Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Frank Schaeffer's Screed Against Evangelicals: Comments on a Recent Post

Frank Schaeffer leaves no doubt about how he feels with his recent blog post title Dear Evangelical Establishment (and Christianity Today Editors) Here's Why You ALL Seem So F--g! Dumb to Folks in the Real World Who Don't Understand "Evangelical Speak".  Frank's upset and this gets him emoting big time.  Here is how he starts his post:
Open any issue of Christianity Today magazine and scan the article titles and sub-headings in case you want to know why the Americanized, post-Billy Graham version of evangelical faith comes across as so fucking dumb.
You can read what it is that got Frank's bloviating emotions in an uproar.  I posted the following comment in response to his post.
 Richard Klaus • a day ago
I took you up on your advice...check any issue of Christianity Today to see the shallow stupidity of evangelicals. I checked the June 2016 table of contents and found the following items:

1. (Cover story) "Standing with Charleston, One Year After the Emanuel AME Church Shooting." Seemed like a reasonable and culturally relevant issue to cover.

2. "Meet the Man Behind the Bono and Eugene Peterson Conversation" This is in reference to a recent video when Bono and the translator of "The Message" spoke about the Psalms. Not everyone may be interested but I personally don't think Bono (or Peterson) is stupid.

3. "Faith and the Arts: A Fragile Friendship" I could only read the first few paragraphs (due to a pay wall) but it spoke of the greater openness among evangelicals to the arts. There was another Francis Schaeffer who wrote about such matters and I don't think he was stupid.

4. "A Unified Church is a Gospel Witness" This was about the increasing racial diversity in America and was a call for evangelicals to respond as agents of peace. Seemed to me like a relevant social issue and a wise call to interact with this reality in a faithful and wise manner.

Now someone may not be interested in any of these topics--current events, arts, racial harmony--or they make think evangelical efforts are not what they should be. But the fact of the matter is that evangelicals are engaging in the culture in intelligent and engaging ways--much more than 30 years ago. Frank's father had much to do with with this.

Moral of the story: Beware of the blinding sparks when Frank Schaeffer grinds his axe.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Evangelicals and Trump: The Lack of Public Theology and the Life of the Mind

Scott Waller has a fascinating article entitled Why Many Evangelicals Support Donald Trump over at The Federalist.  Here is a key section from Waller's piece:
Herein, perhaps, lies the reason why so many evangelicals have tossed their electoral hats in with Trump: as an evangelical community, few of its leaders speak about the public importance of faith and the implications of that faith in the public square. Perhaps even fewer demonstrate through their teaching what it would look like for an evangelical to live an integrated, holistic life in which theology speaks to the matters of public import beyond the private sphere of an individual’s life.

If, as Aristotle argued, politics is an inherently moral venture, then those within the evangelical community certainly have a voice in offering insights into what a just and moral state should look like and what kinds of policies a just political order must pursue. We have to ask ourselves when was the last time we were offered such teaching from our pulpits. If the answer to that question is never or rarely, then what believers are not-so-implicitly being fed is that the Christian faith cannot speak to areas of public import. As a result, evangelical voting behavior in these electoral contests may well reflect this privatization of faith.

Exit polling data indicates that support for Trump among evangelicals is lowest with those who are most educated and express highest levels of religiosity. Thus, it is not surprising that those like Lucado would be less likely to support Trump’s candidacy. Yet why are so many who fill pews lining up behind Trump? Perhaps the fruits of this electoral conundrum are the results of seeds evangelicalism has sown for decades.

Evangelical voting behavior in these electoral contests may well reflect this privatization of faith.  If from our pulpits people rarely, if ever, hear a sermon demonstrating that the Christian faith has pertinence beyond the confines of the church walls and the private spheres of our individual lives, are we not sowing into our congregants the idea of a public-private dichotomy? Believers have mistakenly been told that while faith has much to say about an individual’s relationship with God, it does not have anything to say about the public sphere.

