Recently I have been reminded of the–still very prevalent in some places–tendency toward an unwritten set of evangelical traditions.
Naturally, there is the usual ardent devotion to a broad patriotic ideal in God-and-country evangelicalism. But also there is a sense in which it is expected that no one will do or say anything that shows that they might have noticed the presence of a world beyond the borders of evangelical thought.
Years ago, I was (slightly) physically threatened by an 11th grader in my classroom at a Christian school for asking the class whether they thought Jesus was pretending or really did not know who touched Him when He asked, “Who touched Me?” Asking the question was enough to freak her out.
Similarly, I recently found that telling a group of Christian seventeen-year-olds that the Lord Jesus Christ is a romantic and sexual being, that in His life on earth He had normal human sexuality, and that the reality of which our current experience of human sexuality is merely a picture will go on for eternity in the romantic relationship between Christ and His bride–saying these things was too weird for these students. Apparently.
I didn’t say anything that is not said by the likes of C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller or John Piper, but it was received as if I were way out there on the semi-heretical fringe. I found out, in fact, that I was reported to have said such outlandish things as “Jesus intends to have sex with us in heaven,” and “Jesus was sexually active in His life on earth.”
But what I find most troubling in all of this is not that people so carelessly attend to what I actually say, nor that they so easily ascribe to me the wildest and stupidest statements. What troubles me is that, in the circles where these things happen, these folks actually think they are theologically well-rounded. Yet they never allow themselves to encounter anything beyond the very narrow confines of a received evangelical base. And that base is so simplistic and shallow, it could hardly be expected to serve the Lord or people in any but the tiniest ways. If it can’t be summed up in a 4 minute song on the Fish (the name of the local Christian pop radio station), it is too radical for many folks.
Lord, how can we serve You in this world, if we can’t even think?
In a prophetic lyric by Josh Garrels, we hear the voice of God-and-Country-Evangelicalism: “[I] protect my 90% with my guns.”
According to a news story I saw on TV this week, national gun sales for the month of November this year were 24% higher than in November of last year. The story was mainly about people buying them as Christmas gifts for loved ones. Several interviewed people claimed that giving someone the ability to protect themselves is one of the most loving gifts anyone could give.
How do Christians figure into this story? I do not know the numbers, but I would bet that the majority of people purchasing guns this holiday season are folks who would claim some sort of Christian faith. I know a great many evangelicals who are firmly ensconced in the 2nd Amendment gun-owner camp.
On the Desiring God web page today, John Piper offers some very important thoughts to Christians about the growing popularity of the idea of gun ownership and self-protection.
In his final paragraph, Piper once more clarifies his point in writing the article:
“This article is about the people whom the Bible calls ‘refugees and exiles’ on earth, namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our weapons are not material, but spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves’ (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.”
He is exactly right here.
At various points throughout the article, he concedes the notion that “there are ambiguities in the way Christian mercy and civic justice intersect,” meaning he is not willing to go so far as to say that Christians have no role to play in the armed forces of the state.
This issue of “ambiguity” is where I am forced to differ with my teacher (the Lord has used the work of John Piper in my life for years). I do not think there is as much ambiguity as he does. For example, though he accurately expresses the teaching of Romans 13 on the sword of the state and God’s use of it for carrying out justice in the world, the text never implies–even the slightest bit–that Christians could participate in the state’s use of armed violence for any reason.
Additionally, in his 7th point, Piper briefly discusses Luke 22:35-38. Here he makes another unnecessary concession, saying that he shares “the uncertainty of this text.” While I hesitate to say that I have more biblical understanding than John Piper, I truly believe he is missing the obvious point here. The Lord Himself explains His reason for telling his disciples to carry a sword (and a wallet!) in verse 37. It is so that He will be arrested in the company of transgressors.
So having clarified a couple of points of difference between myself and Piper on this topic, now let me say that in this article, he NAILS it in terms of explaining why Christians should not flee to the self-protective measures of the world.
Here is one of my favorite spots in the article:
“[N]o book of the Bible wrestles with [the idea of being exiles on this earth with our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20), while at the same time being called to serve in the structures of society (1 Peter 2:13)] more directly than 1 Peter, and the overwhelming thrust of that book is this: As you suffer patiently and even joyfully for your faith, do so much good that people will ask a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).
I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.”
Do yourself a favor. Read the whole article.
The other day I was taking a moment to dialogue with a few of the kids in my wife’s daycare business. Most of those who were talking to me were girls. The subject of toys at the store came up. One of the boys who is of school age (and so is just here with his little brother for the summer) seemed to be taking an interest in the conversation.
