Posts tagged with: evangelicals

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 29, 2006

Our 2006 year in review series concludes with the fourth quarter:


“Do You See More than Just a ‘Carbon Footprint’?” Jordan J. Ballor

It’s a fair question to ask, I think, of those who are a part of the radical environmentalist/population control political lobby. It’s also a note of caution to fellow Christians who want to build bridges with those folks…there is a complex of interrelated policies that are logically consistent once you assume the tenets of secular environmentalism….


“The Idolatry of Political Christianity,” Jordan J. Ballor

In its activist zeal, political Christianity substitutes the State for Christ, the one who in reality stands between all human relationships. The State’s proper role is therefore lost in the expansion of its purview to all social relations….


“The Pornification of Culture,” Jordan J. Ballor

“To pander to this world is to fornicate against you,” confesses Augustine to God. The worldly culture of today seems to be trying its best to actualize Augustine’s observation in literal terms….

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our series on the year in review continues with the second quarter:


“Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal,” Jordan J. Ballor

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues….


“How Do You Spell Relief?” Jordan J. Ballor

If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely?…


“There are more environmentalist misanthropes than you think,” Jay Richards

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions….

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

In a plenary address a couple weeks back to the Evangelical Theological Society, law professor and journalist Hugh Hewitt spoke about the religious affiliation of political candidates and to what extent this should be considered in the public debate (Melinda at Stand To Reason summarizes and comments here). In advance of his forthcoming book, A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every Conservative Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hewitt used Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as an example as to why evangelical Christians should not withhold their votes for a particular presidential candidate purely based on theological disagreement.

In the intervening time, the so-called “Mormon question” has received a great deal of media attention. (Hewitt says that yesterday was “a day of interviews about and with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”) Here’s just one example, Time magazine’s story, “Can a Mormon be President? Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many.”

A number of people, including Glenn Reynolds, have wondered about the potential hypocrisy in examining Romney’s Mormonism so closely, while apparently giving a free pass to politicians like Harry Reid. But for Hewitt, the appropriate treatment of a Mormon politician would look more like the reception Reid has gotten than the scrutiny that Romney has gotten.

Hewitt’s argument goes like this: if the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won’t be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds. This is a sort of “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” argument, and it is one that is shared by “Evangelicals for Mitt,” who note that most of the objections to Romney’s fitness for the presidency are on theological matters that are “absolutely irrelevant to the presidency.”

David French of “Evangelicals for Mitt” does address one of the questions I had coming out of the Hewitt talk, which was whether Hewitt’s claims that the religious and theological commitments of candidates should be off-limits was true for practitioners of all religions (or even strands of individual religions). French writes, “Let me be clear: I am not saying that theology is never relevant. When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.”

These are not the types of theological issues to which evangelicals are taking offense, however. Says French, “The questions we receive deal with the Mormon view of the Trinity, the Mormon doctrine of salvation, the Mormon view of the afterlife, etc. Not only are these questions not relevant to the presidency (though certainly relevant if the Governor were applying to be your pastor), by even attempting to inject them into the debate evangelicals play a dangerous game. Do we think we can reject a candidate for theological reasons and then cry foul if the media or political opponents attack our own theology?”

This distinction between theological positions that bear directly on matters of public policy and ones that do not may indeed be helpful in distinguishing when it is appropriate to discuss faith commitments ad hominem. It would certainly seem to distinguish Romney’s Mormonism from, say, an Islamo-fascist faith which would attempt to impose and enforce Sharia law with government coercion.

Moreover, disqualification of Romney simply on the basis of his Mormon faith is a mark of a theocratic tendency which holds that only Christians are fit to rule. An apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther is his expression that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” We’ll get to more of what Luther actually did say about Islam in a bit. But for the moment, let’s reflect on how this sentiment bears on the conversation.

The idea is essentially that the office of government can be rightly exercised by those who from the Christan perspective hold heretical theological views. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The state possesses its character as government independently of the Christian character of the persons who govern. There is government also among the heathen.”

Acknowledging this truth does not mean that it is of no consequence whether the politician is or is not a Christian. It may simply be of no political consequence. “Certainly the persons who exercise government ought also to accept belief in Jesus Christ, but the office of government remains independent of the religious decision,” says Bonhoeffer.

Back to Luther. (more…)

As a follow-up to John Armstrong’s post, I point you to this excellent response to Gerson’s article by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns (HT: Good Will Hinton).

Knippenberg raises the relevant question whether “the ‘new evangelicals’ he describes will have sound practical judgment to go along with their decency and moral energy.”

I think it’s true that the potential is there for the “new” evangelicals to go the Jim Wallis route, who is proclaiming the election as “a defeat for the Religious Right and the secular Left,” which leaves, you guessed it, the Religious Left.

