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.
Face it, people: We now live in an age in which saying hello to a homeless person on the street is an act of political defiance.
What people who lived under repressive regimes, like Hitler’s Germany and what Donald Trump’s America is in the process of becoming, remember most is how their neighbors treated them. When neighbors looked them in the eye and said hello and/or made small talk while passing them in the street, they felt safe and included, as if they belonged. But when those same neighbors would avoid eye contact or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid passing them, they felt fearful, isolated, and vulnerable. And with good reason.
So if you wish to protest the current regime, then say hi the next time you pass someone on the street who is different from yourself. Someone whom the current administration, the madman in the White House and his jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters, consider undesirable. Show them that you do not consider them undesirable. That is the surest way to push back against those who would turn us into a repressive regime.
Today I direct your attention to a piece by Stephanie Paulsell at Christian Century entitled “Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive“.
The rise of the #metoo movement over the past year has brought to light numerous examples of men who professed to be pro-woman yet whose actions toward individual women revealed them to be anything but. The moral is clear: It is not enough to say that you are something, you also have to back it up with your actions. Which means that in the present political climate, it is not enough to think our way out of it or profess our way out of it, we also have to practice our way out of it, deliberately and with intentionality.
There are many ways to do this in the public sphere. But there is much to do in our private, day-to-day existence. Paulsell gives several practical examples: Make eye contact, say hi, and make small talk with people who are different from yourself. Acknowledge these people and show them respect. When you do that, they feel safe and experience belonging and connection. When you do the opposite, when you avert your eyes or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid them, then they feel isolated and fearful, and with very good reason in the present political climate.
Other things you can do: Don’t rely on the internet and social media so much; get out there in the real world and meet people face-to-face. Go to places you haven’t been and meet new people. Resist the urge to express yourself via the same old slogans and catchphrases everyone else is using, even those with whom you agree, but instead find new and fresh ways of expressing yourself. Surround yourself with books and read vociferously: read fiction, read the Bible, read history, and think deeply about how these things relate to the world in which we currently live.
These practices will help to transform not just our political culture but our faith communities as well. Listening to sermons is all well and good but when we gather to be the Church by feeding the hungry and otherwise caring for the vulnerable among us, then we have the opportunity to practice being the people and communities that we are called to be. Then our faith communities and our society will be transformed.