Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Pickle for the Church

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' – Matthew 7:22-23

I’m trying to discern an important reality within the American Church with this post, and I acknowledge it may sound confusing. Thanks in advance for reading! I appreciate you. In the midst of my quest to help us navigate through a complex culture, and yes, help better understand how to work the Christian faith into the political sphere, I have come to an important point. I wouldn’t be surprised by, and wouldn’t be unhappy with, comments of all kinds with all kinds of emotions (assuming anyone makes it through this, my longest post to date). But before you do, please understand that this post is not about politics, and so I would prefer any comments not to be either. It is about my heart to see the openness to the Gospel not be reduced, the effectiveness of the Gospel not be complicated, and the truth of the Gospel not be compromised.

The most influential pastor, teacher, and author in my life to date has been John Piper. He has spent much of his last few years preaching on, and now publishing a book, Finally Alive, on a subject that is very sensitive. It is not talked about in many churches and Christians overall probably are in a dangerous position of misinterpreting or neglecting it as a simple command and reality: You must be born-again.

Not like Will Farrell in the Saturday Night Live skit (pictured) where he comes out of the womb as a grown, sweaty man with a mustache. But spiritually, like the Bible talks about in passages like “I will turn their heart of stone into a heart of flesh." This actually happens; it’s not just weird religious talk. Regeneration is a fancy theological word that scares most people away, but it is a truth taught in the Bible, and it either has happened to you or it hasn’t. I hope it has and I hope you have assurance of this.

THE BUSH LEGACY

At the risk of sounding controversial, I’ll present an example that brings this issue to the forefront in our country. Barack Obama was inaugurated into the highest office in the land this week. And that is exciting and historic. He follows in the shoes of George W. Bush, the most hated man in the history of the mainstream media. According to the worst, most exaggerated analysis, Bush ruined the economy, created a reputation around the world of distrust and manipulation, and invented a war for no good reason that cost 4000 American lives and a lot of money. By the best analysis, he created an environment and an approach to terrorism that has protected the American people from another attack on our soil.

Whatever you think of the man, whether you are a conservative who is frustrated with unfilled promises of initiating pro-life measures or irresponsibility with government spending, or a liberal who is appalled at his appointees to the Supreme Court or stance on stem-cell research, or a moderate who believes he and his cronies forced a war on the American people using bad intelligence and an obsession with power, or a ordinary American who doesn’t understand why he couldn’t secure your job or pay your bills; one thing is true: He is a professing Christian. According to Karl Rove, he read through the entire Bible every year, and though he never publicly declared the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation (to which it is not his duty), he never publicly denied it either.

A new article in The Economist, of which I am a loyal reader, would have you believe that his evangelical faith contributed to his personality as an “inverted snob”; that he overemphasized emotion – “particularly the intensely emotional experience of being born-again” – over “ratiocination”, which means the process of logical reasoning. This is a strange thing to say, however, because the experience of being born-again has very little to do with emotion, and it is such an experience that is enhanced and quickened by a healthy process of logical reasoning. I truly believe that the claims of Christianity are perfectly logical and relevant, and so such “ratiocination” is what people should be doing and if they do, it will lead them to the experience of regeneration if they search with their whole heart. Said experience may release intense emotions that are real, but the experience itself is much bigger, more lasting, and more significant than what we can express through emotions. Perhaps that is why the reality of new birth is misinterpreted and neglected in the Church today – people think being born-again is emotional, and therefore misread emotional experiences that they may have had in a church service for the necessary, authentic heart change that only the Holy Spirit can complete. And when the emotions leave, hypocritical lifestyles and confusing proclamation is the result.

THE TRUE HERO

It was my older brother who first pointed me to the argument that the hugely popular movie The Dark Knight, intentionally or not, is a portrayal and defense of the Bush Administration and their policies and governing style. Such an argument asks: is protecting people at any cost (i.e. violating their privacy to catch the bad guy) forgivable if it works, and the people are in the end protected? Could the real hero be the guy that everyone loves to hate, who abandons his reputation for the physical and emotional protection of the people? Is it better to take the fall and be looked at as a villain even if that means a hypocrite will be misrepresented as the hero? If so, is President Bush a hero disguised as a villain? Maybe.

