Results tagged “Politics” from Reformation21 Blog

Patriot-olotry: The Intersection of Theology and Politics

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In many evangelical circles, it is still assumed that conservative theology means conservative politics. And to be fair, the same could be said of the "Evangelical left" and liberal politics. But when politics and theology are seen as synonymous, it is typically not theology that is primary. The reason for this is simple. A robust biblical theology does not support the hyper-individualism and consumerism needed to maintain public interest in today's modern politics. Nevertheless, modern politics needs to be cloaked in religious language in order to carry the necessary gravitas. The end result is that theology becomes the handmaiden of political agendas. In turn, patriotism becomes one and the same with Christianity for so many. Among the multitude of factors that have given rise to this fact in the United States is the combination of American exceptionalism and Dispensationalist theology.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is qualitatively and fundamentally different and better than other nations. The reasons behind this widely held belief are varied. The amalgamation of a Puritan history, Protestant work-ethic, manifest destiny, and a general pragmatism have all helped shape the belief that God has, in fact, blessed the United States in a way that He has not blessed other nations.

The belief in American exceptionalism was wedded to the growing theological movement known as Dispensationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dispensationalism, a novel theological movement that was popularized by J.N. Darby and C.I. Schofield, convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures. Through the vehicle of Dispensationalism, America became the pinnacle of Christendom, the "City on a Hill," but not in the manner it was originally used by John Winthrop when he quoted Matthew 5:14 in 1630. Winthrop argued that the eyes of the world would be upon their colony and if they dealt falsely with God, then God would make them a byword. Winthrop saw no special virtue or exceptionalism in his colony, rather he used it as a call to actually live out their Christian faith in spite of their inherent sinfulness. Instead, American evangelicals began to see the United States as THE beacon of God's divine light and the highpoint of humanity. For example, the fiction series, Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins presents a Dispensational view of the end times, which makes clear that the US and the modern nation-state of Israel are the principal players in God's great redemptive plan of history. Any attitude that suggests that the US has a divine right to global supremacy, is pervasive. During the 2012 presidential election cycle, Republican nominee Mitt Romney often referred to the United States as "the greatest hope in the world." This view of American politics and patriotism cloaked in theology is what I call Patriot-olatry. It is a worshiping of one's country and a particular political agenda as if it were the biblically ordained way to worship the one true God.

Faithful Christians cannot allow their thinking on how to live their faith in the current culture to be primarily shaped and formed by talking heads, whether they are "fair and balanced" or they "lean forward." The news media is the megaphone of modern politics. As such, Christians must be cautious when watching. The old adage, "follow the money" is appropriate. The owners and stakeholders in the various news media companies have a corporate obligation to improve the financial bottom line. These conglomerations must turn a profit. This often runs at odds with the pursuit of publishing journalistic truth. The reporting on most cable news stations typically serves only to confirm prejudices and to inflame passions among those already on board. This generates greater viewership which increases ad revenue which enriches the media company. Patriotism for them means dollars.

Patriotolatry is dangerous because it flies under the radar for so many American Christians. After all, it can feel dangerously  like faithfulness. But when the church begins to wed itself to one particular nation-state, then it begins to prioritize and emphasize its nationality or patriotism as greater than God's holiness and his global plan for the spread of the gospel.

I am deeply thankful that I have the privilege of living in the United States. I believe that the principles upon which it was founded are rooted in a biblical understanding of human dignity and justice. As such, opportunity has been afforded those who live here that would not have happened in other countries. But as Christians we cannot look at the global scope of the Gospel and think for a moment that the United States is biblically more important than any other nation, tribe, or people. If the apostle Paul could write, "there is neither Jew nor Greek...for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28) then we certainly cannot now say that America has any special claim on God's Kingdom. Imagine what an Iranian Christian would think if he were to enter most evangelical churches in America. He would be forced to denounce his Iranian-ness while they affirm their American-ness. The Gospel must be bigger than our patriotism.

 

Forget Nostalgia!

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Following the election on Tuesday night many are still reeling with surprise from the results. Some are in shock, some are incensed, some are delighted, and still others have taken this opportunity to decry the result as a sign of declining public virtue. The tendency in moments like this is to look to the past and wish that we could be decent people again ruled by decent men. There is a temptation for us to indulge in nostalgia for elections past and for a brighter age when morality was held in higher esteem than it seems to be in our own day.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, has an extended discussion of Ecclesiastes 7:10, which reads: "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." As I was reading Bridges's remarks on this verse, I sensed that what he had to say there speaks to our own national moment. He wrote:

National changes may bring national declension. Increasing wealth and luxury may relax the tone of public morals. But - it may be asked - 'Is it not the ordinary habit of the old men of the generation to give undue worth and weight to the records of bygone days?' Has not each succeeding generation left a protest against the degeneracy of its predecessor? Yet in a general view 'God has always been good, and men have always been bad,' and "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9; 3:15).

The case therefore involves a 'doubtful problem and a foolish question.' For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. The picture of a golden age, and the loveliness and purity of the primitive era, are now confessedly only the day-dreams of imagination. Take then the broad features of the present day. After due allowance has been made for the fearful discoveries of ignorance and depravity - yet mark the spread of true religion - the large provision for the temporal comfort of the poor - the widely diffused blessings of Scriptural education - the influence of civil and religious liberty - and, above all, the extended circulation and preaching of the glorious Gospel throughout the world - Would it not be hard to produce former days better than these? "Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see!" (Luke 10:23-24).

After all - 'it is folly to cry out of the badness of the times, when there is so much more reason to complain of the badness of our hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would be mended); and when there is such reason to be thankful that they are not worse; but that even in the worst times we enjoy many mercies; that help to make them, not only tolerable, but comfortable.' 

The question has been well asked - 'If the times are bad, what are we doing to mend them?' Have not we helped to make them bad? And do not murmuring complaints make them worse? Could we change clouds for sunshine, would it be for our real good? Is not the arrangement of the infinitely wise and gracious Father more of our true advantage than the dictates of our poor human folly? It was not our lot to be born in former, and - as is supposed - better days. But surely it is our duty to gather all good out of the seeming evil, and cheerfully to submit to what we cannot change. "Murmerers and complainers" belong to every age. Leave God's work to him, and let us attend to our own work, which is - not so much to change the world, but to change ourselves - to "serve our own generation by the will of God," and to 'let the badness of the age in which we live make us more wise, more circumspect, more humble.'

Brighter days are before us - each day brightened with the hope of a near-coming salvation. O Christian! "Salvation nearer." What a quickening glow! (Rom. 13:11). Faith, hope, diligence, perseverance, watchfulness - all stir up the bottom springs of the heart (1 Peter 1:13). The earnest is "joy unspeakable." What will the consummation be?

Rather than dwelling in the past, or fearing the future, Bridges suggested that it is our responsibility to act in the day and time in which we have been born and to use the time that we have been given with wisdom.

Praying for Our New President-Elect

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What has been termed the most contentious and discouraging Presidential election in my lifetime has finally come to an end. America has spoken. For many Christians, a Trump presidency marks the end of a now fractured Republican Party's fall from unity, integrity, wisdom and stability. For others, our President-Elect Trump's victory is a welcomed win for the religious right in the stand against the current progressive regime's perceived threat to religious freedom, national security, economic stability and Judeo-Christian bio-ethics in America. Whether you are discouraged or elated by the outcome of the election, here are some ways that we should be praying for President-Elect Donald Trump:

Pray that the Lord would give President-Elect Trump biblical wisdom as he, his cabinet and his administration face some of the most daunting challenges of our lifetime. Pray that he and Vice President-Elect Pence will together seek the Lord in His word and in prayer. Our new president will have the unique challenge of being our commander-in-chief. He will lead our military in protecting our citizens and will, therefore, need enormous wisdom to navigate unique defense challenges.

Pray that the Lord would protect our new President. President-Elect Trump and his family will inevitably be the object of threats from wicked men and women. We must pray for their safety during a time of national division. Similarly, we must pray that the Lord keeps our country internally at peace during a time when it is rife with division. 

Pray that the Lord would surround President-Elect Trump with men and women who will serve as wise and competent counsellors. Pray that he would seek out that counsel on a regular basis in order to make good decisions for the future of our country. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump would follow through with his promise to appoint supreme court justices who will protect the unborn. Millions of babies continue to be slaughtered in the womb every year in our country. We must pray that the Lord would bring this unparalleled evil to an end. We must not become callused to this greatest of evils. We should long for a day when the most helpless image bearers are protected in the womb. After all, "God's designated place of safety...has become, tragically, the most unsafe place in the world." 

