Hebrews 11:13-16 is often cited as biblical evidence that the earth is not our real home and that we are awaiting our heavenly abode. The NIV reads,
13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NIV)
It seems that this passage is saying that the Old Testament people cited in Hebrews 11 were examples of faith because they understood that this earth is not our home. They saw themselves as “aliens and strangers on earth.” They were looking forward to their heavenly dwelling place, a city prepared by God for them away from this earthly realm. Faith, as defined by this passage, is longing for that time when we will leave this earth and go home to be with God in heaven.
But the NIV leaves out an important little word in verse 13. And what a difference a single word makes. The last three words of that verse in Greek are “epi tais gais,” or “on the earth.” Not simply “on earth.” The English Standard Version translates it this way:
13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (ESV)
If that single word is included, it opens up an opportunity to read this passage differently. Perhaps instead of “earth” being an earthly existence, and that we are meant to see ourselves as aliens and strangers to earthly lives, what is being said is that while these people walked upon the earth, they never had a place to call home.
As they used to tell me in seminary, “A text without its context is a pretext for a proof-text.” So, maybe if we look at the context we’ll see this to be the right interpretation.
Right before this passage, the author was talking about Abraham and the promised covenant God had made with him. The story of Abraham is about a man and his family who left their country for another because he was “called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance” (v. 8). “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country” (v. 9). So here’s the point: Abraham never actually received the land!
“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (v. 13). Abraham never actually experienced the promises of Genesis 12, 15, and 17. He never possessed the promised land; he never saw a multitude of descendants; he never had the joy of seeing himself being the blessing to all the nations. These were all fulfilled after he had died.
So, while they walked on the earth, Abraham and his family were aliens and strangers – never actually taking hold of the land that was promised. This, therefore, is a rhetorical phrase – it’s not pointing to the idea that Abraham and his family saw themselves as aliens and strangers on earth (that is, as aliens and strangers to an earthly existence), but rather as aliens and strangers as they roamed on earth (that is, never actually having a home, even when they arrived in the promised land.
So why is this important?
We need to get out of our heads that heaven is our ultimate destiny (or, as I hear more often than not in Christian funerals, the unbiblical idea that “heaven is our true home”). We are human beings, created from the dust of the earth, created to live on the earth, and destined to live forever on a renewed earth. This creation is what God called “very good,” and it is our home. We are not aliens and strangers here.
In fact, when we die and go to “heaven” (what theologians call “the intermediate state”), we will be aliens and strangers there! For we were not created for existence in a bodiless spiritual place; we were created for existence in a body, on earth, in the life God originally intended for humans.
That is the wonder of resurrection.
Advice for freshmen from the people who actually grade their papers and lead their class discussions
I found much of the advice offered in an Op/Ed from The New York Times to be very helpful for college students. Not all of it is great advice, but overall, a very helpful article. Here are some of my favorite snippets:
College is your chance to see what you’ve been missing, both in the outside world and within yourself. Use this time to explore as much as you can.
Take classes in many different subjects before picking your major. Try lots of different clubs and activities. Make friends with people who grew up much poorer than you, and others much richer. Date someone of a different race. Spend a semester abroad or save up and go backpacking in Europe or Asia.
Somewhere in your childhood is a gaping hole. Fill this hole. Don’t know what classical music is all about? That’s bad. Don’t know who Lady Gaga is? That’s worse. If you were raised in a protected cocoon, this is the time to experience the world beyond.
College is also a chance to learn new things about yourself. Never been much of a leader? Try forming a club or a band.
The best things I did in college all involved explorations like this. I was originally a theater major but by branching out and taking a math class I discovered I actually liked math, and I enjoyed hanging out with technical people.
By dabbling in leadership — I ran the math club and directed a musical — I learned how to formulate a vision and persuade people to join me in bringing it to life. Now I’m planning to become an entrepreneur after graduate school. It may seem crazy, but it was running a dinky club that set me on the path to seeing myself as someone who could run a business.
Try lots of things in college. You never know what’s going to stick.
— TIM NOVIKOFF, Ph.D. student in applied mathematics at Cornell
Devices have become security blankets. Take the time to wean yourself.
Start by scheduling a few Internet-free hours each day, with your phone turned off. It’s the only way you’ll be able to read anything seriously, whether it’s Plato or Derrida on Plato. (And remember, you’ll get more out of reading Derrida on Plato if you read Plato first.) This will also have the benefit of making you harder to reach, and thus more mysterious and fascinating to new friends and acquaintances.