Probably though, history will judge the President with more sophistication and factual analysis and not with the allegory of a superhero comic story. What is important for us in all this talk about heroes is the fact that George W. Bush does not claim to be or want to be the hero. And he won’t be misrepresented as that. This is important because he is not the hero. Jesus Christ is. And Jesus is not a hero disguised as a villain or a hypocrite misrepresented as a hero. He is sometimes a hero disguised as a good man, or a moral teacher, or a prophet. But whatever he is disguised as, it doesn’t matter because he is what he is. And that is God. And he gave up more than his reputation; he gave up his life, and suffered incomprehensibly for our salvation, so that we could, through faith in Him, experience new birth and enjoy eternity forever in His presence. He did more than protect us. He saved us from a force and a power more destructive than one million terrorist attacks: the holy wrath of God. And he is able to keep us from falling and to present us before His glorious presence, without fault and with great joy. Any other hero will disappoint us or ultimately fail in their protection of us.

BARACK OBAMA'S PROFESSION OF FAITH

The Church in our culture today should take note and be careful not to let a fundamental truth that Barack Obama is hazy on be thrown out with the garbage. Understand that I could never say that President Barack Obama is not a Christian. By Christian, I mean a person with a regenerate heart, who has confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior, possesses eternal life, has been justified once and for all through the atoning blood of Jesus, and lives a life that testifies to their profession. To say someone is not that is a presumption that is arrogant, ignorant, dangerous, and absurd, especially if that person says they are.

But, I am realizing now that I cannot comfortably say that Barack Obama is a Christian. And that is a problem when he claims he is. I have read lots of speeches, and heard lots of things that are greatly encouraging and inspiring, and get me excited. His selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration is great, but not as big a deal as either those who are furious about it or those who are excited about it would have you think. The fact that Warren, as a Christian pastor, opposes gay marriage is not shocking or newsworthy, especially seeing as how such a stance is in line with Obama himself. Warren’s prayer (video here) at the inauguration was strong and refreshingly God-honoring, which is a bit shocking (and glorious!), even though few news stories will cover it that way. Obama’s selection of Bishop Eugene Robinson to deliver the pre-inauguration prayer at the Lincoln Memorial is admirable in that it confirms his pledge to reach out to people of all faiths and lifestyles. But to Evangelicals it discredits any claim by him of desiring to hold up the authority of the Bible or of Jesus Christ, as a professing Christian would. So all this does not undoubtedly convince me that, as the Bible would define it, he is a Christian. So, I will opt not to comment on his faith, one way or the other, because, I (obviously) could never truly know his heart (though I’m convinced he’s not a Muslim, for what its worth).

POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE

All of this doesn’t really matter politically. In other words, the point where Christianity intersects the political culture should never be at the Presidential level. A President would never, and could never, defend policies and decisions ONLY on the grounds that the Bible says so, and expect or force the country to support those decisions and policies on ONLY the same grounds. Hopefully, the country will support most of the policies and decisions anyway, apart from faith, and the evangelism and Christ-like example that is seen will be more from the supporters than from the decision-maker himself. The President is not the Pastor in Chief. Christians and non-Christians should certainly have other reasons besides his professed faith to vote for or support him. As Martin Luther says, we should rather be governed by a “competent Turk than an incompetent Christian”. President Obama is clearly not incompetent (the oath slip was Justice Roberts’ fault, right?), and that is good.

We, as Christians, fight for causes like the sanctity of life because we believe that such things like abortion are not consistent with the teachings (proclamations and actions) of Jesus, and have no place in the kingdom of God. But we support such things not expecting unbelievers to agree with us on the basis of a book that they don’t believe in, but (hopefully) on the basis of a consistent love and support for not only the baby but also the woman and the family that we demonstrate. That such an approach is also consistent with the teachings of Jesus will, God-willing, become apparent to an unbeliever after the fact, not by our proclamation, but our demonstration. Of course, like I’ve said before, this at no point requires the abandonment of our proclamation – it’s just that the proclamation likely won’t be the persuasive part, from a political standpoint.

So we pray for and support our President, and don’t expect him to defend the sanctity of life, for example, only on the basis of biblical faith, but on the basis that it is more consistent with the innate rights of all Americans (and humans) according to the Constitution (the rights of the unborn do not negate the rights of a woman, so you can support both, but I’ve covered all that before). If it just so happens that such a stance can also be supported by a biblical Christian faith (which in this case, it can) – that’s a bonus, and hopefully, a perfect opportunity for Christian citizens to share that faith in the context of a particular issue and create the question that only the reality of Christ can answer.

THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Theologically, and missionally (concerning the church), though, the professed faith of Barack Obama is significant, and it goes back to the #1 reason I did not vote for him. It is not significant because it disqualifies him one way or the other for the highest office in the land; it is significant because it presents a man in the highest office in the land professing a biblical Christian faith that may not be that biblical, or that Christian, according to the traditional, understood definition. This doesn’t make Obama a bad person or a bad President (and he may even be a Christian, he just doesn’t explain it very well). But what this does is not only expose a major problem in the Evangelical Church today – namely, people who profess new birth in Christ without really having it – but also it justifies a vague, inclusive, warm and fuzzy definition of a faith that is anything but. It would be much better, in my opinion, for the Church and the advancement of the kingdom, if such a high profile individual was crystal clear either way, not vague enough in his faith for the question to be the subject of the blogosphere.

The more confusion and speculation without a clear answer opens up the possibility for people to want to become a Christian to be like Obama, instead of to be like Christ, which in the end may not be saving faith at all. (“Obama is awesome! That is what a Christian is? Ok, I’ll be like that.”) Better to not ask the question at all and allow people to come to faith authentically, savingly, apart from the example of a person who, whether he is a Christian or not, does not represent or speak for the faith in the appropriate way. This of course does not imply that he does not represent the country well – that is yet to be seen, and so far, I am pretty optimistic despite my thoughts pre-election. It also does not mean that Barack Obama can not indirectly be a witness for Jesus Christ. He can. It also does not imply that Obama using his faith, whatever it may be, to influence his decisions is a bad thing and is altogether outside the Sovereignty of God or a biblical kingdom agenda. It is a good thing and it is not outside these things. But if it’s his intention to do this in the name of Jesus (which I don’t think it is), than he should rethink the way he articulates some essential doctrines of the Christian faith. If it’s not his intention, than he should not out rightly say that he is a Christian and also say that there are multiple roads to salvation. That is confusing.

It is better to say you are not a Christian (even a Muslim) than to say that you are a Christian but don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. To say you are Christian and believe things that haven’t, or not believe things that have, been understood to be included in the definition since the time of the early church, is hopelessly confusing. I really hope that makes sense despite the fact that the previous sentence may have been itself hopelessly confusing. To put it more simply, it is better to, like Bush before him, avoid the conversation about the exclusivity of Christ in your profession of faith. As President, he is not obligated to defend such a doctrine; but as a Christian, he should never out rightly deny it, or his profession will be confusing and suspect.

Barack Obama is obviously not the only person that raises this concern. There probably are church members and even pastors all over the country, tragically, who fall into this category. But it just so happens that Obama is the most visible, and so I am calling him out. He probably will have no say or even exposure to the conflict in the Church that I am indicating – and he shouldn’t – he has a country to run. But, the conflict will continue and escalate nonetheless. What I care about is that Christians proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that is complete, true, and saving, so that no one would perish, including the President. I care that people who claim they are saved, are really saved (for their own good), and that people who are unsaved, know what it is and what it looks like to be saved, so there is no confusion and so that their road to salvation can be clear and undisrupted by deception from the enemy (which is real).

The cleverest trick the devil ever pulled was convince the world he doesn’t exist (Usual Suspects) – and then the next most clever was to convince people they belong to Christ when they don’t. The Desiring God Conference for Pastors is going to address this problem and the challenge of evangelism to professing Christians in a talk called A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep, by Matt Chandler. And then finally, I care that we as Christians would trust our Sovereign God with the outcomes and to be faithful with our boldness and courage and sacrifice, knowing that He works together all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

CALL TO RENEWAL

Barack Obama essentially explains the human condition (and later his own faith) in his Call to Renewal address in 2006:

“If we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution. This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

“Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.”

But he does not make it clear that the answer to this condition is the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. A church, doing good things and helping people without the Lordship of Christ, is not enough, and will not ultimately save anyone from anything.

“You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.”

Jesus Christ is more than our “ally”. As a politician, it is not his role to make this clear. As a Christian, on the other hand, it certainly is, and so if the purpose of this address was to defend his Christian faith, I find it wanting. Please (this is a humble plea) understand though, that all this talk does not take anything away from the positive change that even non-Christians can initiate, and it does not give Christians an excuse to lose grace at the expense of the truth. Remember the pendulum. As a politician, much of what Obama says in this same address generates an “Amen!” from me, as it relates to faith in politics:

“More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny…….

“In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that. (
ironic?)

“But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

UNCEASING ANGUISH

From a political perspective, it probably is better to have an effective leader who speaks this way who leans center-left, than an ineffective leader who leans center-right (though don’t think I’m going to budge on the issues I’ve defended up until this point!). So in that sense I’m ready and excited to support Barack Obama as President. From a Christian perspective, however, Obama presents a pickle for the Church. He seems to speak more about his God than the God of the Bible, and often his use of Scripture is taken embarrassingly out of context (the inauguration speech was no exception). That is not what professing Christians should be doing.