Pray that our new President would care deeply for the poor and the needy in our country. We must not only pray that he will make wise decisions that will result in a healthy economy, but that he will genuinely care for the well-being of the economically impoverished citizens of our land. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump will defend religious freedom in such a way that men and women in our land will be free to worship and to live out their faith without fear of unjust imprisonment. While many have suggested that persecution would help awaken the church in America from materialistic complacency and compromise, we should never want to be persecuted for worshiping and serving Jesus in truth. The Apostles never wanted persecution for the church in the world, the anticipated it. 

Whether we are discouraged or elated by the election of Donald Trump, we are called to be subject to him. If we are discouraged, we must remember that God commands us to respect, honor and pray for him--as we are for all those who God puts in authority over us (Rom. 13:1, 5, 7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). This is not a time for disrespectful banter--it is a time for prayer. 

On the other hand, if we are elated by the election of Donald Trump, we must pray that the Lord's purposes would triumph over our now President's unbiblical actions. After the 2008 election of Barack Obama, Ligon Duncan wrote an outstanding post--from which I have borrowed much--in which he suggested that we have a responsibility to pray that God's purposes would overrule any unjust Presidential decision making. He wrote:

"Where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies." 

It is just as appropriate for us to pray accordingly for President-Elect Donald Trump. Now is not the time for compromising biblical standards in the name of political interest--it is a time for us to pray to the infinitely righteous God who rules over all. 

Whatever our response to the recent news that Donald Trump has been elected our next President, we need to be praying for him and his administration. The next four years will potentially bring unprecedented new dangers and challenges to our nation. Now is not the time for bickering or banter--it's time to bring our new President (and all of our leaders) to the throne of grace and to the One who rules over all. 

Time to Bury the Bibles?

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Few things bring out the hysteria in all of us like a presidential election. Perhaps only the close of a millennium (anyone remember Y2K?) can compete for catapulting Americans into a posture of fear and anxiety about their nation's collective future (or lack thereof). Don't get me wrong. I like to indulge in a bit of anxiety just as much as the next guy. And as I've contemplated, over the past few months, the direction our country might take under the leadership of candidate A or candidate B, I have often felt like I was nine years old again, reading a choose-your-own-adventure book where I'd managed to pursue a plot line with no remaining positive outcomes.

If asked, I suspect many American Christians would judge this most recent election the worst in our country's history (in terms, that is, of the perceived quality of their choices for supreme leader). But according to Daniel Dreisbach--in an article titled "The Wall of Separation" written several years ago for Christian Today--American Christians in election year 1800 felt just as worried, if not more so, than American Christians have in recent days about the future of their country under the leadership of either prospective president. The rather grim choice of leaders facing voters in 1800 was between the incumbent John Adams and Adam's own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, two men who had played pivotal roles in the founding of the young nation.

The biggest problem early nineteenth-century Americans had with Jefferson was his purportedly suspect religious views and his supposed sympathy for the revolutionaries who had turned France on its head a decade earlier. Actually, the two worries went hand in hand. The French revolution, whatever aims it originally embodied, had evolved into pronounced efforts in 1792 and 1793 (during Robespierre's "reign of terror") to eradicate Christianity entirely from the country (the "de-Christianization of France"): Christian Scriptures and artifacts were destroyed; Church buildings were converted into stables or temples consecrated to Human Reason; towns, streets, and squares were stripped of their Christian names; the seven day (Christian) week was replaced with a more "rational" ten day week and the year of the French revolution was declared "year one" in the new dating system. Many Americans assumed that Jefferson's election would set America on a similar course, and that hard won religious freedoms of recent years would be forfeited.

Jefferson's stated religious convictions did little to assuage such fears. To be sure, Jefferson's religious views were considerably more conservative than those of the atheistic revolutionaries across the Atlantic who were championing the Cult of Reason. His views were closer, perhaps, to those of Robespierre, who himself championed the Cult of the Supreme Being as an alternative to the blatantly atheistic Cult of Reason. But to most Americans that seemed a distinction without a difference. Most Americans--quite rightly, in fact--recognized that you either accept God's own revelation of himself at face value or not, and that a "God" made in man's own image offers little improvement upon no God at all. In other words, Americans appropriately saw through Jefferson's claim to be a "real Christian" since the Christianity he embraced disallowed Christ's deity, Christ's virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, and other biblical accounts of the miraculous. The Gazette of the United States summarized Americans' perception of Jefferson's religious convictions when, shortly before the election of 1800, it declared a vote for Jefferson equivalent to a vote for "NO GOD".

But to many Americans, Jefferson was the lesser of two evils. Adams, after all, was the incumbent (and who ever likes that guy?). Plus he was a Presbyterian, and many Americans -- though not most, as things turned out -- deemed Presbyterianism one degree worse than rabid atheism. No matter his suspect religious views, Jefferson remained particularly popular among New England Baptists who were more invested (for obvious reasons) than other religious identities in disestablishment. Fears that Adams was secretly plotting to impose Presbyterianism on the nation in toto seemed to be reaching fulfillment when Adams called for a national day of fasting and prayer during his time in office -- no doubt Adams intended that everyone should pray to the Presbyterians' God!

In the end, of course, Jefferson won. And, as Dreisbach observes, that fact led some American Christians to bury their bibles in their back yards or hide them down their wells (presumably above the water line), confident that governmental forces would be knocking on their doors shortly to inaugurate the de-Christianization of the United States of America.

Of course, those authorities never came knocking. In fact, the bulk of the peoples' worst fears about what would come after 1800 never materialized. And, to bring it back to the present, I'm guessing the worst of our present-day fears about what's coming under our now president-elect probably won't be realized either. In part, that truth is simple testimony to our tendency towards hyperbolic anxieties. In even greater part, it's testimony to the fact that, come what will, "God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne" (Psalm 47:8).

 

A Political Paradigm Shift for Christians

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With the 2016 Presidential election drawing near, Bible-believing Christians are as divided over their votes as at any time in recent memory. Very few offer support to Hillary Clinton, given her rabid support of abortion and disrespect for religion. The divide instead comes between Christians who plan to hold their noses and vote for Donald Trump and others who refuse to endorse such a scandalously ungodly man. On the one hand, we hear, "Save the Supreme Court!" On the other hand, "Disassociate from evil!" What we are really hearing is the shattering of a paradigm, in this case the evangelical willingness to compromise politically with "lesser evils" in pursuit of public good. A couple of realities are making this approach less palatable to many believers:

  • First, Christian involvement in politics has not succeeded in rallying a "moral majority" that will keep America from going down the tubes. The reality is that our generation has witnessed a spiritual and moral disaster of biblical proportions, even though "Christian" candidates have often won the elections. In this situation, increasing numbers of believers wonder if the pursuit of political power might be doing more harm than good. Might it be that the moral influence of Christians has been greatly lessened because we are seen to compromise on principle? Might the hypocrisy of, say, abandoning our moral convictions for the sake of a couple of Supreme Court seats (itself a most uncertain hope), actually speed the culture's rejection of Christian ethics? 
  • Second, we ask the question if the gaining of political power is the correct objective for Christians at all. True, followers of Jesus are citizens of the secular realm and have a duty to serve there as salt and light. But shouldn't the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 at least make our witness to the gospel and the character of God a higher priority? And if our political compromises have the effect of making a mockery of our witness, should we not stop making these compromises? In short, shouldn't we consider making gospel integrity a higher objective than political success?
  Whatever happens in next week's national election, it is clear that Christians need to think about an entirely new paradigm when it comes to political engagement. Do we consider a third party that would be explicitly Christian (following the example of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands)? Such a course would have cons as well as pros, but perhaps the time has come to give it serious thought. In the meantime, this unsettling election surely calls for believers to pause and reflect biblically. To this end, let me suggest 3 biblical principles that can inform not only our future paradigm but also our voting decisions in the coming national election:

  1. The Christian must trust in God, not in man. Psalm 118:8-9 says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes." Armed with this faith, there is no reason for Christians to support ungodly men or women as a "necessary means" to our survival and success. We have a sovereign, almighty, covenant-keeping God who cares for us. Why would we disgrace that faith by selling our support to political candidates of either party who behave in a morally contemptuous manner? Here is the question the world wants to know about us: Who do we trust, in God or in princes? 
  1. The Christian must aim for faithfulness, leaving the outcome to the Lord. This is not to say that Christians remain uninvolved in political or other public affairs. But being a Christian surely limits us from endorsing blatant sin and giving public support to grossly ungodly candidates. As Psalm 97:10 says, "O you who love the Lord, hate evil!" To this the pragmatists answer, "But the Supreme Court!" But the psalmist continues: "[The Lord] preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
  1. The Christian must prize the name and reputation of Jesus and think first about the spread of his gospel message of salvation. From this perspective, government persecution is not the greatest evil we should fear. The church often flourishes spiritually when under oppression. But the church is always crippled by hypocrisy and betrayals of our message. Far above any fear we should have of secularist oppression, Christians should dread a compromise to the public integrity of our witness to Christ and his kingdom.
  I find that these principles do not permit me to give public support (or my vote) to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for the simple reason that the lesser of two evils remains evil. I do not believe it is my duty to "win the election," but rather to conduct myself according to biblical standards of truth and grace.   I do not want to send a message to the world that my fear of tyranny and persecution is stronger than my faith in God to rule and protect. I know that many of my fellow believers disagree with this, either because they evaluate the candidates differently or fear that compromise is simply necessary at this hour. While I beg to differ, can we at least start a discussion after this election about our strategy for political engagement in the midst of a culture that happens to be the mission field for our witness to Jesus and his saving grace?

