The Good News of Jesus vs. the “good news” of Caesar

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)

The term “good news” is not just found in the Christian Scriptures. Darrell Bock, in his NIV Application Commentary on Luke, writes,

“The text refers to the announcement as “good news,” using the verbal form of the word from which we get the term gospel. The term is not culturally insignificant, since the birth of the emperor Augustus was announced with a report of “good news” and the arrival of a “savior.” Luke’s remarks intend a similar declaration of this baby’s greatness.”

Luke’s Christmas narrative is not so much about a “Silent Night,” a peaceful and quaint story that is supposed to give us warm fuzzy feelings.

Scot McKnight spells out how Luke tells a tale of subversion of powers.

“Rome’s gospel told of the significance of Caesar Augustus for the world. Rome’s history took a new turn with Augustus, the adopted son of the dictator Julius Caesar. After his death, Julius Caesar was officially declared to be a god. When Augustus seized power, he was deemed a savior because he ended bitter civil wars and created the peace of Rome (pax Romana). The gospel of Rome was that Augustus, a ‘son of (a) god,’ saved Rome by bringing peace to the world.” ("The Mary We Never Knew," Christianity Today, Dec. 2006, pp. 29-30)

This is the gospel that as is also proclaimed by the Apostle Paul. As N.T. Wright says,

“I have argued at length elsewhere that the word "gospel" carries two sets of resonances for Paul. On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfillment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, "gospel" would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul's world the main "gospel" was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar.” (Wright, Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire)

When we CONTRAST the Roman Emperor with King Jesus, what we have in the announcement to the Shepherds that the real good news has been announced, that the real savior of the world had been born, and that he is none other than Christ the Lord.

This is the meaning of Christ's birth.

This means not trying to overpower that which is overpowering me or others with worldly strength.

It means being gentle and weak, humble and meak.

It means not trying to manipulate life in order to overcome that which oppresses --
___carrying my own cross,
___dying to my old self,
___and submitting to God's Spirit as he transforms me into that which subverts powers:
______a person capable of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It is when we follow Jesus in his humility and subversive actions (the baby lying in a manger, the one willing to die on a cross) that we, as His followers, can transform the world.

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Just in Time for Advent: The Mary We Never Knew by Scot McKnight

Just in time for Advent, Christianity Today features a cover story on "The Mary We Never Knew," an article adapted from Scot McKnight's new book, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus.

You may want to get yourself a copy of this month's Christianity Today.

For those who'd like to read the first two chapters of the book, I have it here at Vanguard Church.


Pray as You Go

My very good friend, Miche, has introduced me to a unique way to connect with God on a regular basis. It's called "Pray as You Go." A daily podcast from the Jesuits of Britain that you can download and listen to when you have 10 or 15 minutes in your day.

These meditations feature soothing music so that you can calm down and rest in God's presence. There's a scripture reading and a vocal guide (usually a woman with a wonderful British accent) to lead you into some contemplative prayer time.

This is really different stuff. Thought I'd pass it on to you.

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America: God’s Providential Blessing or a Humanist Political Experiment?

--that is the question that is often raised in our discourse about American politics today.

Some will say that there is no doubt that God’s hand has been on America from the beginning, guiding this great country to be a light of freedom in a dark world. Some go so far as to perpetuate the myth that America was founded by Christians to be a Christian nation, but that secularists have taken over (therefore we Christians need to “take America back for God”). Others tread closely to believing that since God has ordained our nation to be the Christian light in the world, whatever we do in our foreign policy has God’s stamp of approval on it.

Others will say that America is a humanist political experiment in liberalism. Some go so far to say that religious belief is, in fact, dangerous to American politics. Others tread closely to being anti-American in their critiques of our country, echoing the sentiments of those who most vehemently oppose American policies in other nations.

This is a tension. But, like so many of the issues that face us, can we not just say it’s “either/or,” but rather say that it’s “both/and”?

As a Christian, I can affirm that America has been providentially positioned to be a light for good in the world. There is an analogy to the nation of Israel: America has been positioned by God to be a blessing to the other nations. But I can also say, in the same breath, that this does not mean that God has chosen America as his special nation as he did with Israel. God has made no special covenant with America; the New Covenant is made with His Church, not with our nation, or with any other nation.

