment of Christians” says a lot—-too much obsession with Christian Disneylands and made-for-evangelicals movies is not going to impact the larger culture

        to me, as has discussed in other topics, it’s an example of contemporary evangelicals wanting to just take the culture around them, slap the name of Jesus on it and resell it to the world—-the church will wither and die without a culturally-independent anchor and discipleship that will produce Christians that the world will WANT to take notice of in a good way

      • Michael,

        I think you’re on to something here. That “entertainment point” is the absolute dagger to the heart of Christian hypocrisy and too many within the Church have outsourced the concept of a Savior to the political talents of a Palin, Huckabee or an Obama.

        • Yeah, outsourced to politicians, talk-show hostesses, therapists, Pastor Bob on the radio, and even worldwide bloggerdogs. We luvs them experts, within and without the church.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Do the trumpeted “cultural” victories of evangelicals- CCM, Fireproof, etc- seem like much of a response to the secularism that surrounds us or the entertainment of Christians?

        Entertainment of Christians. Keep ’em happy & comfortable until the Rapture.

        And pretty low-quality entertainment, too. About on a level with “Syfy Original Movies”, with a LOT of fanservice.

        (I’m on the Lost Genre Guild list. We’re flaring up over “should I include cussing in my novel?” I posted them a series of links to various IMonk archives (mostly”Prissy Protestants” and related blog postings from 2005-2006) from the last time this subject flared up.)

      • In my experience, Christian liberalism is indeed growing.

        Not in the sense of a liberal interpretation of the scriptures, though there are always college kids who discover a liberal interpretation of the scriptures in college and use that as a justification to ditch the religion that they never really practiced anyway.

        No. There are many of us who love Jesus; there are many of us who don’t approve of abortion; but it’s all the other aspects of conservatism that we find off-putting. Sometimes it’s the don’t-touch-my-tax-dollars attitude that so often has greed, not responsibility, at its core. Sometimes it’s the vengeance we see towards criminals, rather than justice and mercy and rehabilitation. Sometimes it’s the utter disdain shown for the needy, as if laziness is always the problem, and “get a job” solves all of them. Not that progressive politics doesn’t have profound problems as well; but when you see so little love practiced in politics, you have to conclude God isn’t in it.

        God transcends politics. But the fact of the matter is that so many of Jesus’s statements firmly put Him on what we’d call the “liberal” end of the spectrum, and consequently a lot of young Christians, put off by all the bad examples we see among political conservatives, figure the better thing to do is to join the Democratic party and reform it from within, rather than join the rotting hypocritical carcass of the Republican party.

        I admit that’s a little naïve, ’cause in my experience, the people you hang out with tend to corrupt you rather than you inspiring them. (As Ed Dobson will quickly attest to.) But they’re young. Naivete is part and parcel of youth. I expect we’ll see more of an upsurge in the Christian Left, then a backlash-upsurge in the Christian Right, then Left, Right, and so on, until Jesus returns.

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          “I expect we’ll see more of an upsurge in the Christian Left, then a backlash-upsurge in the Christian Right, then Left, Right, and so on, until Jesus returns.”

          Only with lost inertia on every swing of the pendulum, the Christian community becomes smaller, weaker, and less impactful on a culture no longer interested to see how things turn out with us.

  2. If the church (members) would just be transformed by the gospel, gospel life, then the culture war would become a mute point. There’s a lot of us. I agree completely with your post. How can we see the splinter in society’s eye through the beams in our own?

    • There’s a “lot” of “us?”

      Where? Alabama or New York City?

      LA or Austin? Hollywood? Wall St? We’re here, but I can’t see this country becoming some vast backlot of the next Fireproof movie 🙂

      I think there is considerable hope for some Christian influence in a declining empire, but the culture warriors specialize in over-estimating it.

      • I think there is considerable hope for some Christian influence in a declining empire, but the culture warriors specialize in over-estimating it.

        I like the word “SOME’ here……and I’m more and more of the view that any fixation on HOW MUCH that will be is energy that could have gone into the gospel and its proclamation, and the formation of disciples was frittered away on an ersatz kingdom. Cultural influence is great , well…..CAN be great….when you can get it, but we don’t need ‘x’ percetage of it to be faithful. That’s the lie we’ve been sold, IMO.

        • I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but wanted to reply here. I belive the evangelicals will be the death of themselves by their attempts to politicize the Gospel and call it their own. There is a real hunger in this country for Jesus, although not everyone is aware of what or Who it is they hunger for. They will not be fed by these evangelicals because the Jesus I know is not in their houses of worship. Their own bastardized version of him resides there instead. It seems to me the real movement is among the different groups of people I meet on this journey of life who are expressing the very same sentiments as I make now….the church as they see it is dead in the eyes of Christ. He is nowhere evident in most of those ministries. One of my favorite singer evangelists now watches Bill O’Reilly every single day, and she is the last person I would have ever expected to be taken in by those charlatans. That’s attempting to have a foot in this world while living in the Kingdom. You can’t be subjected to that kind of hatred and lies and still be in Christ completely. It seems there would have to be separation for those feelings to exist. Garbage in, garbage out.

  3. mootbutnotmute says:

    It’s “moot” point.

  4. Historical side note question?

    Can one be right on the “culture war” and wrong on their theology? Or vise versa.

    Most would say the Northern Abolotionist were right on the culture war but surely, any one familiar with the theology of most of the radical abolitionist in the North, would say they were wrong on theology. Very few would question the orthodoxy of religion in the American Antebellum South, but many would say they were wrong on the culture war. Or some might argue that the religous establishment in the South was not concerned with the culture war of their day and were more concerend with buiding the Kingdom. Hmmm.

    I’m not sure what all that means if anything, I’m not even really sure it makes sense, just a random thought. 🙂

    • maybe this is a case where the Northerners got the right answer but for the wrong reason

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      So I’m a white guy from Texas, but I take incredible offense to your comment.

      It was the evangelicals from the North who started the abolitionist movement. Of course, some folks like William Lloyd Garrison weren’t Christians but, by and large, almost all abolitionist were evangelicals. Charles Finney was a major proponent of the abolitionism. You may not like his theology (I’m not a big fan myself), however, it’s not like the guy denied the creeds.

      Similarly, I have major doubts as to how ‘orthodox’ the South was. The book of Exodus was not allowed to be preached in corners of the South, for fear that it might lead to a slave revolt. Any culture that censors any part of the Bible is NOT orthodox, regardless of how good their statements of faith sound. Nazi Germany (in many ways the seat of Protestant Orthodoxy for many years) censored the OT as well, and yet many were ‘good’ confessing Lutherans.

      I personally wonder how our culture war divide has forced some into theological liberalism because conservative theology has so little resources for dealing with social issues. Take Martin Luther King for instance. MLK was somewhat liberal theologically. When I read his writings I’m never quite sure if he believed in a physical resurrection. for instance. However, it seems that MLK could only find theological resources for what God called him to do in liberal seminaries and from Mohandas Gandhi.

      I would also like to point out two institutions that have generally done a good job with theology and social issues: The black church which is often on the ‘right side’ theologically and socially, and the Catholic church. Of course, most white southerns would never even consider listening to those institutions…

      • I doubt one could question the orthodoxy of Bishop Leonidas Polk, Lee, Jackson, or any other, the list could go on and on, Neither could one question the bonds of friendship which existed between Jefferson Davis and Pope Pious, the same one who sent letters out over Europe warning Roman Catholics to not emmigrate to the US and be used as cannon fodder, but I digress

        Southern Abolitionist society’s, which existed before and in greater number than their radical northern counterparts, were indeed filled with orthodox evangelicals, their radical northern counterparts were often overflowing with Unitarians and others, more too could be said of the almost “Christ like” sentiments attached to Northern Abolitionist to the common murderer John Brown

        this is not the purpose of the post so I will concede to you the last word then not respond to respect the Monks space here

        peace

        • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

          Yeah, but the Southern Abolitionists all died out after 1830, upon which they pretty much sold out to the Southern racist culture. Were there any Southern Abolitionists after 1840? If so, they had to be real quiet, because the South started killing people or blacklisting them for being abolitionists.