 

A Five-Fold Paradigm for Voting With Christian Wisdom

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When it comes to politics, the most frequently asked question is "who are you going to vote for?" As a pastor I seldom answer that question. I prefer answering another question which equips people to not simply know how to vote in one election but how to evaluate voting in any election. Therefore, the more crucial question is "how should I, as a Christian, prepare to vote with prayerful deliberation and wisdom?"

Given the position I have taken (for multiple reasons) to not publicly endorse candidates, I feel it is important to pastorally share a Biblical process by which candidates for public office should be evaluated. So, in light of the multiple texts in God's Word designed to guide us in evaluating leaders in general and civil magistrates (public officials) in particular, I thought it best to give a brief distillation consisting of a five-fold paradigm to prayerfully make a decision in exercising the providential blessing, duty and privilege to vote for elected officials.

The Five-fold Paradigm

  1. Character: Who are they? In considering a candidate the prevailing issue is character. In God's word when electing Elders multiple texts give us the qualifications that are essential. In I Timothy 3 there are 17 such qualifications. Of the 17, 15 of them deal with character and conduct. Who are they? In particular who are they when no one is looking or when adversity strikes? When under trial do they intentionally focus upon developing character that reveals to be a trustworthy leader? What is their track and what do they do in private to pursue character formation? "Circumstances do not determine your character; they reveal it and become the opportunity to refine it." It is crucial that we never fall prey to the old canard that "perception is reality." Perception is not reality. Perception is a part of reality but it is not reality.  A crucial reminder - When electing public officials, we are not electing a Pastor. We are electing a President or state/local office bearer. Furthermore, it must be remembered that at times, God's common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.
  2. Content: Do they know their stuff? While I fully understand the current climate manifested by a desire to elect an "outsider," (which has proven effective at times in the past) the undeniable fact is that governing in the public square whether an "insider" or an "outsider" requires a clear and knowledgeable grasp of the issues and challenges attendant to the office being sought. I lament the loss of the "public servant" in our government but I also understand that men and women who serve as civil magistrates must know what needs to be done and how to get it done. It is imperative that they "know their stuff." Have they demonstrated the ability to work with others while holding to principled positions?
  3. Competency: Are they effective leaders? Have they developed and displayed the skills to effectively lead others to achieve a noble mission together? In other words, can the proposed candidate produce unity when confronted by situations where a multiplicity of perspectives, a diversity of desires and a disparity of objectives are competing for supremacy?
  4. Convictions: What are their heart-felt beliefs?  Attempting to ascertain a leader's true convictions is a crucial component of deciding before the Lord if a candidate is worthy of our vote. Confessional convictions will ultimately be authenticated or exposed as superficial as a leader's operational convictions are observed. For example, if you desire to know what a candidate truly believes, take note of where they invest their time, abilities and resources. Another instrument to determine a candidate's true convictions is to note how he responds to adversity in life. Adversity is a test and a test reveals three things - what you know; what you don't know; what you need to know. So when adversity comes, what does the candidate do - learn, or die in a pile of self-pity? When adversity tests a leader, their response will tell you what their deepest convictions are and give you an indicator of how they will respond to the "pressure cooker" of public service and the temptations of power.
  5. Core: The foundation and capstone of candidate assessment. So how do we assess the core of a candidate's life and abilities and avoid being judgmental?The answer is simple, yet profound. A prayerful assessment of a candidate's past provides clarity for interpreting a candidate's promises in the present as well as anticipating how and what they will propose in the future. It is a truism because it is true. The best interpreter of the present and the best prognosticator of the future is a man's past. Furthermore, by examining the history of a candidate to know their core you also obtain an effective instrument to assess the four preceding components of the paradigm. One's history ultimately reveals the core of a candidate and in so doing brings light to determine the authenticity of their character, content, conviction, andcompetences. So, when assessing a candidate take the time to learn their past, to interpret their present and anticipate their future. But, it is also important to leave room for growth if the candidate's history has revealed a patterned commitment to being a humble and intentional learner.
A Final Exhortation - Prayer

The simple fact is that the responsibility of selecting leaders for the public square is of such importance that they must never be made without focused seasons of intercessory prayer seeking guidance from God's word and "wisdom from above." In God's Providence, many have died for us to have this privilege of voting. Use it wisely, and then, cast your vote under the eye of God.

No Waffle in the Gospel

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[The contents of this article reflect the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals or of the editorial team of Reformation 21.]

One of the best things about being a pastor is the freedom of knowing that you do not bear the responsibility to come up with something new, fresh, and innovative. Instead, each week when God's chosen servant steps into the pulpit it is his job to proclaim God's unchanging truth. The applications of that truth may vary in details from age to age and require some contextualizing, but, at the end of the day, we are to be heralds of what has already been given to us - and what has been given to us is consistent and unchanging in its content.

In part, this is what made the recent news about Wayne Grudem so troubling to me. That a theologian as well-known as Wayne Grudem had decided to endorse a particular candidate for President made major headlines. While I don't think there is anything wrong, per se, with an individual speaking his mind or stating his opinion on political matters, it is troubling when such an endorsement comes from a person who is known to be a trustworthy (relative to most political pundits anyway) Christian thinker.

The media focused on Grudem's endorsement since it is coming from a leading "evangelical theologian." At the time, I feared that the watching world, when they looked at evangelicals in light of this, would see us as power-hungry pragmatists. I also feared that the world would want to group evangelicals together in this seemingly unprincipled approach to politics. Initially I was troubled to see such concerns swept aside by the need for political pragmatism.

On Sunday, October 9th Grudem recanted his support. Some evangelicals were delighted to see Grudem's change of heart after the revelations of just how deep Grudem's endorsee had sunk in his objectification of women. The revelation that this individual bragged about sexually assaulting married women apparently caused Grudem to realize what a degenerate predator he was endorsing. He decided to retract his endorsement saying that he had not explored this candidate's history sufficiently and regretted making the endorsement altogether. I felt a measure of respect for this act, because at the very least the message the world sees is that evangelicals know when to fold and admit that even they have limits of what they can approve of. There are lines that even we will not cross.

I remember during a previous presidency when the leader of our nation was caught having sexual relations outside of marriage and lying about it. I was just a kid at the time, but I remember my own Father's support of his impeachment proceedings. I remember him telling me that if you can't trust a man to make the right decisions privately you shouldn't trust him making decisions for an entire nation, either. But of course, that was 17 years ago or more...an eternity in the political world. I won't say whether impeaching the unfaithful President was right or wrong, but what I do know is that if Grudem is representative of the evangelical world, then in its desire for power, it certainly seems to be a different beast altogether than it was even back then. I wonder if my father, had he lived to see our own day, would have changed his tune on the importance a candidate's private morality as well. I would hope not.

However, Grudem's retraction and expression of regret was over a week ago--an eternity in the political world, and now, apparently in the evangelical world too. This morning on my Facebook feed, three things were trending: The Nintendo Switch, Legend of Zelda, and Wayne Grudem. Wayne Grudem is suddenly big news again. On October 19th (a whole ten days after his retraction!) Grudem changed his tune again, this time again endorsing the candidate whom he had previously disdained for sexually assaulting women. In Grudem's piece he eschews any possibility of voting for a third party candidate (one wonders how Lincoln or John Adams would have made it into the White House if evangelicals had been around at that time!). In Grudem's moral calculus, there are not three or four choices for people to make, but only two.

If I may be direct, a constant waffling on this issue (and, in such an unnecessarily public way) is a tremendous embarrassment to the Gospel ministry and to evangelicals. I fear that in my old age, when I hear the name 'Wayne Grudem' my mind will not be drawn to his Systematic Theology or his work for the CBMW. Instead I will remember him for publicly changing his mind repeatedly on this issue and then telling others to do so. Don't get me wrong - changing your mind can a good thing - it's good to be corrected and to receive correction. There is nothing wrong with Dr. Grudem coming to a private judgment, casting his vote while holding his nose, and then walking away and trying to wish all of this was a bad dream. However, the question that baffles me is why, with every waffle, is Dr. Grudem making the cognitive choice to share with the watching world what instead probably belongs in a personal journal or diary?