My point with this post is not simply to say that many professing Christians (like Obama) are not actually born-again and so shame on them (though that may be true). My point is to avoid such confusion at all costs. My point is to reveal that the statistics showing that professing Christians care more about their retirement accounts than they do the poor, and in general live morally very similar to the rest of the world; and the speeches confusing the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not acknowledging Him as unique and necessary for salvation, point out a problem in the Church, and call for a reprioritization of truth and grace that is much closer to the Bible and much closer to Jesus than what we see now. My point is to use the new President Obama as an example to make the plea that professing Christians everywhere should understand what they are professing, and faithfully defend it with proclamations and actions that are biblical and that look and sound like Jesus. Otherwise, evangelism and discipleship is going to be very difficult in this generation mostly because it will be immeasurable, and many will perish simply because they didn’t know any better.

If you disagree, I would ask, do you at least agree with my definition of what it means to be a Christian? If not, let’s talk about that more and put politics and everything else completely aside for a bit. Just to give you a fair warning though, my defense of my definition of what it means to be a Christian will essentially be a defense of the Bible, and any other source of a definition I will not entertain for long. If that makes me a fool, I will die on that hill. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about me.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. – Romans 9:1-3

Despite that wish, the Apostle Paul knew that he could not be cut off. Like Paul, I’ll entrust that truth into the care of a Sovereign God, and pray for President Obama and others accordingly.

God can and will perform miracles both in our private lives overcoming hard hearts, and in the public arena overcoming previously insurmountable obstacles. In the same week a plane safely landed in a river and an African-American became President of the United States. God, as always, is up to something.

4 comments:

dottie said...

Loved this quote from Piper’s article about USAir Flight 1549: “God does not owe America anything. We owe him everything. And instead of destruction, he has given us another soft landing. We are not dead at the bottom of the Hudson.” I might argue, however, that some of us are dead at the bottom of the Hudson, spiritually speaking. But I realize that wasn’t the figurative meaning Piper was getting at… Anyhow…

I think we don’t talk about being “born again” and truly being repentant primarily because we fail to understand the gravity of the matter. (“We” being Americans or the American church, generally.) We try not to see what’s really at stake: our lives, our eternity. We also typically avoid admitting anything that comes remotely close to confessing just how depraved and lost we are or identifying our desperate need for a Savior. Isn’t self-sufficiency the “American way”?

Also, as what seems to be a rule or measure of courtesy, we rarely engage ourselves in meaningful, awkward conversations. I mean, I’m all for throwing down some awkwardness for the sake of a laugh, but for the sake of a soul? I don’t do that very often. And I’m calling myself out on that…

In another direction…

I have tremendous respect for John Piper, but I suspect that if many people who closely follow him—or follow other great men like him—truly searched their hearts, they might be surprised to find they are really following John Piper, instead of Jesus. Now, thankfully, John Piper is following Jesus, so the consequences aren’t so devastating, but I use this as an example of how skewed our allegiances can be, even when they seem to start out harmless. I don’t pledge my allegiance to John Piper, just like I don’t pledge my allegiance to Barack Obama. Both men are great leaders in their own right, and I’m thankful for the way God has used and is going to use them. But I will consider neither of them as my ultimate source of hope or direction.

And therein lies where I think many people fall off the deep end. We’re constantly putting our hope in all the wrong things, things that will never satisfy. We’re content to hope for security in our bank accounts, for stability in our relationships, for health in our families, for potential in our ambiguous future. And we leave it at that, because it’s easier than hoping for the Savior of the world to accomplish His purpose, to make all things new, to hold all things together. That’s not to say He isn’t in the middle of doing all those things; He absolutely is. It’s just that we don’t see it or believe it, because we’re lazy. And probably utterly blind sometimes. Isn’t taking the easy route also part of the proverbial “American way”?

And I don’t know that any of that has really addressed the points you’ve brought up in your post, or really added anything new, but it’s what was on my mind after reading.

A final note concerning misplaced hope: This just in—they’re selling Obama car air fresheners in DC. I hear it smells like HOPE, which I imagine to be a bowl of ripe tangerines or a basket of fresh pineapples. Mmm. Hope.

Joey Elliott said...

Thanks for your comments. Although from them, I couldn't tell if you agreed with my evaluation of the problem I see in the Church and the added difficulty that Obama presents with his professed faith.

