Call 2 Fall: An Exercise in Bad Biblical Exegesis

Family Research Council reinterprets 2 Chronicles 7:14

The Family Research Council is asking evangelical pastors to participate in their July 5 event, Call 2 Fall. In a video, Tony Perkins says,

“I don’t think I have to explain to you that our nation is in deep trouble. One glance at any paper in the nation, on any given day, the headlines scream at us that America is in trouble: economically, culturally, socially, and, yes, spiritually. The Scripture (sic) gives clear direction to us in what we are to do in a situation like this. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a very familiar verse.
It is up to God’s people, to his spiritual leaders, to call a nation back to him. Not the politicians, not those who are in power, not those who have great influence, but rather God’s people. The Family Research Council recognizes the role that pastors play, the spiritual leaders – the importance of having them lead this nation back to God.”

Evangelical musical artists (Point of Grace, Manwell, a member of Sidewalk Prophets, and a member of Sonicflood) also have a video to explain this event:

The website, call2fall.com, explains:

The Call 2 Fall Declaration comes straight from the pages of Scripture:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The journey back to God, to His forgiveness and favor, begins on our knees in humility and repentant prayer. Consider the words of the Declaration prayerfully:

I will answer God's call to fall on my knees in humility and seek His face in repentance so that He might forgive my sins and heal our land.

So here are the key components of the FRC’s claim:
1. The United States of America is God’s land, in the same way that Israel was God’s land in the time of 2 Chronicles. The USA needs to get back to its Christian heritage.

2. The United States is a Christian nation. Therefore, “the politicians,” “those who are in power,” and “those who have great influence” cannot do the good that the nation needs. It is the duty of Christians to bring about righteousness in our nation.

3. The nation’s economic, cultural, societal, and spiritual demise is due to the nation losing its call to be God’s Christian nation.

4. The remedy to this demise is for God’s people (i.e., Christians) to fall to their knees and pray – humbling themselves and praying that the nation would turn from its wicked ways.

5. If Christians will pray the prayer of 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promises that he will “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” that is, the United States of America.

Here are the problems with each of these components.
1. The Family Research Council is ripping 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of its biblical context and applying it specifically to the United States of America.

This passage (2 Chronicles 7) is about the dedication of the Temple of God that Solomon succeeded in completing. After the LORD filled the Temple, King Solomon dedicated the temple by sacrificing 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. They held a festival celebrating the dedication of the Temple. After all the celebration, everyone went home, including King Solomon back to his royal palace. There the LORD appeared to him and said that he had “chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” But that if the people of God were to fail to observe their side of the covenant, they will experience some awful things: He will “shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people…” But these things could be halted if the people of God were to have a contrite spirit: “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Then the LORD warned Solomon that if the king were to turn away from God’s decrees and commands then he would exile the people of Israel from the land and reject the Temple. “All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them--that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’”

So, the questions we need to ask are these: What are the proper analogs for the people of God, King Solomon, the Temple, and the land of Israel in our day? If we are to follow the logic of the Family Research Council, the analog is found, somehow, in the United States of America.

So the “People of God,” for the FRC, are the Christians that live in the USA, and “the land” is the land of the United States. Okay, but then who is “King Solomon?” What is “the Temple?” If we elect a non-Christian president, will we be exiled from North America like Israel was exiled from their land?

2. The FRC wants America to be a Christian nation, and therefore implicitly rejects the biblical understanding of Common Grace that says that God has established governmental authority, whether that authority is Christian or not (see Romans 13:1). They seem to believe that all non-believers, being totally depraved, can only do harm to the American society. They see non-Christian politicians as analogous to the non-believing rulers in Israel.

But the new Israel is not the United States. The new People of God are not Americans.

The new Israel, the new people of God, is the people who follow Jesus Christ from every nation. The Kingdom of God is not limited to any particular nation; it is a trans-national kingdom, made up of people who are bringing God’s kingdom to the entire earth as it is in heaven.

Notice the Isreal-type titles that Peter gives to Christians: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) The FRC makes it seem that these Israel-type titles should be applied to Americans.