If the realm of politics is seen as part of this public sphere, then is it any surprise that doctrine would be seen increasingly as tangential as we make decisions about whom to elect in this realm? At the very least, should we not be encouraged to reflect upon biblical principles regarding character and leadership as we assess candidates for public office?
Five years ago in a blog post entitled Moral Formation in the Church I drew attention to the words of J. Daryl Charles which are especially pertinent in light of Waller's piece.
A number of years ago Mark Noll alerted the Christian community to "the scandal of the evangelical mind."  Evangelical ethicist J. Daryl Charles echoes these thoughts in his book Between Pacificism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition (IVP, 2005).  Although written to address the ethics of war and the Just War tradition, Charles has some introductory comments that are much broader in application for evangelical social ethics. 
"In The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism I lamented the absence of moral formation in the church's teaching and preaching and in congregational life.  My basic argument was this: there is no such thing as an evangelical social ethic or a broadly Protestant ethic, for that matter.  To be sure, we have elevated church growth to a virtual science.  We have written and sold millions upon millions of heart-warming and inspirational Christian "breakthrough" books.  We have made endless forays into the contemporary music scene.  And we are as "seeker-friendly" as any group on the face of the earth.  But when it comes to giving a reason for the hope within or presenting a rationale for Christian social ethics or offering an explanation of the church's traditional teaching on perennial ethical issues, we are all but clueless."  (pp. 10-11)
Charles goes on to offer some reasons for this lack of evangelical social ethics.
"Is it likely that the evangelicals' relative absence in the public square is due, among other things, to an underdeveloped theology of creation, humanity and culture?  Have all of these been overshadowed by a skewed eschatology?  (I have in mind our fixation with end-time scenarios--often understood as "biblical prophecy"--that hamstrings the church's ability to wrestle with the already-but-not-yet tension of the kingdom of God)."  (p. 12)
And, again, at the end of his book, Charles brings home the implications of this short-sighted eschatological viewpoint.
"If Christ is indeed returning in our lifetime, as we have been taught to fully anticipate, then it is supremely difficult--nay, nonsensical--to pursue other matters over the long term that require considerable energies, strategies, finances and personal investment.  I have in mind, for example, education or certain types of vocational careers.  With Tertullian we answer the question, What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? with a firm resolve: Well, absolutely nothing.  No wonder, then, that evangelical Protestants (for example) tend not to be found among social scientists, economists, educational theorists, political scientists, legal theorists, policy analysts, politicians (football players excepted), ethicists and so on.  Why?  Because such endeavors require a vision that takes culture seriously and views "occupying" (Jesus' word) as both a Christian mandate and a high calling.  All of these vocations require a long-term perspective, and at minimum, an interest in society."  (p. 172)
Charles' words are poignant and precise.  There is a desperate need for biblically informed and theological driven reflection on today's social issues.  The church needs to step up and provide an arena for such reflection.  Discipleship of the mind is an endeavor to be taken seriously by the evangelical church.

Psalm 51: Repentance Before the Lord

* These are the notes from a Sunday School class on Psalm 51.

Psalm 51: Repentance Before the Lord

1.     Description and Prescription

a.     Description of David’s repentance

b.     Prescription of how we should repent

                                               i.     Show us what repentance looks and sounds like

                                              ii.     Psalm 51 is not everything to be said about repentance—we need the full Bible for this!

2.     Why we need Psalm 51—the pervasive reality of sin in our lives means we will need to repent often!

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther, the first of the 95 Theses

3.     Historical context leading up to Psalm 51 in the life of David

a.     2 Samuel 11 narrates the sins of David for which he repents in Psalm 51

                                               i.     Adultery with Bathsheba

                                              ii.     Murder of Uriah the Hittite

                                            iii.     Deceitful cover-up

                                            iv.     “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 2 Samuel 11.27

b.     2 Samuel 12 narrates Nathan coming to David to expose and rebuke the sin

                                               i.     There is the threat of judgment

                                              ii.     David responds, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12.13

                                            iii.     Nathan responds: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.  However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” 2 Samuel 12.13-14

4.     Structural division: the reality of repentance and the results of repentance

Verses 1-12
Verses 13-19
Reality of Repentance
Results of Repentance

5.     Watch where David begins in Psalm 51—the character of God (verse 1)

a.     David appeals to the character of God—his lovingkindness and compassion.

b.     If God is not this way—full of lovingkindness and compassionate—all is lost (see Psalm 130.3-4

c.      Foundational pieces of God’s character revealed to Moses in Exodus 34.6-7[1]

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God,
compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness
and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity,
transgression and sin; yet he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished,
visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren
to the third and fourth generations.”

d.     Trusting in God’s gracious character allows David to plead for God’s pardon.

6.     Key elements of repentance:

a.     Repentance longs for pardon.

b.     Repentance longs for a new heart and steadfast obedience.

c.      Repentance longs for the presence of God.

7.     Repentance longs for pardon.  (Verses 2-9)

a.     Pardon: the desire to be cleansed from the sin and to have it taken away (vv. 2, 7, 9)

b.     Sin does not sit well in the heart of the child of God!

c.      Repentance longs for pardon because it…

                                               i.     Recognizes the reality of sin and guilt (vv. 3-4)—true moral guilt; not merely guilty feelings

                                              ii.     Recognizes the radical pervasiveness of sin

1.     In birth (v. 5)—sinning from the beginning; not an excuse for sin

2.     In all of me (v. 6)

d.     Longing for pardon also includes the desire to be relieved from sin’s consequences (v. 8)

                                               i.     Sin is antithetical to joy and gladness

                                              ii.     Sin can produce physical reactions and sickness (Psalms 32.1-5; 38.1-8; James 5.14-15; 1 Corinthians 11.30)[2]

e.     Repentance longs for pardon—to be out of the realm of sin

                                               i.     Sin’s guilt

                                              ii.     Sin’s consequences

8.     Repentance longs for a new heart and steadfast obedience. (Verse 10)

a.     Repentance is not only a desire to get away from that which is wrong but also a desire to pursue that which is right.

b.     The call to live a life consistent with repentance

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
John the Baptist (Matthew 3.8)

declaring “to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God
performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
Apostle Paul (Acts 26.20)

c.      This longing desire for a new heart and steadfast spirit is one antidote against pseudo-repentance.

