|A picture from the Facebook ad for "I Am Pro-Life"|
So, here's the political conundrum for Christians:
We want to vote "Pro-Life," but what all does that entail?
Certainly it means standing up for the marginalized voice of the unborn.
This is one of the moost pressing civil-rights issue of our time, in spite of what most Democrats mis-perceived it as (most Dems only see the abortion issue as a civil-rights issue for women, discounting the civil rights of the child).
Christians, in my opinion, must stand up for those that are oppressed by an unjust society - and there are none more oppressed than the unborn.
But being "Pro-Life" does not end in a woman's womb.
It also means standing up for the marginalized voices of those who's lives are in danger due to other issues that face society: wars, poverty, hunger, trafficking, environmental destruction that causes diseases and loss of life (just to name a few).
Which party is best positioned to deal with these Life Issues? To be Pro-Life, in other words, is more than the issue of abortion (though that is a major issue concerning Life). If a party seeks to expand the military, cut funds to the social safety-net, and ignore the impact of human actions that damage the environment because of business interests, is that "Pro-Life?"
What do you think? I'd love your input.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God wasreconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, andentrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
“Therefore, everything—one’s work, one’s domestic life, one’s health, one’s worship—has significance to God. He is concerned with every aspect of the believer’s life, not just the so-called spiritual dimensions…There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship. All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.”
I'm still amazed how many evangelicals, because they WANT to believe that America was founded as a Christian nation, buy into David Barton's revisionist history.
His new book on Thomas Jefferson is a farce.
NPR’s “All Things Considered” has an excellent piece on Barton, interviewing evangelicals like Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and John Fea of Messiah College. Listen to this (or read the transcript).
Listen to the Story [9 min 8 sec]
Of course Christians should seek to influence society so that it better reflects the will of God... but we do not need to make up history to do so. This simply serves to undermine our task.
Keepin' you in the loop: Reintegrate is on its way to becoming a reality! We have approval from the State of Ohio to be a non-profit, we are very close to closing in on our board members, and we will be sending in our paperwork for the federal 501(c)(3) status in a few weeks! Please pray for:
- The $850 needed for filing to the federal government for 501(c)(3),
- The development of our website,
- The publication of our first line of curriculum
- The establishement of partnerships with CCO, Qideas, Hearts & Minds Bookstore, The Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture, and The High Calling.
Have you ever watched coverage of political campaigns on television and wonder, “Why does this sound so much like ESPN?
The experts on politics on cable news channels, on Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation sound more like they are talking about a NASCAR race than a political race – who is out in front, how the guy trailing can gain on the leader, strategies for moving up and past the leader, strategies for saying in the lead. When the public is in desperate need for thoughtful analysis on public policy issues, the media instead focuses on other things.
Now we know why. A new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (reported at journalism.com) examined in detail the media’s coverage of the Republican primary race.
“The media often focus heavily on tactics, strategy and the numbers of the horse race. On top of that, during the primaries the policy differences between candidates are sometimes fairly minimal as rivals contend for the favor of party primary voters. In 2012, horse race and strategy dominated, but not to the degree they had in 2008.
From November 2011 to April 15, 2012, the coverage devoted to the strategic elements of the GOP primary fight (horse race, tactics, strategy, money and advertising) outnumbered the combined attention to all foreign and domestic policy issues by about 6:1.
Overall, 64% of campaign coverage examined was framed around polls, advertising, fundraising, strategy and the constant question of who is winning and who is losing…
Over the last five and a half months, the candidates’ policy proposals and stands on the issues accounted for 11% of the campaign coverage. The vast majority of these focused on domestic issues…[which] accounted for 9% of the coverage…
There was far less attention paid to foreign policy issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations with Russia, and relations with Israel, all of which accounted for just 1% of the campaign coverage…
The candidates’ public records accounted for 6% of the overall campaign coverage studied.”
So, only 17% of the media’s campaign coverage was focused on the issues: the candidates’ stands on issues and their records.
We Christians are complicit in this demise of political public discourse in the media.
Instead of taking the time to read deeply and widely about policy, we watch the claptrap that the media serves and parrot it back to each other. We rarely seek to understand the opposition’s arguments. Instead, we act like simpletons, watching only the shows that we think we already agree with so that we don’t have to think too deeply.
Instead of debating with civility with others about issues, we mimic the talking heads on our favorite cable talk shows by attacking the opposition’s character. We take this easy route since it is so much easier to dismiss those we disagree with by portraying them as utterly evil.