I can also say that the analogy to Israel also goes this way: Like the nation of Israel, we need prophets that will rise up and point out the injustices of our political system, our domestic policies of taxation and spending, and our foreign policies that force our will on other nations.

So, I contend that it's a “both/and” thing: God is sovereign over all nations, including ours. He has placed America in a leadership position in the world to be a light of goodness to the rest of the nations.

But we had better be careful not to be too confident that we are on God’s side in our policy decisions; we had better humbly remember that our nation’s leaders are mere fallen men and women. As Abraham Lincoln said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

We had better also remember that our nation was founded on concepts from John Locke’s political theories as they were practically implemented by the American founding fathers (who were mostly Deists).

It is both “God has providentially placed America in its position of power and influence” and “We Americans are given the responsibilty to govern justly and to make policy decisions based on reasoned deliberation and democratic pluralistic consent.”


Benny Hinn - What a Great Guy

Bob Hyatt, over at Bob.Blog, has brought to our attention the NBC documentary that exposed Benny Hinn's ministry. To see the You Tube videos of the documentary, go over and visit Bob. He also found a video with excerpts from the 1972 Academy Award winning documentary (by and about Marjoe Gortner) that shows what happens behind-the-scenes in the lucrative business of faith-healing.

Hank Hannegraff (who, by the way, I disagree with as much as I agree with) correctly writes,

"A well-known charismatic leader participated in a Benny Hinn television extravaganza. Hinn was "slaying" his subjects "in the Spirit" when suddenly he moved in this man’s direction. Hinn stretched forth his hand and shouted, "In the mighty name of Jesus!" Immediately the man fell backward into the hands of a designated "catcher."

Later the man confessed that his experience had nothing to do with the power of God. Peer pressure had caused him to fake his fall. Revealingly, when he asked a cameraman to edit out the faked fall, the cameraman merely chuckled and told him it was common for people to fake it.

Like Hinn, leaders of the Counterfeit Revival use peer pressure to conform their prospects to predictable patterns. They urge them to follow the crowd rather than considering the consequences.

Like hypnotists and Hindu gurus, these "healers" use the power of suggestion to create placebos for psychosomatic symptoms and sickness. In truth, however, there is nothing supernatural about this kind of healing. Hinn and Howard-Browne can "heal" asthma, allergies, and arthritis, but then, so can mesmerists and medicine men. The difference between the "magic" of mental manipulations and genuine miracles is dramatic.

The satirical magazine, The Wittenburg Door offers a 6-hour set of DVDs called The Many Faces of Benny Hinn. The perfect Christmas present for someone who wants to learn about one of today's biggest religious hoaxes. Follow the link where they offer a hilarious-yet-sad video clip from their video.



“The Politics of Jesus” from Newsweek

If you missed it, last week Newsweek ran a series of very good articles on how evangelicalism and politics have intersected, both in the past and in the present. In the past, I’ve been upset with Newsweek’s coverage of Christian issues and stories, but this set of articles is excellent.

Lisa Miller wrote the main feature article, "An Evangelical Identity Crisis: Sex or social justice? The war between the religious right and believers who want to go broader." It gives an excellent overview of the rise of the Religious Right in the 20th Century (from the rise of Fundamentalism to the Scopes Trial to Roe v. Wade to the Moral Majority). She also documents the change that seems to be happening in contemporary evangelicalism:

“For the first time in a long while, then, there is a serious rethinking of the politics of Jesus in America—or at least the efforts of different elements in the country, from believers of progressive, moderate and conservative bents, to claim they are acting in his name in the public sphere...Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised.”

In "Church Meets State," Newsweek writers explain how successful or not the Religious Right has had on public policy on these issues: Judges, Abortion, God and Schools, Foreign Policy, Gay Marriage, Stem Cells, Birth Control and Sex Ed, Public Displays of Religion.

In a very telling article from conservative evangelical Michael Gerson (a Wheaton grad, Gerson was once a speechwriter for George W. Bush and was named in the February 7, 2005 issue of TIME magazine as one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals In America"). Gerson’s article gives insights from a conservative who is more than the stereotypical right-winger.