          I fail to see a major difference between Jefferson Davis and John Brown. Both used theological motivations as an excuse to kill people concerning the issue of slavery. John Brown at least was on the right side of the slavery issue, and quite possibly insane. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

          I wonder about folks such as the Confederates and Nazis, who seemed to have good orthodoxy. But for many of them their nation was their true god. It’s a good thing that Jesus is going to sort this all out, because I sure can’t.

          🙁 I wish you would respond! You bring up such confoundingly interesting points.

          • L. Winthrop says:

            John Brown was not insane, as a glance at his public statements makes clear. (Read “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”)

      • L. Winthrop says:

        Well, Gandhi got it from Tolstoy, so it all evens out.

      • “I would also like to point out two institutions that have generally done a good job with theology and social issues”

        Actually the two institutions you mentioned have continually got things wrong concerning theological and social issues. I’m not sure where “Liberation theology” and a Graceless Grace fall into right theolgy.

        And concerning social issues: The Gospel is the greatest social issue. Why give a man a blanket if we are not going to give him the Gospel or if we are going to lead him into Marry worship?

        Two bad illustrations of good institutions who got things “right” when the Catholic church has historically got things wrong and the Black church (in general) has been off it’s theological moorings for some time.

        Not criticism just observation

        • No one worships Mary.

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          “Why give a man a blanket if we are not going to give him the Gospel…”

          This is rather sickening false dilemma.

          James 1:22-24: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. ”

          Talk is not the Gospel.

          James 1:27 – the right religion is to watch YOUR soul, not other people’s, and to care for THEIR needs, not tend your desires on them in idle ‘Gospel-ization.

          If you have a material comfort to give to someone who needs it, you should give it without hesitation – nobody needs a Gospel that starts or ends with a lecture from you.

        • I’m sorry but I think Mother Teresa and MLK have done far more for humanity than any Puritan or Southern Evangelical I can think of…

          Let’s look at John Calvin; he’s a champion of the Reformation and regarded on all accounts to be “theologically correct” yet his actions show that he was quite authoritarian and even “graceless” in his actions. Let’s not forget forget how strict 16th century Geneva was and how they burned an anti-Trinitarian on the stake.

          Having right theology doesn’t mean you will have the right Christian ethics. I thought the fruits of the spirit were love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, not believing in the correct theological bullet points.

          Also, I suggest you read up on your Catholic theology.

          • calvin had a domatic theology that made passed all the tests of scripture even through when you first hear it is hard to believe ——MLK, Mother Teresa, and George Macdonald i would add seem to have a Theology more Natural theology that leans on a God of love – one who cares for all his creation
            peace

  5. Good word. An example of this that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with is the “holy war” between Christians and homosexuals. This battle is becoming a permanent wedge between the two ‘camps’, and we certainly aren’t going to win them over the way we’ve been going.

    • How do you ‘win’ people when you regularly tell them they’re going to hell and God hates them?

      • That’s only half right – without Christ they are indeed going to hell. The second part of the statement is demonstrably false – John 3:16 comes to mind rather too quickly, “For G-d so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.

        Nor does Romans 5:7-9 sound like the actions or plan of a vengeful hating G-d.
        For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
        (Rom 5:7-9)

        Or perhaps 1 John 2 where we find this:
        My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
        (1Jn 2:1-2)
        Any strikes me as rather inclusive – not a restrictive “If any of you …” but an open ended “If any …” And if that’s not convincing in the next verse, “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

        • Tigger….it’s the “turn or burn” message that you all cling to so stubbornly that is losing you all the gays. We feel as saved as you…at least I can speak for myself. I am in the same hand of God as you, and like you, nothing can pluck me from there. I am a gay Christian….what say you?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Not just the gays. It’s also lost you the Goths, the gamers, and the various SF/Fantasy fandoms.

          • anonymous fangirl says:

            wait a second here – to Headless Unicorn Guy – what does SciFi/Fantasy fandom and gaming have to do with anything? (speaking as one who attended DragonCon – I will recognize that I do believe there were a lot of lost people there…but there were a lot of us Christians there too, and I just don’t see where the church – at least not that I’ve experienced – has done anything to run them off more than your average person)

          • tigger23505 says:

            Are you saying that you are separate from the All humanity that Jesus died on the cross to save?

          • L. Winthrop says:

            Goths and gamers don’t have to turn–God apparently does not regard their lifestyles as an abomination. (Or if he does, he’s keeping it real quiet.)

          • Patrick Lynch says:

            I think Headless is referring to every outcast outlook / subculture that strident ‘Adult’-Christianity rebuffs as a Them in the great Conservative Christian Us (the moral minority) vs. Them Culture War.

        • Why do you write “God” as “G-d”?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Orthodox Jewish tradition; that any Name of God is too sacred to write out completely. That pegs Tigger as either coming out of a Jewish tradition or what J Vernon Magee called “a secondhand Jew”, a goyisha Christian who adopts a lot of Jewish customs.

          • tigger23505 says:

            Or perhaps as someone who is becoming more respectful of G-d and the power and majesty of his name. Last time I looked, in the Kingdom of heaven the only title is child of G-d.

          • I see.

            We might consider 2 things. “Goy” or “goyisha” is not exactly a term of endearment when used in the family. Identifying gentile Christians by this term is really pretty insulting.

            If Jesus is God — He is — why is it OK to spell out His name (cf. Phil 2.11)? When we write like this — and I’m not necessarily saying it’s wrong — are we confusing Jews and failing to give a clear confession of the divinity of Christ?

        • tigger23505 says:

          Ah, I see what happened – I missed a critical piece of the context – a more correct statement of what I was trying to say, before hijacking my self, is that without G-d every human being on the planet falls under the judgment of G-d. The whosoever in John 3:16 is G-d reaching out to all of us. 99% of the issues in this thread are symptoms of a disease – sin. We are all infected with it, it just manifests in different ways.

          Without G-d we all have the same end in the same place. With G-d we become – 2Co 5:17 KJV Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

  6. SickofPolitics says:

    If the Church were doing her job, we wouldn’t need government programs for the infirm, the elderly and poor. Why are we increasingly looking to the government to solve problems for us, including ‘social’ issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc.? Why is it even feasible that a government, any government should administer God’s will? Are we looking for governmental salvation as the Jewish establishment of Jesus’s time was? We will likely be just as disappointed that God does not confine Himself to the channels we have created.

    • amen to that

    • Do you believe the church could pay or arrange for the health care payment of every American? I’m just curious. I loath government solutions as well, but I cannot imagine Christians understanding what is involved in the health care of this nation and it confuses me when someone says that “if the church was doing her job,” we wouldn’t need health care.

      Did Jesus say something about the church taking care of all the health care needs of the Roman empire? Not being snarky. I just don’t quite understand the logic.

      Is it the church’s “job” to meet all the “needs” of this kind?

      • have not thought in as much depth as I think you’re getting at, but think about around the world how many missionaries are providing medical care (doctors without borders, individual missionaries who are nurses, doctors, care groups sending toothbrushes, medicine overseas as part of mission trips, etc)—-I at least think it’s reasonable that if as much effort were given to providing health services right in our towns, the church could have an enormous impact on the situation in this country

        church groups have long been known for setting up hospitals, orphanages, taking in the sick and poor in convents and abbeys—–to me, when I think of the church “doing its job”, that sort of attitude and outward looking response to caring for the world is what I have in my mind and it’s something that I would say is far less associated with conservative evangelicals today than it should be (evangelicals are only associated with this sort of “social gospel” if it’s taking place somewhere other than their own back yard…my opinion)

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          Around the way, we have quite a few visible Catholic businesses that try to offer services to the community (and living wages to their employees [!!!] for the hell of it; oftentimes, some of these people helping out migrants are the very same people campaigning to get rid of them.

