The Constitution vs. Tea Party Belief in America Being a “Christian Nation”

Glenn Beck and the Tea Party candidates want to propagate the myth that America is a Christian Nation. A recent American Values Survey shows that 55% of Tea Party supporters believe that "America has always been and is currently a Christian nation” while 49% of Christian conservative believe that. (Strange, isn’t it, that more Tea Party supporters believe this than Christians – this explains why Mormons like Glenn Beck are so popular when they talk about the pseudo-history of America's “Christian” roots. What people cannot discern is the difference between American “Civil Religion” and the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and now a columnist with the Washington Post, gives three reasons why “America is not a Christian country and has never been.”

“First, the Constitution was designed for religious diversity because the Founders were religiously diverse. The 18th century was a time not of quiet piety but of religious controversy. It was a high tide of American Unitarianism, a direct challenge to Christian orthodoxy. Thomas Jefferson's deism flirted with atheism -- a God so distant that He didn't even require his own existence. As journalist Jon Meacham points out, the Founders were less orthodox than the generation that preceded them, as well as the one that followed them. Their commitment to disestablishment, in some cases, accommodated their own heterodoxy.

Second, American religious communities were often strong supporters of disestablishment. Dissenting Protestants had a long history of resentment for the established English church. Others -- Catholics and Quakers -- were minorities suspicious of majority religious rule. Christians generally saw state intrusion as a threat to their theological integrity and worldly power as a diversion from their mission. They supported disestablishment for the sake of the church. And their political independence contributed to their religious vitality.

Third, as my co-author Pete Wehner and I argue in "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era," America was not founded as a Christian nation precisely because America's Founders were informed by a Jewish and Christian understanding of human nature. Since humans are autonomous moral beings created in God's image, freedom of conscience is essential to their dignity. At least where the federal government was concerned, the Founders asserted that citizens should be subject to God and their conscience, not to the state.”


Allowing Ourselves to Question our Theology


Howard Stone and James Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, make a distinction in two types of Theology: “Embedded Theology” and “Deliberative Theology.”

“Embedded Theology”
“Christians learn what faith is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity—formal and informal, planned and unplanned. This understanding of faith, disseminated by the church and assimilated by its members in their daily lives, will be called embedded theology. The phrase points to the theology that is deeply in place and at work as we live as Christians in our homes, churches, and the world.
Our embedded theology may seem so natural and feel so comfortable that we carry it within us for years, unquestioned and perhaps even unspoken except when we join in the words of others at worship. We may be secure in the conviction that this is what Christianity is all about and leave it at that. 
But occasions arise that require us to think about our embedded theology, to put it into words and then subject it to serious second thought. Frequently it is during crises that people first experience this call to theological reflection”
“Deliberative Theology”
“Deliberative reflection questions what had been taken for granted. It inspects a range of alternative understandings in search of that which is most satisfactory and seeks to formulate the meaning of faith as clearly and coherently as possible.
Like Solomon, the theologian wants to take all the testimony and evidence under advisement, press beneath the surface to the heart of the matter, and develop an understanding of the issue that seems capable—at least for the present—of withstanding any further appeal. This is deliberative theological thinking”
When I first became a believer, I was suspicious of theologies other than the one that my immediate faith community taught. If someone was not from the right seminary, the right church, or of a particular theological stripe, I dismissed them as either impure or maybe even outright heretical. I only read books from publishers with a “name you can trust.”

Then I went to seminary, where I was encouraged to question my embedded theology, to deliberate and test it against the Scriptures. I learned to hold my theology with a looser grip.

Strangely, some of those same professors from whom I learned this are now telling the evangelical church to not deliberatively reflect on our presupposed theologies. They worry that if Christians embrace the postmodern practice of “deconstruction” then the faith handed down from the apostles will be threatened.

They don’t like it when young Christians embrace the idea to “Question Everything.” Though their motive is to protect people from heresy, they are encouraging a non-deliberative theology.