In the words of the The New Yorker,

“Gerson knows that he is an enigma to the liberal establishment of Washington. He is a churchgoing, anti-gay-marriage, pro-life supply-sider who believes absolutely in the corporeality of Jesus’ resurrection…Yet among his role models he counts Martin Luther King, Jr., and the radical evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century, and his chief vocational preoccupation is the battle against infectious disease in Africa. He has won the admiration of many AIDS and debt-relief activists, including the U2 singer Bono.”

Gerson writes how the change in political activism among evangelicals will change the political landscape in the Newsweek article, "A New Social Gospel: Many evangelicals are chafing at the narrowness of the religious right. A new faith-based agenda."

“It was not long ago that the three-time Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan—who championed legalizing strikes, giving the vote to women and a progressive income tax—was also a fervent, Bible-quoting evangelical. A politically progressive evangelicalism is not an innovation, it is a revival; not a fresh track in the snow, but a rutted path of American history.”

“Republicans will find it increasingly difficult to appeal to the new evangelicals with tired symbols like school prayer or the posting of the Ten Commandments.”

“These changes in evangelicalism should be an opportunity for Democrats. But seizing it would require a philosophic shift. Modern liberalism has defined the belief in truth as the enemy of tolerance because absolute claims of right and wrong lead to coercion. And religious claims, in this view, are the most intolerant of all, and should be radically privatized so no one's morality gets "imposed" on another. It is difficult for liberals and Democrats to appeal to religious people while declaring their deepest motivations a threat to the republic. And it is difficult to imagine the history of the republic if this narrow view had prevailed. How does moral skepticism and privatized religion motivate decades of struggle against slavery, or lead men and women, step by step, toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma? If there is really no truth, why believe in, or sacrifice for, the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence?”

Very insightful stuff there.

Even the “dissenting article” had something to offer. In Sam Harris’ "The Case Against Faith: Religion does untold damage to our politics. An atheist's lament," he disagrees with Gerson’s point of view. Harris’ point of view is that religion (no matter what kind) always is harmful to public policy.

“Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs regularly determine what they live for, what they will die for and—all too often—what they will kill for.”

I disagree with Harris’ general premise, but this quote, I thought, was very intriguing:

“Given the most common interpretation of Biblical prophecy, it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly half the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. It should be clear that this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization—economically, environmentally or geopolitically. Some of these people are lunatics, of course, but they are not the lunatic fringe. We are talking about the explicit views of Christian ministers who have congregations numbering in the tens of thousands. These are some of the most influential, politically connected and well-funded people in our society.”

Good stuff in the November 13, 2006 issue of Newsweek!

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Borrowing Rhetorical Style from Babylon

The recent flap about Mark Driscoll’s unkind words about women (see Scot McKnight’s blog) makes me wonder about something.

In our discussions about political matters and even about church and theological matters, I’m wondering if Christians are increasingly adopting a rhetorical style that they see in the media.

The Right has had Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, using a style that calls names as part of the entertainment of their shows (remember Limabaugh calling people “Femi-Nazis” and “Environmental Wackos”?). The Left has retaliated with Jon Stewart, Al Frankin, and Keith Olbermann, using satire and sometimes meanly poking fun as a means toward their political ends.

Instead of prudent and kind engagement on issues, we have, from both sides, a rhetorical style that divides by way of setting up an “us vs. them” mentality that infers that we think clearly but they are simply imbeciles."

This is what I’d expect from a media that is looking for ratings boosts through the easy means of being mean-spirited in satirical rhetoric.

But what I’ve seen is this: Christians emulating this style of rhetoric as well. Maybe we think it’s funny. Maybe we think it’s the only way to get a hearing. Maybe we are so enamored by those in the media that we want to be like them.

But that’s the problem. We are not to be like them. We are called to be different, especially in the way we speak.

“Now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 3:8-10, 4:6)

I’d love to see more graceful speech coming from our mouths, a rhetoric that is less abusive and less interested in being satirical. I'll try to follow my own admonition here in the Vanguard.

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“You are the salt of the earth.”