In his latest endorsement, Grudem covers his tail a bit. He writes, "A caution: There are still three weeks until the election. Given the questionable backgrounds of both candidates, there may still be another major 'October surprise' about either Trump or Clinton - or both." Grudem wants to warn us that there may be another waffle coming. Perhaps this time Dr. Grudem will simply keep his ever-changing opinion to himself and save his friends and fellow ministers of the gospel a good deal of face.

Pluck Out...Your Candidate?

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I'll never forget the first year that I was able to vote. I had just turned 18 and could not have been more zealous to be part of the American political process. I spent six hours a day while I worked listening to angry talk show radio hosts who seemed intent on raising my blood pressure. I vehemently argued with (and regarded as an enemy) anyone who disagreed with me. If Facebook had been around I would have most likely have blocked anyone who thought differently from me. Thankfully the election eventually took place, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had played my part in the American process. As if emerging from a daze I went back to my regular life of spiritual devotion, church attendance, sharing the Gospel, and turning my focus more earnestly to the Lord.

Four years later, however, the daze occurred again and a similar pattern repeated itself. I devoted a solid 8 months (probably more, if I'm honest) pouring my spare energy into reinforcing my preferred choice and again trying to persuade others to join me in my "righteous" cause. This pattern has repeated itself for the last 15 years of my life, like clockwork. If my estimates are right, I have invested at least three whole years of my young life in politics; and, if I'm honest, I now regard them as lost years. I think of all the things I could have done during those 8 month cycles. I could have spent long stretches listening to good preaching instead of self-indulgent screeds. I could have read books about Christ instead of the opinions of pundits. I could have memorized the shorter and larger catechism. I could have memorized a book of the Bible. I could have spent time trying to persuade my non-Christian neighbors to come to Christ, or join my church. Instead, I tried to persuade them to join my political party and watched my blood pressure climb over events that I really had very, very little sway over.

With the advent of Facebook, the visible shift of focus for most Americans is startling. We had three years of some sort of normalcy (nevertheless characterized by bad news and cat videos). Now, the focus of nearly everyone has either turned to Pokémon Go or the election. Frankly I suspect that Pokémon Go may actually be of greater consequence than the election. At the least Pokémon is building non-volatile relationships!

This election year brings with it a choice between two human beings who (if I dare say so) nearly everyone seems to universally regard as despicable. Either candidate will be a loss for our nation and a harbinger of divine judgment. So how much time should American church members or ministers devote to picking their poison? I think a fair answer is, "Almost certainly less time than they are currently."

Now, to be fair, I can't and won't tell others how to spend their time. I am so far from being a perfect model of how to spend one's time. For instance, I read a stack of comic books this past year. I have hobbies and things that I do for fun that bring rest, relaxation, and pleasure into my life. I have been known to regain focus for studies or ministry after watching a TV show on Netflix. When I think of the ideally pious use of one's fleeting moments, I think of Jonathan Edwards, who resolved "never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can." This is not me (though I want it to be), and I do not speak as a perfect model.

However, of this much we can be sure: Jesus tells us that if something is causing us to sin, we should cut it off or pluck it out (Matt. 5:29). Brothers and sisters, if politics has become an idol for you...if political engagement is impeding the work of the Kingdom that you know you should be doing, Jesus commands you to cut it off. I can't tell you at what point political involvement has passed from the legitimate responsibility of a citizen into idolatrous waste. I can't tell you exactly what the best use of your time is at every given moment. If you find political investment to be fruitful, restful, and a source of joy and pleasure in your life, by all means invest yourself and pour yourself out for the cause to bring glory to Christ. But I would also encourage believers to ask themselves the following diagnostic questions. It is my hope that they may be of some help to our knowing whether we need to cut off our political hand:

 
  • "During this season do I have more or fewer relationships where I have opportunities to share the good news with a sinner?"
  • "Do I invest more energy in getting people into my political party than I do getting them in to my church?"
  • "Do I spend as much time having my soul enriched by the preaching of the Word as I do listening to pundits?"
  • "Are my anxiety and blood pressure higher during this season? If so, is politics worth the toll it is taking on me?"
  • "Do I watch too much news? If so, have I become more anxious, fearful, or angry?"
  • "Do I believe that the right candidate will bring the kind of joy into my life that only Christ can bring?"
I realize some will charge me with presenting a false dichotomy here. Surely some are capable of walking and chewing gum. I was not able to personally engage well in politics and the work of the Kingdom of God during the last four political cycles. I suspect I am not the only one. I am not suggesting that believers should have no place in political involvement. What I am suggesting is that because we are not only citizens of earth, but also citizens of heaven our investment in the earthly city of man where we currently live ought to be modest, measured, and balanced by the knowledge that Christ's "kingdom is not of this world." Of all people, we have our priorities straight.

Let us never kid ourselves into thinking that obsessive political investment on social media or in private conversations with believers or unbelievers will further the kingdom of God one inch. The kingdom of God is furthered by the proclamation of the Word and by the work of the Spirit in opening the hearts of people to receive the message of Christ crucified. The kingdom of God is advanced by the work of evangelism and discipleship--by using the means of grace that God has given to his people and His church. If something - anything - is impeding the work that you or I ought to be doing, Jesus commands us to cut it off or pluck it out from our lives. It would be better for us to enter heaven without our candidate than to enter hell with our candidate, would it not?

Adam Parker is the Pastor-Elect of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.

The World's True Hope

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Americans have come to one of the more exciting portions of the quadrennial election cycle in the national conventions of the two main parties. This invariably means non-stop media attention, partisan revelry, messianic symbolism, and the occasional significant speech. Without dwelling on the details, it may suffice to say that Christians are considerably less enthusiastic in 2016 than in prior years. The evangelical hope of cultural power through political engagement has dimmed, both on the left and on the right. American Christians look to the political parties and see little hope for the values and principles we have held dear.

Instead of confronting this situation with dismay, biblical minded Christians will have seen this coming, based on the Scripture's assessment of secular culture and history. Consider the very start of secular culture in Genesis 4. Here, we may deduce precisely the values and priorities that have in time captured American culture. It all started in Genesis 4:17, when Cain "built a city." (It was probably a fairly small walled town, but it was a start for human culture.) Its founding premise was self-will in place of reliance on God's will. There can be little doubt that Cain built his city as protection from the threat of harm, since he expressed this very fear in Genesis 4:14. Yet Cain did not need walls, for God had promised him protection (Gen. 4:15). Moreover, Cain's punishment for slaying his brother Abel was to remain "a wanderer on the earth" (Gen. 4:14). That didn't fit Cain's plan at all, so usurping God's will through self-will, he founded secular culture in his own city.

Notice, too, how Cain names his city. Throughout Genesis, godly people named places for the praise of God's glory. Not Cain! "He called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch" (Gen. 4:17). What Cain cared about was the glory of his own achievements and those of his progeny. Likewise, secular culture is all about self-glory, with no concern for the glory of God.

Fast forward few hundred years to the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, Lamech and his three sons. Here we see how secular culture is fixated on the sensual and worldly, with no concern for godly spirituality. Genesis gives the names of Lamech's two wives (imagine that - a reinvention of marriage!) and his daughter. Without giving the details, they all refer to the beauty and sex appeal of the women. How we have evolved since then! Then we consider the staggering achievements of Lamech's sons, who between them pioneer economics, the arts, and science (Gen. 4:20-22). These are good things in and of themselves, just as American culture is extraordinarily impressive in its worldly achievements. Noticeably absent, however, is worship and the knowledge of God. If Lamech founded a university, it would have impressive colleges of business, arts, and science, but alas no school of divinity.

So here was the founding of secular culture, based on the brilliant talents of the earliest humans. It is impressive and forward moving! But it is also self-willed, self-glorying, and sensual/secular. Sound familiar? Were we expecting something different due to American exceptionalism? The biblical fact is that once the influence of God's Word has receded from public life, there is no other possible trend for fallen human society. To cap it off, Lamech determines to use these cultural achievements not for civic refinement but to cement a tradition of rivalry and war (see Lamech's song, Gen. 4:23-24, undoubtedly performed in gangsta rap.)

As the Democratic and Republican conventions meet this month prior to squaring off in the fall, a biblical analysis of them is bound to see far more in common than in distinction. To be sure, there are meaningful differences in the two parties and I would never say they don't matter. But as twin secular movements, they are bound to draw from the playbook of Cain and his offspring. Thus, both conventions will give no place for God's Word, will glory in men, women, and earthly prowess, will highlight the fleshly desire for pleasure and prosperity, and both will take up the combative militancy of Lamech: "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me" (Gen. 4:23). To be fair, much of this is what political parties are supposed to do: they need to care about the economy, promote their own candidates, and sharpen swords against enemies, even if their primary enemies are sadly one another. But for the moral and cultural concerns of the followers of Christ, the likelihood of hope emerging from a now strictly secular process was never going to be great.