They do not understand that the goal of deconstruction is not the deconstruction itself. It is the reconstruction of our theology as we attempt to question everything we presume from our embedded theology.

It is this Deliberative Theology that best reflects the Reformation’s slogan of “semper reformanda” – “Always Reforming.”


American Suburban Evangelical Christianity Looks A Lot Like Paganism

I have repented. I have purposed to no longer live the pagan life that I once lived. Not that I’m perfect; I am so steeped in this pagan lifestyle, so surrounded by it, and have been so brainwashed by it that I very easily fall back into bad thought patterns and bad habits.

What am I talking about? It may sound like my faith decision to follow Jesus Christ, but it isn't. I am talking about another major step in faith: My decision to no longer believe the false gospel of American Suburban Evangelical Christianity (ASEC).

Here’s what I’m talking about (hypothetically and hyperbolically speaking, of course):
  • The church provides the pastor with a newly leased Lexus every two years.
  • The men have an outreach Bible study at their Country Club.
  • Our small group meets at the “Smith’s” home – a 5,600 square foot home in a gated community. The hostess has decorated it with the nicest furniture and keeps the place immaculate. She serves the most amazing hoers d’voures each week.
  • The women’s ministry has their quarterly all-day excursion to the Outlet Mall.
  • The church installs a few 46-inch flat screens in the Youth Room along with new XBoxes and PS3s.
When we see the pastor driving his nice, new shiny car, we trade in our five-year old car for a new one. One that is just a little beyond what we can actually comfortably afford.

When the guys get convicted about the poor in the community, they cancel their regularly-scheduled Country Club Bible Study so that they can serve in a soup kitchen. Once.

When we see how “God has blessed the Smiths,” we buy a few more things on credit so that we too can enjoy the blessing of God. We also fret about how we too could be such gracious hosts, worrying that if the group ever meets at our home, we won’t live up to the high standards set by the Smiths.

When the women return with the hundreds of dollars worth of clothes they purchased on their shopping spree, they congratulate themselves on being such good stewards of their money… after all, they did go to the Outlet Mall.

When the elders look into their newly renovated Youth Room, they congratulate themselves that they have created a space that will attract kids to the ministry. When a wise parent complains that they church is simply feeding into the consumerist mindset of the culture, they are dismissed as unable to get with the times.

As I see it, Jesus has called us to a radical level of discipleship – a discipleship that seeks first his kingdom and his righteousness. Kingdom fidelity has no room for consumeristic desires. But ASEC has taken the paganism of the “American Dream” and has combined that with the gospel of the Kingdom of God to create a syncretistic amalgam that resembles a mutated, disgusting creature from some science fiction movie.

Jesus was clear:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
The church in America reminds me of the Church in Laodicea.To these Christians, Jesus said,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (See Revelation 3:14-22).
Jesus is standing at the door of American Suburban Evangelical Christianity and is knocking. Will we let him in?


Christian Community As Counter-Culture

Contemporary American Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together

In American culture, we believe the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

  • In America, the meek do not inherit the earth; they inherit our scorn.
  • In America, the silent listeners get trampled over by the “go-getters” as they leap to the top of the heap.
  • In America, we see ourselves as more important than we really are, too busy with what we have deemed “important matters” to bother taking the time to do menial, inglorious helpful acts.
  • In America, when someone is caught doing something he should not have been doing, we revel in it and take advantage of their mistakes for our own gain.

This is America. But this is American Christianity all too often as well.

Even though we are believers in Christ, we have been inundated with the concept of “self-esteem” that finds our worth in other things other than the grace and mercy of Christ.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself.” This reflects what Romans 12:3 teaches: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

As long as I think of myself as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), I am better able to interact with other Christians in a more healthy way, no longer judging them or using them to boost my personal self-esteem.