      • I believe, passionately, that we as individuals, as well as corporately, are called to take care of the Widow, the Orphan, and the Stranger in our midst.

        So what does this…or could this…look like?

        The kid without a stable home, regardless of demographic. The divorced or widowed or long-term “single” woman (think wartime wife with a constantly-deployed husband). The immigrant with real and serious needs be they job, language skills, medical, whatever.

        Once upon a time, Hospitals were named for religious entities: St Elisabeth, Good Samaritan, Presbyterian, Bethesda. In many places, they still are! The Church DID take care of folk who needed it; still does (or tries to) as befits the examples given in the parable of the Good Samaritan or the stories of Jesus healing the infirm.

        Why should we not?

        After school programs, ESL classes, Catholic Charities all come to mind as things I have either personally experienced, or participated in through various churches I have been part of.

        It’s not a matter of taking care of “all” the “needs” of the Empire (if you don’t work, you don’t eat is in Scripture as well…although Paul was speaking to the Brethren there…). It’s a matter of looking after these three classes, if you will, of specified folk: Orphans, Widows, Strangers. Not able-bodied Men, Families, Citizens.

      • I think that at this point, it would be difficult to impossible for the church to step in and provide for all of the social needs of Americans. There are a lot of issues involved in what American culture has become. One hundred fifty years ago, most needs were taken care of privately. Health care was vastly different. Doctors took chickens in lieu of money, for instance. The expectations of people were vastly different. Aging parents were taken care of by their children. Our expectations need to be lowered, not supplied by a government program.

        At some point, human beings opted out of caring for one another, and asked for the government to help. An institution is never going to be as effective as person to person caring for your neighbors, family members, etc. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much more humane in many aspects.

        • Susan-

          I think you definitely have a point here- both about expectations, and also about the shifts in the willingness and ability of families and neighbors to take care of their own.

          On the other hand, I think that the current cost of health care goes beyond a shift in expectations. One hundred fifty years ago the entire medical field was different- a doctor could except a chicken because he was not 400,000 dollars in debt for medical school and paying heavily into medical malpractise. Also, the amazing medical breakthroughs we have which allow us to cure and heal in ways that were previously unimaginable. A prosthetic leg that moves like a real leg is an amazing thing. It’s also deeply costly- to research and develop, to manufacture, to implement and to monitor.

          Our families and neighbors are simply not up to the task of meeting that kind of expense.

      • This is the work of God , to care for the poor and sick. God does this work through christians and pagans alike.

        Christians should jump into this stuff with both feet, but they should do it to be good citizens and follow God´s Will and his commandments (“thou shalt not kill” in the positive form of this commandment: “help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need”).

        This is not “church work” or “missional work”. It is simply stuff that needs to be done, and it is stuff that should torture and terrify the consciences of pagans and christians alike because not enough is being done.

        The only difference or advantange christians have in this, is that they know where to go with their terrified consciences: that is to church to hear that God loves them and the world in Jesus, and to take real comfort in the faith in unseen things… that God is working in their flawed efforts and that Jesus HAS won the victory over everything. THAT is the charter of the church. to do this and this only in word and sacrament.

      • David R. Block says:

        I don’t think that the church can pay for it and I don’t think that the government can either without greatly afflicting the comfortable and. even some of the already uncomfortable. Particularly in the economy as it now stands. As gas and food prices rise and those with jobs aren’t getting raises (what’s THAT?), the employed (who are the taxpayers) are being royally squeezed.

        The latest proposal just squeezes even more.

    • God created government to give us a mechanism through which we work together to achieve things we cannot achieve ourselves. To stand in the original Senate building in Rome is to stand in the presence something ordained by God that has lasted for thousands of years. Those aqueducts could only have been built by government action, not individuals or religious institutions.

      My take on this point is that if the Church were doing her job, this society would value something other than money. For too long, the Church has pushed and lobbied for a society in which everything from life-and-death health care to justice to education to political representation is based on a person’s wealth.

      Anyway, how would you have the Church solve the gay marriage problem, when it’s the Church that has the problem?

      • God created governance- I like that one a lot! It’s good to be reminded that a lot of the problems on earth we look to have resolved are problems that we are also given tools on earth to resolve.

        I think your comments about the church’s role in tying education, health care etc to a person’s wealth are dead, dead on.

  7. centrality,

    Here are my two cents (though they might not be worth that much.)

    I think there may be SOME people involved in the “liberal” church who went there precisely because of what Michael is talking about. But, I think MANY become involved in the “liberal” church to simply be on the other side of the coin on politics, not the Gospel.

    I think you would be hard-pressed to find a liberal church goer who could give a coherent answer to Michael’s last three questions, just as difficult as it would be to find a conservative church goer who could respond well.

    So, I think that making the leap to say that liberal churches are a response to conservatives not getting the Gospel right is a big one. Liberal churches, for the most part, are simply a reverse reflection of the same political junk that the conservatives are doing.

    I think this statement (slightly modified) makes the best point:

    “Instead, I believe the intense focus by evangelicals (and liberals) on political and cultural issues is evidence of a spiritually empty and unformed evangelicalism (and liberalism) being led by short-sighted leaders toward a mistaken version of the Kingdom of God on earth.”

    Both sides are missing the Gospel because both sides are focused on culture and not Christ.

    -joe

    • sorry, I meant to reply to centrality’s post.

    • Joe, you’re onto something here. I have not made a complete break from my evangelical church, which also represents my roots (and don’t know if I ever will), to “liberal” church, but I flirt a lot with a local lutheran church and part of the reason is that is pretty depoliticized. I don’t go to church to hear how I can “take back America for Jesus”. I don’t even remotely believe that is a worthy goal, or an accurate one in its very premise. That represents nothing but divisive nonsense to me. And as I look around, I can see that I am not alone.

      If I was to be completely vulnerable and honest, I probably must admit that I find myself identifying with more liberal policies and more liberal theology as a reaction to what is offered on the flip side of the coin. I’ve lived my whole life in evangelicalism, and I no longer equate it with Jesus. I don’t WANT to be like a lot of what is portrayed. I don’t – and can’t – think in those terms any more. “Us vs. them” or “somebody’s always pickin’ on us because they hate Jesus” or “right wing political activism is the answer to moral decay”, blah, blah.

      It just gives me a great big headache.

    • “Liberal churches, for the most part, are simply a reverse reflection of the same political junk that the conservatives are doing.”

      I attend an Episcopal Church and I agree with this. Liberal churches don’t make as much noise as the conservative churches, but they can be just as bad when it comes to politics. One of the problems with the Episcopal Church at the moment is that it’s too political, and at times the liberal politics trumps scripture. I can definitely see the same things happening with evangelical churches, except they’re on the other side of the political spectrum. Personally I’m sick and tired of politics in the church, whether it’s on the right or on the left. I don’t think the early NT Christians cared about the politics of the Roman Empire, so why do modern Christians make such a big deal about American politics?

      What’s sad is if you ask a bunch of nonbelievers nowadays what they know about Christianity, nine times out of ten what they tell you will have something to do with a political position. Politics is so poisonous in America nowadays, and politicans are so crooked, I’m not sure why so many Christians bother with it.

  8. On the one hand, one could view the unanimity amongst evangelicals on key issues like abortion and homosexuality as evidence that they are guided by the Holy Spirit who has given a consistent ability to discern right from wrong and speak with one voice (God’s voice). The fact that there’s less consistency on doctrinal issues shouldn’t bother us because as many, particularly from the left, argue, it’s more important to get the essence of Scripture down and not be overly “obsessed” with doctrinal minutiae—getting the right perspective unanimously on critical issues of right and wrong would seem to imply that evangelicals got the essence right. And I would also say that even though you might get differing levels of understanding and different explanations off the cuff on those last 3 questions, I doubt you would find (particularly if you gave time to probe the issue deeply) that there is actually that much variability—I think conservative evangelicals would pretty much be able to voice unanimous answers (in essence if not in exact wording) to those last 3 questions.