So where are Christians to look in seeking for hope in 2016? This answer is given in the last two verses of Genesis 4, which recount the line of the godly through Adam and Eve, Seth, and then Enosh. Here is the great statement that should fuel the imagination of Christians in America today: "At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26). Here we see the church in its infancy: in worship, prayer, witness, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me work this out briefly. Notice, for the first time in biblical history that there is public gathered worship of the people of God. While Cain and his line built their city, Seth and his family made of the church their spiritual city. Calling on the name of the Lord means that they worshiped according to God's self-revelation. They put their focus upwards towards God and prayed publicly. (Is there any greater indictment of evangelicals amidst the cultural ruin of our time that we still have so few prayer meetings?) They bore testimony to God and his saving promise (notice in verse 25 that Eve named Seth as the new "offspring" to replace Abel - i.e., she was trusting in the promise of the Savior through her line - Gen. 3:15). Their hope was in the Savior to come and they bore testimony to him before the world.

The world before the flood is a microcosm of all history. Genesis 4 details stunning earthly achievements and growing power in Cain's secular line. The church's spiritual presence seems so small in comparison. But Adam's line through Seth kept meeting, praying, and proclaiming the promised Savior. While Lamech's sons pioneered arts and industry, Seth's sons promoted worship according to God's Word. Throughout those long centuries, God preserved and blessed his godly people. In time, God's judgement fell on the wickedness of Cain's culture and by Genesis 6 all that was left in the world was the church.

What is the hope to which Christians should be looking in this world? Our hope is not in the secular city, which in time always reverts to the Cainite mean. Our hope is in God, on whom we call, to whom we pray, to whom we offer worship, and for whom we proclaim the saving work he has done and is doing through his Son, Jesus. This means that the world's true hope is in the faithful Christian church. So if you find yourself frustrated watching CNN or FOX News, perhaps you might turn off the television and gather for family worship. While I would never want to discourage Christians from legitimate callings in the public arena, you will find true hope by investing in your church. If there is to be a Christian hope for America in our time it will be because what was said of the line of Seth is said of us: they "began to call upon the name of the Lord." And let us not forget the gospel promise that goes alongside: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). There is the true and only hope for the world in 2016. Centered on this hope, Christians need not be dismayed after all.

 
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How should Christians act and speak in the midst of this loud and divisive political season?  While websites devoted to politics and news give you the latest buzz, polls, and minute-by-minute analysis, you will find Place for Truth slightly different, dare I say refreshingly different.  Place for Truth will not only provide a biblical perspective, but one from the past; a past that the Church should not forget. Each week new quotes, outlines, and sketches of important sermons selected and edited by contributor David Hall will be posted - sermons originally delivered in conjunction with an American election or an American political debate. 

Visit Place for Truth today to read David's inaugural post, "Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers," a sermon preached by Jonathan Mayhew in 1750. While there be sure to subscribe to receive updates from David and all of our Place for Truth contributors including Mark Johnston, Tim Witmer, and Jonathan Master, editor and host of the bi-weekly biblical doctrine podcast Theology on the Go

Is it possible that pastors from the past have something to teach us about political involvement in our own day?  We think so; and we hope that this wisdom from the past will benefit churches and pastors committed to faithful living in America today.  

Text Links
http://www.placefortruth.org/
http://www.placefortruth.org/columns/place-politics
http://www.placefortruth.org/blog/unlimited-submission-and-non-resistance-higher-powers
http://www.placefortruth.org/columns/theology-go


What should we look for in a candidate for president? That seems to be a pressing question for Americans right now.

Rick has recently told us not to talk up or opt for socialism because "socialism is evil." It's worth noting, I think, that his reasons for why socialism is evil apply fully to crony-style capitalism. It's actually rather striking just how Bernie-like Rick sounds as he protests socialism's tendency to yield an anti-work(er) culture of corruption that concentrates power in the hands of a few who trade in government favor. That's exactly Bernie's complaint about "the establishment" and bailed-out Wall Street, and its precisely why he thinks we need a little socialist revolution to right the ship of state. Bernie's message resonates not just because people like handouts but because there is some morally potent truth to it (as even Ron Paul has pointed out)--the same truth, more or less, that Rick was tapping to explain why Bernie's proposals are not helpful.

It's not clear to me that the potential evils of Bernie's socialism, however unworkable, are so out of proportion to the sins of crony-capitalism, or that there is anything like gulag-Stalinism in his rather Scandinavian suggestions, or that we're doing well to single out his platform for special criticism while remaining silent on the abuses that have helped make socialism a viable political stance on the American scene in 2016.

Don't get me wrong: my morally-infused political and economic views carry me toward a robust free-market polity and I have no more interest in defending Bernie (or any other candidate) than Rick does. I don't have any reason to suppose Rick disagrees with my take on crony-capitalism, either, which brings me back to my opening question:

What should we look for in a candidate for president? I actually believe God gives us some very practical guidance on this in Scripture.

First, some perspective: all who are in Christ are citizens of heaven and exiles scattered among the nations on earth (Phil 3:20, 1 Pet 1:1). This is crucial to understanding ourselves as voters. Our eternal happiness is not riding on the outcome of any candidate's campaign or party's platform or nation's might. We vote not because salvation hangs in the balance but because it is good and right for us to seek the common good of the communities of our sojourn (cf. Jer 29:4-9). Our concern as voters is just what conduces to the peace and prosperity (morally and materially) of every neighbor. Partiality, special favors, political vendettas, public venting: there is no place for these things in God's voting guide.

Second, a little more perspective: the office of the president is an executive office of rule and oversight in the administration of justice. The president is to defend and promote the good and punish wrongdoers and is entrusted with the power of the sword to do so (Rom 13:1-7). It's a weighty charge. He or she must never interfere with the church's ministry and must therefore recognize the proper limits of civil authority in general and the office of president in particular. Likewise, the president ought to always act as one worthy of honor and even obedience.

I know all that is old hat, but here's the thing: God has given us a set of qualifications to guide us in the selection of candidates for an office of rule and oversight. True, God gave this to the church that we might apply it to candidates for the office of elder, not the presidency. But they are mostly general qualifications applicable to any office of rule and oversight. Consider this list based on 1 Tim 3:1-7:

1. above reproach (perhaps the summary qualification)
2. faithful
3. sober-minded
4. self-controlled
5. respectable
6. hospitable
7. able to teach
8. not a drunkard
9. gentle, not violent
10. not quarrelsome
11. not a lover of money
12. a good family manager
13. not a novice (recent convert)
14. well thought of by others

None of these are specific to the work of the ministry of the church and all of them are directly applicable to the office of president. Take "able to teach" as an perhaps the most unlikely example. Some argue this is specific to the pastoral ministry of an elder in the church, but this is exactly what all leaders need to be able to do. Any leader unable to bring people along by his words will likely try to do so by force, much like a frustrated toddler who slips into a tantrum when he can't find the words he needs to get the job done. Leaders in all fields of service must be effective teachers just as they must be humble, quick to serve others, honest, courageous, and tested.

If you've not already done so, take this rather a-political list and hold it up against the candidates competing for your vote. You will find it illuminating. It may not yield just one person to support but I suspect it will help you narrow the field considerably. It may even narrow the field to none, in which case you will have to decide whether your conscience permits you to vote for the best available candidate or for no candidate at all. But however that may be, God has furnished the church with a list of qualifications to adhere to tightly in the one place in those days where the people had a say in who would be entrusted with an office or rule and oversight in their life. It is not just a necessary guide for selecting elders in the church, however, but a helpful guide for us today as we are called upon to do something similar in the civil sphere for the common good.

Socialism Is Evil

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In a recent blog post I urged the biblical basis for the spirituality of the church.  One of the points I made is that while the church does not meddle in civil government, it most certainly may speak against social evils.  Christians and pastors can and should speak out on evils such as racism, government sponsored torture, or, in this case, socialism.

I bring up socialism because I have noticed that it is becoming fashionable for Christians to denounce capitalism and laud socialism as a more biblical alternative.  I get how this happens.  Under capitalism, sin wreaks its usual havoc and the system is blamed for the injustice common to fallen human society.  There are biblical principles that seem to push back against capitalism - such as concern for the well-being of others - which really should be addressed to how people use the system rather than the system itself.   To be sure, capitalism itself provides no tonic for the disease of sin.  Moreover, Christians should be discerning enough to scorn the adolescent egotism of Ayn Rand-style capitalism and realize the need for government intervention against capitalistic abuses.  But in reacting against these, Christians should also have enough discernment not to endorse a system so inherently evil as socialism. 