                                               i.     Some people are not interested in getting rid of guilt—just guilty feelings.  They will engage in ritualistic motions (whether corporately or individually) to get rid of guilt feelings.  They like the mechanism by which they can be self-served to ease their conscience.  They are not longing for restoration with the living and holy God.  The elements of religion—even true religion—become a masquerade to hide their sinful hearts.

                                              ii.     Jeremiah 7.1-11

9.     Repentance longs for the presence of God.  (Verses 11-12)

a.     The gracious presence of God is the great covenantal blessing for his people.

b.     Consider Moses’ response to God’s word that he (God) would not go up with Israel to the Promised Land (Exodus 33.1-5—esp. v. 3).

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then he [Moses] said to Him, “If your presence does not go with us,
do not lead us up from here.  For how then can it be known that I have
found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not by your going with
us, so we, I and your people, may be distinguished from all the other
peoples who are upon the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33.14-16

c.      Repeated emphasis in the Psalms for God’s presence:

                                               i.     Psalm 42.1-5

                                              ii.     Psalm 63.1-8

                                            iii.     Psalm 73.21-28

d.     Consider that Jesus Christ is called Emmanuel—God with us (Matthew 1.23)

10. Repentance longing for: (i) pardon, (ii) a new heart and steadfast obedience, and (iii) the presence of God

a.     Not steps in repentance

b.     Manifestations of repentance—these longings in the heart and in language express the true nature of repentance.

11. Results of Repentance (verses 13-19): Consider the following areas…

a.     Ministry

b.     Praise

c.      Liturgy

12. Ministry (v. 13)

a.     Repentance moves toward God for cleansing, a new heart, and God’s presence; then it moves out toward others in ministry.

b.     Ministry is not just “ordained ministry”

                                               i.     Fathers/mothers to their families

                                              ii.     Older men to younger men (Titus 2)

                                            iii.     Older women to younger women (Titus 2)

                                            iv.     All the “one anothers” of the New Testament

1.     Love one another
2.     Encourage one another
3.     Pray for one another
4.     Rebuke one another

c.      Sin short-circuits ministry!

                                               i.     Sin makes us selfish—we don’t care to help others.

                                              ii.     Sin makes us weak—we can’t help others.

d.     Repentance must precede ministry.

                                               i.     Galatians 6.1—“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

                                              ii.     2 Timothy 2.21—“Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

e.     Repentance leads to ministry. (v. 13)

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;
but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail;
and you, when once you have turned again,
strengthen your brothers.”
Luke 22.31-32

f.      Repentance preceding and leading to ministry: example of Isaiah in Isaiah 6.1-8

13. Praise (verses 14-15)

a.     Repentance precedes praise.

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far away from me”
Mark 7.6

                                               i.     If our hearts our full of the filth of sin we cannot praise God rightly.

                                              ii.     Our lips may move and pronounce words of praise but God does not accept it as praise.

b.     Repentance leads to praise (vv. 14-15)

                                               i.     One of the first fruits of repentance is praising God!

                                              ii.     We’ve been delivered from sin and we long to praise the Deliverer!

                                            iii.     Praise is preceded by God’s grace.

1.     God’s grace empowers praise

2.     We should ask for this grace-filled empowerment to praise (v. 15)

14. Liturgy

a.     Liturgy is the structural approach to worshipping God

b.     Verses 16 and 19

                                               i.     “you do not delight in sacrifice” (v. 16)

                                              ii.     “you will delight in righteous sacrifice” (v. 19)

                                            iii.     Q: What accounts for the change?

c.      Verses 17-18

                                               i.     Our humility and God’s favor

                                              ii.     Our broken spirited repentance and God’s grace

d.     Important to remember…

                                               i.     Sacrificial system of the Old Testament was ordained by God; this was the system he desired to be in place under the old covenant.

                                              ii.     It was through the blood sacrifices that God had designed that his people approach him.

                                            iii.     Yet, the presence of un-confessed and rampant sin could render this liturgy “worthless”

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to me?” says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle;
and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this
trampling of my courts?  Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath, the calling
of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.”
Isaiah 1.11-13

                                            iv.     God-approved liturgy must be pursued in a God-approved manner—namely, humble obedience.

1.     Isaiah 1.10-20

2.     Jeremiah 7.1-11

3.     Amos 5.21-24

4.     1 Corinthians 11.20-22, 27-34

     [1] The importance of this revelation of God’s character is found in its continued repetition throughout the Old Testament: Numbers 14.18; 2 Chronicles 30.9; Nehemiah 9.17, 31; Psalms 86.15; 103.8; 145.8; Joel 2.13; Jonah 4.3; Nahum 1.3.  If the individual attributes are counted the numbers grow sharply.  For example, “lovingkindness,” by itself, appears around 125 times in the Psalms.
     [2] This does not mean that all sickness is due to a person’s individual sins.