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[222] Division

Paige Patterson, a major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson was caught in a cultural and generational crossfire involving the role and treatment of women.  The 75-year old church leader was charged with having made a spectrum of comments about women over the years, comments many regarded as sexist and demeaning.

You need only google up Patterson to get the details.  The issue, however, is much larger than the case of one fired seminary president. The issue is about the cultural and generational division among Southern Baptists.  There is evidence that women and younger Christians take much more contemporary approaches to the issues of race and gender from that of their male and older counterparts.

I suspect this split is present among more than Southern Baptists.

This is not a good time for the church.  It is divided—and profoundly so–over race, gender, divorce, sexual orientation, and other issues.  For years, the church—not knowing what to do with these complex dilemmas—tried to imagine they did not exist.  Denial is no longer an option.  All the concerns are now “above ground.”  Resolution will not come soon. It may never come.  Let’s pray that zealots on all sides will realize they are stewards of God’s institution, not shareholders of one that belongs to them. DC

[221] Distinction

Believers within the evangelical camp love to talk about salvation.  They are forever concerned that their family and friends are saved.

Salvation, however, is not the goal for humanity according to the New Testament.  Discipleship is.  In fact, discipleship is much more important because it not only includes salvation, it is the life purpose for every believer.

The Westminster Catechism states that the chief purpose of humankind is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  It is not to escape hell and be saved.  It is to be a disciple—the Lord side of the “savior and Lord” profession, and the works side of “faith and works.” Stated simply, believers–Christ’s body on earth–are called to build the kingdom of God.  The church needs to focus more on this, because disciples are the difference-makers for the faith.  They are the ones working toward effecting God’s will on earth.

I, like many other Christians, have spent too much time as a spiritual invalid, a believer but not really a disciple who makes working God’s agenda the direction of his life.

As important as evangelism is, it is step one.  Salvation is one-sided.  It is about us.  It puts us into his family. It is God’s gift to us. Discipleship is not about us.  It is about the one who put us into his family.  It is about the reason we are saved. DC

[221] Visible Hope

One of the more disturbing elements of secularism is the disappearance of visible reminders of the presence of God.  One of these is the gradual ebbing away of churches in the city.  I am not talking about groups of believers.  I am talking about church buildings.  Daniel Darling at Christianity Today cites the trend of church buildings being sold off and converted into non-religious structures. Darling points out that church buildings are significant to urban culture for reasons beyond being a places of worship. Churches function as a spiritual sanctuary for citizens, a place to get help with temporal needs, and a meeting place for recovery programs and community events.

Darling is right, but let me add one more.  The often ancient, majestic church buildings are visible witnesses to the presence of God in the city.  As these visible reminders of God’s presence disappear, the consciousness of God in the minds of the people—believers and more important, non-believers—is also diminished.  Our cities are filled with poverty, violence, and despair.  They are desperately in need of what the prophet Jeremiah (29:12) calls “a future and a hope.” When we remove those bricks-and-mortar structures, we are losing more than buildings.  We are losing hope. DC

[220] Socialization

A few years back, Bart Campolo (son of pastor/activist, Tony Campolo) and Franky Schaeffer (son of the renowned Francis Schaeffer) sent spasms through the evangelical world with their public repudiation of the faith in which they were raised. For many, their apostasy was a faith-rattling experience.

How does this happen?  I do not claim to know the hearts of either of these two people.  I have read a good bit on each and am an acquaintance with the elder Campolo. I do know this.  It is easy to mistake socialization for commitment.  In simpler terms, it is easy to mistake the behavior from someone raised in the faith as evidence of a personal faith.

Take Bart Campolo.  He loves and respects his parents, and by all indications spent his youth engaged in the expected Christian practices for children of Christians. Nonetheless, he claims he did not become a Christian because of his parents’ faith, but because he wanted to be a part of a “cool” Christian group when he was 15.  He makes clear that he was not drawn in by a personal relationship with Christ so much as the desire to be a part of a group he admired.  Having been socialized (brought up, socially shaped) by Christian parents likely made that adolescent decision less difficult.  In any case, Bart’s “testimony” does not sound like a real commitment to the Christian faith ever took place.

Schaeffer seems filled with anger toward evangelical hypocrisy. One comes away from reading his rants with the sense that he is a troubled, disillusioned, and confused man.  As far as socialization is concerned, he clearly loved his now departed parents and early on served in his father’s international ministry, but again there is no real story of personal commitment.

