The Alabama Election & Christian Witness

Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote a solid commentary about Christian witness in light of today’s special election in Alabama. Albert Mohler also addresses the crisis of conscience. The biggest loser in the Alabama election is not Democrats or Republicans; it’s the Christian witness. Our Christian witness can be revived if we learn to suffer patiently in the public square. We would rather fight than suffer.

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. In our context, there are predominant false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit. The Alabama Election brings one to the forefront.

The fight for the culture’s heart through political means has undermined the integrity of the explicit Christian witness. We choose to do what is right in our own eyes, “which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history.” We fight for moral purity without the basic expectation of moral purity in our candidates.

One of the false narratives which pervade our culture is nationalism. If you do a quick Google search the initial results come back as 1) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, and 2) an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

I would also add that nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry. Who are we as a country? The answer isn’t quite so clear-cut as one would hope.

On the surface level, loving one’s country is not a bad thing. God has ordained nations. However, whenever a good thing becomes a God thing the result is idolatry. While some would disagree that nationalism is a false narrative, and would even directly challenge my ensuing conclusion, the fight for the heart of American culture resides in one’s own view of morality. Moreover, if the only way to display the gospel is through political means, then one has bought into the lie of the false narrative. Further, if one’s perspective of the nation is elevated above the implications of the gospel, then lie is present there as well. Because of the United States history, trying to separate politics from faith is like trying to unravel Christmas lights. It’s time consuming, meticulous, and if only it had been done right initially. Knowing what should have been done does not alleviate the current situation of knotted Christmas lights–or better messy politics.

Like many of us choose to do, we would rather buy a new set of lights than deal with the mess. We attempt to do the same with politics. We would rather purchase a new nation through political aims than take the time to unravel and use what we have. It is an indictment against us all because we believe a lie shapes us all.

Whether you are on the right or left, chances are the purity of nation will make the world a better place. Here is the lie. One’s definition of pure usually involves thinking and acting exactly as you would. Self is at the center of pure. If only people would do this, we say, then the problem would be solved. In the end, the clamor is for uniformity in action and perspective.

The political right views purity of nation through one lens, while the political left views purity of nation through another. Regardless, the expectation is the same: a uniform identity. The identity proposed is usually divorced from any real conversation about real differences. The very plea for purity undermines the shared national identity of our history.

As Galli notes in his article, “The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.”

I would not limit the problem to Christian conservatives. The problem with many Christian liberals is this: They believe they can help the country improve by electing people whose moral superiority is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

Because the United States has always been a melting pot of culture, language, race, religion, political goals, and common ancestry, one of our greatest values is love for the story others bring to the table. In order to do this, our conversation and our politics must be steeped in humility and moral accountability. As a Christian, fear cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. As a Christian, cultural congruency cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. The Christian faith has never been about fighting for something but serving and suffering the Savior the who modeled it for us. The Christian witness will be revived when love neighbor testifies to the love of God.

Movements: The Reformation

The church has been growing for almost 2000 years and contemporary Christians would do well to learn from the men and women who have faithfully followed God throughout the centuries. One of the landmark moments in the history of the church is called the Protestant Reformation.

“Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” – Johann Tetzel

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For those of you who are not quite sure what the Reformation is and why it is a big deal, I thought I would provide a quick overview. Though you may not be entirely familiar with the Reformation, it has deeply impacted the faith you practice.

Unknown-2Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and priest in the 16th century. A man named Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences in Martin Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg in order to raise capital for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Since AD 1215, pious Christians would build up a “treasury of merit” on which they could draw on, which would expedite their time in purgatory. An indulgence allowed a remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences could also be purchased for those who have been deceased. For baptism, according to the Catholic Church, washed away the guilt, but nothing removed the punishment.

During the Renaissance, with the resurgence of classical antiquity, Rome became adorned in splendor. Pope Julius II permitted the sale of indulgences in 1507 to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was renewed in 1513. Leo X later made a deal with the archbishop of Mainz, which corresponded to the selling of indulgences. If Archbishop Albert would agree to allow the sale of indulgences, Leo agreed to split the profits with him.

If you could pay then you could avoid spending a long time in purgatory. The fast track through purgatory aroused Luther’s ire. The church had lost the heart of the gospel—God offers salvation as a free gift. 

Luther posted 95 Theses to debate on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.

When Luther circulates his 95 Theses, his thoughts were dangerously subversive ideas that posed challenges to the finances of the church as much as to its theology. Purgatory was never called into question in the 95 Theses; Luther’s challenge concerned the means by which one gets out of it as quickly as possible. Luther desired to rid the church of the flawed hierarchy. The cultural, political, and religious authority was flipped upon its head by Luther’s claims. The religious, social, and political turmoil which resulted from Luther’s actions set a precedent for future movements.

Pope Leo X finally addressed Luther on June 15, 1520, the conflict exploded giving birth to the Reformation. Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine, (“Arise, O Lord”), which condemned Luther as a heretic. Many others such as Calvin, Zwingli, and Arminius followed in Luther’s footsteps and they were reawakened to the Scriptures and the Gospel. While their intentions were to reform the church, eventually core beliefs led to irreconcilable differences.