I agree with your assessment about why we don’t like to talk about deep, grave, eternal things, but was disappointed by what seemed like weariness in being able to do anything about it.

I guess what I really need to do is offer a solution. The starting point is clearly that the Bible (and the truths found in it, such as new birth in Christ) need to be more faithfully taught in our churches. I fear for the Body of Christ if we are becoming less comfortable talking about eternal things, instead of more comfortable, and if we are becoming less familiar with the Bible and the Gospel instead of more familiar. If we (America) are unable to face and understand our sin, and grasp the Gospel as taught in the Bible, because it all is too grave or whatever, than authentic salvation is going to be hard to come by in our generation. But if we preach the Bible and stop assuming that people are too cool or too lazy or too far gone for Jesus, than I believe there can be revival very soon. At least that is how God is challenging me.

I also couldn't tell if you were implying that my post(s) read in such a way as to lead you (or anyone) to believe that my cues from Piper are unhealthy. Having read and listened to him as much as I have, such a concern has certainly crossed my mind. In response to it, I wrote this some time ago (if nothing else, perhaps this will be helpful for someone struggling with allegiance to anyone but Christ):

"People smirk when I quote John Piper and they give me this look that says, ‘Why does he always quote John Piper? Why is he always reading and listening to John Piper? Does he worship John Piper?’

To which I respond: What if you went through your whole life, and upon standing face to face with King Jesus, the Creator and the Judge of the universe, you realized that no one had ever told you just how important this moment was, and just how much you would regret, even if having been saved by the skin of your teeth into eternal life, not living your life passionately for the glory of God and instead for temporary, fleeting pleasures. Imagine if no one boldly and authoritatively had told you that illusions such as retirement, and money, and toys, and leisure, were all unbiblical and potentially devastating if not used for the glory of Jesus Christ. Imagine if you sought after all these things, not only because of evil desires to pursue your own pleasure, but also because no one had ever told you that you should ever consider fervently seeking after anything else.

Then imagine if someone came along and passionately pleaded with you, in a manner and style totally shocking to you, and with a boldness and authority totally convincing to you, that you should not waste your life but instead give it up for Christ and His Kingdom, and whatever that means for you; whether early death, or suffering, or the lack of luxurious years of retirement; whatever that means for you, it will be better and more fulfilling and more satisfying and more eternal than standing on that day in front of King Jesus with regret. Wouldn’t you pay attention to someone who talked like that? I would, and I have in John Piper.

John Piper himself is but a vessel. He is like a vapor, same as you and me, who will be gone before too long. But I thank God for him, because he has shown me a picture of Jesus and a passion for Jesus and has given me such a desire to live for Jesus that without his example, perhaps I never would have seen such a picture, or never have had such a desire. And that would have been unfortunate for me on that day when I am to give an account to my Lord and Savior."

That was helpful for me to reread and I’m glad you brought it to mind.

dottie said...

Sorry my last comment was vague. Let me write a bunch more and probably muddy the waters in a lame attempt at clarity. :-P

I do agree with you about your assessment of the predicament the Church is in and how it is compounded by the fuzziness of Obama’s professed faith.

For the record, I don’t think you worship John Piper. I didn’t mean to insinuate that. I was more or less just using him as an example since he’d already been referenced in the post, but I think there are people/figures that many of us could find have taken the place of Christ in our hearts or minds from time to time.

For me, I find this is evident when I’m struggling with something and my initial thoughts are things like, “What would Anne Lamott or Lauren Winner say about this?” “Didn’t Oswald Chambers or Tozer write something about this once?” And while that’s not terrible in and of itself—it can be such a blessing to have the thoughts of so many great minds available at our disposal—when I realize “What does the Bible say about this?” is a measly fifth on my list, I’m convicted.

I think the danger in following someone (who isn’t Jesus) so closely (an author, speaker, pastor, whatever) is lessened significantly when that figure points or re-orients us heavenward (as I would say is almost always the case with Piper and the others I mentioned). I’ll leave it up to the Holy Spirit to convict believers when those good and wholesome pursuits become more like idols.

The point I was trying to make was that it’s much too easy to get wrapped up in someone’s ideas or interpretations and be distracted from Christ and led in the wrong direction, so I’m just saying people should be extra cautious. I’m not saying we should stop looking to leaders of the faith or others for advice, counsel, biblical knowledge or wisdom—God has gifted them with that insight, and we certainly should tap into it. I’m just saying that we should always be thinking critically and praying for the Spirit to guide and guard our hearts and minds. That probably goes without saying, really, but sometimes I need a Captain Obvious reminder.