Perhaps the one area that Christians in America needs the most work on is the ministry of listening. Bonhoeffer states, “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them…Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render…Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

Bonhoeffer expertly identifies how we “half listen,” while waiting for our opportunity to speak. How dishonoring this is to the person to whom we are talking. Bonhoeffer also insightfully says that this may be the reason people do not confess to one another their sins—“we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.”

There does come a time to share words of advice (based solely on the Word of God) to others in the fellowship. But Bonhoeffer insists that this can only be done if and when there is an authenticity to the relationships that stems from truly showing meekness, taking the time to listen, offering consistent helpfulness even when it is inconvenient, and showing the grace of God in bearing people’s burdens.



Hope for Christianity Coming from the Next Christians

Gabe Lyons has written a very insightful article for CNN.com entitled, “Young Christians optimistic despite Christian America’s demise.” He writes,

“While some megachurches are flourishing in suburban Christian enclaves, the number of self-identifying Christians has fallen 10 points over as many years. Each year, the Christian church experiences a net loss in attendees and the waning political influence of the movement is now more than apparent.”

This decline in the number of Christians and churches is alarming to most evangelicals. The response by many (what Lyons calls the “old guard evangelicals”) is to engage in the culture war, some going so far as to claim that America was founded as a Christian nation and that we need to reestablish our Christian heritage.

Instead of looking backward to some mythical past, Lyons advocates looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. He writes, “But young Christians, it turns out, are far more optimistic about what the future might hold for the two-thousand-year-old faith.”

“Over the last several years, I’ve conducted hundreds of focus groups, interviews, and gatherings of young Christian leaders. I have tracked and compiled a list of their common characteristics—from the desire to create good cultural artifacts to a strong sense of calling—and these leaders’ optimistic outlook on the future has steamrolled me.”

Lyons gives a few real-life examples of the good work that the “Next Christians” are doing that are helping make Christianity a viable cultural phenomenon in our day. Then he states,

“Rather than strive for relevance or some amorphous ‘cool’ factor, they simply set out to accomplish good for the sake of the Christian Gospel. The only thing pragmatic about them is the way they try to solve pressing problems.

Additionally, they are far less interested in partisan politics. We are seeing more diversity in the ways young Christians define themselves politically, if they choose to do so at all. For example, when given the choice between ‘traditionalist / conservative,’ ‘centrist,’ or ‘modernist / progressive,’ almost all choose ‘centrist.’  In order to solve problems and make progress, young Christians are finding they often have to reach across party lines and work issue by issue.”

As I work with young Christians in my ministry, I have to give an exuberant “yes” to what Lyons is discovering about the Next Christians:

“As I’ve studied the next Christians, it’s apparent that they have a particular way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. They are purposeful in choosing their careers, optimistic about changing social problems, and eager to infuse the world with beauty and grace.

‘Christian America’ as we’ve known it is no doubt coming to an abrupt close, and the jury is out on how the next generation of Christians will shape public perceptions or solve pressing global concerns. Only time will tell, but if you ask them, they’d tell you the future is bright.”

How purposeful are you in choosing your career?

How optimistic are you about our ability to be change agents of unjust and systemic social problems?

How eager are you to take up the mantle of “image bearer” and create as our God creates with beauty and grace?



The Mission of God and the Missional Church

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch According to Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, a missional reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) “requires that we see that Jesus’s strategy is to get a whole lot of versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world” (p. 113).

A non-dualistic understanding of discipleship does not place church leadership as the pinnacle of Christian maturity. Rather, church leaders are supposed to equip the saints for the work of service (Ephesians 4:12) so that they can be the embodiment of Christ in every aspect of culture.

The goal is not so much to “save people” by attracting them into the church since we see it as God’s mediating institution in the world. No, the goal is to send people into the culture as incarnational “little versions of Jesus” invading every institution and sphere as God’s instrument for bringing all things under the Lordship of Christ and His Kingdom.