When you leave your room for class, leave the laptop behind. In a lecture, you’ll only waste your time and your parents’ money, disrespect your professor and annoy whomever is trying to pay attention around you by spending the whole hour on Facebook.
You don’t need a computer to take notes — good note-taking is not transcribing. All that clack, clack, clacking ... you’re a student, not a court reporter. And in seminar or discussion sections, get used to being around a table with a dozen other humans, a few books and your ideas. After all, you have the rest of your life to hide behind a screen during meetings.
— CHRISTINE SMALLWOOD, Ph.D. student in English and American literature at Columbia
First-years are under an unbelievable pressure not only to succeed, but to excel in college. They walk into a university already feeling guilty that they don’t know what they want to major in, or what their career path is going to be. But be comfortable with the fact that you don’t know anything. Nobody does.
During my first week in art school, I sat in a dark lecture hall as a professor asked questions I couldn’t answer and showed slides I couldn’t identify. I felt as if I was the only one in the room who didn’t have a clue. So, when my drawing teacher invited several of us students to a potluck dinner at her house, I was still worried that I was out of my league. But in this casual setting, everyone opened up, and I was able to talk about art in the most relaxed and personal way.
As we returned to the dorms in the back of our now-favorite professor’s pickup truck, I remember looking up at the night sky and the trees whizzing by and thinking, “This is what college is supposed to feel like!” Relax and enjoy the ride.
— EVAN LaLONDE, student in the M.F.A. program in contemporary art practice at Portland State University
ht: Scot McKnight
Every pastor has heard it from someone. Sometimes you catch it when they’re coming and sometimes when they’re going... Have you ever really thought of what imagery accompanies the 'fed' metaphor?...
- " 'We just want to be fed.'
...We need a new metaphor and fast, because too many 'mature' Christians are making a fool of themselves by walking around saying they just want to be fed. It’s time they take off the bib, grab a spoon, and start feeding themselves.
What if one day the chief complaint from church going Christians were to be something like this:
- 'The problem with our old church is that we weren’t being exercised. We’re looking for a church where we can work, serve, and maybe even suffer. We want to pay a price for something other than adding a new education wing to our building. We want to put it all on the line and do something crazy for God. We’re tired of being fed. We’ve been fed so much, for so long, that we’ve gotten fat. We’re spiritually obese and we can’t take it anymore. We want to be exercised!'
Now that’s a metaphor."
According to a report that was released last Thursday by the census bureau, the poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent during 2009 from 13.2 percent the previous year, that’s 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase.
On top of that, the number of people without health insurance reached its highest level since such data has been collected — from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, or 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009.
Will American Christians continue our adulterous love affair with consumerism or will we do something to help those in dire need on the margins of our society? While iPad sales show no sign of slowing, one in five children in America are living in poverty.
When Jesus initiated his ministry, announcing that he was inaugurating the Kingdom of God, he said,
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (see Luke 4:14-20)
Jesus calls his followers to follow him in this ministry. And he wasn't kidding; he was very serious that true discipleship means caring for the poor. In Matthew 25, he separates the “sheep and the goats”: the sheep to their destiny of “eternal life,” and the goats to their destiny of “eternal punishment.” The criteria that Jesus uses for this eternal judgment? The sheep cared for those Jesus identifies himself with and cares for, and the goats did not.
I want to be counted in with the sheep, to whom Jesus says,
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (see Matthew 25:31-46)
The Kingdom of God cares for the poor. The gospel of Jesus reaches out to those who need God’s compassion, and shows by our actions that God is saying, “This should not be so. My people will change this. Here is a picture of the age to come.”
Will we see this as our opportunity to shine God’s glory on those who hurt?
Hawking concedes that our universe is finely tuned for our existence, but argues that the sheer number of universes makes it probable that life somewhere would exist, and that it would take the form of whatever its particular universe would allow. If our universe had different conditions then whatever life existed here would simply take a different form.
Wittmer has a few observations based on the WSJ article:
- How can spontaneous creation come from nothing? How can nothing do something? According to Maria Von Trapp, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”
- How can there be a law of gravity and quantum theory if nothing exists? Gravity is a relationship between two bodies, and if there are no bodies then there is no gravity. So how can a non-existent law of gravity produce a spontaneous creation?