3. The nation’s economic, cultural, societal, and spiritual demise are due to a lot of things, not least of which is the increased secularization of our culture. That is granted. But I contend that the decline of America is not because the nation has lost its Christian heritage, but rather because evangelical Christians have lost our ability to have cultural influence. And the more we fight for a “Christian nation” and preach that we need to “take this country back for God,” the less we will have cultural influence. Culture is “upstream” to politics. When we take seriously our role to bring salt and light into every aspect of life, when we strive for justice for those who are oppressed, when we love rather than fight, when we look like Christ on the cross rather than crusaders with militant intentions, then, and only then, will we be able to influence the culture.

4. The “Call 2 Fall” needs to be leveled on us Christians who have muddied the gospel with our patriotic syncretism. I find it laughable that the Family Research Council is saying that if Christians humble themselves and pray, then those terrible non-Christians in the nation will not have their way and our land will be healed. Doesn't sound too humble to me.

We need to humbly say that true Christians do not rule by coercion (forcing others to live as Christians have determined they must), we need to humbly win hearts and minds by love and good deeds. And we need to bring about political change not by saying “Thus sayeth the Lord,” but with good secular arguments that make sense in the public square.

5. If Christians will pray the prayer of 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promises that He “will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Is there a better way to apply that verse today?

Maybe this: In the New Testament, the “land” has been expanded to encompass the entire cosmos. God’s intention is to heal all of his Creation.

The Temple of the Old Testament has been expanded to the person of Jesus Christ, who dwells not in a single place, but in the temple of his people through His Spirit.

God’s healing of the cosmos is accomplished as we humbly admit our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for not only our personal healing, but for the ultimate healing of the entire cosmos, when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)


Is our Gospel Too Small?

Individuals helping individuals get into heaven is not enough.

Mike Metzger and John Seel write today about the problem with evangelical Christian efforts to live out the gospel. We fail to see how the gospel is meant to impact systems as well as individuals.

Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, found that evangelicals are drawn to missions of mercy to the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. “Worthy as these projects may be,” Smith warns, “none of them attempt to transform social or cultural systems, but merely to alleviate some of the harm caused by the existing system” (American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving) Individual responses are not enough, when a systemic response is required.

When Harvie Conn was a missionary in South Korea, he witnessed many prostitutes coming to faith in Christ. Yet there was no economic system for these women to find work. They were trapped between solicitation and starvation. The church was not equipped to respond to their need. That was due to its focus on saving individual souls over changing society’s structures. Faithfulness to the gospel demands both.

“The idea that the gospel is addressed only to the individual,” chides Anglican theologian Lesslie Newbigin (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society), “and that it is only indirectly addressed to societies, nations, and cultures is simply an illusion of our individualist post-Enlightenment Western culture.” Loving God and our neighbor requires addressing social and economic systems, not simply alleviating individual symptoms. Ours is a Big Picture gospel that often challenges the taken for granted."


Thomas Kinkade - Catering to the Platonic Christianity of American Evangelicals

Joe Carter, over at First Things, offers a very astute criticism of the art of Thomas Kinkade (Kinkade's Cottage Fantasy). Carter doesn't dismiss Kinkade simply because he sells a tons of paintings to evangelical Christians. He actually praises many of Kinkade's paintings. But the criticism sure made me think. Here's a bit of it:

[Kinkade's] cottage scenes are...Anglo fantasies. Adults hang paintings of Kinkade’s paintings of cottages in their living room for the same reason that little girls put posters of unicorns and rainbows on their bedroom walls. It is a pseudo-referential nostalgia, a longing for what does not exist in reality but exists in the fantasy realm of possibility.

No other painting epitomizes this nostalgia for a place that never existed better than Cottage by the Sea.


As Kinkade explains, “Though this cottage doesn’t exist anywhere but in my painting, I think for many of us it represents an ideal seaside getaway. Of course, I had to paint the scene at sunset. After all, what would a seaside cottage be without a beautiful sunset to watch?”

What is so dispiriting about this painting is that rather than being created in order to be challenging or even inspiring, it’s intended only to be comforting. It invites the viewer to enter a world of unnatural nature, a world where the “light” comes from within, and the warmth comes not from the receding sun but from inside the walls of the perfect Anglo shelter.

The cottage is a self-contained safe place where the viewer can shut himself in and get away from the harsh realities of creation, particularly away from other people. The Cottage by the Sea offers a place where the viewer can enter the perfect world of Kinkade’s creation—and escape the messy world of Kinkade’s Creator.

Carter's critique has me thinking. Why are Kinkade's paintings so popular with American evangelical Christians? Here's my theory. Let me know what you think.