    On the other hand, I could not personally agree more that amongst conservative evangelicals today, the kingdom of God has come to mean certain political parties and a Christian United States. I think those on the left too quickly poo-poo what conservatives have to say about the Christian history of this country (it’s sobering when you really study what people of the American past said and wrote and realize how far away we’ve fallen culturally and institutionally), but I don’t deny that evangelicals have gone too far in their claims and in their view about what the kingdom is all about. “My kingdom is not of this world”, Jesus said, and attempts to make a utopia on earth, no matter how well conceived, is, in my view, likely to lead to serious error (utopia meaning not just people that go off in isolation to build a perfect society but also including overemphasis on this physical world in a prosperity or self-actualization or guaranteed healing type of gospel).

    • I’m not discounting the source of unity of moral issues. I’m just saying that given what the cultural war has produced in the west as a “Christian,” the culture war makes far more sense than reformation.

    • Jeff writes one could view the unanimity amongst evangelicals on key issues like abortion and homosexuality as evidence that they are guided by the Holy Spirit who has given a consistent ability to discern right from wrong and speak with one voice (God’s voice).

      Key spiritual issues? Consider a possible alternative interpretation:

      Abortion = medical and civil rights issue
      Homosexuality = civil rights issue

      You clearly see these as issues that discern right from wrong, so let me ask you a rhetorical question: When did you actually sit down for a good bit of thinking and reach the conclusion that you have decided to be a heterosexual? Were you aware at that moment of informed ‘choice’ (between right and wrong, of course) that you would be determining your (legal) right to visit your spouse in the hospital and make medical decisions on his/her behalf, inherit property, receive spousal pension benefits, and so on? Was that part of the right/wrong debate you had with yourself that informed your sexual decision?

      Unanimity of condemnation (publicly espoused by those with religious affiliations, we should remember) is evidence of God’s voice? The same kind of unanimity in Islamic countries that accepts the charging a raped girl with adultery? Is that, too, God’s voice?

      And many religious people think atheists are arrogant? Wow.

      • tilded

        I’m sure this is not the direction that Monk wanted this to go, but I must say, as certain as I am that some folks are inclined to a certain mindset, as we all have known guys we grew up with that you could see it coming, homosexual activity, not inclination, is a sin, it is an action, the orientation debate with hormone baths in mom’s uterus etc. etc. is beyond me, but actions are done by choice

        it’s not a civil right issue, if i was black or a minority i would be offended

        • You raise many interesting points, Austin.

          So I’m not really a heterosexual if I’m a virgin, eh? You think God makes such a fine distinction between ‘inclination’ and action? Wasn’t it Carter who admitted that when he looked upon others with lust, he felt that he had sinned in his heart? Was he misguided in his harsh self-assessment or just offensive to minorities?

          Maybe I have misread my theology. Are you suggesting that the heart is exempt from divine judgment?

          • In what part of the body is it that we that we covet? Should I interpret the 10th commandment to be valid only if I act on my desire to have that which is my neighbour’s?

            You know, Austen, I think I like your line of moral reasoning here. It’s much more… liberal.

      • I tried to phrase my original statement which you quoted in a way that showed it was a particular perspective that could be argued, not necessarily an absolute truth that I was promoting (although for full disclosure, I do tend to come down on the contemporary evangelical side on those particular issues—generally). IM’s original post was making a point about evangelicals being in unity on certain questions, and I was making the point that unanimity is something that one would expect if there were one Holy Spirit inhabiting and guiding those evangelicals. Not that other explanations aren’t possible, but that IF the Holy Spirit really is guiding evangelicals, I think it is right to expect that there would be widespread unity on the most important issues, and I think the reality is that that unity does exist. I have many issues with contemporary evangelicals in both doctrine and practice, but I find personally that it’s worth noting the ridicule, scorn and even persecution that evangelicals face because of their stance on these two issues alone. I note that evangelicals holding these views which open them to persecution are black, white, rich, poor, intellectual, non-intellectual, etc, etc. That strong unanimity on issues which it would be easy to just defer to the secular culture on and escape ridicule to me is at least consistent with the fact that evangelicals are guided by the Holy Spirit, at least on those issues—-you don’t have to agree with that, but I suggest it’s at least a possible and consistent explanation.

        • You should see what the persecution looks and feels like from the other side. It might alter your vocabulary if not your opinion.

          And there’s a difference between the appearance of unity and unity. Otherwise, about 10% of evangelicals would be admittedly gay and lesbian.

          • tildeb,
            I certainly would never condone persecution of others nor “gay bashing” to satisfy someone’s sense of satisfaction in ridiculing others. But I personally see a big distinction between conservative evangelicals speaking out on an issue (including promoting various legal decisions because they believe they’re doing the right thing) and cases where a gay person is physically harmed, intimidated, or put on the receiving end of rude slurs. Generally, I don’t think conservative evangelicals engage in those kind of behaviors—-they’re not usually the ones out there committing actual crimes against gays. I’m not so naive as to deny that some do act rudely and in a demeaning way at times, but most in my experience (even those who are actively and aggressively trying to promote traditional values) will try to treat an individual gay person with basic human respect and decency, even while not condoning their lifestyle. In all honesty, I have actually experienced direct persecution and harrassment from homosexuals for speaking my mind on this issue—it’s not pleasant and I would not wish it on them in return.

            peace

          • I understand your point, Jeff, and can appreciate your desire to do no harm to another. That is laudable. But… and this is a key point worth some serious consideration…

            When we uphold the idea of race being somehow meaningful, especially in areas of morality, when we uphold the idea of age as being somehow meaningful especially in areas of morality, when we uphold the idea of gender being meaningful, especially in areas of morality, then we are promoting racism, we are promoting ageism, we are promoting gender discrimination if not by direct action then certainly our sympathy condones its root cause. When we use certain passages from holy texts to shield the motives of our discriminating ways, we add an additional layer of protection to those sympathies. We become not part of the solution to reduce discrimination on the basis of race or age or gender but part of the problem that entrenches it.

            When we uphold the idea of sexual preference between consenting adults as being somehow meaningful, especially in areas of morality, we are promoting active discrimination against those who we perceive to be different. When we add our biblical interpretation to shield our motives of our discriminating ways, we add an additional layer of protection to that sympathy.

            It is very difficult and very rare for someone raised with the notion that sexual preference between consenting adult citizens is meaningful in areas of morality to suspend their assumptions for a moment and try to justify that link with something more than assumption and assertion. It is hard but necessary if one wishes to respect the personhood of another citizen – as much as it difficult but necessary to overcome any bias of discrimination like race, age, and gender – and, if found wanting, to then have the courage to withdraw the condoned sympathy for the basis of discrimination. Can a practicing homosexual couple be as moral as a practicing heterosexual couple? THAT is the question for which you must clearly find evidence to decide. If the answer lies in the circular argument that because gay behaviour IS immoral, therefore gay behaviour is IMMORAL, then the reasoning is flawed because it begs the question. And exempting civil rights on the basis of assumption and assertion is in itself immoral.

      • Dan Allison says:

        Scripture is clear on this matter. It’s also clear on pride, gluttony, anger, self-righteousness, and a thousand other little sins that are either hidden in our hearts or expressed in our practices. I’d much rather see people honestly admit that Scripture condemns homosexuality as sin than deal with those who think Scripture can be twisted with some postmodern hermeneutic. Whether it is matter of “choice” or not is irrelevant to scripture. Cancer is also natural, no one chooses it, and many are born with a predisposition to it. That doesn’t mean we stop fighting it or that we call it a good thing.
        We are all sinners, all of us in rebellion against God somewhere in our hearts. Yes, evangelicals have been wrong, and the Fred Phelps approach is roundly condemned by responsible Christians. We reach out to gays with love, just as we reach out to addicts, cancer victims, and adulterers. But we cannot accept homosexuality as normative or see the matter as a civil rights issue if we are faithful to scripture. To say that makes us “hatemongers” is simply a false charge, empty rhetoric designed to shut down communication, and I think everyone really knows it.