As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

When we understand that this is the mission of God in the world, we understand our role as being a movement to bring about this mission. And the mission is not simply to save people from this evil world, but to “restore and heal creation” (as Darrel Guder says in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, p. 129).

Alan Hirsch makes the case that our ecclesiology must follow our missiology, which must follow our Christology.


Hirsch says, “It is Christ who determines our purpose and mission in the world, and then it is our mission that must drive our search for modes of being-in-the-world” (p. 143) . Since our ecclesiology must be determined by our missiology which is ultimately determined by our Christology, "church" is the most malleable of these doctrines.

Jesus preached “the Good News of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), and so that must be the church’s mission as well. But how that is done is based on the mission of a particular body of believers as they seek to incarnate the gospel to a particular people group.

The “missional-incarnational impulse” (as Hirsch calls it) will be awakened in the church when we intersect God, the world, and the church so that it is all one cohesive whole. “Church is not something done in abstract from the world. Our evangelism and social action are communal, we join with God in redeeming the world (he’s already there), and our spirituality is of the all-of-life variety” (p. 239).



Dualistic Christianity and the Church

In the Western Church, we’re trapped in a worldview that assumes that we live and act in two separate domains, the “sacred sphere” and a “secular sphere.” We see prayer, evangelism, worship, and other “Christian activities” as the sacred part of life, that which has eternal significance. We see work, leisure, politics, shopping, and other “worldly activities” as the secular part of life, that which is only second-tier importance or of no eternal significance.

Alan Hirsch, in his book, The Forgotten Ways, contributed to my understanding of the destructive power of dualism by identifying that we also see “church” as the “mediating institution” between the sacred and the secular.

I’ve seen this as the operating paradigm for many Christians to whom I minister. They see the two spheres at odds with one another and the church as the place where “God” and “World” are mediated. So church is where they go weekly to move from the world and into the God’s sphere. Daily “Quiet Times” are treated as stop-gaps to recharge the sacred part of life so as to deal spiritually with the secular part of life. Personal missional work is reduced to “evangelism,” which is often defined as asking people to ditch this world so that they can live in the otherworldly heaven at the end of their lives and, while they await heaven, joining the church as the mediating institution between this world and God.

My main goal in ministry is to overcome this misconception and empower believers to embrace a holistic, non-dualistic spirituality—one that unifies our entire lives under the One God revealed in the Bible and connects our Sunday faith with our Monday reality.

Hirsch expertly diagnoses the disease that is causing the symptoms of dualism: “It is the actual way we do church that communicates this nonverbal message of dualism. The medium is the message, after all. And it sets people up to see things in an essentially distorted way, where God is limited to the religious sphere” (pp. 95-96).

I want to enable believers to see that Christian discipleship is the work of bringing all the spheres of our lives under the lordship of Christ.




How could YOU spend $10 Million? How would Jesus spend $10 Million?

So I was walking out of Denny’s yesterday morning when I glanced over at the front page of the USA Today. There was this article, titled, “Boehner as speaker of the House? Big donors think so.” The opening paragraphs stopped me in my tracks.

“Powerful interests are banking on Republican John Boehner to be the next speaker of the House, fundraising reports show.

The Ohio lawmaker has collected nearly $7.1 million for his campaign and leadership committees — more than double the $2.9 million that current Speaker Nancy Pelosi has received in similar fundraising, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Another $2 million has flowed into "Boehner for Speaker," a fundraising committee that shares contributions with the group working to elect more Republicans.

The industries giving the most to Boehner: insurance companies, drug manufacturers and Wall Street firms…”

I stood there shocked as I did the math. Between the two congressional leaders, they have raised ten million dollars.

And this in light of the recent Census Bureau report which stated, “The number of people in poverty in 2009 (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.”

It doesn't matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, if you are a Christian, I think you’ll agree that our political system is extremely broken, starting with the way we fund campaigns.

It’s disgusting.