Is Your Faith a Political Threat?

So it turns out that Christian convictions actually do matter in and affect the public square. The world rightly sees the church as dangerous. The Christian faith is a political threat. Not quite in the sense that an invading army is a threat to another country… but in the sense of a herald announcing the arrival of the king coming in judgment… in the sense of a community of citizens sojourning in a foreign land who are fiercely loyal to their king… in the sense of an embassy representing and proclaiming the rights of its coming king over all nations.

There are two groups of people who truly understand that threat of Christianity: those who are persecuted because of their Christian convictions, and those who do the persecuting.

Here is yet one more example of the world’s recognition of the truly dangerous nature of Christianity. Dutch authorities are investigating a number of pastors who signed the Nashville Statement on sexuality. They are threatening criminal charges against these pastors for signing an “anti-gay” Christian confession. (See the article here.)

Unfortunately, Denny Burk’s response and commentary on the subject appears a little soft. He seems to imply that the Dutch authorities shouldn’t feel so threatened by the Nashville Statement. He seems surprised that Dutch authorities care so much about “what is essentially a confessional statement.”

The problem, of course, is in the failure to recognize the public and political significance of Christian confessions. When those Dutch pastors signed their names to the Nashville Statement, they were declaring that their highest allegiance is to Christ, not to the Netherlands. Of course, the fact that they are baptized Christians ought to be enough to make that clear, but that’s not often the case anymore. The signing of a public statement articulating biblical morality (particularly one that has entered into the political eye to the degree that sexuality has) is simply another clear message to the nations that we serve a higher sovereign—we serve a king who demands the allegiance of all nations.

And as our allegiance to Christ increasingly comes into conflict with our ability to obey our earthly rulers, we need to be prepared to say with the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

To read more about the prophetic and political function of the church, I would recommend the book that shaped much of my thinking in this area: Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. In that work, Leeman writes this:

Churches do not need to take up arms against the state in order to pose a threat to the state; they only need to oppose the gods upon which a nation’s political and economic institutions depend.

And, while the Nashville Statement is commendable, I would rather recommend the Fortified Nashville Statement as an even more faithful and sound articulation of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” — 1 Peter 4:19

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Who is the Scoffer?

The Bible talks quite a bit about scoffers. It warns against being a scoffer, taking advice from a scoffer, befriending a scoffer, and giving honor to a scoffer. But what does it mean to be a scoffer?

A scoffer is someone who, even though he himself may not laugh that much, nevertheless believes that pretty much everything is laughable. It’s someone who doesn’t take life seriously, and, in fact, thinks that it’s silly to do so.

The book of Proverbs explains that the scoffer doesn’t listen to rebuke (Pr. 13:1), doesn’t seek wise counsel (Pr. 15:12), doesn’t take justice seriously (Pr. 19:28), doesn’t take repentance seriously (Pr. 14:9), and brings conflict and insults (Pr. 22:10). Despite their irreverent and mocking attitude, God in fact scoffs at the scoffers—in other words, he sees the scoffer as someone not to take seriously (Pr. 3:34). And despite his flippant pride, God will eventually bring the scoffer to nothing (Isa. 29:20).

The scoffer acts with disrespectful, impudent, insolent presumption. He is someone who is dismissive, flippant, and derisive. If you find yourself thinking that everyone around you takes life too seriously, or that everyone but you is too easily offended, or that others are consistently uncomfortable with how casually, cavalierly, or carelessly you approach life, you may need to examine your heart and ask God if you may be in danger of the warnings directed toward the scoffer.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. — Proverbs 28:13

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. — Proverbs 13:20

On the Desire to Be Honored by God

A short follow up to my last post on the reciprocal nature of honor, and how God honors us.

While we’ve been conditioned to feel that no one should care what others think of them, because “how you see yourself is all that matters,” that’s really not what the Bible teaches. The Bible affirms that one’s reputation and social honor (that is, the community’s view of your integrity and moral excellence) is actually very important. The problem is not in caring about image, reputation, honor, having a good name; the problem is in having the wrong standards, and the wrong social context in view. The social context we ought to have in mind is Christ’s kingdom; and God consistently turns the world’s standard on its head.

