Good News? (A Quasi-Political Post)

I need you to trust me.

If you have followed my writings over the last decade you know that I do not like politics. In fact, I hate politics. I believe the confluence of politics and religion has been one of the greatest dividers and antagonizers within the Church as a whole. And, as a result, I spend my energy working to unite people from all political persuasions into the only thing that can cover a multitude of sins, a multitude of ideologies, a multitude of political persuasions- the love of God.

For it is the love of God, singularly, that can save us from ourselves, as impossible as that may seem sometimes.

But at the same time, you should know that since I do not care for either political party, I try to speak as much unbiased truth as I can, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t have skin in the game.

So with all of that being said, please know that my intention with this post is not to make some political statement, or to take some supposed political side, because I am not. Neither right nor left, blue nor red, liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat will save us. I am simply trying to work through some of the great divides I observe within the American Church in light of political influence and power.

This post began writing itself last week when I saw an article about Vice President Mike Pence, who by the way is from my hometown and my alma mater (Columbus, Indiana and Hanover College), addressing a pastors conference (and now the Southern Baptist Convention) in which he was a surprise speaker. It was this specific line that hit me, and then subsequently made me reflect upon it. It was when he told the audience of pastors to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe that line doesn’t really stand out to you. In fact, I would be surprised if it did stand out to you in any appreciable way because it is the very backbone of Christianity and a very common thing for a Christian leader to say. So it’s no real surprise that someone would say something like that at a preachers conference.

But the reason it hit me in such a weird way the other day was because there is a growing number of Christians, like me, who see how un-Christlike our government is, whether it be the current administration or past administrations, and the Vice President’s call to “share the good news of Jesus Christ,” seemed to ring a bit hollow in light of the current un-Christlike administration.

I need to be clear here. I am not at all doubting the Vice President’s sincerity or his allegiance to his faith. That’s not it at all. As you will soon see, the main point of this post really doesn’t have anything to do with the Vice President or the administration. I truly believe that from Pence’s perspective, he believes that the work he is doing, and the work that the Trump administration is doing by proxy, is largely in alignment with the “good news of Jesus Christ.” And his rally cry at the preacher’s conference was his clarion call for them to join him in this good news mission. Again, I do not doubt his sincerity or allegiance to his faith at all.

I just believe it is mistaken and misaligned.

The problem is that there are those of us who see the “good news of Jesus Christ” differently, who see that the character and policies of the Trump administration (and the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations of the past) as un-Christlike, and who believe that any pronouncement of the “good news of Jesus Christ” ought to be accompanied by a people resolved to be like the Christ they profess to follow.

I want to be consistent, though. I am not saying that I believe a country should, or even could, be Christlike because I don’t think that is even possible, nor is it what Jesus ever intended. But, when Christianity is so actively and vociferously bandied about by the current administration, and then used as their basis for policy decisions, it begs for serious accountability and critique by those who take following the way of Jesus seriously.

So here are a few questions I would have.

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it has no real bearing on us becoming more like Christ in our lives?

Ought not the preaching of the “good news of Jesus Christ” be accompanied by lives and initiatives that look Christlike?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if the policies of the United States are rarely Christlike, or not Christlike at all?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it really isn’t good news for people living today?

Does the Good News have any real world influence, or is it just something that guarantees a future in heaven?

Of course these questions are rhetorical, but they really bring to light the deeper problem we have within American Christianity in how we view the “good news of Jesus Christ,” and what it ought to mean for the here and now. And believe me, this problem is at the very center of the issues we have with each other in the larger American Church.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we have two very different and distinct understandings of what the “good news of Jesus Christ” even is. And it is this difference in understanding that has led to very different ideas about what that means in the world and then how that ought to be expressed.

Some Christians believe the “good news of Jesus Christ” is the saving work of God through Christ accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross in order to defeat sin and death, thereby satisfying the wrath of God and granting forgiveness to all who repent and are baptized so that they may go to heaven for eternity in a spiritual afterlife.

The limitation of this understanding of the “good news” is that it does not offer a cohesive moral lens through which to see the world. Because this understanding is largely end-oriented, it is significantly limited in how to view (and relate) to the world presently.

That is why many within this version of the “good news” have adopted the most accessible lens in front of them to understand the world- the Judeo-Christian American lens.

Within the vacuum created by only using Jesus as a means of salvation, but not the lens through which they view all things, they needed some sort of lens to make moral sense of our country and world. And the Judeo-Christian American lens was the most accessible, because it was the one handed down from generation to generation in America.

The problem is that the Judeo-Christian American ethic is a mishmash of selective and inconsistent ethics from the Old and New Testaments. And those who see the world through that Judeo-Christian lens seek to impose those values on the governmental system as their ultimate goal, because they believe it is what God has always wanted. The Judeo-Christian American ethic is believed to be fundamentally and unequivocally Christian by those Christians who use it as their lens, even though its ethics are thoroughly un-Christlike.

A Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic. There is no such hybrid entity within Christ. To be a Christian means to follow the ethic of Christ. It does not mean ascribing to a mishmash of selective values that can be molded to your liking, or to your political leaning.

I am not pointing a finger of judgment here, because this is the quasi-Christian mumbo-jumbo that we have all been sold for generations. The problem is that a Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic and we are mistaken if we believe they are synonymous.

However, there are those, including me, who believe that the “good news of Jesus Christ,” which Jesus and Paul referred to as the “good news of the Kingdom of God,” is an entirely different nation and citizenship without boundaries or divisions or hierarchies, and whose values look exactly, and consistently, like the king in this kingdom… Jesus.

Yes, we still believe that the forgiveness of God was given to all as a peace-offering through Christ crucified, that sin and death were triumphed over in the resurrection of the Christ, and that God longs for all to repent (for all to change their minds about God and be transformed in the process of reconciling their relationship) and to be immersed heart, mind, body, and soul into this new reality of living, this Kingdom of God.

But it goes much further than that. Jesus isn’t simply a means to an end. Jesus is the means and the end. Jesus isn’t just good for getting to heaven. Jesus is the template and the lens by which we pattern our lives and through whom we see all things.

The good news of the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the selective and inconsistent morality of the Judeo-Christian American lens.

For example, when we say “pro-life,” we believe that God loves all life from womb to tomb, not just in the womb, because that is what Jesus taught and what Jesus embodied. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that all people are loved and worthy. And in this Kingdom, like Jesus, one does not see enemy-combatants or people worthy of death row or illegal aliens or garbage human beings or humans referred to as animals. We simply see people who are made in the image of God and loved by God. We see, like Jesus, people that we are to love with our heart, mind, body, and soul. And that may make us stupid and worthy of ridicule for loving so recklessly, but it is consistently with who Jesus called his followers to be.

And that is just one difference, among so many, between the selective and inconsistent Judeo-Christian American ethic and the universal and consistent good news of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to know how to see the world and other people when Jesus alone is the lens through which we see all things.

Let me give another example to illustrate the profound difference between the two lenses.

A Pew Research article posted on May 24, 2018 looked at whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees.

Of every single demographic analyzed in the study, from age to gender to class to ethnicity to education level, the groups MOST AGAINST the United States accepting refugees were the white, Protestant Evangelicals at nearly 70% and white, Protestants at 50%.

The people of Jesus. The people of compassion. The people who have become the very “body of Christ” in the world. The people of the “Good News.” The people who are to see others as Jesus sees them, is the single demographic MOST AGAINST accepting and helping a refugee.

When a Christian religion adopts a lens through which to view the world that is in stark contrast to the lens of Jesus, this is exactly what we end up with. Whether or not one breaks an American law, whether or not a person deserves the help, whether or not the person comes from another country or not, the good news of the Kingdom of God welcomes in and cares for the foreigner, the outcast, and those pushed to the edges of society. The good news of the Kingdom of God has deep, deep compassion for the poor seeking a better life, for those being hunted and killed by their own domestic oppressors, and for those seeking religious asylum from violent regimes. A people who understands the good news of the Kingdom of God is not singularly concerned preaching about the self-sacrificing Christ. We are resolved to pattern our lives after, and see the world through, the self-sacrificing Christ.

That’s the difference.

And I believe that is why there are so many Christians who think that the current administration is “doing the Lord’s work,” while there are just as many of us Christians who believe the current administration is an affront to Christ. Because without making Jesus the lens through which all things are seen, one can pick and choose which ethical concerns are “more important” or more “politically satisfying” or “more in line with American interests,” than with the Jesus they profess to follow.

It may be time for us to have deeper discussions with each other about what the good news is and what it really means for the world today.

Peace…

Brandon

Why I Don’t Want America to Come Back to God

I write this in an attempt at promoting a culture of dialogue and civility, even though both are in short supply these days. It seems as if most people have their heels dug in and their minds made up on every issue already, so what’s the point of attempting dialogue? It’s a great question that deserves a serious answer in a time when most people talk passed each other, only thinking about what can be said next to win the argument, rather than taking the more humble and disciplined postures of listening and contemplating.

While I am still but a student in the disciplines of listening and contemplating, the greatest areas of growth in my life have come as a result of being able to listen and contemplate thoughts and ideas that I had previously and whole-heartedly rejected. It is only when we can take a humble posture and open ourselves to hearing a new position or idea that we may begin to evaluate what we already believe and why we believe it, and then also begin to understand how and why another has arrived at a different position or idea. It costs nothing to be civil and listen to another’s perspective. We may even learning something new- whether it be a new idea, belief, or perspective, or maybe even something new about the person with whom we are speaking.