Here are some claims Luther made:

  • God’s love is not conditional upon transformation; rather, personal transformation follows divine acceptance and affirmation.
  • One’s relationship with God is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is through faith. There is no longer any need for intermediaries- for the intercession of Mary or the saints to procure salvation.
  • Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and sufficient for Christian doctrine and practice.

The Reformation was about moving toward the Gospel–God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation in and through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learn about God through the Scriptures.

Rescue and renewal are offered as a free gift from God, one that could not be earned either by works or money, but only by grace through faith in Christ.

While these beliefs seem profoundly individualistic, and they are, they also have deep communal implications for how Christians value one another and seek Jesus. For many, Luther’s claims seem obvious. However, Christians tend to slip back into old habits in which salvation is earned, rather than given; and where many Christians rely on pastors for their intake of Bible than reading the Scriptures for themselves. Let us not take these developments for granted.

How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Staying In The Conversation

Over the past several weeks, various questions posed to me have been sifting through my head. There is one, in particular, I would like to address: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

In light of the recent national anthem protests, I think the idea of staying in a tough conversation and actually having dialogue is more important than ever. The solution is never as simple nor as clear as we think it should be.

Unknown-3I am white. I am not a veteran. My worldview is shaped by my cultural experience. Therefore, I lack the perspective of both an entire population of people who have not had many of the advantages I have received and a group who have fought for life, liberty, and freedom. When issues like the protesting during the national anthem come along, I lack the ability ON MY OWN to see the complexity of how those unlike me are experiencing our country. I can easily dismiss the pain of people I refuse to listen to on the both sides of any issue. Our country is polarized once again.

The best answer, or better response, to the present tension I have come up with (so far) is called resilient communication. I spent some time recently in Mark 4 reading the parable of the sower and connected passages. One of the most difficult challenges about the passage is the seeming mixed message Jesus sends. Greg Lanier puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not truly “hear and see” (and consequently, not respond with repentance and faith). One immediately uncovers the tension here: Is Jesus saying his preaching is designed for failure to produce results? Is he intentionally being obscurantist to turn people away?

As Lanier later describes, Jesus is standing in a long line of prophetic tradition. Mark cites Isaiah’s call in 6:9-10. Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil the truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.

Jesus tactfully shares the word, so that listeners want to stay in the conversation even if they may never hear the words shared. Some stay in the conversation, which is why crowds follow Jesus. It is also why the Pharisees freak out. The Pharisees and scribes have rightfully perceived Jesus’s words and, in light of their own-self judgment, respond negatively. The sinners and tax collectors have also perceived and consistently gather to get to know this potential Messiah. Staying in the conversation involves both the communicator and the listener.

I would argue in today’s world we need to rediscover the art of resiliency in communicating, but primarily in the aspect of listening. When we resiliently communicate we can own our personal worldview, while also remaining humble and teachable in the conversation. First, what is resilience?

Resilience: The revelation of our innate human ability to cope, survive, and then grow.

Resilient listening: Staying in the conversation when I do not like it. Staying in the conversation when I disagree with the “facts” I hear and even the worldview communicated. Resilient listening is keeping curious even when I do not want to be. It is not merely waiting to talk, but listening to understand.

In the holistic idea of resilient communication, there are several action items. I hope to tease out each action item over the next several weeks as I attempt to listen to others. For the meantime, I will provide the list with brief definitions.

  1. Saturation – consistently presenting the same message (not-mixed messages).
  2. Care – meeting immediate physical needs.
  3. Fact – information with no bias.
  4. Demonstrate empathy – sharing another’s feelings.
  5. Follow-through – persevere with action in the process.

Throughout resilient communication the idea of self-judgment is key. It is our own self-judgment which prohibits us from resiliently listening. Our idols keep us from conversing with other humans.  In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

Idols are the things that rattle us when they are threatened. As our model for humanity, Jesus stayed in tough conversations. He sat with people. He listened. He shared about  God’s design for the world (which transcended any geopolitical entity). Those who could not handle the diversity and constant challenges to their thinking withdrew from the conversation. Eventually, these people killed Jesus.

As people measured themselves against the compassion and kindness of Jesus, they realized how utterly they fell short of the beautiful standard. Because Jesus embodies God’s rightful kingdom manifested, those in the first century are fascinated and frustrated. The many parables, teaching, and life of Jesus provided saturation, care, fact, empathy, and follow-through. Jesus saw each person as having value and worth.

As we engage in the national conversation, how does our posture align with Jesus’s model of resilient communication?

Today, we verbally assault each other without resiliently listening to each other. We heap self-judgment upon ourselves when we cannot handle the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know. We live in a world of “experts” whose Ph.D. is Google, YouTube, and social media posts. In order to move forward together, let us practice the art of resilient communication. Sit down with someone different than you. Stop shouting. Start listening. Stay in the conversation.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20