We ought to seek the name and recognition that comes from God in return for faithful service to him. We ought to long for that commendation, “well done, good and faithful servant.” And we ought to yearn to please the Lord to such a degree that the desire for eternal and God-given honor outweighs any real concern for the opinions of the world. But none of that means honor doesn’t matter… quite the opposite.

This article was also brought to my attention as pertinent to what I’m discussing here. The whole series may be a helpful place to start to gain a fuller perspective on the matter of honor and shame in the biblical worldview. However, as per usual, be wary of overstatements and whatnot as you peruse the site. Still, a helpful resource it may well be.

1 Sam. 2:7–8; Psalm 58:11; 62:7; Prov. 21:21; 22:1, 4; Luke 14:12–14; Rom. 2:6–10; 2 Cor. 5:9–10; Eph. 6:8; 1 Pet. 2:6–7,12; 1 John 2:28; Rev. 22:12

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The Thing About Thankfulness

Most of us look forward to this holiday—a day on which we eat good food, enjoy time with family and friends, and perhaps watch some football. And some of us will probably try to set aside at least a little time—perhaps a few seconds of thought dispersed throughout the day—to thank the Lord.

As we celebrate this beloved holiday, it may be helpful to be reminded of a couple of things about thankfulness.

First, that thankfulness—that is, not just the giving of thanks, but the affection of thankfulness itself: gratitude—is always a response of humble appreciation for grace. Gratitude is a response to grace. Not only is it a response, but it is the response; it’s the only appropriate response; it’s the proper response to grace. As such, gratitude is self-effacing. It requires humility to be grateful because it requires acknowledging the fact that I’ve received something that I didn’t deserve, and that the giver didn’t have to give—it was unmerited favor. It was grace.

There are three potential responses to grace: guilt, greed, or gratitude. And the proper response to grace is always gratitude.

The second thing to remember about gratitude is that it’s a humble appreciation of the gracious gift of a giver. You can’t actually be thankful with no gracious giver to whom to be thankful. You can’t have ambiguous feelings of gratitude toward no one in particular. Of course, we can be happy or satisfied with something we have; but without a recognition of the one who gave it, there is no true gratitude. Gratitude requires a personal object.

So gratitude then, in relation to God, is an affection of joy and appreciation directed toward God for who He is and what He’s done for us.

God says in Psalm 50:23, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” In fact, the affection most associated in Scripture with worship is actually something less flashy, less viscerally intense, and less directly connected to particular feelings, than we tend to think; the affection most associated in the Bible with worship is thanksgiving.

As the author of Hebrews says,

“Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”


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Two More on Social Justice

Two more issues in the whole matter (I mentioned before another crucial distinction) are the definition of justice and the direction of obligation. The definition of justice is not what progressives would have us make it, and this is crucial in understanding the whole conversation. Justice is rendering to each person that which he is due. It’s unjust to murder you because you have a God-given right to life, for lack of a better term (“rights” has been grossly misunderstood and misused of late). You can’t appropriate my iPhone without my permission, because it’s mine, and I have a right to my own property. But do I have a judicial obligation to send $20 to a village in Africa to help provide them with clean water? Well, no; but it would be kind. That’s not justice, that’s charity. The social justice movement has so conflated the two that when they speak of “justice,” they almost unswervingly are referring to a matter of charity, or of skewed equity, but rarely matters of actual justice and injustice.

By “direction of obligation,” I simply mean that to argue that caring for the poor is not a matter of justice in the strictest sense, is not to say that we have no obligation in that area, only that our obligation is not to man, but to God as someone who calls on us to have compassion.

This article explains well the necessary distinction between justice and charity, or, to use another biblical word, between justice and grace. This, in fact, has serious implications for our understanding of the gospel itself, and that’s exactly why this distinction is so imperative.

Giving your money to the poor is not justice; it’s mercy. Taking other people’s money by force (whether through the government or any other means) and giving it to the poor is neither justice nor mercy; it’s injustice.

The folks at Cripplegate have made this crucial distinction before, and they say it again in this article critiquing those who claim that the SJ&G Statement is opposing the poor, with an excellent point about the validity of a “preach the gospel” approach to social change.

Tim Keller is one of the primary leaders of Christian social justice compromise, even though he seems to be oblivious to the fact that he’s one of the men the SJ&G Statement is specifically addressing. He recently responded to a question about his opinion on the statement. He danced around for a few minutes spewing nonsense, and this critique of his comments is well worth reading through.