So, biblically speaking, why is socialism evil?  Let me suggest three reasons:

1.       Because socialism is a system based on stealing;

2.       Because socialism is an anti-work system; and

3.       Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.

 

Let's look at each of these briefly:

1.       Because socialism is a system based on stealing.  The whole point of socialism is for the government to seize control of private property, mainly involving the proceeds of peoples' work, in order to give it to others.  (Note the compulsory aspect of socialism, which so differs from voluntary forms of communalism.) This activity is the very thing pronounced as evil by the 8th Commandment: "You shall not steal" (Ex. 20:15).    Throughout the Bible it is assumed that individuals have responsibility and authority over the property in their possession.  For instance, even when Peter was accusing Ananias of being greedy and dishonest, the apostle admitted the man's right to dispose of his personal property (Acts 5:4).  While there is a legitimate basis for government taxation, the simple taking of one's possessions in order to give them to others is not one of them.  Socialism is evil because it inherently involves stealing.

2.       Because socialism is an anti-work system.  Socialism promises to give a blessed life for free.  Today, Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders promises to give free education, free health care, and free vacation time, etc.  (Of course, since government does not create wealth, these things are only free as the money to give them is taken from others.)    As I listen to Senator Sanders, I wonder what incentive there would be to work hard.  Why would I put myself through the ordeal of discipline, sacrifice, and sweat, much less risk-taking business endeavors, if I can have a wonderful life without working for it?  In contrast to the ethos of socialism, the Bible is explicitly pro-work.  Paul writes: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need" (Eph. 4:28).  Here, the apostle not only urges selflessness with one's possession, but explicitly denounces the socialist ethos.  "Work!" the Bible says (2 Thess. 3:10).  And on the basis of your own work you should provide for your needs and you should voluntary support the church and others in need.

3.       Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.  The Bible's concern about human sinfulness (and its general approach of de-centralizing power) argues strongly against socialism.  Under capitalism, the individual has discretion to dispose of his or her wealth, which in some cases involves vast resources.  This may be done virtuously or sinfully depending on the character of the individual owner.  Under socialism, however, a small number of government masters has control over almost all of the resources of the entire society.  Unless one believes that politicians are inherently more virtuous than private citizens (and where one would get such an idea is a mystery to me), then this concentration of power is certain to work extraordinary amounts of evil.  Under capitalism, access to scarce resources is determined by how much money one has, and one's money generally reflects the market's value on his or her work contributions.  This will sometimes seem unfair, depending on one's perspective.  But under socialism, access to scarce resources is based on government favor.  This structure virtually reduces the society to slavery, eventually impoverishes everyone, and unfailingly promotes a culture of corruption. 

For these biblically-based reasons, I would urge Christians to refrain from giving praise (and political support) to socialism and candidates who promote it.  Alongside the Bible are the lessons of history.  To students of such arcane history as the 20th Century, the prospect of socialism is chilling.  There is a reason why some Americans want to erect a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, whereas socialist countries have built their walls to keep people in.  Socialism is a nightmare to those who actually experience it, whereas capitalism is deemed a paradise - without Christ, a false, materialistic paradise, to be sure - to those trying to get in. 

Capitalism does not offer salvation: only Jesus can deliver us from our sins.  Socialism, on the other hand, is a manifestly evil system from which we should pray to be delivered.

Two Kingdoms Politics [part 4]

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This is the fourth part of Brad Littlejohn's series exploring 'two kingdoms' theology. The introductory post can be found here, the second dealing with ecumenism here, and the third treating pastoring is found here. - Editor

When the subject of the "two kingdoms" comes up, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is the question of politics--God vs. Caesar, church vs. state, the challenges of Christian citizenship. This is in part due to the political language of "kingdoms," in part due to the fact that the Reformers themselves often used the language of the "civil kingdom" or "political kingdom" in contrast to the "spiritual kingdom," for in their era, unlike ours, pretty much any area of life beyond the inner realm of conscience was potentially subject to the authority of the civil magistrate. For us, though, with a more circumscribed conception of the state's responsibilities, this language can be misleading, and I have thus sought to emphasize in this series the full scope of what we might better call simply the "temporal kingdom," and waited until four posts in to broach the subject of politics.

However, the political question is clearly central to the two-kingdoms doctrine, almost as much today as it was in the Reformation era. Here the doctrine seeks to hold together the eschatological tension between Christ's insistence that "my kingdom is not of this world" with the triumphant declaration of Revelation that "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." On the one hand, there is clearly something about Christ's reign that is radically inward and hidden, that works by the transforming power of the Spirit rather than through the coercive power of the sword or the observable chains of earthly cause and effect. On the other hand, we have his promise that his reign shall not remain hidden, but at the last day shall be fully public, acknowledged by rulers and principalities. 

But what about in the meantime? Does the whole political and social order lie outside of the Christian message, as some would have it? And if so, is this because the Christian message is one of radical interiority, an antinomian proclamation of grace that never becomes incarnate, as libertines would have it? Or is it because the Christian message is one of a new law and a new social order unto itself, the church as alternative community, as Anabaptists old and new would have it? Or is the political and social order subsumed into the church's proclamation, such that the gospel is not rightly preached until it has taken on flesh and bones in a renewed set of laws and institutions, and in which we can point to these renewed laws and institutions and say "here is the kingdom in our midst. Christ's reign on earth has begun." Theocrats of every age have taught such a doctrine, and it persists in a subtler form among liberal social gospellers and conservative Kuyperian worldview warriors. Classical two-kingdoms thinking eschews all these alternatives, though I only have space for a few suggestive bullet-points as to how it does so.
Christ is reigning through worldly rulers and institutions to preserve his good world. Classical two-kingdoms thinking insists that even while asserting the centrality of Christ's saving work in the church and the hearts of the faithful, we must not abandon the rest of the world to the devil, or to some spiritual no-mans land. Jesus is Caesar's Lord, and obeying Caesar can be a way of obeying Christ.
Christ's temporal reign is indirect and mediated in a way his spiritual reign is not. Civil authorities cannot claim to speak directly for God or demand in God's name to always be obeyed. This may seem obvious to us, but certainly has not always been, and even today Christians easily fall prey to the temptation to identify some particular political institution as somehow the bearer of the divine will. Even when political authorities or earthly institutions are indeed doing the will of God, they remain fragile and fallible, not something that we can ever grasp hold of and say, "here indeed is the Kingdom."
Christ's temporal reign serves to guard the goodness of the created order. Political rule is not amoral or free-floating, making things up according to the demands of realpolitik. No, it is bound to the moral order of the world as God created it, albeit that order has been distorted by sin, thus requiring political rule to take a distinctively coercive shape. Because the fundamental task of political rule is the maintenance and flourishing of created goods, rather than the distinctive tasks of redemption, which are the chief focus of Scripture, the general norm of political rule is natural revelation and natural law, not Scripture, and hence Christians do not have anything like a monopoly on good government.
Christ's temporal reign cannot be fully separated from his redeeming work. Some two-kingdoms thinkers who make a great deal of "creation" and "redemption" as the division between the two kingdoms seem to forget that "redeem" is a transitive verb, and Scripture is quite clear that the object of this redemption is not merely the souls of believers, but the whole created order. To be sure, the application of redemption begins in the souls of believers, but it works its way outward (though never close to fully until the consummation). The world is broken, and is being healed. Political rulers ought not seek to pre-empt the shape of the new creation, but neither must they rest content with a fully broken world; inasmuch as Scripture reveals and the gospel enables a world ordered as it was originally meant to be, politics may be guided by this ideal and nourished by this Christian virtue.
We are then called to witness in a distinctively Christian, but always provisional, mode to Christ's temporal reign. What all this means is that there is a call to take our faith into the public square, and call rulers to account as fallible agents of the Lord. But the changeless and eternal spiritual rule of Christ is not mirrored in the radically changing and time-bound political order. We should not expect ready-made solutions from Scripture to the challenges of the 21st-century, nor should we forget that most political prudence comes from nature, not grace. And we should not expect radical transformation of the temporal order into the new Jerusalem; it can only ever hint at and witness to Christ's reign, not incarnate it. But that in itself is a potentially revolutionary Christian contribution to politics, since earthly politics is always prone to claim for itself an ultimacy it cannot sustain, or make redemptive promises it cannot deliver. Precisely by pointing to an excess that always lies beyond politics, two-kingdoms thinking promises to reshape political life even at its most apolitical. 

Brad Littlejohn holds a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh and is the Managing Editor of Political Theology Today, the General Editor of The Mercersburg Theology Study Series and can be found writing regularly at bradlittlejohn.com

I Love President Barack Obama, but...