- Hawking’s last sentence is a metaphor, but it does show how difficult it is to conceive of nothing causing something. What he is describing is more than igniting “blue touch paper.” He is claiming that a fire began from nothing–no paper, no wood, nothing.
- Hawking’s assertion that nothing spontaneously created something is a religious rather than a scientific claim. It arises from his presupposition that God does not exist, and this faith commitment is not checkable by the scientific method. Hawking is committed to his religious belief that there is no God. He is not the objective, dispassionate observer that he portrays.
- Rom. 1:18-32 declares that everyone knows there is a God, and Psalm 14:1 and 53:1 assert that only a fool would say that there is no God. Hawking is a genius, but his assertion that the universe spontaneously formed from nothing shows how far some people will go to avoid bowing down before the God they know exists.
- So we have two couldn’t-be-more-different choices for the cause of the universe: God or nothing. Which do you think is more likely?
Leonard Sweet is the leading futurist for the evangelical church. Check out AquaChurch 2.0: Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture.
Tom Sine is another excellent futurist. Check out his books:The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time and Mustrad Seed vs. McWorld.
Culture and the Church
The best articualtion of how to discern this is through "Structure and Direction," as articulated by Al Wolters in his excellent book, Creation Regained and also articulated in Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton's The Transforming Vision.
Here's a quote from Walsh and Middleton: http://stevebishop.blogspot.com/2009/09/structure-and-direction.html
There is an increasing understanding that the gospel of the Kingdom of God is more than just sharing the Four Spiritual Laws. It is a holistic redemption of all things that God created. The gospel is that "Jesus is Lord" over everything, which would have to mean that he was serious in Luke 4 when he says he is preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. This is humanitarian, and it is gospel.
Gabe Lyons and David Kinneman's book UnChristian does a wonderful job articulating this. You've probably already read it. You should subscribe to Gabe Lyon's online resource, Q Ideas - absolutely essential!
Also, the latest issue of Prism is all about evangelism as it relates to social action, which makes sense since this is the magazine from Ron Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action!
Humanitarian work is a major component of the Missional Church. For my D.Min, I'm reading Alan Hirsch's excellent book The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, and he has an online assessment tool for churches to help them see how truly missional they are: http://www.theforgottenways.org/mpulse/
John Fea, professor of American History at Messiah College, just posted an important article at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. In response to a pastor's troubled heart about being approached to support a "God and Country" rally in his community, John gives some very helpful historical perspective.
See the entire post here: Beck’s Black Robe Brigade (by John Fea)
Here's a snippet:
"Did most, if not all, of the founders believe in some form of divine providence? Yes. Again, that is a historical question that is easily answerable. But were the founders right–from a Biblical and theological perspective rooted in Christian orthodoxy– when they said that God had a special, unique, and exceptional purpose for America? Again, this seems to be a theological question...
...The Christians associated with these kinds of documentaries blur the historical and the theological. If Washington mentioned God, they argue, then America must have been founded as a Christian nation. There is no attempt to offer theological reflection or critique on the views of the founders because they have been presented as being above reproach. Many of the defenders of “Christian America” believe that the founders have been specially appointed to do the work of God.
There is a lot of misinformation out there. Not everything David Barton, or Peter Marshall, or the Genesis of America people say is wrong, but it is twisted and presented in such a way that does not account for the complexity and fullness of the past.
Historians concerned with the integrity of the past and the integrity of their work must also note that John Adams rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. They should mention that George Washington deliberately avoided taking communion. They must also tell the whole truth about the so-called “Black Regiment.” Most of these clergymen were blatantly anti-Catholic. Others blurred Biblical teachings on freedom (from sin) with political teachings on freedom (from George III). These Christian America pundits tell just one side of the story because the so-called “rest of the story” does not suit their political needs in the present. This is what I mean by indoctrination by historian example. This is history at its worst!"
The “Attractional Model” of church ministry does evangelism and outreach for the sake of attracting people into the church doors, where they can hear the gospel and get plugged into the church body, assimilated into the community of faith.
The “Missional Model” of church ministry sees mission as the mode of operation for Christianity. Mission means being sent. This has been the God’s model dating all the way back to Abraham, through Moses, into Jesus, and is now the model for us in our cultural contexts. God calls individuals and communities to love him and to obey his governance over all things, and then sends these individuals and communities to proclaim this Kingdom of God.