Instead of demanding that mass media coverage dive deeper into public policy issues, we continue to watch the junk the media shows, providing them with high ratings and little incentive to change their ways.
I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and had a number of classes under D. A. Carson. He is one of the most thorough New Testament scholars in the world today. However, this does not necessarily mean that he is an expert on whatever he applies his word processor to doing. In his book, Christ & Culture Revisited (Eerdmans: 2008, now in paperback: 2012) he seeks to contribute to the conversation about culture by having us re-think Niebuhr’s categories through the lens of biblical theology.
Remember, H Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture assigned five paradigms to how Christians see Christ interacting with Culture: (1) Christ against Culture, (2) Christ of Culture, and (3) Christ above Culture (which includes the two subsets: (4) Christ and Culture in Paradox and (5) Christ the Transformer of Culture).
However sincere Carson is at the task, he makes serious mistakes in this book.
Carson first seeks to define “culture.” He defines culture by quoting Robert Redfield (“the shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact”) and Clifford Geertz (“an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life”). Therefore, Carson starts out the book defining “Culture” as both conceptual ideas and human artifacts. However, most of the book treats culture as simply conceptual ideas (he spends an inordinate amount of space on “church and state,” as if that is the primary form of human culture) and he very rarely talks about the things that human beings actually do to create culture.
The major problem of Carson’s book is that he failed to do exactly what he said he intended to do.
He says that the only way to properly understand the relationship of Christ with Culture is to have a thorough understanding of all the “turning points in the biblical history of redemption.” He writes, “The omission or dilution of one or more of them easily generates a truncated or distorted vision of Christianity, and therefore of the relations between Christ and culture. Indeed, much of the rest of this book can be read as a meditation on how a robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against such egregious reductionisms.” (p. 82)
However, in his chapter in which he seeks to trace the turning points in the biblical history of redemption, “Creation” is quickly married to “Fall.” Carson’s understanding of Creation spotlights on human beings and their duty to delight in God—serving him, trusting him, and obeying him. In one (just one!) paragraph, Carson says that humans are embodied beings that are made in God’s image. But with only one paragraph of space given to this topic, Carson basically reduces our embodiment and image-bearing to being made “to know and love and enjoy God,” with “responsibilities of governance and care.” With that, Carson moves quickly to the fact that we are a “fallen race,” which he defines as human beings “de-godding God,” or idolatry.
The astonishing exclusion of the Cultural Mandate and a robust definition of the imago Dei as humans created to reflect God by making culture is a fatal flaw of this book.
How can a Christian theologian write about culture without a thorough discussion of Genesis 1:26-28, 2:5, and 2:15, the most important texts that biblically root the cultural call upon the human race? If Carson thinks he is providing a “meditation on how a robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against such egregious reductionisms,” he fails right out of the chute: With the first and foremost moment in the history of redemption!
And his insistence on defining the Fall as simply the sin of human idolatry factors out the impact of the Fall on systems, structures, and institutions. Carson’s “history of redemption” is actually a truncated “history of the salvation of human beings.” It’s fascinating that a biblical scholar that warns against truncating the gospel does just that: truncating the gospel to just the salvation of humans. In Carson’s view, there is no robust understanding of a cosmic redemption of all things. To Carson, the shedding of Christ’s blood is only for the atonement of people.
The great New Testament scholar D.A. Carson seems to miss a crucial New Testament teaching: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
How can Carson dismiss the cosmic redemption of “all things?”
Also, Carson speaks primarily about “church” as an institution that has, as its primary purpose, the ministry of proclamation of the Word of God and the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, all of which revolves around the primary mandate of evangelism. According to Carson, the Great Commission is what the church does, period. Therefore, what Carson ends up doing is relegating cultural influence to what some Christians can engage in on the side – important, yes, but not as important as what the church as an institution does.
Carson’s chapter on Postmodernism is also extremely weak. He shows little understanding of postmodern philosophy. He takes on James K. A. Smith, and in doing so, shows that he should stick with biblical exegesis and theology. Another glaring shortcoming is how male-centric the book is. Nowhere does he deal with how women are affected by culture. In his preface, Carson thanks a number of Reformed pastors for their suggestions (including Mark Dever and Tim Keller). Not one of his interlocutors who read the book’s manuscript is a woman (I was hopeful that “Sandy Wilson” might be a woman, but he’s a Presbyterian pastor in Memphis).
Like I said, I studied under D. A. Carson at Trinity. He was perhaps the most respected of all the incredible scholars that were on the faculty there. But looking back, I realize now that his truncated gospel and narrow understanding of redemption had a negative influence on my biblical understanding of what God’s mission in the world actually is.