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Facebook is an interesting utensil. People use it for all sorts of things (e.g., advertising, spying, networking). If you spend even the slightly amount of time there, you can also get a sense of what matters to people. Some highly value their family. Every other post is a picture of their child or their latest family vacation. Others use it as a means to argue about doctrine. In certain discussion rooms, it seems that every other post is about baptism or church polity. 

Along with the aforementioned, you further get a sense of who is politically inclined. Of course we should all be concerned about what is occurring in the government, both locally and nationally, but not everyone knows the particulars to same extent. However, what is interesting is regardless of the degree to which one knows how the US government functions and how policies are employed, almost everyone has something to say about President Barack Obama. Fox News' posts and certain underground websites' posts go viral over the President's desires. The Affordable Care Act and abortion are a couple of the latest controversies.

Over the years, however, I have refrained from entering most of the conversations on Facebook about the President. Like any form of online communication, it is too easy to be misunderstood. Perhaps I have waited too long. They say, "Timing is everything." Now, I have something to say. Here it is: "I love President Barack Obama and I pray for him."

It seems fair to suggest that many of us, who were raised in the US, were taught to fight for those things in which we believe. "Stand up for your beliefs!" "Find others who are like-minded and fight! Protest! Get others to sign petitions! Do what is right despite what others believe!" If that is not how many of us were raised, Facebook tells a different story. People have no problem telling you what they believe.

"The Affordable Care Act is not so affordable," they say. "We should impeach the President," some believe. "He really isn't American," they post. "The President is a Muslim," a minority suggest. 

Are these claims and suggestions true? You probably have an opinion. You may have even posted your thoughts on Facebook already. Thankfully, in this nation, we have "some" freedom to express ourselves, but in our expressions we should be balanced. "We" in the previous sentence could mean "everyone." As image bearers of God, we should all maintain balance in our comments, but for the purposes of this blog I am particularly interested in Christians.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the theological spectrum (i.e., reformed or reforming), your theology requires balance. Listen to a fundamentalist sermon that is all law and no gospel and you'll soon realize why we need balance. The law is good. It reveals our sin, points us to Christ, and directs our steps, but without the gracious gospel, we are in a desperate predicament. 

Similarly, when we make comments about the President (and anyone else for that matter), we should, likewise, attempt to be balanced. Most of the posts I read on Facebook, however, are far from balanced. You are entitled to your opinion. Please don't misunderstand me. I have my thoughts on the institution of certain policies, too. I have to remind myself to be balanced, though.

Jesus calls us to love (and pray).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).

Paul calls us to pray.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Yes, stand up for those things in which you believe. On many of them, I would probably stand beside you. But I hope, along with standing for what you believe, you can also, by the grace of God, obey your Lord. He tells you to love (and pray). By the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul also tells you to pray. 

Do you?

I understand. I can't read your heart. I don't know your motives. I'm not with you 24-hours a day. You may love the President as an image-bearer of God and pray a great deal, but my perception is something different. As you know, perception can be a gateway to reality. If all you did was write your wife letters criticizing her activities, she might begin to wonder if you really love her. A husband can respond all day long, "Of course I love you," but the portrayal reflects the contrary. As Christians, we must love everyone and pray for them. That includes President Barack Obama. 

I know you desire to see things change. You were likely taught that speaking out on things can lead to change. I was taught the same thing. Yet, while I know lifting our voices in one accord can lead to change, love and prayer can lead to change, too. I'm not naive. Love is not void of correction, but it is definitely much more than correction. 

I'm sure many people want me to say, "I love President Barack Obama, but..." (fill in the blank; lists all your disagreements about his policies). I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say, "I love President Barack Obama, and..."

"...and I pray for him."

Will you love President Barack Obama and pray for him, too. Will you allow your Facebook posts to reflect that love and heart of prayer? People are watching, and you may be providing a perception that is contrary to your heart's desire.

Fish-y Business at the Presidential Inauguration

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Over the Christmas holiday with my extended family, amid a full-blown but lovable circus of three to seven-year-olds that was rivaled only by the even louder football bowl game commentary emanating from the TV, the name of Stanley Fish came up in an unexpected burst of worldview conversation. Fish is a professor of humanities and occasionally writes opinion pieces for the New York Times. I like him not because I agree with all of his conclusions, but because he has exposed some of the dubious aspects of contemporary notions of fairness, neutrality, and procedure--over against truth claims, convictions, and honesty--espoused by certain streams of the Enlightenment political philosophy known as classical liberalism. (As it is used in the Fish school, "liberalism" generally operates according to a principle of "live and let live" and is not to be taken as a point on the political spectrum opposite "conservatism" or the like). 



Fish has long argued that contemporary forms of classical liberalism have transformed the current marketplace of ideas in the West into an arena of competing agendas and presuppositions rather than one of inclusivism and fair play. This has resulted, he claims, in a public square that touts virtues like openness, freedom, and tolerance while masking basic determinations to exclude all views that may threaten the accepted liberal ideology. [George Will has found a similar idea at work in the Vanderbilt "all-comers" policy here]. Unfortunately, because Fish's own worldview is not shaped by Scriptural revelation as the absolute norm, he chooses instead to swim the open waters of moral relativism, resting content to watch the world fight out its competing agendas (see his controversial essay, "Two Cheers for Double Standards" here [Caution: some strong language]). 



If you're still reading, and to spell this out a bit more, one primary tenet of classical liberalism is the idea that religious convictions about absolute truth have no place in public discourse. Play by the secular rules of debate or go home.  Bow to the limits we impose upon your religiosity or walk the tolerance plank. To put it bluntly, classical liberalism says, "For the purposes of public life, it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth, and you must speak and act accordingly or be dismissed out of hand or worse." The obvious hypocrisy is that while purporting to be tolerant of all views, this line of thinking is terribly intolerant of all views that are grounded in absolute and universal norms it abhors. 



Then just yesterday, a family member sent me the news of evangelical mega-machine Louie Giglio's dis-invitation by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Apparently, Giglio is suddenly a no-go to give the benediction at President Obama's second inauguration because in the 1990's he preached a sermon in which (by many counts, graciously and faithfully) he extended a gospel call in the face of sin in general, and the sin of homosexuality in particular (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; cf. Matt 19:5). It is plain that classical liberalism has just told Louie Giglio that he can be accepted as "affirming and fair-minded" only at the price of his theological convictions. It's a strange way to promote inclusion--excluding all who hold to orthodox Christian sexual norms--until you realize that what counts as "inclusive" has already been absolutely defined as excluding views grounded in those norms. 



An important point for readers of this blog is that in the coming years (and, of course, even now in the present), Bible-believing Christians will be more and more pressed to hide or revise their biblical convictions on a host of matters or else face being labeled "intolerant," "backward," "bigots" or even "evil."  My point today is that the very philosophy that stands behind such a threat is both hypocritical (because it makes universal claims as to what is acceptable while excluding yours, politely denying any inconsistency in doing so) and empty (because it has no ground upon which to assert the existence of the human rights it claims to identify and uphold).  



Of course, pointing this out doesn't mean that you will avoid being labeled an "unrepentant bigot"  if you remain true to the Christian faith, but it does mean that you will be standing in the only place that provides the kind of human dignity and purpose that, deep down (cf. Rom 1:18), all people know exists (but, sadly, many of whom refuse to acknowledge in their Creator and his saving purpose in Christ).  To put it another way, we should remember that to be truly loving, we sometimes have to say what is right, not merely what is nice (think of loving the alcoholic, for example), though we should pray we do so with humility and kindness. 



The apostle Paul knew how to remain faithful and gracious to the end despite all opposition and disenfranchisement, dismissal and mockery. He did so because his aims were decidedly other-worldly. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:8-10).



Of course, the suffering Paul endured was merely a sharing in the humiliation of the Man we claim is Savior (Col 1:24). And the apostle feared disloyalty to Him far beyond any revilement he might receive on earth. Should we in the coming days endure unprecedented dismissals, name calling, and worse--and we inevitably will--we will be in good company. Our vindication and reward, like Christ's, is not found on a national stage with a microphone but on the far side of the grave. Such a vision of the Christian life takes faith, to be sure.  Not a blind, backwards faith, not even a leap into the dark--rather, a faith founded upon the only reality in which life has meaning. So, friends, rejoice (Matt 5:11; Acts 5:41), endure (2 Tim 2:3), pray (Luke 6:28), remember (1 Pet 5:9), persevere (Acts 14:22), and welcome the painful privilege of fellowship with Christ (Phil 1:29). 