        • I agree, Dan. I often feel torn between my loyalty to the moral teachings of scripture and my desire not to be percieved as a hatemongerer. I don’t hate homosexuals. I don’t even dislike them. I recognize and regard homosexuals as human beings, made in God’s image and loved by Him. I don’t even discount the possibility that some homosexuals may indeed be genuine Christ followers, saved by grace through faith. I’m not God, and salvation is His alone to bestow.
          If our nation legalizes gay marriage across the board, then so be it. I don’t think hellfire will fall down out of the sky on us if that happens. And if some churches and denominations want to recognize such marriages and refrain from teaching that homosexuality is immoral according to scripture, then they should be free to do so — just as those churches that choose not to do this should also be free.
          I fully admit that, historically, the Christian community has treated homosexuals poorly and that we have certainly fallen short of the example of Christ in this regard. And, for what it’s worth, I’m deeply sorry about that.
          What I have a problem with is the present push to criminalize any public speech expressing the belief or opinion that homosexuality is a sin or morally wrong. If you disagree, feel free to write us off as religious nuts or hatemongerers, but, please, don’t undermine the freedom of speech that we all enjoy in this country because you don’t like or are offended by what some people are saying. Even if the two sides never agree over this issue, then we should at least seek to respect each others’ freedoms — and don’t bother reminding me of how poorly Christian influenced culture and government has respected the rights of homosexuals in the past (I’m fully aware of that). But freedoms lost are freedoms lost for all of us, and once we open the door to governmental control over the expression of individual opinions and beliefs, it will be very hard to close that door back up. Speaking of doors, I don’t want the Thought Police kicking in my door any more than the next guy.

        • there would be no problem if we were consistant with our hatred of sin, but we tend to pick sins that are more damnable (always the sin that is the most far away from us). if the church was consistant it would be constantly speaking out against all sex outside of marriage. instead we have deciced homosexual sex is the “really unpardonable” sin. The church use to go after devorce but after they all got behind the divorced Ronald Reagan (their political savior) who was already divorced. soon half the evangelical marriages where ending in divorce. Then the divorce issue is too close to home. now most couples are living together b4 marriage – now premarrital sex is too close too home. —- we must become consistant about all sexual sin or all it becomes is hatred of the sin of others, not the sin of ourselves!!
          peace

    • I think it’s pretty easy to imagine other reasons for unanimity of opinion than the assumption that a group of people are all in agreement because the Holy Spirit is whispering in their collective hearts and ears.

      I’m not automatically discounting it, but neither do I think it’s wise to automatically assume it.

  9. Michael,

    A lot of this sort of dove-tail’s nicely with the Mark reading of Proper 26 this week if you are not do the All Saint’s Day readings. In that whole chapter there is sort of a build up by looking at two or three things the Kingdom is not in essence(at least as I see it) and then the scribe is told he is Not far from the Kingdom.

    The Kingdom is not political, cultural, ethnic, geographical, legalism etc. but it is this….

  10. Thanks for this Michael.

    I fear that all too often we’ve given up on the challenging task of discipleship and spiritual formation and settled for legislated morality. After all, we reason that if we cannot teach our people to–for example–not abort lives, then isn’t it just as good to legislate an injunction against it? Same outcome, right? Wrong. Any time we manufacture results (no abortions) without the underpinning (a Kingdom/Gospel foundation), then we leave a vacuum in place of our Kingdom. No wonder such a cause gets distorted.

    Thanks again, Michael, for giving me a place to rant. I’m done ranting for now–after all, the Kingdom isn’t found in ranting alone but in changed lives, right?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I fear that all too often we’ve given up on the challenging task of discipleship and spiritual formation and settled for legislated morality.

      And if you’re really into Legislating Godly Morality, what are you doing here in American Christianity? You want Legislated Godly Morality straight on the rocks, go to Taliban Afghanistan or Wahabi Saudi Arabia or Khomenist Iran. The poster children for Extreme Islam’s Culture War.

  11. Great post.

    “The Myth of A Christian Nation” should be required reading for all Christian college seniors. I wish I had discovered it sooner.

    Sometimes people ask me if I consider myself an evangelical. Usually my response is, “Heavens no! ‘Evangelical’ is just a voting block.” You can tell that this is the case because evangelicals will tolerate just about anything (hateful speech, slander, gluttony, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, greed, etc.) in folks like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh so long as they maintain their conservative politics. It pains me to see Christian bookstores advertising on Rush Limbaugh and Christian radio stations interviewing Glen Beck. It seems to me that the most important common denominator among evangelicals is Republicanism. You can hate your neighbor and divorce your wife and call people names, so long as you have your politics right.

    Perhaps this all stems from the idea that Jesus was being unrealistic, that we actually DO need help from the kingdoms of this world to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Truth be told, it’s a lot easier to walk into a voting booth and make a statement about abortion than it is to take in a single mom and help her raise her kid. It’s easier to lobby for health care reform than it is to help pay for a friend’s medical expenses. It’s easier to listen to talk radio hosts who confirm what you already believe than it is to engage with folks who hold different convictions and have different ideas.

    Please know that I say all of this with a rather large plank obstructing my view…but also with a strong sense of hope that my generation is tired of all the politics and desperately wants to return to the teachings of Jesus. I’m a stubborn optimist, and I think that things are about to change.

    • From your lips to God’s ear…

    • Great reply, Rachel. I like your take on all this.

      (For the record: I am a liberal Catholic. I know conservative Catholics think that there cannot be such a thing, but I am proof that there is such a thing. But…I likely am not as good a Catholic as they are. That’s the truth. I am just attempting to live my life in a way that would not embarrass me if Jesus was to show up and take a look at what I am doing. I know…Jesus is here already, but you know what I mean.)

    • For those who find Pastor Boyd too liberal, how about “Unchristian America: Living with Faith in a Nation that was Never Under God” by Liberty Universtiy professor Michael Babcock.

      He can hardly be accused of liberalism.

  12. To clarify, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lobbying for health care reform or voting with abortion in mind…just assuming that this is all we have to do to love our neighbors and follow Jesus.

  13. Though I’m not a Baptist, I’m currently finishing my Master of Christian Ministry degree at a great baptist university and plan on starting on my M.Div. after that. Since I plan on relocating during my M.Div. studies, I’m going to have to find a new church soon. Due to the nature of M.Div. studies, my hypothetical new church will probably be a place where I invest a lot of time, energy, etc.

    My problem: it seems like my options for churches are either:
    1) Churches that understand love and Christian freedom but compromise theology and faithfulness to biblical truth
    2) Churches that are strong on biblical truth but are overly concerned with the culture wars

    Where’re the balanced churches?

    • Obed,

      I wish I knew that answer. If you find one please let me know where it is:)

      I’m also not sure why that division has developed, I’v got my theories but I will not expound too much on them here. I’d love to hear the Monk’s take though.

      • I’d like to hear everyone’s theories too. I wish I knew the answer, too, and I feel the same frustration at the seeming lack of choices other than the two extremes mentioned.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      Try to find a good African American church. If you want to go to Fuller, I can recommend a wonderful multi-ethnic church.

      Now that I’ve moved back to Dallas, which is still quite segregated, I’ve been going to an Anglican church. They do a decent job. Better than most folks around here.

    • I’m not sure where they are. We’ve been looking for one like this for almost two years. We might have found one now, but we’re not sure. It may take a while. There are days when I’m almost ready to start a church myself with my meager MA in theology. Almost. Terrifying thought.