Pundits and pollsters are sorting out the results of Tuesday’s elections day-by-day now. Most are agreed that these mid-term elections do not signal a huge victory for the political left. But why? The Democrats did win both houses of Congress didn’t they?

  1. Most of the seats lost by Republicans were lost to candidates as a result of the Democrats running men and women who were far less extreme than the voices of the post-60s crowd that has controlled their party for decades. Think of Robert Casey, Jr. and Harold Ford, Jr. as two basic examples.
  2. American is still fundamentally religious, with upwards of 85% expressing allegiance to some organized faith and a third still attending a house of worship weekly. The Democrats took this far more seriously in this most recent election cycle. Time will tell what this means and how it will play out but I expect more pro-life candidates from the Democratic Party in the coming years. One can at least hope and pray for such. In a recent Pew Research study only one in four thought this party was “friendly toward religion.”
  3. The polls say 21% of Americans call themselves liberal, 33% conservative and 46% say they are moderate. While I am not sure what the “moderate” classification means it is obvious liberals are still the minority. (By the way, the designation Independent has more adherents than either Republican or Democrat.)My guess is that if you used my own label of “progressive conservative” you would gain the majority of the middle.
  4. There is every reason to believe that this election was lost by the Republicans, not won by the Democrats. I personally hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party will use their new power appropriately but there are a number of wild cards to be watched very carefully. The greatest immediate loss will likely be in the appointment of more restrained judges given Joe Biden’s new role in the Senate.
  5. The Democratic influence over the African-American vote is still tenuous, even though the numbers do not reveal this strongly yet. Stephen Carter, in his book, The Dissent of the Governed, describes two black women who said that “they preferred a place that honored their faith and disdained their politics over a place that honored their politics and disdained their faith.” Will this thinking grow? The overwhelming majority of older blacks believe, and generally for good reasons, that the Democratic Party is the party that gave them their civil rights. The political impact of this historic fact could be changing, though slowly for sure. Religious Democrats are more likely to change their party affiliation, nearly four times as often as Republicans, according to a National Election Surveys study. This trend also needs to be watched.
  6. The party that can rightly appeal to the newest Hispanic voters will have greater success in the future. The Republicans made large gains in 2004 but went backwards on Tuesday. The debate about “illegal immigrants” is politically loaded. The next Congress will likely take up this issue and the President may get his way after all. This again should be watched. The strong arguments on the left and the right may be moderated in the 110th Congress by a comprehensive agreement the president can and will sign. Personally, I hope so.
  7. And what about young people? The numbers are not clear yet but in 2004 the number of young people moving toward the conservative category increased by 143%. There may have been a slowdown in this trend on Tuesday but I doubt it is a huge shift yet in terms of long-term practice.

In addition to these observations, a number of cultural patterns strengthen the conservative cause. Besides volunteerism being higher on the right, add to these various observations things like fertility patterns (conservatives have far more children than liberals) and the effects of education. All in all, you have some major trends favoring a more conservative direction for the future. (more…)

Blog author: jarmstrong
Thursday, November 9, 2006

I am spending a twenty-four hour sabbath, after a busy six weeks of travel and speaking, at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Frankly, this 80 acre campus is one of the most gorgeous places in all of Illinois. It is about an hour’s drive north of my home. Last evening I had a lovely dinner, in a very wonderful Sicilian restaurant, with my good friend Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Baima, the provost of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary. Tom and I met about four years ago when a group of evangelicals in Naperville, Illinois, arranged a Catholic and evangelical dialogue for us. It was well-attended and well done. We formed a friendship through that evening and have since explored ideas that will lead, we trust, to a larger Catholic/evangelical forum in Chicago in 2007. (Stay tuned for details!) Tom is also a contributor to my forthcoming Zondervan book on four views of the Lord’s Supper (It has a late 2007 release date, with the corresponding book on Baptism due out in January of 2007.)

I asked Tom, as we drove back to the seminary last evening, “How do you explain the growth of your student body to its present high of 260 students after it hit rock bottom in 1991-92?” (The school was even larger, like all Catholic seminaries, in the 1950s, following world War II.) After the 1960s, and the turn to the left in the American Catholic Church, the number of priests, and thus the number of students preparing for the priesthood, declined sharply. I thought I knew the answer to my question but I wanted to hear Tom’s answer. Without hesitation he said, “John Paul II.” Tom then added that John Paul II pulled this renewal effort off not only because of his commitment to a more orthodox and robust Christian position but because he lived the Christian faith and incarnated the graces of Christ in ways that made him so fruitful in demonstrating the love of Christ. Tom went on to say that even the “priest scandals” of the 1990s had not slowed this growth. Why? Truth lived, and resolutely applied, makes a difference. Humility and courage go together. Standing for something is very important but how you stand is even more important! As evangelicals sort out the Ted Haggard scenario I pray to God this very day that they will more fully understand this same point. We need to stand for something orthodox and we need to do it with courage and humility.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."