I’m amazed that I could graduate with honors from Trinity, a world-class seminary, but never seriously wrestle with the theological implications of God’s cosmic plan for the redemption of his creation.
The centerpiece of the case against Obamacare is the requirement that everyone buy some kind of health insurance or face stiff penalties--the so-called individual mandate. It is a way of moving toward universal coverage without a government-run or single-payer system. It might surprise Americans to learn that another advanced industrial country, one with a totally private health care system, made precisely the same choice nearly 20 years ago: Switzerland.
Switzerland is not your typical European welfare-state society. It is extremely business-friendly and has always gone its own way, shunning the euro and charting its own course on health care. The country ranks higher than the U.S. on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom.
Twenty years ago, Switzerland had a system very similar to America's--private insurers, private providers--with very similar problems. People didn't buy insurance but ended up in emergency rooms, insurers screened out people with pre-existing conditions, and costs were rising fast. The country came to the conclusion that to make health care work, everyone had to buy insurance. So the Swiss passed an individual mandate and reformed their system along lines very similar to Obamacare. The reform law passed by referendum, narrowly. The result two decades later: quality of care remains very high, everyone has access, and costs have moderated. Switzerland spends 11% of its GDP on health care, compared with 17% in the U.S. Its 8 million people have health care that is not tied to their employers, they can choose among many plans, and they can switch plans every year. Overall satisfaction with the system is high.
The most striking aspect of America's medical system remains how much of an outlier it is in the advanced industrial world. No other nation spends more than 12% of its total economy on health care. We do worse than most other countries on almost every measure of health outcomes: healthy-life expectancy, infant mortality and--crucially--patient satisfaction. Put simply, we have the most expensive, least efficient system of any rich country on the planet. Costs remain high on every level. Recently, the International Federation of Health Plans released a report comparing the prices in various countries of 23 medical services, from a routine checkup to an MRI to a dose of Lipitor. The U.S. had the highest costs in 22 of the 23 cases. An MRI costs $1,080 here; it costs $281 in France.
In 1963, Nobel Prize--winning economist Kenneth Arrow wrote an academic paper explaining why markets don't work well in health care. He argued that unlike with most goods and services, people don't know when they will need health care. And when they do need it--say, in the case of heart failure--the cost is often prohibitive. That means you need some kind of insurance or government-run system.
Now, we could decide as a society that it is O.K. for people who suddenly need health care to get it only if they can pay for it. The market would work just as it works for BMWs: anyone who can afford one can buy one. That would mean that the vast majority of Americans wouldn't be able to pay for a triple bypass or a hip replacement when they needed it. But every rich country in the world--and many not-so-rich ones--has decided that its people should have access to basic health care. Given that value, a pure free-market model simply cannot work.
In the campaigns for president, it seems that the conservatives have changed their tunes on requiring mandate for everyone to be included in health insurance. Zakaria observes,
Catastrophic insurance--covering trauma and serious illnesses--isn't a solution, because it's chronically ill patients, just 5% of the total, who account for 50% of American health care costs. That's why the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, came up with the idea of an individual mandate in the 1980s, proposing that people buy health insurance in exactly the same way that people are required to buy car insurance. That's why Mitt Romney chose this model as a market-friendly system for Massachusetts when he was governor. And that's why Newt Gingrich praised the Massachusetts model as the most important step forward in health care in years. They have all changed their minds, but that is about politics, not economics.
When listening to the debate about American health care, I find that many of the most fervent critics of government involvement argue almost entirely from abstract theoretical propositions about free markets. One can and should reason from principles. But one must also reason from reality, from facts on the ground. And the fact is that about 20 foreign countries provide health care for their citizens in some way or other. All of them--including free-market havens like Switzerland and Taiwan--have found that they need to use an insurance or government-sponsored model. All of them provide universal health care at much, much lower costs than we do and with better results.