“The Christendom template tends to bolt down this missional impulse by substituting it with an attractional one. So while the local church genuinely does forms of evangelism and outreach, because it measures effectiveness through numerical growth, better programming, and increase of plant and resources, it requires the attractional impulse to support it. The exchange is subtle but profound, and the net effect is to unwittingly block the outward-bound movement that is built into the gospel. Instead of being sown in the wind, the seeds are put into ecclesial storehouses, thus effectively extinguishing the purpose they were made for.”
–Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 130
Many new North American church movements are ministering through the paradigm of this missional impulse. But is there a way to help established churches and denominations morph into more missional communities? Or is the attractional impulse simply too strong?
It’s happened before, and it’s happening now.
You can tell when America is dealing with a new immigration challenge, because Americans get hostile toward aliens – they create caricatures of foreign people groups and become intolerant of religions with which they are not familiar.
The worst culprits of this injustice, more often than not, are my own people: evangelicals, and especially the fundamentalist evangelicals.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigrants flowed into the United States from Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Eastern Europe. The Protestants in America were fearful of this: It threatened their hope of establishing a “Christian America” (that is, a Protestant Christian nation). All these immigrants with their strange religions – Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox – needed to be put in their place, under the rule of Protestant American hegemony.
Evangelical Fundamentalists, when feeling the threat of these foreigners and the consequent and inevitable societal upheaval that accompanies it, make the following case: We need to restore this nation to the time when we were not so threatened, we need to return to our roots as a Christian nation.
They do not show love for and acceptance of these foreigners. They do not love their neighbors as themselves. They instead make them out to be enemies of our God-ordained right to be “One Nation Under (the Protestant, evangelical fundamentalist) God.” And instead of loving their perceived enemies, they hate them.
In 2010, the evangelical fundamentalists are winning a hearing again (aided by politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin who see a political jackpot in it). Their targets this time are two groups of immigrants: Mexicans and Muslims.
The illegal immigration of Mexicans is certainly an important issue for the country, but here’s the question: Why are fundamentalist evangelicals so threatened by it? I hear a lot from my Christian friends about the illegality of these foreigners. I hear them say “amnesty” with a snarl in their voice (how did such a beautiful word become an ugly one?). Chuck Colson recently showed his exasperation with evangelicals who "demonize immigrants" when he wrote, “The so-called 'facts' about illegal alien criminality...are deliberate misrepresentations or complete fabrications... Christians ought to oppose this demonization of 'the strangers in our midst.' As theologian T. M. Moore wrote, 'God defends strangers. He has compassion for those who have left all and risked all to find new lives in a strange country.'" When I mention to my brothers and sisters in Christ that the Biblical Prophets warned ancient Israel on many occasions that they would be judged based on how they treated foreigners and strangers in their land, they look at me as if I was speaking heresy.
The mosque in New York City is certainly an important issue for the country as well. But, again, here’s the question: Why are fundamentalist evangelicals so threatened by it? Out of one side of their mouths they say that the Muslims have the Constitutional right to build a house of worship there. Out of the other side, they say it is “insensitive” or “inappropriate” to do so (the same arguments used in the past when the powerful in America attempted to marginalize a new people group). Newt Gingrich is saying that Muslims are attempting a “Stealth Jihad” in an effort “to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Sharia.” That’s frightening stuff, just the kind of fear-mongering that fundamentalist evangelicals eat up. Jay Sekulow, the lawyer who has made a name for himself for fighting for the religious freedom for evangelicals, ironically is on the front line against the Muslim mosque- Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice is filing a lawsuit against it.
So, what are we going to do? Will we, as evangelical Christians, fight diversity for the sake some (real or imagined) earlier age? Or will we actually champion diversity, instead of being militant against those that are foreign to us, we could instead show the love and grace of Christ.
As a citizen of Stark County, I sure wish that the Republicans would have voted for this guy to be their nominee. It would have been quite entertaining!
This video was taken at one of the schools at which I minister, Malone University, at the Stark County Republican Party meeting. Oh, man, is this funny.
My friend and blog sparring partner, Byron Harvey, posted on his blog the full text of David Barton’s defense of Glenn Beck. Barton is an evangelical pop-historian and the founder of Walbuilders, advocating a particular revisionist history of America – one that insists that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. He is a frequent guest on Beck’s program and at Beck events, and teaches his revisionist history at “Beck University.”