God, Politics, and Evil

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Strange things happen in the days leading up to a national election. This morning's case was courtesy of the center article at CNN.com which reads "When 'God's Will,' Rape and Pregnancy Collide" (Caution: the article contains explicit details). Whatever political hiccup has given rise to this media maelstrom, the article undoubtedly brings up a profound theological and, even more immediately, deeply personal question: Does God will unspeakable evil to occur?

Any biblical answer to this question must take into account the full scope of God's self-revelation in Scripture, bow before his transcendent wisdom, coordinate our ethical discourse to His character, confess our human finitude, acknowledge the futility of unbelief, speak of His redeeming work in history, survey His unwavering promises, hope in His final judgment, and always look to the ruling Lamb who was slain by lawless men "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23) to the praise of His glory.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to explore these Christian imperatives nor to evaluate the article's featured comments by Rabbi Harold Kushner (which are disturbing for their sentimentality) or Father Tom Reese (whose comments pose a false disjunction between biology and sovereignty). The intent here is to respond to what may be the gut-level reaction of too many who first hear of God's will and the world's wickedness in the same sentence. The article quotes Paul Root Wolpe, the director of the Center of Ethics at Emory University, as saying that the idea of God's willing (presumably, in any sense) evil is akin to asserting that "you shouldn't pull people out of the rubble because God intended the earthquake to happen or we shouldn't try to cure disease because it's God who gave us the disease."

Of course, we who hear such statements should respond with patience and charity. But we must also remember that the Bible understands such deterministic notions (and the passivity they entail) to be wholly antithetical to its own teaching concerning the will of God and human action, including the proper response of Christians to divinely ordained evil. For starters, David's violation of Bathsheba was evil because it was first an assault on God (Ps 51:4). Assyria received her punishment because of the God who controls nations as a man would wield a club (Is 10:15-16). Similarly, Christian service has value because of the Lord who consecrates it (Col 3:23-24). Though we cannot comprehend it, these examples alone teach that human action, whether for evil or in compassion, is intelligible only because of the God whose personal presence and sovereign will makes it so, and none of that entails the sort of God-endorsement of evil or Christians' toleration of it as the media seem to be suggesting.

So friends, in the face of evil, let's be biblical. Let's be Calvinists. But, as I've heard it said, let's be Calvinists "who sweat." Even better, let's teach and model the fact that it is precisely Calvinists who sweat, and sweat the most, because of the overruling providential activity of the God who calls us to action. Whether we pull people from rubble, labor to cure disease, grieve over horrific sexual sin, weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15), or hand over some water to a little one (Matt 10:42), our work will register in heaven and on earth according to the will of the God who bled.

Carl Trueman, reformation21 regular and Alliance Council member, explores the idiosyncrasies of modern American politics and stimulates a new Christian approach in his new book Republocrat. An excerpt includes the introduction by Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary and a sample chapter.


Watch for Derek and Gabe to blog through this volume. But order your copy now. P&R Books has allowed the Alliance to offer this new book at 25% off the retail cost, that's just $7.50.


Order now: http://www.reformedresources.org/books/republocrat/


Excerpt: http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID560462_CIID1947798,03.html


More on Trueman: http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID559376_CIID1936766,00.html

On Wednesday morning I watched my four-year-old son (the same one who raided Carl Trueman's candy dish) watch news footage of America's first black president.  I don't think he thought to himself, "That's a black man."  He just saw him as a man. 

Among America's many challenges culturally, okay let's just call them cultural sins, stands racism.  Some have called it America's original sin.  From the treatment of native Americans to enslaved Africans to Jim Crow segregation to inconsistent immigration policies you could easily make a case that "all are created equal" is easier said than done, a creed that doesn't always get practiced.

Will my four-year-old think differently about race because of this election and its profound significance? I think so.

I grew up singing "Jesus loves the children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, Jesus loves the little children of the world."  I sang that with all the other white boys and girls in the class.  When I did watch the TV and see the politicians, I saw one color.  Ford (of whom as a kid I had just a vague recollection, but come to think of it, isn't that sort of true of everyone's recollection of him?), Carter, Reagan, all white, every last one of them.  All 43 of them.

Will my four-year-old think differently about race?  I hope so.

 

Here's the point I'm trying to make.  The white ascendancy in American culture has not been positive for the American church's (in general) attitude towards and views of race.  I realize the election of one president is just that, an election of one president.  But it is still something.  Something that could have a longer term impact on the church, on our own kids, and what they think of the red and yellow and white and black children that God created.  Also, just to be clear, I'm not making any statement on President Elect Obama's policies.

 

Well, my country and much of the rest of the world are electric with the election of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States of America. To say that it is historic, is a gross understatement.

Justin Taylor and Al Mohler, have both inspired some reflection on the question of how we as Christians --Bible-believing, Reformed, Christians-- ought to pray for him, and I have freely borrowed many of their words and thoughts on this. But here are some ideas for leading our people to pray for our President-Elect. Barack Obama.

We ought to commit ourselves to pray for our new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We will do this, not only because of the biblical command to pray for our rulers, but because of the second greatest commandment "Love your neighbor" and what better way to love your neighbor, than to pray for his well-being. Those with the greatest moral and political differences with the President-Elect ought to ask God to engender in them, by His Spirit, genuine neighbor-love for Mr. Obama.

We will also pray for our new President because he (and we) face challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. We will pray that God will grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together.

We will pray that God will protect this nation even as our new President settles into his role as Commander in Chief, and that God will grant peace as he leads the nation through times of trial and international conflict and tension.

We will pray that God would change President-Elect Obama's mind and heart on issues of crucial moral concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.

For those Christians who are more dismayed than overjoyed about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance that as our President, Barack Obama will have God-given authority to govern us, and that we should view him as a servant of God (Rom. 13:1, 4) to whom we should be subject (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, again, we are to pray for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to thank God for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to respect Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).

For those Christians who are more overjoyed than concerned about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance of our ultimate allegiance: Jesus is Lord (and thus, He, not we, decides what is right and wrong), we serve God not man, and the Lord himself has promised to establish "the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him" (Malachi 3:18). Thus, where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies.

Without doubt and whatever our particular views may be, we face hard days ahead. Realistically, we must all expect to be frustrated and disappointed. Some now may feel defeated and discouraged. While others may all-too-soon find their audacious hopes unfounded and unrealized. We must all keep ever in mind that it is God who raises up leaders and nations, and it is God who pulls them down, and who judges both nations and rulers. We must not act or think like unbelievers, or as those who do not trust God.

Gospel and Politics

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I've been attending a very engaging Sunday School class this quarter on Ephesians, taught by John Light, an associate pastor at our church.  This past Sunday we were reviewing chapter two and chapter three.  To impress upon the remarkable nature of the Jew Gentile union, the one new humanity Paul speaks of, Pastor Light threw out a question:  Imagine what it would take today to get Christians who had a deep divide united; imagine democrats and republicans coming together.

The comment got a laugh.  But I found it a very significant question.  Here's my answer to what it would take.  It would take a much bigger view of the gospel than we normally have.  In fact, that, I think, is what Paul is impressing upon us in Ephesians 2-3.  The comprehensiveness of the gospel is what Paul wants us to see.  That it stands over any agenda, any situation.  Jewish Christians who didn't like Gentile Christians had too small of a gospel, and vice-versa.  Anyone who let social stratifications and social identities govern the way they related to each other as fellow Christians had too small of a gospel.  They hadn't realized the newness and comprehensiveness of the new people and the new reality that God is carving out through and in Christ.  Even the Ephesians, who might have had some anxiety over Paul's imprisonment (3:13), had too small a view of the gospel.  If Christ is the one "who fills all in all" (1:23) can we ever have a high enough view of the new reality because of the gospel?

Now back to the Red and Blue divide.  What will it take?  It will take a view of the comprehensiveness of the gospel that keep us from the temptation to hitch our wagon to a political party of political ideology--whether it be on the right or one the left.  Until we get past that we'll make divides in the body of Christ where there should be none.  The "we" I'm talking about here is not the "we" of Americans.  I'm talking about the "we" of the visible manifestation of the body Christ within the boundaries of the United Sates.

Conservative theologians were quick--and quite right--to point out the captivity of the gospel and of the church in the hands of the social gospel movement (in the US) or in liberation theology (in parts elsewhere).  That was and is a captivity to a political ideology.  It is also a cautionary tale.

So to answer some potential objectors.  I'm all for engaging issues, and some issues, pro-life, do matter more than others.  But when will we realize that political parties represent ideologies that have far more in them than a few issues that we (rightfully) care about?  To hitch our wagon to a political party, and sometimes we attribute messianic qualities to these parties and their candidates, is not the right direction for the church.

If we get angry at our brothers and sisters in Christ because of their party affiliation have we really grasped that Christ fills all in all?  Or do we think that an elephant or a donkey fills all in all?