Here are the highlights (scroll down to watch the video)
0:20 Nelson’s heart behind the book
“This book really found me because I struggle as a pastor trying to connect Sunday, life. and work and trying to make it make sense to people. And the book is really a response to my own inadequacies as a pastor of sort of looking at worship and work in very compartmentalized ways rather than a seamless fabric of the gospel, of faith.”2:39 The importance of a correct theology of work
“To my congregation I apologized because I did not have a rich theology that helped equip them to live life to the glory of God where they were called… And I used language that created a sense of a bifurcation or a dichotomy when the Scripture teaches a seamless integrity about this faithfulness of honoring God in our work… And this impacted my ministry and the people I talked to and how I saw the world and it hindered them from being fully the person God had created them to be and to flourish in their environment.”4:24 The importance of creating a church with a major theology of work
“If we miss one of the central threads of work and vocation throughout Scripture we are really not equipping people in the way we are called to equip them as pastors... So many people live under a drudgery that is poor theology that what they do doesn’t matter, that just what pastors do and what we do on Sundays is what’s really important…
If you are a pastor, leader, or a lay leader, it will transform not only your life, but it will transform your faith community. There is an energy, and a health, and a missional transformation that takes place when vocation is really understood and applied in a gracious way. So I’ve seen the transformation ‘before’ and ‘after,’ and I don’t want to go back to ‘before.’”7:12 Comments on James Davison Hunter’s concept of “Faithful Presence”
“When we understand that as we engage culture as faithful people that we are present in it, that Christ is present to us always…that the vast majority of the time we spend is in the workplace, wherever that is, wherever we are contributing… What James has done is he’s created a context for us to understand that the primary mission that we have is to be present where God has called us in that workplace…”8:32 The Mission of God and the workplace
“God has designed the world in such a way in how we live that his mission flows through our workplace. The gospel is not only incarnated there, the gospel is proclaimed there, the gospel is lived out in the workplace. So if we miss the workplace, we miss a big aspect of the mission of God and being faithfully present in it.”9:15 A theology of work in light of unemployment
“First, get a good definition of work… It’s contribution, not just financial remuneration…and all of us can contribute to God’s world, to the common good… And then I would call people to be a part of a community of faith, where there’s encouragement, where there’s good networking…because we need...hopefulness…
We love God and our neighbor through the Great Commandment primarily through our contribution in work, and all of us can love our neighbor through serving them and work, even if we are not paid for it at the moment.”
This weekend, the New York Giants upset the defending champion Green Bay Packers while the Tim Tebow–led Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots.
The Giants might make it to the Super Bowl, but Tebow will not, so that means that Tim Tebow is not facing the Giants.
But not just on the football field, but in a much more profoundly theological way.
A few weeks ago, my family sat down for movie night and watched Facing the Giants. Here is the trailer:
It is an emotional story of a high school football coach, Grant Taylor (compellingly acted by Alex Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote the movie), as he is facing the difficulties of his life (the metaphorical “giants”). He is on the verge of losing his job as coach of the Shiloh Eagles because they keep losing. He and his wife are heart-broken by their inability to have a baby. The couple are scraping by on his small salary and cannot afford to buy a new car.
But then he prays.
And his attitude changes. He decides that instead of worrying about all that’s going wrong in his life, he will live whole-heartedly to glorify God in everything he does.
He tells the team that he is initiating a new team philosophy: “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”
It is at this stage in the story that miracles begin to happen: Somebody anonymously gives Grant a brand new pickup truck. The Eagles begin to win. And his wife discovers she’s pregnant.
And they did indeed lose! The sad coach says to his wife, “I thought for sure we’d win that game!”
But wait a minute! The other team cheated by having an ineligible player on their team, so the Eagles get to advance in the playoffs due to the forfeit! What a miracle!
Extraordinarily, the Eagles make it all the way to the State Championship against the big, ominous Giants, who are dressed in all black, and have a fat mean-spirited man as their head coach. Against all odds, the Eagles win on a field goal by the kid who also facing his “giant” of feeling inadequate to play on the football team. Wow!
As the credits began to scroll, one of my kids said, “That was amazing! If this really didn’t happen, I wouldn’t believe it!”
”What?” This caused me to stop everyone from going up to bed. “This didn’t really happen,” I said, “This is a fictional movie.”
That’s when the anger and crying began. They were so upset that this movie was not true. They felt that it was wrong, down-right lying, to tell such a story if it did not really happen.
The movie’s premise was that if you prayed and gave your all to God, life will turn out wonderful and all the hardships in life will be overcome by miracles from God. You will win the big game. My kids wanted to believe that.
And when I told my kids “This movie is fiction,” they understood that to mean “This movie is a lie.”
Which it is.
God never promises that if we give him our best in every area of our lives that all our trials will be overcome by miracles and that our lives will become wonderful. Exactly the opposite is taught:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Coach Grant Taylor told his team, “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.” That is exactly right. The Apostle Peter was willing to praise God no matter what because he knew that the ultimate reward for faith in Christ is an inheritance that is yet to come. Jesus suffered and died, but overcame that with resurrection. We have that same hope in our trials. He wrote,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Now to Tim Tebow.