Here are a few other articles of note:

Races Don’t Reconcile, Hearts Do

Does the Bible Require Wealth Redistribution and Equalization?

The Theological Problem with Tim Keller’s So-Called Social Justice


 

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More Than You Wanted on Social Justice

The recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel has sparked an abundance of articles both in praise and critique of the statement at various levels, and from various angles. Allow me to point you toward some of the notables for those who are following this conversation or would like to understand the issue in more depth.

First, Tom Ascol wrote (on the day the statement was released) some short reflections on his involvement with the conception of the document.

I must also begin by recommending the articles being put out by the SJ&G website itself. Primarily from the original team involved with the statement, there are some excellent articles on the site addressing different aspects of the social justice controversy in more detail. So far, they have published some good articles on things like the nature of division and unity in the church, the problem with being “woke,” and the sufficiency of Scripture. You can find all the articles here.

And don’t forget about John MacArthur’s recent series on the fallacies of social justice.

Toby Sumpter has given a simple, but thoughtful and very helpful defense of the statement in this post—correcting the detractors, but being careful not to make the statement more than it was meant to be.

There has, of course, been a tsunami of articles attacking the statement. I’m going to, for the purposes of this post, ignore the responses that have come from those who are precisely the ones the statement is addressing. I’ll also leave out those responses that are simply unreasonable. However, there have been a few articles that have reasonable and helpful critiques that are worth being aware of.

Here is the first article I saw, in which Steve Hays explains why he decided not to sign the statement.

T. Neil Daugherty gives some thoughts from a Christian Libertarian perspective here.

Michael Bird also offers some critiques of the statement here. As I’ve said before, Bird is one of my favorite theologians (of those with whom I often disagree). His critiques are worth reading, but again, he falls into some of the same traps as other “balanced” voices. For example, Bird notes that salvation includes good news for the marginalized and oppressed. Of course, the problem in this whole conversation is that most of the players seem to be running on established assumptions concerning the definition of “marginalized,” the identity of the “oppressed” groups, and the kind and severity of the oppression. That’s precisely what Aniol and others would like to challenge.

Bird also mishandles Luke 4:16-21, but it’s a common interpretation he goes with. There, and several other times in the article, Bird betrays a faulty hermeneutic that leans postmillennial. He also suggests that any attempt to pursue true justice necessarily entails the approach and philosophy of the social justice movement.

To quote James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). To do that kind of stuff requires a social justice approach!

Not quite. Again, Bird misunderstands the SJ&G Statement’s very point of contention—that a genuine pursuit of justice does not mandate the methodology and “approach” of the social justice craze, and that, in fact, we may radically differ on our definitions of what justice will even look like for various individuals and groups.

That being said, Bird then has some quite helpful criticisms of Union Seminary’s radical progressivist response to the SJ&G Statement. Even when I disagree with his stance, I’ve always appreciated Bird’s ability to honestly push against both sides and look for the balance.

In this post, the author addresses two of the more prominent negative responses to the Statement, and explains why she decided to sign it.

Along that vein, Doug Wilson has also responded to McDurmon’s critique with some helpful thoughts of his own here, here, and (a valuable and insightful addition to the discussion) here.

Josh Buice explains his involvement with the statement here, and writes on feminism, liberation theology, and the sufficiency of Scripture, here.

And I’ll end, for now, by directing you back to an article on the SJ&G website again.

Some find The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel unhelpful and behind the times. “It is not sensitive to the present moment” they say. “It is not strategic” is the word on the street. But our Lord did not tell us to go into all the world and “be strategic.” He told us to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all his commands. A rebellious world has always found that commission distasteful.

Can Christians be unnecessarily combative? Of course. But the fact that some have leveled that claim against the careful and measured statement on social justice and the gospel warrants what theologians in days gone by have called the hearty horse laugh. — Jared Longshore

I’m sure I’ll come back around to the topic a few more times. But what about you? Have you found any of the discussion surrounding social justice and the SJ&G Statement helpful? Frustrating? Enlightening? What are some other articles, authors, and pastors that you’ve found to offer valuable wisdom?

 


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