Barton has come under a lot of fire recently, because as a fundamentalist Christian, he is not supposed to be explicitly or implicitly condoning Mormonism. So, last Monday on his facebook page, Barton wrote an article entitled, “By Their Fruits.” (again, for the full text, head over to byron-harvey.com).
"For all those who have asked, thanks for your inquiry and for expressing your concerns about Glenn and his faith. Allow me to address those concerns first by offering some general principles that I find helpful, and then by listing some specific facts that also influence my position."
Barton’s main argument is that you can rest assured that Glenn Beck is a Christian “by his fruit.” He cites Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit….Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (MATTHEW 7:16-20)
Also, he quotes Jesus when he says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (MARK 9:40)
"Let me now make specific application of these verses. In recent months, I have appeared numerous times on Glenn’s program to talk about historical and political issues, particularly as related to faith and Biblical values. On those programs, I have had repeated opportunity to inform Americans about (as our WallBuilders’ motto declares) “America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious, and constitutional heritage.” I have also participated in several major arena rallies with Glenn.
As a result of these appearances, I have received numerous letters and calls from concerned Christians, some of whom respectfully inquire as to why I would appear with a Mormon, while others directly attack me for doing so. As far as I can tell, most of these concerns stem from judging Glenn based by the label of “Mormon” rather than by the fruits he produces.
For example, no one has yet been to point to any instance where Glenn has attacked or undermined Christ or Christianity on any of his programs. To the contrary, on repeated occasions it has been quite the opposite. (Recall his specific programs on individual salvation, atonement, and redemption through Christ.) Nevertheless, some of his critics refuse to take Glenn at his self-evident words but instead attempt to read into them some secret and hidden meaning, thereby judging him not by his fruits or words but rather by some conspiratorial and unseen meaning they seek to impute to him.
For Christians concerned about Glenn’s faith, I would ask the following questions:
What fruit do you see produced by Glenn? Good or bad? If you judged Glenn only by the fruits he has produced, would you still hold concerns over his faith?
If you did not know Glenn was a Mormon, how would you describe his religious beliefs?
Is God using Glenn to help recover our national strength and health, both politically and spiritually? If so, why would God be using him?
Does Glenn stir and provoke us to good works? (Hebrews 10:24)
Does he bring to light the hidden things of darkness? (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Does he talk openly about atonement, redemption, and individual salvation through Christ? (I can definitely answer this in the affirmative, for I have seen him do so on numerous occasions not only on his program but also in the rallies where I have personally participated with him.)
Christians concerned about Glenn’s faith should judge the tree by its fruits, not its labels. After all, Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton openly call themselves Christians, as do Evangelical Christian ministers such as Jim Wallis and Joel Hunter. Although these individuals have the right labels, they have the wrong fruits; yet many Christians have a more visceral reaction to Glenn than to Pelosi, Clinton, or Wallis. This is wrong; it is not Biblical."
That’s a pretty fancy trick to make a professing Mormon more Christian than professing Bible-believing evangelical preachers (Jim Wallis and Joel Hunter)!
Barton’s argument is basically this: Since Glenn Beck is a libertarian, free-market capitalist, Tea-Party leader who equates America with God’s kingdom and propagates a “return to the good old days,” he is a Christian. While Jim Wallis, who is a liberal, associates with Democrats, and hopes for a better America in the future than what he sees as the past and present days of injustice and inequity (especially in regard to power and economics), is not a Christian. Hey, you will know who is a Christian by their fruits!
Barton ends his defense of Beck with these words:
"In conclusion, I have been with Glenn in numerous settings; I have watched him up close and can heartily endorse both his public and his private life. I have witnessed his tender heart, his love for God, and his passion to keep God in America. Glenn and I have prayed together on numerous occasions; he has sought God for specific guidance on numerous situations and I have personally not only seen God answer him but have also seen Glenn completely change his plans after feeling the Lord was leading him to move in a different direction or address a different subject. I judge Glenn by his fruits, not by his labels, and I am honored to call Glenn not only an ally and a fellow warrior (and a General) in the culture war, but especially to call him a good friend."