Tim Tebow and his faith in Jesus Christ has been a lightning rod of contention as his Broncos unexpectedly made the NFL playoffs and then won last week against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow’s dramatic overtime win (on the first play from scrimmage in OT, Tebow completed an 80 yard touchdown to win it) had people all aflutter. In that win, he threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per completion. (Isn’t the Bible’s “most famous verse” John 3:16? And hey- Isn’t the coach of the Broncos named John? Whoa!) Facebook and Twitter were filled with people saying that Tim Tebow’s Christian faith must be the reason they won that game. He must be going all the way to win the Super Bowl.
That’s the way Alex Kendrick would have wrote it: The Broncos would have faced the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and won it in dramatic fashion.
But this is reality. This is Tim Tebow living a real, authentic Christian life: one that truly says, “We need to give God our best in every area, and if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”
Tebow works hard at what he does (playing football) and because of that, he has experienced success. But Tebow knows that there is more to life than winning football games.
Legendary sports writer Rick Reilly recently wrote an article at ESPN.com titled “I Believe in Tim Tebow.” It is worth clicking over to read. In it, he explains what kind of person Tebow is.
“Who among us is this selfless?
Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.
Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.”
There is a difference between the fictional story of “Facing the Giants” and the real-life story of Tim Tebow. Christians who want to use athletes’ or celebrities’ success as “proof” for the goodness of Christianity had better hear this.
For the first time in seven days, each of which I spent in Denver because of Tim Tebow's polarizing impact on the NFL, the Broncos' quarterback and I finally had the chance to exchange more than the daily salutations I'd come to expect from the overbearing nature of Tebowmania.
We walked toward the exit -- among the last to leave the locker room after a 41-23 loss to the Patriots on Sunday -- as I began to ask the first of what I hoped would be a series of questions.
"How is the strength of your faith impacted after a loss?" I started.
"It puts things in perspective," Tebow said. "God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn't change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I'm about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it's still a good day."
And just like that, with a transition smooth enough to make a movie producer proud, Tebow crossed through the threshold of a doorway to the glowing face of a 22-year-old survivor of a brain tumor. After one question, the interview was over. A more important priority awaited him.
That’s the kind of movie “Facing the Giants” could have been.
Above is my graphical representation of the Gospel. It is the four-chapter story of God’s working in history for the restoration of the cosmos that He created.
When I first present this to many Christians, they automatically place themselves, as individuals, into this timeline. “I was created, I sinned, I accepted Jesus and was redeemed/saved, and one day I will be in heaven.”
It takes a lot of de-programming to help them see this timeline not individualistically, but cosmically: that each of us are certainly in the storyline, but that the storyline is bigger than each one of us.
What God has been doing, through Christ, is the cosmic renewal of all things. When we get into the storyline, we begin to understand the story as portrayed in the Bible, not as portrayed in evangelistic tracts that seek to simplify the gospel to individual need and individual sin and individual salvation. We get the story of how God has been working throughout history to bring about his purposes.
God creates a wonderful cosmos, and puts humanity in charge of it.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26, 28)FALL
Adam and Eve, however, failed in their role.
The world is cursed, in need of redemption, in need of restoration. And God begins using human beings for this very purpose. Why? Because humans are His image-bearers; We are the ones who have been called to rule God’s world in righteousness and Shalom.
In other words, the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel (and hence, the story of all of humanity). The story is about how Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah (“Anointed One,” “King”) fulfills the calling to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf. The gospel is not first about my personal salvation from my sins, but the story of how Jesus is the King, the One that we must follow as he brings all things back into reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-20).
Contrary to the popular notion of the gospel in much of American evangelicalism, the story of the gospel does not start with me and my sins. It starts with God’s creation and intention for his image-bearers to rule over his creation. The story of the gospel does not skip over what God was doing in the Old Testament with Israel as if it has no bearing on the story, but is rooted in that story of Israel: their calling, their failure. The story of the gospel is about Jesus fulfilling that calling as King. When Jesus is presented to people outside the framework of the story of Israel, all sorts of strange distortions happen to the gospel. Even with good intentions (trying to make the gospel more readily understood and accessible), when we disconnect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel, the story of humanity, and the story of cosmic restoration, we get a Jesus that is truncated, altered, and easily misunderstood.
The story is consummated when Jesus returns and God makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Resurrected humans are then given authority to rule over the new earth, under the rulership of Jesus the King.