– Jesus to his followers, Matthew 5:13

Those who embrace a Protective Social Action read that verse and primarily think of salt as being a preservative agent. They hear Jesus say, “You are salt, therefore, preserve that which is good in society. Engage in political action that conserves the present social order. Be suspicious of those who come up with progressive ideas or think liberally about reform in society.” To many evangelicals in the 20th and early 21st Centuries, being “salt” means to preserve God’s values in the world.

Those who embrace a Transformative Social Action read that verse and primarily think of salt as a seasoning, something that makes for a more savory life. They hear Jesus say, “You are salt, therefore, go into the world and make it a better place to be. Engage in political and social action that progresses the social order. Be creative with ideas that can make life a more tasty experience for all of God’s created beings.” To the emerging generation of Christians in the early 21st Century, “salt” means to be a blessing to those around them, to actively seek ways to transform society in progressive ways. Paul admonishes the Colossians, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt” (Col 4:6).

I know that this is a stark dichotomy I’ve painted. I’ve done it to make my point (I recognize that, to some degree, both camps would also embrace the definition of salt of the other camp).

I’m just trying to get us to think about that which primarily motivates us in our social engagement. In this over-simplified dichotomy, which of these definitions of salt do you resonate with?

Also read:

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My Response to Francis Beckwith about Ted Haggard

On 11/8, I posted about the Ted Haggard scandal, juxtaposing two different articles on it, and asking which article best exemplifies the attitude of Christ. I just left it out there, without comment, to see what people thought (though it was probably pretty obvious that I was not very enthusiastic about Francis Beckwith’s article).

Well, since Francis Beckwith has visited us at Vanguard Church (see that previous post) with a gracious comment, I figure it is probably time for me to give my two cents on what troubles me about his article (though I must be crazy to do so; Beckwith is an accomplished philosopher and conservative political specialist). Thanks, Francis, for taking the time to comment both here and at Friend of Kuyper; I hope this post is taken as a Christian critique in love and not with any malice.

In this post, I will be citing his original article that appeared on The American Spectator web page. I encourage you to have the original article up alongside this critique.

Here’s my main critique of Francis Beckwith’s article: He charges a group he calls the “liberal-secular chattering class” with not being able to understand hypocrisy because they have a deeply flawed understanding of the human condition. In doing so, Beckwith proves to not truly believe in natural law and common grace, and thus he cuts off his ability to reach out to liberal-secularists with an apologetic that can be fruitful.

First, what is “Natural Law?” Natural law says that since all human beings are created in the “Image of God,” they have the innate ability to receive “General Revelation” through God’s “Common Grace.” God has set in place certain “Orders for Creation” and he is active in sustaining those orders. God’s “Common Grace” preserves these orders, rebuking us when we do not keep them and leading us to the greater grace that saves. The interior witness of God’s common grace is the “Conscience,” which all humans have (this explains why all humanity has the innate ability to seek justice and to right wrongs, whether they do it righteously or not). The requirements of Common Grace are found in Natural Law, which is confirmed and illuminated by the Christian Scriptures. Many evangelicals have not embraced the historic Christian tradition of natural law.

Beckwith mentions Natural Law twice in his article while all the while denying its ability to do what it is supposed to do.

Beckwith starts out by saying,

“In the tragic case of Pastor Ted Haggard, an ever-expanding number of liberal writers and bloggers are cheerfully celebrating the fall of this man.”

I agree that it is indeed ugly when people “cheerfully celebrate” someone’s fall. But the fact remains that since they are doing so (as ugly as it is), we have evidence that they have an innate ability to spot hypocrisy.

Beckwith then goes to the ultimate source for defining hypocrisy and how to react to it, Jesus Christ:

“One does not find Jesus finding satisfaction or joy in the failure of others.”

Amen to that!

“Remember that for Jesus, hypocrisy was a vice found in the hearts of those who thought they were spiritually and morally superior to others.”

Again, I agree (as the passage from Matthew 7 so clearly teaches). But the question is this: Is not Ted Haggard the very epitome of this? In the now-famous clip from Jesus Camp, he pokes fun of those who live secret homosexual lives. And yet, he is the one who has been allegedly doing this very same thing. The words of Jesus seem very appropriate in this case: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matt 7:1-2).