News Flash to David Barton: Mormon is not just a “label,” David! It is a whole other religion. And we haven't labeled Glenn Beck a Mormon; he has labeled himself as Mormon. And since he is a confessing Mormon, the “fruits” that you cite cannot be taken as evidence that Beck is actually praying and serving the to One True God.
Isn’t it amazing how we (I include Barton and myself here!) like to define “good fruit” based on our preconceptions? Whether I’m a political conservative or a political liberal, “good fruit” is equated with my particular political ideology. Never mind what Jesus would have us understand “good fruit” being, we already think we know.
This is a sure sign that political ideology has turned into idolatry.
We love to make God into our own image.
It becomes a sad day in the United States when a president finds himself in political hot water for defending the Constitution. The Founding Fathers would not be happy.
On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. On that day (actually it was a day later since John Roberts messed up the oath) he put his hand on a Bible and said:
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The Constitution says nothing about whether or not Muslims have the right to build a cultural center near the site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But it does make some rather definitive statements about religious freedom. The First Amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
When the Founding Fathers thought about religious freedom they often had Muslims in mind. Thomas Jefferson made sure that Muslims were protected under the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, a document that influenced the writers of the First Amendment.
George Washington declared that “the bosom of America” was open to “receive…the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges” whether they be “Mohometans (Muslims), Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.”
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and devout Christian, implied that Islam would be taught in public schools in the United States when he wrote: “I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles.”
When earlier this month Barack Obama told a group of Muslim-Americans that Muslims “have a right to practice their religion like anyone in else in this country and that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property…” he was defending the Constitution and acting in accordance with the views of the Founding Fathers.
Very few of the opponents of the Muslim community center near Ground Zero would argue with anything of this. They will admit that the New York Muslim community has a Constitutional right to build their facility.
Instead, the opposition has been focused on the wisdom of the decision to build this community center so close to the site of the tragic events of 9-11-2001. It would seem that a religious group concerned about interfaith dialogue and its image among the American people would think twice before building a place of worship near such hallowed ground.
Yet, as insensitive as the decision to build may appear to ordinary Americans, Obama was correct. Defending the Constitution is what presidents are supposed to do.
As expected, Obama has gotten into political trouble for this comment. Democrats facing mid-term elections are distancing themselves from his remarks. More people think Obama is a Muslim today than they did a year ago. All because he decided to publicly defend the Constitution.
I say shame on Obama’s political opponents for using the president’s remarks as a political weapon. Instead of condemning him for what he said, they should be returning to their home districts and teaching their constituencies about the meaning of the First Amendment and, subsequently, the meaning of America.
These so-called defenders of interpreting the Constitution literally and in accordance with the wishes of the Founders have a lot to learn about placing historic American values over American politics.
In yesterday’s column, “In mosque controversies, some Christians undermine their own faith,” Gerson writes,
“Christian fundamentalists who undermine religious liberty in order to target Muslims are playing a game of intolerance roulette. That First Amendment might come in handy someday…”
“…The purpose of social influence for Christians is not to favor their own faith; it is to serve a view of universal rights and dignity taught by their faith...”
“…Freedom of religious worship and expression is essential to human dignity -- which makes blocking the construction of a mosque for religious reasons a violation of Christian belief.”
Good for Gerson, who breaks from the pack. He has the guts to not join the many conservative pundits and politicians who are jumping on the bandwagon of the religiously intolerant hoping to grab ratings or votes from conservative evangelicals.
As an evangelical myself, I look at this whole mosque controversy, scratch my head and ask, “What happened to our desire for religious liberty?” Evangelicals, of all people, should be on the side of religious tolerance in the public square.
“I have come to the conclusion that for we who live in the Western world, the major challenge to the viability of Christianity is not Buddhism, with all its philosophical appeal to the Western mind, nor is it Islam, with all the challenge that it poses to Western culture.
It is not the New Age that poses such a threat; in fact, because there is a genuine search going on in new religious movements, it can actually be an asset to we who are willing to share the faith amidst the search.
All these are challenges to us, no doubt, but I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism.
This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us.”
- Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, pp. 106-7
One of the things I love about Keller is that he takes a high Christological approach to Old Testament studies. For a more in-depth on-line audio class on this subject, search for the "Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World" podcast in iTunes from Reformed Theological Seminary. You'll find the entire audio (35 free sessions!) of Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney teaching a D.Min. course on Christocentric preaching. Though it's a "preaching class," the concepts are applicable and essential for anyone who studies the Scriptures.