American evangelicals have been trained to think in very Platonic and/or neo-Gnostic ways about heaven. They believe (following Plato and the Gnostic heresy) that our ultimate destination is some heaven away from earth, a place where each person will experience their individual bliss. It will be a place that is away from this creation—this ugly, God-forsaken, sinful material world. They look forward to being whisked away to heaven; and they believe that this will be their final place of rest and comfort.

So, when they think of “heaven on earth,” they think of a Thomas Kinkade painting. They imagine a place where they are protected from this world, where there is a warm glow emanating from the windows, a place to feel safe and comfortable.

ht: Sam Van Eman


Rumsfeld's Holy War

To say that the Bush administration has received a lot of criticism for how it handled Iraq would be a huge understatement. New information from White House insiders reveals that they felt that Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of defense under Bush, was arrogant, stubborn, oblivious, and inept. That is all up for debate, of course, and I don’t wish to get into that here.

But what we do here at Vanguard Church is discuss politics from a Christian perspective (along with posts on missional ministry and spiritual formation). The information that Robert Draper uncovered in the June 2009 issue of GQ is really quite unsettling. Each morning, Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department produced the Worldwide Intelligence Update, a daily digest of highly classified critical military intelligence, for the president. Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House.

What is troubling is this: “The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts,” and along with these images, Rumsfeld would feature a passage from the Bible. “This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine.”

“These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense…” “..Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages…suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—‘would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.’”
“But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages.”

The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld’s tactics—such as playing a religious angle with the president—often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration’s best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef’s style—‘Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way,’ Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings—but it was decidedly Bush’s style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld’s direct invention—and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary.”

“Still, the sheer cunning of pairing unsentimental intelligence with religious righteousness bore the signature of one man: Donald Rumsfeld. And as historians slog through the smoke and mirrors of his tenure, they may find that Rumsfeld’s most enduring legacy will be the damage he did to Bush’s.”

I have no problem with Christians seeking God’s will as they lead politically. I think that they should, and must do so. The notion we hear from some politicians that they seek to not bring their faith into their work is dualistic hogwash.

I have no problem with politicians being “called” to political work, seeking to be used by God for the common good of our society. In fact, I’ve argued time and again that Christians need to be involved in the political process, even running for office themselves.

But here’s the key:
There must be humility involved in such things, for nobody can be absolutely sure that they fully understand the will of God (as a prophet might), and nobody can claim to be sure that God is on their side. As Abraham Lincoln said – even in the midst of what seemed a righteous war to free the slaves – “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.” Lincoln showed a humility that Bush and Rumsfeld lacked.

Such humility might have made them rethink the appropriateness of these cover sheets. Such humility might have made President Bush realize that this is precisely the way the Crusades were rationalized. Such humility might have helped Rumsfeld or Bush hear, and maybe even understand, that it is not Christian to rip Scripture passages out of context for the purpose of building your confidence that you are killing Iraqis in a righteous, God-ordained war.

During the Bush administration, we were assured over and over again that this was not a “Holy War.” We were told that the world should not see this as Christians attacking Muslims, but the United States defending itself from terrorism.

I wonder how the world would have reacted if they had seen the daily Worldwide Intelligence Update from the Secretary of Defense.


Keep Rick Meigs in your Prayers

Friend of Missional is a key group that I count as friends.

Rick Meigs, "The Blind Beggar," a commenter here in the Vanguard, and the founder of Friend of Missional, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident the other day.

Please keep Rick in your prayers.

Check out Brother Maynard's updates here.


What do evangelicals need most concerning politics?

The Center for Public Justice, under the new leadership of my friend Gideon Strauss, has asked readers to answer this question:

“What do American evangelicals need most, today, to help us discern our political responsibilities?”

Here’s what I think we evangelicals need most:

We need to rise above punditry. Instead of letting the political pundits from the far right or far left persuade us with shallow and harsh arguments, we need to think long and hard about issues, putting Christ first ahead of our political viewpoints.

We need to speak with civility. Punditry has made an art form out of uncivil dialogue. It is now seen as entertaining to castigate your opponents rather than to thoughtfully engage them. Christians are even guilty of this kind of contentiousness. If we are to move forward with our political responsibilities, we cannot treat others in such a way, for it is the opposite of true political discourse.