So I turned to him…
Me: So what do you think? Do you like to go down the pink aisle?
Me: What’s on the pink aisle?
C: Barbies and babies…
Me: Princess stuff?
C: Yeah… [look of disgust]
Me: So you don’t like to go down the pink aisle, huh?
C: Nah. I like to go down the violence aisle!
C: You know, guns and swords!…
The following is a statement posted by the Kleins on their Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page:
“The final ruling has been made today. We have been charged with $135,000 in emotional damages, But also now Aaron and I have been charged with advertising. (Basically talking about not wanting to participate in a same-sex wedding) This effectively strips us of all our first amendment rights. According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. We will NOT give up this fight, and we will NOT be silenced. We stand for God’s truth, God’s word and freedom for ALL americans. We are here to obey God not man, and we will not conform to this world. If we were to lose everything it would be totally worth it for our Lord who gave his one and only son, Jesus, for us! God will win this fight!”
The Kleins will probably never see this post of mine, but pretending for a moment that I could talk to them, here is what I would say:
Mr. and Mrs. Klein, forgive the presumption, but you are missing the real opportunity here. The Lord is not giving you a chance to win some battle for Him in a pointless culture war. Nor is He looking for you to proudly maintain your integrity as you lose such a battle. He is giving you the blessed opportunity to know Him and show Him simply in being persecuted for His name’s sake.
If I were in your position, I would have said the same thing to the young woman who wanted a cake for her (so-called) same-sex wedding. I would say, “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that. I hope you can understand that my answer is coming only from love, but in any case, I’m afraid I can’t participate.” And then I would seek with all my might to be used by the Lord to bless her and her friend. I would seek to befriend them personally. And if the response was still the legal attack, I would lovingly accept it.
Take your stand, yes. But for the sake of the Lord Jesus who, while being reviled, did not revile in return, do not “fight” for your American “religious” “rights.” It is not the US Constitution or Oregon law that gives you freedom; it is Christ who sets you free. Free from sin. Free to follow Him. Free to know Him in the fellowship of His sufferings.
If you feel that making a cake for a (so-called) same-sex wedding would be a participation in something wrong (a conviction that I, for one, share with you), by all means, politely, kindly explain that you cannot do so. Then accept the consequent hatred of a world that does know not Him who is the Truth.
I sincerely believe you should drop three words from your vocabulary: “fight,” “rights” and “religion.”
Be Christians and let the world be the world. Stop acting as if it’s not okay with you that the world acts like the world. Stop acting as if it is a shock and a scandal that the world hates you. You actually have apostolic instruction not to be surprised (I Peter 4:12-19). What good does it do to take a stand against the wrongfulness of homosexual practice and then go against the Scriptures which tell you to glorify God in suffering for His name?
I write to you as one who has, in the past, also missed opportunities to endure attacks for the Lord. Believing in the righteousness of my cause, I have made the mistake of fighting to defend myself. But in the process, I missed out on knowing Him more deeply in humbly playing the loser.
As one who understands this, I am praying for you.
I’ll finish with some extended words from John Piper:
American culture does not belong to Christians, neither in reality nor in biblical theology. It never has. The present tailspin toward Sodom is not a fall from Christian ownership. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It has since the fall, and it will till Christ comes in open triumph. God’s rightful ownership will be manifest in due time. The Lordship of Christ over all Creation is being manifest in stages, first the age of groaning, then the age of glory….
But Christian exiles are not passive. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Or we should. This is my main point: Being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.
Being Christian exiles in American culture does not end our influence; it takes the swagger out of it. We don’t get cranky that our country has been taken away. We don’t whine about the triumphs of evil. We are not hardened with anger. We understand. This is not new….
The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with broken-hearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ.
I am a native Greshamite. My wife and I both grew up in and around Gresham. I loved my home town. From the time I was very little, I was drawing maps of it and memorizing every little spot on every street.
When I was about 19 years old, I scheduled an appointment with the mayor and met with her in her office. Though I had recently dropped out of Gresham High School and was, by all external measurements, not worth a darn, I told her I wanted to have her job someday. She was kind and gave me some good advice and information (e.g. the mayoral position was unpaid!). At the time, I was a proud GCE (God and Country Evangelical) and had dreams of making Gresham nationally famous for patriotism of the GCE sort.
Much has changed. I have not lived in Gresham for many years. And I am very much against the idolatry of the GCE spirit, preferring rather to ground my citizenship in the kingdom of God. But my love for Gresham has not changed. And my yearning to return there gets stronger and stronger all the time.