The stories of Bart and Franky become a collective cautionary tale to Christians.  Socialization is not commitment. Being raised in the faith is not the same as a personal faith.  DC

[220] Tools?

After waxing self-righteous on the matter of sexual assault by powerful males on female subordinates, we find NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman may have taken off the gloves and engaged in some unwelcome fisticuffs with women in his own life.

Once the cries of hypocrisy have died down we are left with a question for members of both parties.  Do these politicos care about third rail issues like sexual assault, or are their public stances mere tools for power—attempts at seizing the public high ground as a way of attracting voter support?

Over and over we see power figures from Bill Clinton to Denny Hastert to Schneiderman taking the politically “right side” on red meat issues, only to find these same people living in violation of their own words.  God told Samuel not to be taken in by King Saul’s appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7, stating that “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Although appearances are huge in the political world, a closer look at some of the fallen figures of our age will reveal evidence that they were not walking their talk long before being exposed. If indeed, the Holy Spirit gives us powers of discernment, we need to use them in observing our political representatives. DC

[219] Two Reasons

Whenever you encounter people who claim there is no god, that life is random, and only science can speak authoritatively on what is true, I encourage you to consider two things.

Reformer John Calvin referred to a sensus divinitatis, meaning that humans are genetically endowed with a sense of the existence of a god.  Empirical studies support his claim. Religion is what sociologists call a “culture universal.”  Religion appears in virtually, every known culture.  Why would every society affirm the existence of a deity, if there were none?

Second, we live in a moral universe—at least in the human world.  While there is no evidence that rocks or trees or dogs or cats possess a sense of morality, there is prima facie evidence that humans do.  Rocks and trees do not decide on whom to fall, nor do dogs and cats consider the rightness of an attack on another creature.  Humans, however—even those who claim no religious faith—are forever assessing their own and others’ actions in moral terms.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t legislate morality.”

Nonsense. Every piece of legislation is justified on some moral ground. What can’t be controlled by legislation is human behavior.

Why would humans–world-wide—live in the context of some moral code, if our universe is totally random, a godless galaxy ruled by mechanical laws that just happen to be so precise that the solar system does not explode?

While the infinite is mysterious to the finite, and faith can be challenging to the believer, the argument that there is “nothing out there” is not a strong one. DC

[219] Not Voting

I am tired of hearing how unpatriotic it is not to vote.  Citizens have a right to vote—precious as it is–but not an obligation to vote.

In some cases, Christians have no good candidate to support.  The voter may not be able—in good conscience—to vote for a pro-choice zealot, while at the same time, finding the positions of that candidate’s opponent anathema.

So what do you do?  You don’t vote.  When not voting is a conscious choice, carefully considered, it may be more patriotic than picking the lesser of two miscreants. DC

[218] Dress Rehearsal

Recently I used this space to discuss why we never sermons about hell.  Let me say that I hear very few sermons about the afterlife at all.  The closest is the occasional reminder that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  That’s about it.

In short, contemporary preaching is almost totally devoid of the eternal perspective.  It is temporal.  The eternal is crowded out by focusing on discipleship, practical applications of the gospel, and coping with life’s dilemmas with a Christian spirit.

In other words, the focus is entirely on this three-score-and-ten, which when you think of it, is but a mere snap of the divine finger when compared with eternity. It wasn’t always this way.  In grimmer—pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-SUV—times, when people were regularly wiped out driving on two-lane highways, acute epidemics tore through populations, and chronic diseases like cancer were death sentences, believers longed to escape the sorrows of the flesh and move into eternity. But life is very different now.  What were once luxuries are now take-for-granted necessities for many Christians, such that indeed (this) “life is good.”  In any case, other-worldly sermons apparently don’t go down very well with earthlings—even those who profess a faith in Christ.

This is not good.  And it is not biblical.  Christ spoke endlessly about “the kingdom of heaven.” Paul said to “die is gain.”  The scriptures tell us we are eternal beings, who should be longing to be “home” with the Savior.  In short, we are to look toward eternity, not our pensions. But that’s difficult to do when those who dispense the “counsel of God” seem all in on the dress rehearsal. DC

[218] Who Do You Trust?

According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, reported in Christianity Today, evangelicals trust the political endorsements of Donald Trump and Barack Obama more than they do the likes of Joel Osteen and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  On the face of it, this may not seem all that surprising.  After all, Trump and Obama are pretty good at politics, and the parsons are in another line of work.