I think that what really seems uncouth or not epitomizing a Christian attitude in Beckwith’s article is how he uses the fall of Ted Haggard and the liberals’ correctly calling it “hypocrisy” as an opportunity to rail against the liberals. Instead of taking the time to agree with anyone who would identify Haggard as a hypocrite, he goes after a group that he calls the “liberal-secular chattering class” (without identifying who this “class” is). Pejorative name-calling simply does not help the cause when we are trying to make a case in the public sphere. I am always frustrated when a Christian resorts to this tactic rather than trying to create an authentic public apologetic. Maybe if he identified the “liberal-secular chattering class,” I could agree with him, since they must be some very small minority that should be blasted in this way. However, I do not know very many people in secular society who rightly call Haggard a hypocrite that would not, on one level or another, embrace the idea that humanity is deeply flawed. There certainly are those outside the Christian worldview that seek solutions to this deep flaw in ways other than the grace of God (i.e., education or social reform or the like), but their very attempts at social reform is evidence that they believe, at some level, that humanity is not what it is supposed to be.

Now to my main critique of Beckwith’s article. In his rant against the “liberal-secularists,” he states that it's not clear “what a typical liberal-secularist could appeal in order to condemn hypocrisy.” And, “How does the liberal-secularist find warrant for his moral judgment that hypocrisy is wrong? I do not know.”

Well, Francis, you should know! You identified it in your article! It is called “Natural Law.” You seem to think that the secularist has to know that he understands right from wrong due to the grace of God in order for their discernment to have any credibility. But that is not the case. It does not matter what the secularist “appeals to,” it is simply the case that God gives all humans the innate ability to identify hypocrisy.

As J. Budziszewski writes (in his recent book, Evangelicals in the Public Square),

“What the Christian natural law tradition teaches us is what nonbelievers, in fragmentary fashion, already know—whether or not they know that they know it, whether or not they think they know it, and even if they would rather not know it. Viewed this way, the art of cultural apologetic is less a matter of laying foundations than of digging up and repairing them, less a matter of talking people into truths they do not yet know than of dredging up what they do know but have not acknowledged. In the words of the apostle Paul, a law is written on the heart. In fallen humans, it is far easier to suppress than we might wish, but it altogether impossible to erase” (p. 37)

It does not matter whether or not a person knows the source of their moral discernment. from the Christian perspective, it is from the common grace of God.

Beckwith correctly points out the inconsistencies of the secularist’s worldview, but that does not negate the fact that, theologically, we understand that if anybody understands right from wrong, it is by the common grace of God. We must remember that everyone is inconsistent in their thinking this side of glory. The Fall has had effects on the noetic abilities in all of humanity. Every one of us cannot know for certain that we are thinking correctly (in an absolute sense) about anything. But praise to God, who, in his Common Grace, breaks through the noetic affects of the Fall so that we can know some things rightly.

Beckwith writes,

“It seems, then, that the liberal-secularist's worldview is bereft of resources by which he may condemn hypocrisy as morally wrong.”

It may seem that way to Beckwith, since he does not embrace the concepts of Natural Law and Common Grace, but it does not seem that way to me.

Beckwith then wraps with saying,

“Perhaps by finding fault in Jesus' pretended followers, the liberal-secularist thinks he can mollify his nagging doubt that Jesus may have indeed been right that we live in a moral universe? Perhaps.”

Well, yes, perhaps. But just as likely an explanation is that the “liberal-secularist” has an innate ability to know a hypocrite when he sees one. He is able to identify that when a religious leader preaches against something and then is caught doing that exact same thing, he is a fraud.

If Christians cannot admit that people can spot hypocrisy or if Christians believe that nonbelievers have no basis for determining right from wrong, then we have no ability to have a cultural apologetic. Our common ground is lost. Instead of attacking the "liberal-secularists," perhaps Christians should agree with them on this count...

...and begin to build bridges through the common ground that exists so that the Christian worldview can begin to have a positive influence in society.

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Beyond Religious Trappings to Really Shining God’s Glorious Light

Reflections on Isaiah

I am guilty of this, as are many of my evangelical brothers and sisters. We try to look the part, we try to act like we are the “light of the world” through our religious activities, but God sees right through it. We do the religious things that we think will distinguish us as God’s people, but God says, “Nope. I know what’s really going on.”

