ICYMI: The SBC has a new president. Just a few weeks ago J. D. Greear was elected to the office, the youngest person to hold it in decades. His election signaled a possible shift in direction for the SBC, as his support came largely from younger voters disenchanted with their denomination’s unabashed attachment to Republican politics and Donald Trump and anxious for a new direction.
But far away from the halls of power in the SBC, it is a completely and totally different world. This piece by Stephanie McCrummen at the Washington Post looks at a smalltown church in southern Alabama. What happens when the pastor–who is an unabashed Donald Trump supporter even after Golden Showers, Stormy Daniels, Charlottesville, “shithole countries”, “grab ’em by the &#(!!”, and all the rest–decides to preach a sermon series on the Ten Commandments? What happens when he gets to #6 (“Thou shall not commit adultery”)? Knowing that his man Donald Trump is a serial adulterer and he is going to have to speak to that in some form or fashion, what does he say? Well you’ll have to read the story to find out but yeah, it goes down about like you would expect.
Today I direct your attention to a post by Pete Enns entitled “The Path of Wisdom: The Bible Actually Invites Us on a Quest“. Enns takes issue with the traditional evangelical view of the Bible as owner’s manual, field guide, etc. and that the aim of faith is to achieve certainty, which the Bible provides. In his view, the Bible exists not to provide answers but to cultivate wisdom, a thing which is learned over a lifetime of wandering along the unscripted journey of Christian faith.
Read: The Path of Wisdom: The Bible Actually Invites Us on a Quest by Pete Enns
Today I direct your attention to a post at the blog of Clint Schnekloth entitled “Illegal Theologians“. The post is a reflection on how Bonhoeffer’s view of discipleship evolved from other-worldly monastic community as a pushback against the “cheap grace” offered by the secular world to a discipleship that engaged radically with this world.
One big takeaway is that one should not look to Scripture for absolute certainty on a course of action before acting. That is not what Scripture was intended for; if we could look to it for absolute certainty on anything before acting then there would be no need for faith. If you know what you need to do then just do it; the assurance will come later. A clear example of this is the Pharisees in Luke 14; they had all the answers from the Jewish Scriptures of the time yet were speechless before Jesus on questions of basic humanity to which even the simplest among us know the answers. Another example is the Paige Patterson scandal earlier this year; a post which appeared at Mere Orthodoxy during the scandal took him to task (rightly) but then devolved into a lengthy attempt to find Biblical warrant for that position–as if you still need chapter and verse to back you up when the answers are as obvious as the nose on your face.
So don’t sit around waiting for assurance from Scripture when you know what you need to do. Just do it, and the assurance will come later.
Today I direct your attention to one of the most beautiful and poignant posts Michael Spencer has ever written. This appeared briefly on his blog back in 2007 but was quickly removed; some felt that this degree of transparency and vulnerability in a pastor/teacher was just too much. There is not too much more to say about this; suffice it to say that one can live a life surrounded by the people of God and the things of God and yet totally miss God.
Read: I Miss You (A Lament) by Michael Spencer
Today I direct your attention to a post by Vance Morgan at Freelance Christianity, entitled “To Whom Do You Belong?“. In this piece Morgan grapples with the question of whether being Christian can necessitate accepting some political positions while rejecting others as out of hand. Morgan comes down on Micah’s directive as a litmus test: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Or to put it another way, with which those of you who attend my church will be familiar: “What does love require of me?”
Here is a choice quote:
But the requirements of justice, mercy, and humility are a constant litmus test for the beliefs and actions of any person who claims to be a follower of Christ. All Christians—from self-described conservative evangelicals to the most dedicated liberal progressives—should regularly apply this litmus test to their political and social commitments. A commenter on “Who Is Their God?” put it succinctly:
“The coming months will be the opportunity for Christians to think carefully about what has happened. They will surely be confronted daily with decisions and statements that fly in the face of the gospel. Are they more white, more anti-whoever, more willing to compromise spiritual integrity for political ends or are they Christian? Let’s see how long it takes for people to decide where they are on the most important question they will ever have to answer. This is an opportunity for people to answer the question, “To whom do you belong?” As Robert Jones in “The End of Christian America” has suggested, this may be the time for church members to understand whether they love their baggage more than they love Jesus.”
Today I direct your attention to a piece by Skye Jethani in which he notes a disturbing trend: There is a growing divide between evangelical leaders and ordinary rank-and-file evangelicals. This is clear in the political sphere, in which the views of Tim Keller, Mark Galli, Russell Moore and other respected evangelical leaders are diametrically opposed to the 81 percent of American evangelicals who put Donald Trump in the White House.
But it isn’t just politics. It is also in matters of theology and doctrine. A vast majority of rank-and-file evangelicals have a dispensational, Left-Behind-esque view of the end times while a very minuscule percentage of elite evangelicals believes similarly. Many rank-and-file evangelicals, despite the best efforts of their pastors, hold beliefs on a wide array of subjects that are unorthodox, even heretical. It has come to a point where if you’re curious about the Bible and/or the Christian faith you’re better off asking a random stranger on the street than an average churchgoing evangelical.
Of course some disparity between leaders and followers is to be expected; otherwise there would be nowhere for the leaders to lead. But what is happening in evangelicalism is different: The followers are not following where the leaders are trying to lead. Eventually it is going to come to a point where the leaders are going to have to choose between falling in line behind those whom they are supposed to be leading in order to maintain their positions, or remaining true to their orthodox beliefs while having no one to follow them.
Read: Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? Hint: It’s Not the Shepherds by Skye Jethani
Today I give you the latest offering from everyone’s favorite systematic-theology-professor-turned-Donald-Trump-hack, Wayne Grudem.
Evangelicals have long been in the habit of diligently researching/analyzing chapter and verse when the answer is staring you right in the face, and this article is an example of that par excellence. Grudem argues that Donald Trump’s plan to build the wall is not only good and sensible but also biblical and therefore morally justifiable because the Bible speaks positively about cities with walls.
This is what passes for biblical thought/analysis in evangelicalism: Identify the issue at hand. In this case, a border wall. Get out your Strong’s Concordance and look up every instance of the word “wall”. Do a word study on the word “wall” in Hebrew and Greek. Collate and analyze all the relevant verses and come up with a definitive statement of what the Bible has to say about walls. Apply said statement to the issue at hand: namely, should we build the wall?
I am something of a realist on immigration, and I actually think that much of what Grudem says makes sense. I believe that lax immigration policies typically favored by those on the left are a luxury we simply cannot afford. In our present economic state, we need a more skilled immigrant pool and many of those who come via the southern border are not a fit for that. Improvements to the border fencing have long been discussed, and have actually been made in certain areas of San Diego and El Paso. These improvements have improved the safety and security of those areas. I will not argue with Grudem on that.
But sometimes it is possible to be completely right and yet completely in the wrong. This is one of those times.
In this cultural moment, building the wall is the wrong thing to do. The wall has been and is being used symbolically by our current president as a means to energize the worst elements of his base. He is using this to pick a fight over something that had been a non-issue until he made it an issue.
Grudem’s biblical analysis fails to take into account that in our age, walls are a symbol of repression. Walls have been built by repressive regimes to keep people out or to keep people in. The memory of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented is still very much alive and well in our collective consciousness, even though it has (thankfully) been gone for almost three decades.
There may be good reasons for making improvements to the fencing along the southern border. But in this cultural moment–when the wall has been seized upon as a symbol of hatred and repression and flung in the faces of certain people groups–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–by people who call themselves Christian yet believe the exact opposite as far as these people groups are concerned–building the wall is the wrong thing to do. You don’t need chapter and verse for that.