As far as what the Church should do about the pickle we find ourselves in, I think we should start by praying for endurance and boldness; endurance to continue on the journey and boldness to speak the name of Christ. Even if my last comment made it sound like the task is hopeless or too tough to tackle, that’s not what I intended. I’m not all about just throwing in the towel because eternal conversations are simply too difficult, but I know that, when given the opportunity, I won’t always proclaim the difficult truths of scripture in my own strength. Sometimes, life can be a bit overwhelming, and I lose focus and motivation. So, step number one: pray for strength (and for the Spirit to lead).

Then, we should pray for and seize opportunities to exalt Christ, in our words and actions. (I suspect it’s the follow-through on this one that might cause some trouble) This means not avoiding the tough topics (theological, political, etc.) b/c they’re controversial. It means being able to tell co-workers why we’re hopeful in Christ. It means being present for others in tangible ways to meet their needs: grocery shopping for a co-worker who doesn’t have time b/c she’s taking care of a new baby and ill parents. Probably again, a lot of Captain Obvious peeking his head through, but sometimes he’s Captain Overlooked in my life.

I think every situation (especially our current political one) provides opportunities to share the Gospel. What better time than now to be asking co-workers what they really mean when they say they are so hopeful now, when they were so downcast before? What better tactic than to use current events as a springboard into deeper, eternal topics in conversations with family and friends? So the action step is to actually have those conversations, not just think they would be really great if they ever came up.

Most of my ‘solutions’ would be small-scale, relationally-based, like the ones I already mentioned, but I’m not against praying for a large-scale revival in the Church and acting in ways that would bring about that change. I just tend to think more locally than globally, more personally than collectively. But I would be very interested to hear other’s suggestions for a re-birth of the American Church, a return to basics, to the foundational cornerstone of Christ.

Sara said...

Joey, thanks so much for your post! I appreciate the time and spiritual energy you put into leading the Church back to her center - Christ.

It seems that this dialogue points to an age-old division in theology argued by scholars. I'll call it Paul's Gospel and Jesus' Gospel. Jesus' Gospel (if you'll allow my reductionism, which is inherently flawed) is come to me. Love as I love. Follow me to the Father. Paul's message is follow me as I follow Christ. Christ's love is your salvation.

Only a superficial reading of Scripture would allow critics to think this, they're actually two sides of the same dazzling gem. Paul's message can be pointed to in passages such as Romans 3:21-26 or Romans 5. He draws lines that point towards heaven and away from hell.

But this must be read into the full portrait of God's kingdom and His grace. Take for example the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. This shows the "in/out" line also includes our treatment of those around us on earth. So the kingdom of God is realized both in heaven AND on earth.

It angers me to live in a world in which I have to hierarchalize critical attributes of God's kingdom as more important than others. Jesus passionately cared and continues to care about the sanctity of life - ALL life. So why as an American citizen must my vote choose between the sanctity of the born and the unborn? Between the poor or the weak?

The exclusivity of Christ is unquestionable. Scripture is clear. However, it is the exclusivity of Christ that we have so staunchly preached as evangelicals that has excluded so many from His love. The face of Christ has become grotesquely marred by ever-emerging child molesting Christian leaders and acts of human torture.

The canonical biblical text includes four accounts of the Gospels. These include different stories and perspectives, and were intended for different audiences. We the Christians of the United States must adopt the same malleability employed by the Holy Spirit in contextualizing the Gospel for the hearts of our 21st century generation. Our Savior must be re-represented to the world as a truly loving Savior. This in no way denies any part of the scripture, but chooses to give God's world His loving grace in the context of its desperate need.

Obama's speech on religion sought to accomplish an important end. He called the American people back to their need for something outside of themselves. This bypasses the stubborn insistence on the ability of the individual and points to something larger. This step is inherently incomplete, but abundantly necessary.

On a related note, the rhetoric of both of these men must necessarily be read into their own context. The innovation of Bush's election campaign was that he mobilized the evangelical voters, a large and critical mass that most point to as the deciding factor in his re-election. His rhetoric therefore needed to reach out to evangelical voters and prove his faith. Obama, on the other hand, needed to appeal to moderates on both sides of the aisle. His rhetoric therefore embedded Christianity in it to assure the moderate right but veiled it enough so as not to alienate the left. In the midst of all this politicking, we must be wise to remember their election goals and strategies before we judge their true faith on their election rhetoric.