  14. From the Gospel of Luke:

    “18A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    19″Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

    20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”

    21″All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

    22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”

    Perhaps American Christians need to concentrate more on this passage.

    I’m truly tired of conservatives labeling every liberal ‘godless’ and ‘amoral’ when they’re most certainly not. If you wonder why gays hate you, maybe it’s because you continually tell them God hates them and they’re going to hell.

    I fail to see any connection between Christianity and universal healthcare – well, that is, unless you count “because you took me in when I was sick”.

    I’m sick of conservatives who are opposed to abortion, but don’t care about poor children in this country and oppose social programs to help them.

    • JoeA

      your guilty of your own accusation, I know zero people who are opposed to abortion but do not care about poor children unless you yourself are equating opposing a massive federal govt welfare system as being somehow inherently bad or wrong

      • I’m equating things like opposing childrens’ health care through federal insurance, which was opposed by conservatives.

        • maybe they just have a philosphical disagreement that the federal govt should do those things the constitution says it should and other things should be handled on a state and local level

          doesn’t make them evil, or mean spirited

          • This argument (in my mind) works only when the folks who actively obstruct one solution (ie- government health care for children) are actively working on a better solution. It doesn’t really stand to scrutiny if the people against a particular solution also don’t work for a better solution. At least, to my mind.

    • Exactly. There is absolutely no difference in my mind between supporting abortion and opposing universal health care.

      In both cases, children die because it is cheaper and more convenient.

      The fact that our child mortality rate is is 46th (!!!!) in the world is a national sin. (Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate for the list).

      What makes it doubly bad is that we have the technology, people and facilities to let far fewer children die — the only thing that stands in our way is our dislike of government and inability to work together for the common good.

      • Jjoe,

        I would hesitate to use the infant mortality to judge our health care, because I’ve seen some of the reasons. Different countries use different standards to even define a live birth. Some specify a weight or a gestation age or don’t even count it as a live birth unless the child lives a certain amount of time. I’m sorry that I don’t have any links available.

        I also disagree that universal health care would solve all the problems, because I haven’t seen anything that the government does well. I think that it should be part of the full package, because there are areas where there are few jobs, and the people need help.

        I think that we Christians need to do better than we are, though.

  15. Dan Allison says:

    The local church has allowed its agenda to be driven by media. How many millions of evangelicals can tell you all about Coulter, Beck, Limbaugh, and every preacher on CTN or TBN, but can’t tell you the first thing about Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Whitfield, Bonhoeffer, or Schaeffer? Although I still consider myself “evangelical,” the inescapable truth is that evangelicals are widely perceived as mean-spirited (unwilling to help pay for the health-care of their neighbors), status-anxious (angered that their privileged position is the culture has slipped so far), and bloodthirsty (eager to see the nuclear wars predicted by Lindsey and LaHaye).

    Many evangelicals are failing to understand that our witness in the world must reflect the love of Jesus. As evangelical power and influence declines, it’s likely we’ll see more fear, more desperation, and an even-uglier witness. I wish I had the answer, but I’m sure that shutting down “Christian” radio and TV and re-focusing on the local church would be a good first step.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      So somebody else has also seen the “Christians for Nuclear War” attitude extending from Hal Lindsay’s interpretations. I experienced the early forms of it back in the Carter and early Reagan years when I coined the phrase.

    • 2008 election showed that the evangelicals had sold out to politics —- the 700 club’s Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Guliani — pro Gay marriage, pro gun control, pro choice, multi divorced. Richard Land refused to endorse the evangelical Huckabee because he was unsure of his tax policy was. (not sure what tax policy is in the bible beside give to ceasar whats ceaser’s. & Dobson said he could not endorse McCain due to his beliefs. In all these cases they went back on their words & action because they did not believe standing by their beliefs would be politically sucessiveful. Pure political showmanship. by the way i happily voted for Obama

  16. Good post. I’ve become a conscientious objector when it comes to the culture wars.

    I don’t want the gospel usurped by social and political views. I don’t want the church to become a club where you can join in only if you have the right social and political positions. I don’t want God’s people to use what Greg Boyd calls a “power over” approach to win people, because it doesn’t work. Yet that’s what I too often see, and it’s often nasty and utterly devoid of the fruits of the spirit or the love of Jesus Christ.

    Suppose the culture warriors get everything they want — all the laws, all the social changes, all the moral victories, all the power to mold people and institutions to their particular moral standards. Will it usher in the Kingdom? Will it? Really?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I don’t want the church to become a club where you can join in only if you have the right social and political positions.

      Or a Party that demands doubleplusgoodthink from all Comrades.

      I don’t want God’s people to use what Greg Boyd calls a “power over” approach to win people, because it doesn’t work.

      Islam’s version of The Culture War’s been using that approach for some time. Look at Saudi, and Iran, and Taliban-era Afghanistan…

      Suppose the culture warriors get everything they want — all the laws, all the social changes, all the moral victories, all the power to mold people and institutions to their particular moral standards. Will it usher in the Kingdom?

      More likely the setting of the story-within-a-story of Ray Blackston’s A Pagan’s Nightmare. (Great book if you like goofy satire.) Or a Christian version of the Republique of Perfect Virtue or its descendant the Future Perfect Communist Society. (Note about Utopias-on-Earth: They always beckon from the other side of a “regrettable but necessary” Reign of Terror, always far off on the horizon of the Future.)

      What the Culture War Activists have achieved is the “Communistization” of Christianity. Political Solidarity, Political Action, Political Ideology, Political Consciousness, Political Political Political Political Political. Just like in Soviet-era Russia, where everything was Political 24/7. There’s a reason most Soviet-era Russians were alcoholics — it was the only escape from the 24/7 drumbeat of Politics Politics Politics Politics Politics.

      And now we have Culture War Christianity trying to bring about its own Bolshevik Revolution and Perfect State. What’s next? The only difference between Christians and Communists being that they quote different Party Lines to the Comrades?

    • No, it would usher in a ‘Christian’ state, exactly like the Islamic states we see today, where dissenters are punished – and sometimes killed. I might remind those of you who favor this approach to familarize yourselves with history of how ‘state religions’ have worked out in the past…

      This is the very reason we have the ‘no establishment of a state religion’ in our Constitution. It also might be well to remember that our Constitution was not set up to protect the rights of the majority, but the rights of the minority.

      • Then after the state has eliminated competing religions, the clergy get complacent, since where else will the laity go, and you end up with the sort of irreligiousness common in Europe today. Sometimes I wonder why atheists are so against a state religion in the US; there would probably be a lot more atheists if we had one.

  17. I am slowly re-learning how to interact with evangelicalism. I am grateful that my pastor feels no need to comment on politics.

    In fact, I am more or less a “political atheist” in the since that I don’t have a lot of faith in our two party system.

    I do, however, have serious hope in God through his work in the Church.

  18. I am kind of a Tim Keller fan (more than kind of).

    What Tim has found out is that his Church has grown from a number of conservative midwest people moving to NYC that are inoculated against Christianity. They are conservatives turned off by religious conservatism (this describes me very well too). These are people that want to see Jesus withough religion getting in the way.

    To a certain degree religion is a bit like a physics equation. For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is an ongoing theme when the “truth” of the Gospel and Jesus are not kept at the center of mans thinkology.

  19. I don’t care what anyone says – I still say Sarah Palin is a hotty.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      How did Sarah Palin suddenly become The Great White Hope? As politicians go, she’s a lightweight. You never heard about her until McCain picked her as his 2008 running mate, then suddenly She’s God’s Anointed! Is this some kind of Christian CELEBRITY Cult or what?

      Are we seeing a repeat of Obama’s presentation in the primaries as The Great Black Hope who will save us from both the Clinton Royal Family (in the Primaries) and the Bushies (in the General)?