While Scot McKnight and I are of different theological stripes (he is an Anabaptist Arminian, I am a Neo-Calvinist), we agree that the current crop of Calvinists in America have so focused on issues of “Salvation through Justification” that they miss the larger story of the Bible. What Neo-Calvinists focus in on is the gospel story of cosmic restoration; what the new crop of Calvinists (what I call the Neo-Puritans) focus in on is how God saves people.
The latter (God saving people) is the means for the former (God restoring his creation) because the failure of humanity from their creational mandate to rule the creation (The Fall) created the chaos that Jesus Christ came to rescue the world from.
Certainly it is good news that Jesus saves each one of us from our sins in the act of Justification. But the really BIG good news is this: Jesus is the King. This is why we find that when Jesus proclaimed "the gospel" (or "good news") it was "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).
We’ve heard the suspicions, especially lately with the health care debate. People do not trust that the government can do anything well. I’ve heard a number of people use the United States Postal Service as the ultimate example. We stand in long lines at the Post Office. UPS and FedEx delivers packages more efficiently and at a better cost. Okay.
But I still think that the government has actually done some things quite well.
- Building the interstate highway system: We boast the best auto and truck transportation system in the world.
- Public Libraries: Most nations don't even have these.
- National Park Service: Our National Parks are amazingly preserved and managed.
- NASA: Not only are we the only nation to step foot on the moon, but because of the space program, our nation has developed amazing advances in materials, electronics, communications, and medicine.
- The Food and Drug Administration: We can actually trust that the medicine we take is what's on the label because of the government, unlike most of the world.
- The Centers for Disease Control: This agency has shown to be exceptional in combating emerging diseases and health risks, including birth defects, West Nile virus, avian, swine, and pandemic flu, E. coli, and bioterrorism.
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Because of the FDIC, we can bank with confidence that our money will always be our money. Before the FDIC, if a bank lent more than it could support, people would lose their life savings.
So, contrary to what the pundits want us to believe, government is not always evil.
In fact, government is "God’s servant to do you good" (Romans 13:4).
I’ve been reading Miroslav Volf’s absolutely excellent book, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. In the final chapter, he moves into ways a Christian theology of work can overcome the many ways we see work in our contemporary society alienating us from being fully human. His premise is this:
“Human work, properly understood theologically, is related to the goal of all human history, which will bring God, human beings, and the nonhuman creation into ‘shalomic’ harmony.” (p. 85)
Volf (Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University Divinity School and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture) offers a pneumatological theology of work, in which the Holy Spirit gifts human beings with the abilities to provide not only for their own sustenance, but to work for the common good.
“When God calls people to become children of God, the Spirit gives them calling, talents, and ‘enablings’ (charisms) so that they can do God’s will in the Christian fellowship and in the world in anticipation of God’s eschatological new creation. All Christians have several gifts from the Spirit. Since most of these gifts can be exercised only through work, work must be considered a central aspect of Christian living.” (p. 124)
But such an economic system rubs against the way God has created human beings.
“Individual self-interest can be pursued validly but it must be accompanied by the pursuit of the good of others. These two pursuits are not in principle mutually exclusive but complementary (though in concrete cases they often conflict). My own good and the good of the whole human family are both included in the shalom of the new creation. Therefore, no contradiction is involved when a person ‘gives himself up’ for someone and ‘loves himself’ at the same time (see Eph. 5:25-28). (p. 192)
“Unlike libertarian philosophy, Christian faith does make demands on people to accept economic responsibility for others. And these demands are not only demands of generosity. They are demands on them to practice justice. Both in the Old and the New Testaments the concept of justice includes concern for the underprivileged (see Matt. 6:1; Ps. 112:9). Paul, for instance, calls the financial help of gentile Christians to the Jerusalem poor ‘justice’ (2 Cor. 9:9). Correspondingly, the mere refusal of the wealthy to aid the poor can be considered a criminal act (Ezek. 16:49).” (p. 194)
“Important as it is, from a Christian perspective, respect for individual liberty will not suffice as a basic rule for the market game. Respect for the right of sustenance of all individuals must be added as a rule that is even more basic than respect for individual liberty. If the market will not behave according to this rule, it is the market that has to go, not the rule. For the basic criterion of the humanness of an economic system is whether or not it secures lasting justice for the poor.” (p. 195)
The answer is not Marxism, according to Volf, but “a market economy directed by a vision of the common good.” In other words, a market economy that has parameters that ensure individual freedom while also caring for the basic needs of all people.