In Isaiah 58, God lays it on the line for us. The people ask, “Why have we fasted, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (Isa 58:3)

God tells them that he sees past that religious veneer. He sees how they may do their “religious duties” but that they have failed to have changed hearts: hearts that truly care for others.

God says,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isa 58:6-7)

This reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he separates the sheep from the goats.

We evangelicals have a tendency to think of righteousness in very narrow terms: sexual purity, fighting for “family values,” going to church to worship, praying regularly, reading our Bibles, evangelizing our friends.

Righteousness is not any less than that, but this text is saying it is definitely more than that. We think that in simply doing the evangelical Christian duties that we are the light of the world. And we wonder why more people are not attracted to our message. Then we chalk it up to the world not loving light and loving darkness instead (John 3:19). Maybe that’s the case, but maybe its also the case that we have lost our way as to how to shine God’s loving light into a dark world.

Look at what God says will happen only when his people work to stop injustice and free the oppressed, the hungry, and the poor:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isa 58:8-9)

That is an incredible promise. May our light break forth like the dawn, may our healing begin. May we care for the oppressed (that is, may we be a transformative influence in society for the benefit of the poor, hungry, and naked who have suffered under the hand of greed and the evil of our society and our laws); may our love for them shine forth the love of God to people. May our righteousness go before us and the glory of the Lord be our rearguard. May God be with his people.

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Two Ways to Look at the Ted Haggard Scandal

Which article seems more Christian? Which article best exemplifies the attitude of Christ? The first is from a philosopher at Baylor University, the second from a philosopher at Calvin College.

The Case of Ted Haggard
By Francis J. Beckwith

The American Spectator 11/7/2006

In the tragic case of Pastor Ted Haggard, an ever-expanding number of liberal writers and bloggers are cheerfully celebrating the fall of this man.

But it seems to me that if one looks at the life and practice of the great critic of hypocrites, Jesus of Nazareth, who is recognized by most everyone, liberal and conservative alike, as a paradigm of personal virtue, one does not find Jesus finding satisfaction or joy in the failure of others. In fact, to find comfort in another's suffering, and then to brag about the acquisition of that comfort in a public venue, seems far more wicked than the initial hypocrisy.

Remember that for Jesus, hypocrisy was a vice found in the hearts of those who thought they were spiritually and morally superior to others. Read carefully some of Jesus' most well-known comments on hypocrisy and public piety:

  • Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NAB)
  • (But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. (Matthew 6: 1-2a NAB)

For Jesus, hypocrisy is clearly wrong, but it is a wrong intimately tied to a type of moral and spiritual triumphalism, just the sort that one finds in the writings of those who gleefully celebrate the moral failings of Pastor Haggard. Those who think of the detecting and condemnation of hypocrisy as sport, which is the dominant understanding of the liberal-secular chattering class, are not serious about the wrongness of hypocrisy. For such seriousness requires a tragic understanding of the human condition, that one is just as susceptible to sin's temptation as any other, and that it is only by God's grace and the support of the church that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and the strength to carry our cross. But the liberal-secular chattering class does not believe any of this. So, their detection and condemnation of hypocrisy is disingenuous at best and mean-spirited at worst.

But why would anyone think hypocrisy wrong? Of course, Christian, Jews, and Muslims can point to the clear teaching of their scriptures on this matter. More sophisticated theists may also make a natural law argument, that human beings are designed in such a way that certain acts, behaviors, and thoughts, including hypocrisy, are inconsistent with the acquisition of our personal virtue and thus our good. So, it makes sense for Jesus to condemn the hypocrite, for Jesus no doubt held that a good soul was better than a good reputation, and if one were to have the latter it should be the result of the former.

But it's not clear to what a typical liberal-secularist could appeal in order to condemn hypocrisy. He could, I suppose, argue that all he is doing is pointing out that the hypocrite is living inconsistently with his moral theology. But that's just an observation, not a judgment. After all, if the hypocrite were a religious cannibal who preached the virtues of cannibalism every Sunday and yet in private chose to abstain from his theology's culinary demands, most of us would praise, rather than condemn, the hypocrite's "hypocrisy." So, for the liberal-secularist, as with the Christian, not all cases of "hypocrisy" are per se wrong. In fact, in some cases we would prefer that people live inconsistently with what they preach, because what they preach is so horrid that it is better that we leave them undisturbed with their hypocrisy than draw their attention to it. For one way to correct the inconsistency is for the hypocrites to begin practicing what they preach. God forbid.