      Kicker is, with a few more years/election cycles to build her base and gain experience, Palin might have grown into a contender. Now she’s under the Curse of Immediate Success, with an entourage of political fanboys looking on her as some sort of Messiahess. Is this the flip side of Obamania? “Just like Obama’s fanboys, but CHRISTIAN (TM)?”

      • HUG (haha, your acronym reads “hug”) – you didn’t know? No one cares how competent you are – it’s your looks! [/snark]

        I even saw a good chunk of this during the election involving Mr. President. All these girls saying “Oh my. There hasn’t been a hotter president since JFK.”

        *insert side-eye here* The same girls couldn’t tell me what he stood for. Same with the guys I knew tripping themselves over Palin. *facepalm*

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I even saw a good chunk of this during the election involving Mr. President. All these girls saying “Oh my. There hasn’t been a hotter president since JFK.”

          Funny, Didi, they said the same thing about Clinton. (Who was in many ways a JFK Impersonator.)

          *insert side-eye here* The same girls couldn’t tell me what he stood for.

          It’s Twi-tard fangirl syndrome. “OBAMA IS MY EDWARD CULLEN! SPARKLE SPARKLE SQUEEEEE!”

      • L. Winthrop says:

        The “Great Democratic Hope” is more like it! Really, if the Republicans want to guarantee themselves an election loss, just nominate her or Huckabee. They appeal only to the evangelical wing of the GOP, and turn off practically everybody else. (Remember back when people were seriously proposing Rush Limbaugh for some sort of high political office?)

        It is open to question whether Palin might have improved her public perception, given more time, or just quit, like she did in our timeline. Certainly she would have found it difficult to shed the charge of ignorance viz. foreign-policy issues in any case.

    • she in her 40s and her looks are fading with the stress. as her looks goes so will go her Red-neck following

  20. Electing either of them would hasten the end of the world, which would be good news to most evangelicals!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Then why didn’t the Left Behinders go for Obama? “Obama Is The Antichrist!!!” has gotten so much traction my writing partner has to use his “Don’t Go Stupid On Me!” sermon more often than any other. If Obama Is The Antichrist, why not elect him and jump-start The End? Like the “Christians for Nuclear War” attitude in Hal Lindsay’s heyday?

  21. We’re more worried about people accepting us than accepting Jesus… Still waiting for the Dobsons of the world to tell me how exactly are black christians who worship the same Jesus they do (well, that’s debateable, but anyway) not really christians when they vote for Obama. I imagine I’ll be waiting a long time.

  22. I think the church is too self-interested and political by the very nature of its duty on earth to be a theological authority. I would keep church and seminary separate because the primary ministry of the church is to lead the flock, build a community of faith, and develop and implement on the personal level. The primary mission of a seminary is to speak the truth.

    These two missions are often COMPLETELY opposed to each other. Even if you intend on living in truth, there is a temptation to use the bible to manipulate people and deceive because you’re tired and you don’t know what to do, and it is temptation that we have found out time and again throughout history will be succumbed to. Beyond this, the church’s focus should be the people in it, just as Saint Pauls and even more Saint John’s focus was as you can see when you read the Epistles. Leave the books to scholars!

  23. I must admit that I find opinions such as this today to be frustrating. For example, it doesn’t inform me as to how I should vote, or whether I should or not, or what my opinion on health care as a Christian should be, or whether social needs are better met through government programs or through private means and/or the market. Nor does it offer any specific guidance as to what I should do in my life to help affect culture.

    In short, it doesn’t give me help on how I should live my life as a committed Christian in today’s culture. Nor does it tell me what I should tell the people in the church where I am an elder and where I teach on a regular basis. What does it mean to be counter-cultural as I live my life today and this week? This post seems to be long on criticism but short on specific guidance.

    Yes, we are often too over involved in politics and we put our faith in changes that may or probably won’t arise politically. But what am I to do or not do today and tomorrow?

    The criticism of lack of Biblical and theological knowledge is, I’m afraid, all too true and is all too common. But I’m also deeply troubled by those who claim to be Christians and see no problem voting for politicians who are deeply committed to abortion rights and infanticide and homosexual rights. In my mind it says that there are commitments these Christians have that are more important to them than their commitment to clear Biblical teaching.

    • Dan Allison says:

      Good comment, Stephen. My problem is that when I vote for the candidate who opposes abortion and gay marriage, I end up voting for the politician who wants to drop bombs on innocent children and perpetuate an economic system that grinds the working poor into the dirt. I’ve decided I can’t do anything much about the world at large, but through my neighborhood church I can serve both my church and my neighborhood, That’s where God has set me for now.

    • I realy get tired of this ‘infanticide’ charge of liberals which is totally baseless.

      And I would think that Christians would be the MOST counter-culture people around with regard to materialism, fame, etc, those things that Jesus so clearly disappoved of.

    • Good questions all. I think that the answer lies in both the broad principles and the specific commands contained in scripture, combined with the wisdom and guidance of the holy spirit. Unpacking Micah 6:8 might be a good place to start.
      As for the moral issues, this side of heaven we will often be presented with lesser-of-evils sort of choices, especially in politics, and that’s not easy. Problem with the culture war is that it narrows down the evils to three or four hotbutton issues, usually to promote a particular political agenda. Other real evils are ignored or given a pass. That’s neither wise nor scriptural. As I see it, the call to seek first Jesus’ Kingdom can be a great antidote to this; as the Kingdom takes a place of primacy, other man-made categories of all kinds become pretty unimportant.

  24. I’ve read before (perhaps it was in a comment here) that the true trinity for evangelicals is “school prayer, abortion and gay rights.” At times, this is quite hard to argue with.

    I’ve also read (this time I cannot recall the source at all) that the only reason we made it through the Cold War in one piece was because the Soviet Union was run by atheists who didn’t think they’d go to a better place if they died. While I seriously doubt this, it does tie into the “Christians for Nuclear War” idea. I am glad I was not around at the time.

    Beyond that, I know that the “hate the sin, love the sinner” line rings false for all except those who proclaim it. The hate never seems to be limited and instead spills over onto the individual. Why is it that only liberals noticed and protested against people like Fred Phelps until his church started picketing military funerals? Without a loud proclamation coupled with actual action, his face is seen as the front of evangelical Christianity by many outside of the movement.

    The Gospel contains terrifying messages, as do the letters of Paul. The call for submission and love, to give as much as you can and then give more, the call to maintain celibacy if at all possible and only be married to avoid sin, are truly scary ideas. It saddens me that a company called Agape Press (the most beautiful word Christianity has added to the lexicon is agape, a word that, unfortunately has fallen into disuse) publishes works that seem to miss the “love the sinner” part saddens me to no end. I suspect that if the face of Christianity were agape, the message was truly seen as love and not hate, that a large part of the cultural divide would fall. This is also true of the other side. Unfortunately, they do not have a universal text to guide them in this.

    (There is currently, or at least was, a petition circulating in California to ban divorce except in cases of infidelity and sexual impotence. This petition is being circulated as a further defense of marriage, with appropriate biblical quotes to support it. It has been rightly perceived as parody, and thus very little attention has been paid to it. However, this does raise the issue of why homosexual marriage is a Christian issue but divorce isn’t.)

  25. Please do not take this comment thread off topic.

  26. I grew up in an evangelical/fundamentalist/anabaptist household, and I’d always considered my parents pretty balanced and level-headed about issues in their looking to the teaching of Christ as found in the Bible for guidance. For instance, I remember my dad was very critical of Falwell’s support for Oliver North during the Iran Contra affair and Falwell’s efforts to raise money to encourage covert military action in Nicaragua. “A Christian has no business doing that” he would say.

    However I must say that my parents and hometown relatives have changed dramatically over the past 5-8 years or so and the clear influence is conservative talk radio and Fox News.