We need to think globally and act locally. Christianity is not an American religion, and America must not be seen as a mythical “Christian Nation.” Christianity does not equate to Americanism. Christianity crosses all boundaries, all nations, all tribes, all tongues. Our politics must be done with global concerns in mind. However, our politics is done locally – not only in our own nation, but in our own cities and neighborhoods.

We need to remember that “God is not a Republican… or a Democrat” (to borrow from Jim Wallis and Sojourners). But this slogan has been warped over the past couple of years to mean something that it should not mean: “God is not a Republican - so let’s go over to the Democratic Party instead.” It should mean that Christians are above party politics, and that if either party wants our vote, they must legitimately deal with the issues that concern us. And if they want our participation in their party, they must allow us an equal place at the table. If not, we are not blindly loyal, and they will lose us. We need the political leverage that comes from being loyal to Christ rather than party.

We need to understand the diverse ways that “liberal” and “conservative” are used. Liberalism and Convervatism can mean different things in different contexts. What are we talking about? Political? Social? Theological? The difficulty is when we conflate all these together under one banner, and therefore increase our difficulty in analyzing the issues of each particular context. In other words, why can't one be "conservative" theologically, be "liberal" in societal issues, and be something else politically? (Or any other mix?) It would be great if Christians could identify themselves in these diverse ways, rather than with one term across the board.

We need to modify our understanding of the role of religion in politics, clearly never inferring a theocratic paradigm. Political candidates have increasingly spoken “religious talk," pandering to the many Christians who simply believe that if we have a person of faith in office, God will then bless and divinely lead us. But this is simply too shallow for a truly Christian political philosophy. It doesn't take seriously God's "Common Grace" in political institutions, and is simply ignorant of the neocalvinist idea of "Principled Pluralism." We must seek to find biblical principles of justice that apply without preference for anyone's professed faith over any other, accepting that we live in a diverse society.


My article "Who Am I?" included in "Worldview Coursepack"

From the Cardus Website:

Cardus Coursepack - Worldview

Welcome to the Cardus Worldview Coursepack. We are delighted to present some of the best pieces from Comment's recent archive for this volume.

What is Comment Magazine? It is a worldview journal for the next generation of Christian leaders. We are animated by a vision of preparing tomorrow's leaders to "think Christianly" in every sphere of human activity, and it is to this end that we publish quarterly glossy journals, in addition to exceptional essays and artwork online each week. Comment is published by Cardus, a Christian public policy think tank based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Browse the full preview here, my article begins on page 112.

Table of Contents:
Reading the Bible... and Articulating a Worldview - by Michael Goheen
Understanding our story within the story

Becoming a Thinking Christian - by Timothy Weins
"If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it." - 1 Pet 3:15 NLT

Making Friends for Life - by Greg Veltman
"I want to be tangled up... in the thorns of love."

Asking Big Questions - by Gideon Stauss
"What do I love? What do I believe? What is to be done?"

Cultural Influence: An Opportunity for the Church - by Gabe Lyons
Christians serving the common good have unmatched influence

Discovering What God Loves - by Steven Garber
A journey from duty to desire

What is to be Done... in the Public Square? - by Ray Pennings
Christian efforts in the public square are analogous to a pickup hockey game

Mine! - by Richard Mouw
Kuyper for a New Century

The Flash of a Fish Knife – by Calvin Seerveld
There is a spirit in the store, hallowing lowly work into rich service

Why Bother Going to Church? – by John Seel
Recovering the lost logic of church

But Now I See (Part I) – by Don Opitz
A crash course in worldview, and why it’s important

But Now I See (Part II) – by Don Opitz
With a Christian worldview, our daily work can transcend the grind and connect to a great purpose

Sex is Easier than Love – by Steven Garber
Why sexuality is at the very heart of life and learning

What is to be Done… to Understand our Moment? – by Gideon Strauss
Every Christian is confronted with the question, What does God ask of me at this time?

In Search of the Happy Life – by David Naugle
In disordered lives, we love things unintelligently, excessively, and unrealistically

Making Peace with Proximate Justice – by Steven Garber
Christians in politics must learn to accept some justice, some mercy

Who Am I? – by Bob Robinson
Rooting your identity in the image of God

Why are There So Many Religions? – by Ron Choong
They cannot all be correct, so why does God permit other religions to exist?