Saturday, August 28, 2010

Christians and Politics

Many Christians believe that Christianity and electoral politics do not mix. The popular model would have us waiting for escape from this “vale of tears” or wringing our hands in observation of the “signs of the times” as we await the rapture. While others are more to the point: electoral politics and the work of culture in general, they say, is dirty stuff in which Christians, called to purity, should not sully themselves. So, different motivations, but the same end: isolationist occupation in the world.

But God does not call his Church to be a cultural eunuch. Clearly God wants us to obey him; he calls us out of darkness into light to do his will. But he calls us to do his will in our bodies and in the concrete processes of history. There is no escaping the fact that though our citizenship is in heaven the world is our temporary address. How shall we treat it? Shall we not pick up after ourselves? Or worse, shall we let our godless roommates trash the place while we sit by indifferent to their actions because we are too holy to care?

Perhaps it would help if we saw the question of Christians and politics as part of a larger question: that of the Christian’s relationship with the world. Jesus calls us “out of the world” only to send us back “into the world” as his ambassadors. What a great opportunity politics affords the Church to be just that: an ambassador for Christ.

As a forum for ministry, electoral politics allows us to pick up after our dirty roommates and after dirty selves. But let us remember that unless our effort is first one of reforming our own hearts and also that of our roommate’s heart from one of hatred of the landlord to one of love for him, our cultural work will have been for naught.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Abortion and the Early Church

In the early Roman Empire abortion was practiced with little shame. It was not uncommon for a man to insist that his wife abort their baby if she suspected it was a girl. Hippolytus of Rome records that women either took drugs or bound themselves tightly around the mid-section in order to “expel was being conceived” (Refutation of all Heresies, Book 9). Another method was to “expose” the newly born by simply abandoning it. Again, this practice was more common if the child was a girl as illustrated in the classic letter written in 1 B.C. by the Egyptian laborer Hilarion to his wife. “If you give birth to multiples, if there is a boy let it [live], but if they are girls, expose [them].” However, according to Origen (A.D. 185–254), Christianity changed men’s moral character so thoroughly that they no longer participated in these evil deeds of darkness. Christians then went on to openly challenge these practices in the public square (see Letter to Diognetus, 6 and Justin, 1 Apology 27). Though during Rome’s history Christians did not end these vile practices completely, their compassion for the unborn, infants, and expectant mothers turned public sentiment so sharply that large numbers of women were attracted to the Church. In time, it was Rome that fell. Let us therefore remain vigilant.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What is Revival?

George Whitefield Preaching
(from my new book, My Almost for His Highest)

Is spiritual revival equivalent to ecstatic experience? Speaking in tongues? The manifestation of miracles in public worship? While these things have had a place in historical revivals, let’s look for a clear biblical definition of revival.  

Exodus 3 and 4:17 record God’s call to Moses to deliver the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The call of God is the basis for Moses legitimacy as a leader of God’s people. Moses, and no one else, led the Israelites out of Egypt, delivered the 10 Commandments to the people, and called them to repentance because his legitimacy as a leader gave him the authority to do these things.

After decades of wandering in the wilderness, the nation of Israel is now about to enter the Promised Land. Chapters 29 and 30 of the book of Deuteronomy comprise the last portion of Moses’ third and final discourse to the Jewish people prior to his death in Jordan and their entering the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. It’s here that Moses, as God’s legitimate leader, reviews the Law first given at Sinai, calls the people to turn from idols, and to keep the Law, all of which is magnificently summed up in the words of Moses, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

In Joshua 24, Joshua and the people are gathered together at Shechem, the place where God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to give the land to his descendants (Genesis 12:1-9). Having served foreign gods, Joshua, having been called by God to lead the people, recalls the promises made to Abraham and he cleanses Jacob’s house once more. Joshua can do this because because his legitimacy as a leader gave him the authority to call the people to repentance.

When Josiah ascended the throne he instituted a series of reforms, which included reformation of the city and the nation, the reinstitution of the Passover celebration in the Temple, and the refurbishing of the Temple itself. 2 Chronicles 34 records that during the time the Temple was being restored to a place of honor, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law delivered by Moses. When the faithful King, Josiah, read the Book of the Covenant before the people of Judah, a great revival took place. “Josiah removed all the abominations from all the lands belonging to the sons of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel to serve the LORD their God. Throughout his lifetime they did not turn from following the LORD God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33).  Josiah was able to do these things because his legitimacy as a leader gave him the authority to call the people to repentance.

Having heard the devastating report that the walls of Jerusalem were torn down, her gates burned with fire, and the survivors left in deep distress, Nehemiah, the cupbearer of the King, turned his face toward God and prayed according to the covenant, confessing his sin and that of his father’s house. In answer to Nehemiah’s prayer, the King, Artaxerxes, permitted him to return to Judah to begin the activity of rebuilding. When Nehemiah returned to help the Jews rebuild the gates in the Jerusalem wall, he led the people in revival by assembling the people and having the Law read for three full hours a day (Nehemiah 8-10). Nehemiah was able to do this because his legitimacy as a leader gave him the authority to call the people to repentance.

In each of the cases cited above, and we could review many more throughout the pages of the Bible, we see that revival is the result of renewing the covenant. Taking into consideration the other points I’ve made, I’ll define revival more fully this way. Revival is the result of God’s legitimate leaders calling people back to the Word of God, whereby people repent and follow God with their whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength. When this happens, we’ll know that revival has come.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Would Jonathan Edwards Work Today?

Yale theology professors, Kenneth P. Minkema and Harry S. Stout, provide their impressions of how Edward's famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" would work in today's church environment. Pay special attention to Minkema's virtual ridicule of hell, judgment, and God's wrath, and Stout's view that should "hell" be preached today it should not be as a real place, for such would only trivialize the idea. Rather, hell ought to preached in an existentialist fashion: as alienation from our "ground of being."

These two professors only further confirm my long-held view that my old Alma Mater is getting more and more away from Christ and his gospel.