It is quite a different dream now, though. Gresham is not the suburban retreat it was when I was a kid. Much of it is now more of a rough suburbia. The Rockwood area, a strip of land between Portland and Gresham proper, was annexed by Gresham some twenty-five years ago and is now considered a “sketchy” part of town. The Gresham Police are kept pretty busy dealing with crimes there. Most of Gresham has become less attractive to American dreamers (white picket fence, RV pad next to the house, etc.). Many people, when they hear of our family’s desire to get back to our Gresham roots, think we are crazy. One friend actually found a Lion King meme making fun of Gresham and posted it on Facebook to make his point.
That’s okay. We like Gresham now more than ever. We have no desire to live in the more gentrified parts of town. Our desire is to “enjoy the company of ordinary people” (Romans 12:16, NLT).
In the last couple of years, Gresham has become famous for something else. In fact, something happened a couple of years ago in the heart of Gresham, just a block away from the apartments where my wife and I met.
A woman went into a bakery owned by a Christian couple and ordered a wedding cake for her “same-sex wedding.” The owners explained that, because of their beliefs, they couldn’t participate by making a cake for such a “wedding.” What has ensued has been a major battle in the courts and the culture wars. It has made national—and, I’m told, international—news. The owners of the bakery had to shut down their business and the Oregon Labor Commissioner has ruled that the bakery owners must pay the homosexual couple $135,000 in damages (emotional distress, etc.). For those in the “same-sex marriage” camp, this has become a sort of Rosa Parks story. For GCEs, it signals the plunge over the cliff of an American society which has abandoned its Christian roots. (My own perspective is different from both of these, but that will have to wait for another post.)
This is my home town. It may be a very challenging place to live for the Lord. But if He calls us there—and it seems very much that He is doing so—we will go. It is where my family and I want to be. If He lets us return there, we will serve Him and seek the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).
Since the Supreme Court decision last week, I have seen and heard a lot of good stuff helping to sort out the issues.
But this is perhaps the best thing I’ve seen. It’s simple and to the point. Whoever you are, do yourself a favor, and check it out.
The only thing I would say is the that, as good as this is, it still will not convince many people who disagree. But the real power of it, I think, is not its ability to win those folks over, but rather the great way it reminds people like me of what is really true.
This little message is what’s in my heart. Really.
Now the part that I need to work on is living and loving well so that people can see it.
Lord Jesus, forgive and help me…
This morning, I read a very interesting post by Kevin DeYoung. I would encourage anyone at all interested in the church’s response to the recent SCOTUS decision to check it out.
It got me thinking about another wrinkle in this whole thing. Like many other Christians, I believe the Lord is going to use this whole turn of events in some pretty wonderful ways. In a lot of ways, this will be very good for the church in America. And in this connection, another realization has come to mind: Some Christians who already were or are now becoming progressive on the so-called “same-sex marriage” issue will end up coming back to a more biblical point of view.
Years ago, I heard Os Guinness tell a story about a man who was shaken from his atheism when he went to a movie theatre in New York during the early years of WWII (I think he said it was W. H. Auden). The United States was not yet in the war, but newsreels were being shown as pre-feature trailers in movie theatres here. This theatre was in a largely German area of New York, and when the newsreel showed the persecution of Jews in Germany and Poland, the crowd cheered and yelled hateful, anti-Semitic epithets. The man left the theatre stunned. As he walked around thinking about what he had just seen, he found he could not deny that human beings were evil. It was the death of his atheism.
Over the next few years, there will certainly be a huge rise in the venomous vitriol, social ostracism and legal persecution of evangelicals who stand by a traditional, biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. And some heretofore progressive Christians will find themselves so revolted by it that they will come to see the whole thing in a different light.
These progressive-minded folks are currently embracing the popular ‘rainbow flag’ revolution, but that embrace is largely based on the feeling that this is mostly about good people finally winning the right to live like other good people. But when they see the bare-toothed attack—and be assured, it will come—of those good people upon Christians who do not agree with them, they will experience a revulsion in the pit of their stomachs. And some of them, like the man in the movie theatre, will find themselves awakening to a reality that there are great, dark spiritual forces at work here. (BTW, I am not equating homosexual people with Nazis or anti-Semites. If you think that’s what I’m doing, you’ve misunderstood me.)
Undoubtedly, in the coming heat-tests, many traditional Christians will defect to the secular, progressive camp. But there will also be some who go the other way. I think it will be very interesting, then, to hear from them.