    Now, the almost exclusive topic of conversation whenever I visit my hometown relates to what Michael Savage or some other conservative radio announcer (Hannity/Limbaugh) had said that day. (Last summer it was endless hand-wringing about “death panels.”) Fine, whatever. But the scarier part to me is that they can’t separate these personalities from their faith (nor do they see any need for such separation or any difference between the two) nor can they even begin to think critically about what these personalities are saying. They’re human, right?–they can’t be correct 100% of the time on every issue.

    When I was a kid, sermons were at least an attempt at scriptural expository preaching. Now, church sermons are totally consumed with culture war issues–and in some sense the pastors have no choice, because the guy across the street is preaching on the culture war and if you don’t, people will leave because the pastor will be labeled as “soft on sin” or “compromising the Gospel.”

    I think for them, this amalgam of TV and radio personalities IS Christianity–this IS their religion; the proof of being a good Christian is to be on the correct side of all the culture war issues. Trash-talk radio is their pornography or gambling–once some people go down that road they just can’t seem to get enough of it–it consumes their lives. I see little trace of the Jesus I was taught about as a child. That makes me very, very sad.

    “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial” a very wise man once said 😉

  27. I’monk, I am so glad you have this website. I have felt so alone in my feelings, and glad other Christians feel the same way. I don’t feel right wing or left wing. Both liberal and conservative
    radio talk show hosts upset me. I know it is entertainment to them, but it really influences people.
    It reminds me of how in Rwanda years ago the genocide happened. If you saw the movie, Hotel
    Rwanda, a lot of people in Rwanda were influenced by the hatred on the radio of the opposing
    tribes. Our talk show hosts hopefully don’t go that far, but they do spew such unchristian hatred.
    I will not be linked as a Christian to Rush, Hannity, or Glen Beck etc, who seem to thrive on
    these rants. Thank you for writing about this.

  28. L. Winthrop says:
  29. “It’s been demonstrated more than adequately hundreds of times in history that if the church becomes more concerned with the manifestation of the Kingdom in society than within its own community, worship, discipleship and spiritual formation, it will become a tool of forces in practical opposition to Christ.”
    Michael, you certainly said a mouthful there. And I would add that ever since the church married the state in the fourth century and thereafter partnered with politics in the engineering and control of Western culture, the church has suffered from a split sense of identity. Are we about declaring the gospel and living out the teachings and example of Christ? Or are we about maintaining and furthering the political power and cultural influence we have been cultivating through the centuries? Or can we do both at the same time? Is it okay sometimes for the church to behave in a way that contradicts the gospel in order to more effectively combat hostile or threatening cultural elements, be they real or imagined? Is it acceptable to compromise the gospel of Christ in the name of preserving the supremacy of Christian culture in the West.?
    I say, no, it’s not okay or acceptable — even if maintaining the integrity of the gospel means the church having to retreat back into catacombs or graveyards or living rooms or secluded spots in the woods (though I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that). Besides, I think it’s pretty obvious that the power and influence of Christian culture in the West is on the downslope — and has been for some time now. And much of the wailing and moaning and cultural war propaganda that is dominating the airwaves is coming from those who measure the church and the kingdom according to political power and cultural influence — and who see that power and influence slipping through their fingers.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the church should just keep quiet and resign itself to fading away into the sunset of history. I’m just saying that the marriage of the church and politics was a bad idea when Constantine opened that door, and it’s continued to be a bad idea ever since.
    The church should have only one groom, Christ, and we would do well to define ourselves primarily by our relationship with Him and the relationships we have (through Him) with each other. And if we we are determined to take up arms and fight a cultural war, then we’d better take care to conduct our behavior and focus our efforts based on the reality of who He is, His teachings, and His example — or else we run the risk of becoming enemies to the very One we claim to be fighting for.

  30. I actually like reading Greg Boyd…. and many people (myself included) like some of his books like repenting or religion and myth of a Christian Nation because it hits a nerve. Greg is also more Christocentric than many of his opposers on theological points. I consider Greg a good man and Pastor.

    If you go to his Church (been there once for a date day with my wife) you will see that the chemical make up of his congregation is different from most churches. Not sure what the words would be…. more blue collar religion… not sure what it was? Overall I would consider attending his Church if I was in that area of the cities even though he and I may differ theologically. Hia churxh is also involved in some of the ministries most pastors dont want to be a part of which I highly respect.

    I guess I never throw the baby out with the bathwater on any Pastor!

  31. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the church does not offere a viable alternative. Its nice to see some gospel-centrioc alternatives.

  32. I am a bit disappointed with the hypocrisy of some of comments on here. They complain of being stereotyped by conservative Christians and then throw equally disgusting and false stereotypes back (dropping bombs on innocents, hating gays, taking advantage of the poor, Rush Limbaugh spews hatred). I guess it shows how easy it is to become condescending and falsely pious, even when trying to fight condescension and false piety. Please do remember that we all have logs in our eyes and that people are people, not stereotypes.

    I agree with the basic gist of the post. While I am a conservative and deeply concerned about the state of the world right now, I recognize that we have bigger fish to fry than today’s political issues. I will fight tooth and nail to end the genocide that is abortion, but I also realize that in a hundred years, these won’t matter to the people then anymore than the political issues of Rome matter to us now. Being a twenty year-old gamer nerd, I’ve also seen the hostility that my secular peers have towards Christianity because of the common rhetoric used today. There’s plenty of criticism to go around on both sides. Still, I don’t think that can justify actually siding with pro-abortion, pro-gay politicians. Even if you disagree with abortion, when you vote for a pro-abortion candidate, you have helped continue the slaughter of millions of children, period.

    • I don’t know anyone who is “pro-abortion.”

      I’m “anti-abortion” but if my wife’s life were in danger, I don’t want conservative Christians defining to she and I what God’s will is for our family. She does have a small say in her own life, regardless of what she is labeled.

      That is not “pro-abortion.” That is “anti-big-conservative-government.”

      Because once the “pro-abortion” civil liberties are gone, conservatives will then start to work on those who are “pro-birth control.” And “pro-gay.”

      • Exactly, Jjoe.

        • Our president voted four times to allow doctors to kill babies who survived abortions. His excuse? He didn’t want to waste the doctor’s time deciding whether or not they were human. He torn down legislation that banned American tax dollars from funding abortions in other countries. He promised Planned Parenthood that he would pass the Freedom of Choice Act that would lift virtually all restrictions on abortions (a 14 year old wants a partial birth abortion without telling her parents? OK!). If you don’t see people who are pro-abortion, you’re not looking.

          Banning abortion is not “big-conservative government”, it’s being against a government that arbitrarily decides that a portion of its population are not human and are thus free to be killed as a right.

          No one has the right to an abortion any more than anyone has the right to a slave. Funny that you don’t mind having that “right” taken away from you. You do not have a civil liberty to drive a scalpel into the brainstem of your child or burn them to death with chemicals. This is not about your “right” to kill someone, it’s about the rights of the child that you have taken away. As for your slippery slope accusation, I’d suggest you leave your strawmen in Oz where they belong.

          In the rare event that a mother’s life is in danger, it is a tragedy that one life has to be sacrificed for another, similar to a fireman who has to choose between two people in a burning building. Again, there is the fallacious assumption that being against abortion means to allow a mother to die. I’ve never met a single pro-lifer who was against the unfortunate use of abortion in such a case, but it is not to be done lightly.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      …and then throw equally disgusting and false stereotypes back (dropping bombs on innocents, hating gays, taking advantage of the poor, Rush Limbaugh spews hatred)”

      Cipher, I don’t know what world you live in, but mine’s pretty average, and in my life I’ve heard all of that and more from average everyday Conservative Christians JUST THIS WEEK.

      Bomb innocents (they aren’t innocent), ban gayness (they’re not whole people), send the poor back to their own countries (after the harvest), and some bonus secondhand Rush snark too; there are no good guys in this rhetoric thing, but its common experience that there’s plenty of wrong and evil going around among the conservative Christian Righteous Folks.

  33. If you want to debate abortion, go elsewhere.