So, how does the liberal-secularist find warrant for his moral judgment that hypocrisy is wrong? I do not know. He cannot appeal to the scriptures of the great theistic faiths, for it is in those very texts that his political adversaries find condemnation of those activities that he considers morally benign, such as atheism, homosexuality, and fornication. What about a natural law argument, one that offers an understanding of human beings as designed agents that have an end or good that can only be achieved by certain virtues and practices? But now he's on the turf of those who appeal to the natural law to condemn homosexuality. After all, could not the hypocrite, like the liberal-secularist who defends homosexuality as a congenital property well-suited for the constitutions of those who have it, argue that the hypocrite was born with his hypocrisy, that it is deeply connected to his identity, that his personal religious beliefs do not condemn hypocrisy, and/or that he enjoys the fellowship and friendship of other similarly-situated hypocrites. And besides, who are you to judge? Waxing Darwinian, which would no doubt impress Richard Dawkins, the hypocrite could argue that hypocrites have always been with us, and so perhaps it is evolutionarily helpful to the species to have a certain number of them in our population. It seems, then, that the liberal-secularist's worldview is bereft of resources by which he may condemn hypocrisy as morally wrong.

Sadly, the liberal-secularlist does not, indeed cannot, see hypocrisy as tragic, as Jesus did. And, worse still, he cannot give an adequate moral account of why hypocrisy is wrong. Thus, it must be something less than noble that rouses the liberal-secularlist to joyfully draw others' attention to the foibles of hypocrites. Perhaps by finding fault in Jesus' pretended followers, the liberal-secularist thinks he can mollify his nagging doubt that Jesus may have indeed been right that we live in a moral universe? Perhaps. But, as we have seen, it cannot be because the liberal-secularist has a serious moral understanding of the human condition.

Christians and other theists do not have the same luxury to plead ignorance. We are both constrained and liberated by the awful truth about ourselves, and for this reason we must humbly pray, "But, for the grace of God, go I."

Francis J. BECKWITH is Associate Professor of Church-State Studies, Baylor University, as well as President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society. His latest book is (with W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland) To Everyone Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2004).


Praying for Ted
by James K. A. Smith

Fors Clavigera 11/4/2006

This morning, while trying to undo autumn's leafy deposits across the backyard, I found myself--much to my surprise--praying for Ted Haggard. To be sure, Haggard represents almost everything I loathe about the Religious Right and the Babylonian captivity of evangelicalism (captured so well in
Jeff Sharlet's Harper's piece a while back). And news of these allegations has made leftist bloggers just downright giddy.

But it's curious how this explosion in Haggard's life could be a reminder that, despite our political differences, Ted Haggard is still a brother. (And maybe this is a tiny little confirmation that, despite all my protests to the contrary, I'm still an evangelical.) Recent video of Haggard in his SUV, with his wife in the passenger seat, was one of the most painful snippets I've seen in a while. Forced to revise his story (I think common sense should tell us to expect further revisions), Haggard's tired eyes keep darting to his wife's face as he has to confess to compromises and failures (the camera's gaze is almost merciful in not showing her face).

While sociologists are constantly looking for the defining features of "evangelicals," I wonder if the Haggard case might provide a more visceral criterion: if you see what Haggard and his family are going through, and are moved to consider their pain, and have a haunting but persistent sense that "there, but for the grace of God go I"--then you're an evangelical. Evangelicals in their best moments are painfully aware of the brokenness of our world, and of our very selves--even our redeemed selves. And thus struggle to answer the Spirit's call to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15).

"Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).

James K.A. Smith is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Calvin College and a Fellow of the Center for Social Research at Calvin.

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Why Evangelicals Have Trouble Moving from Protective to Transformative Social Ethics

Every evangelical today should thank God for the courage of Carl F. H. Henry. In the first half of the 20th Century, he was in the vanguard of a new group of Christians calling themselves the “New Evangelicals,” a group that wanted to move beyond the limitations of the Christian Fundamentalism of their day.