But there appears to be more to this.  For as long as most of us can remember, presidential candidates have thirsted for the endorsement of evangelical leaders. The reason is very simple.  Those leaders had powerful credibility, and in a very real sense, were the key to millions of votes.

This poll suggests something different is going on.  Evangelical Christians are not taking the lead from the more famous pulpiteers.

But there is more.  Neither Trump nor Obama claims to be an evangelical.  Their personal spiritual lives are unclear—murky if you will.  Yet evangelicals will take their political leads (49% for Trump, 33% Obama) over ostensibly spiritual leaders (Osteen 28%; Falwell 27%).  In fact, 39% said an endorsement from Pope Francis would have no impact at all.  While known political evangelicals, Mike Pence, and George W. Bush did quite well—46% and 43%, respectively—both trailed Trump.

Is there any takeaway here?  Two come to mind.  First, political leaders who speak to evangelicals and their concerns do well, irrespective of the candidate’s personal religiosity.  More important, however, it appears there is no prophetic voice coming from the evangelical world.  Billy Graham is gone.  Osteen is coiffed in prosperity (“this world”) preaching, and Falwell ministers in the shadow of his polarizing Moral-Majority-of the-‘80’s father.

Without a vision the people perish, says the Psalmist (29:18).  There seems no real political vision coming from those on whom so many depend to translate God’s word to our times. DC

[217] Sex

Bill Hybels, Frank Page, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and who knows how many other well-known evangelicals, have been ensnared in real or alleged sex scandals. Forget about who is and is not guilty.  That is not the point here.  The point is that we are no longer surprised when a new allegation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a high-profile Christian.

It keeps happening and it ought not to be.

Why?

I think one reason is that many Christians are very uncomfortable about sex. In many Christian homes sex is not discussed.  Never brought up.  That was the case in my home. Nary a word from either of my parents. I found out the facts of life from a neighborhood peer.  Curious about the mysterious but much-used F-word, I asked what it meant, and taking me aside, he told me in a very candid and enlightening fashion.  I think you will find that in many Christian homes children learn two things when it comes to sex: don’t “do it” until you are married, and then only with your marriage partner.  So much for sex education.

Of course, that approach (or better yet, non-approach) prepares no one for real-time navigation in a secular world.  Yet courageous attempts to address the matter of sex in the Christian world can engender a peculiar form of bullying.  Decades ago Christianity Today published a sort of “sex and the single Christian” article. In it, were the results of a survey on the sexual behavior of single believers.  The purpose of this less than fully scientific survey was to get a sense of “what is,” not what should or should not be.  Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many Christian singles were having substantial difficulty managing their sexuality, with many having lived lives of less than vestal virginity.

The reaction to the article was radioactive.  The good folks at Christianity Today were all but damned to outer darkness by readers enraged that the magazine had the temerity to print the survey.  On the heels of these seething subscribers’ advocacy of the “Mushroom Syndrome” (keep them in the dark and feed them garbage), I don’t recall seeing many more such articles in Christianity Today.

Which brings us back to the question above. When Christians grow up in a sexually-repressive, paranoid environment the result is not always going to be restraint.  It is often going to be curiosity about this unspeakable, off-limits world, coupled with a lamb-like naivete upon entering what is a sexually wolfish culture.

But there’s more. Some of these same people grow up to become rather powerful “professional Christians,” frontrunners in Christian organizations.  Trained in leadership and other necessary skills, and ready to build God’s kingdom, too many go off into their careers still naïve–wholly unprepared to deal with the often very available sexual “benefits” of power.  Hence, as they—especially males—accumulate power and the elevated regard of others, they become prey to the Delilahs.  In fact, some may find themselves internally pulled in forbidden directiosn, growing out of lingering adolescent fantasies and excitement about exploring unbounded sex.

The point is this.  Seminaries and other Christian institutions cannot assume their students have a mature and comprehensive understanding of sex, all the while disregarding those students’ future vulnerability as they traverse a sexually-obsessed culture.  These organizations must address the issue of sex in their education and training. To do otherwise, is to ready their graduates to navigate God’s kingdom with their seatbelts unbuckled. The issue of sexual temptation and availability is as old as Samson and David, and as current as today.  It is time for Christians to cast off fear, paranoia, and Victorian discomfort, and–pulling their heads out of the sand–take this issue on. DC

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