The fundamentalists responded to the rise of secularism by withdrawing from the institutions of influence (such as colleges and politics), thus ceding the intellectual ground to their opponents. The neo-evangelicals sought to re-engage culture. The leading voice in this re-engagement was Henry—providing the theological and philosophical groundwork that shaped the late 20th Century’s evangelical political thought.

The book that was the manifesto for this new movement was Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published in 1947. In that same year, Harold Ockenga asked Henry to become the first professor of theology at the new Fuller Theological Seminary. In the mid-1950s, Billy Graham tapped Henry to be the first editor of Christianity Today. The new magazine extended Henry’s influence as many evangelicals joined in the neo-evangelical movement. Christianity Today was the most influential publication of social ethics in the evangelical world.

Henry insisted that sin not only affects individuals but also all of society, and thus the gospel is meant to affect more than just individuals; it is to ripple out to affect society. His influence continued through his magazine and his other books; many evangelical leaders in politics basically now say the same as Henry said all throughout the middle-to-late 20th Century.

“Although the Christian Church ought to rely on the spiritual regeneration of individuals to transform society, it must not on that account neglect the role of education and legislation in preserving what is valuable in the present social order. Christian social theory needs to distinguish between transforming and preserving, and to recognize that education and legislation can serve only the latter of these ends. But preserving the good in society is worth doing, and the Church dare not yield total control of education and legislation to secular agencies.” (Henry, Aspects of Christian Social Ethics [1964] p. 72).

Now, this was a major step forward for evangelicals in the mid-20th Century. Henry led the way for people like Charles Colson (who invited Henry to be a “Lecturer-at-Large” for Prison Fellowship in the 1990s) and other evangelicals to begin engaging education and politics.

But when you read Henry’s solution, and watch those who have followed in his footsteps, you see that “Protective Social Action” at work that I've been blogging about the last few days (what Henry called “preserving”). What this means is that evangelicals have mostly engaged in politics from a conservative framework (seeking to “conserve” what is valuable in what Henry called “the present social order”).

The framework for evangelical social engagement has been to "preserve," not to "transform," the social order. This is why evangelicals would rather be "conservative" than "liberal" (defined as "favoring proposals for reform") or "progressive." Most of their social action has been in order to conserve, not so much has been done to progress.

Henry’s belief is this: We cannot expect fallen humans to be able to do anything for the common good. Because of sinful alienation from God and total depravity, humans cannot have a correct perception of truth. Therefore, the cultural task starts with the conversion of individuals.

“The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social.” (Uneasy Conscience, p.88)

J. Budziszewski, in his new book, Evangelicals in the Public Square (Baker Academic) writes, “Surely it would be naïve to think that better laws eliminate the need for God’s grace. But it is equally unrealistic to suppose that conversion cancels out the need for better laws.”

Henry, for all the good he did, bequeathed to 21st Century evangelicals a mindset that in order to really change society, we must convert people and then place converted people in office. I've heard many of my evangelical brothers and sisters say something like, "We cannot ever trust those of other faiths or of no faith in public office, for they are totally depraved." And, "We must elect Christians to office, for they alone can do what God wills be done in public office." And, "We can only change society one heart at a time." And, "We cannot expect society to change until a majority of people in our society are Christians." And, many evangelicals go further and say, "But unless God brings a major revival in America, the only thing we can do is protect our Christian values against the humanists in our society and the godless in our public offices." This is the conservative thrust of contemporary evangelical political engagement: Protective, rather than transformative.

Budziszewski then points out that Carl Henry, four decades after Uneasy Conscience, began to be critical of his own focus on individual conversion for social change. He quotes from Henry’s 1987 lecture at Fuller called “The Uneasy Conscience Revisited.”

“There was…a notable weakness in my concentration on regeneration as the guarantee of a better world. For Uneasy Conscience failed to focus sharply on the indispensable role of government in preserving justice in a fallen society. Essential as regenerative forces are to transform the human will, civil government remains nonetheless a necessary instrument to constrain human beings—whatever their religious predilections—to act justly, whether they desire to do so or not.”

Also read:
Moving From Protective to Transformative Social Action
More on Protective vs. Transformative Social Action

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