When we are able to have civil dialogue with one another, it honors each person’s humanity. We no longer see a person only for the idea or belief they represent, which we may have viewed in antagonism. We begin to see them as brothers and sisters who have been walking a different life path with different experiences or perspectives. And it is in that place where each side may begin to learn, grow, and broaden their appreciation for others. It begins with each one of us. May we each look inward at our hearts and move toward a more humble and disciplined posture of listening and contemplating, while honoring each person’s humanity.

With all of that being said as a proper foundation for discussion, it seems that one of the most contentious topics within American Christianity is the role followers of Jesus should or should not play within politics and government. The reason this topic is tantamount is that there are very different perspectives that have significant, profound, and very different effects and consequences in relation to a follower of Jesus.

In particular, there are those who believe that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that our country has turned its back on God, and that our country needs to come back to God, or that God will remove his blessing from our country. To that end, they believe that Christians ought stand up, be heard, and be involved politically so that Christian politicians will pass legislation that they believe will preserve Christianity in America and help our country turn back to God.

There are others, like me, who believe that whether the United States was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles or not is inconsequential, because Jesus was not trying to redeem countries by legislating morality from the top-down, he was inviting all of humanity into a different and alternative country (the Kingdom of God) with values and principles that completely contradict the values and principles of every man-made country on earth. To that end, we believe that this way moves forward, not by standing up against others, fighting for our principles or values to be imposed on others, or seeking the power of political rule to bring our country back to God, but rather by becoming the servant of all mankind so as to express and extend the grace and love of God and then inviting others into this “alternative country.”. It is a perspective that is not about “Christianizing” countries, but rather inviting all races, ethnicities, and citizens of the world to relinquish their inferior allegiances and inferior value systems, and enter into the transcendent ways of mercy and forgiveness, peace and reconciliation, and unconditional love of all.

The two perspectives could not be any different.

One moves forward in hopes of redeeming and restoring man-made governments and political systems, while the other understands that all man-made governments and political systems (no matter how well-intentioned) are built upon values and principles that will always be antithetical to the ways of Jesus.

One is built upon power, force, and law, while the other is built upon meekness, peace with all, love of friend and enemy, and the gentle ways of the Spirit.

One works to legislate morality through political means, which never changes a person’s heart, while the other moves forward humbly in grace and forgiveness, serving and demonstrating the love of God through example and relationship, changing hearts in the process.

One takes a very vocal approach that stands up for that which they believe to win the argument, while the other remains silently powerless in truth, even in the face of accusation and persecution, because the argument-battle does not have to be won.

One has a conditional view on which lives matter, babies in the womb, and which lives do not matter, enemies foreign and domestic, while the other views all life as God-given and worth saving.

One seeks retaliation and justice against aggressors and enemies through capital punishment and war, while the other will go down every peaceful path in love and forgiveness in the hope that tomorrow he or she will be a changed person.

One uses Scripture selectively, and out of context, to support a hybrid Judeo-Christian patriotism, while the other seeks to only pursue the way, life, and teachings of Jesus.

One is bent on judging the sins of special sin groups of the world, while the other extends a welcoming and loving embrace to every person in the world and humbly walks alongside them demonstrating and teaching the best and highest ways of Jesus.

One lives in fear of anything or anyone that threatens their vision of their country, while the other is never threatened or fearful because the country in which we are citizens, the Kingdom of God, will never fall and will always prevail, even when faced with violence or death.

One is perpetually unhappy and angry when cities, states, countries, and governments move away from their Judeo-Christian ethic, while the other finds happiness, joy, and peace in any worldly form of government, whether it be a republic, democracy, authoritarian state, communist state, or even in the midst of suffering under horrible governmental oppression.

Granted, these are big brushstrokes of the two perspectives, but is generally indicative of how both perspectives are so distinct and different.

If the whole point of being a Christian is to model the life of Jesus while he was here on earth, isn’t it crazy that one of the perspectives almost goes out of it’s way to not look or act like the example of Jesus at all?  As if Jesus is only good for saving people’s souls, but not having any bearing on what we think or how we live our lives or what we put our hope, faith, and trust in.  The entire life of Jesus, not the least of which was his sermon on the mount, centered around the ethic of how his followers should live and conduct their lives and daily affairs.  To me, it is utterly confounding and perplexing and sad how a large portion of American Christianity has lost the Christ.

One is in pursuit of an abstract “God” in which nationalistic and patriotic values and characteristics have been cut-and-pasted onto that “god,” while the other recognizes that the values and characteristics of God have been fully demonstrated in the life of Jesus. One perspective pursues a god that has been made in a powerful, retributive, violent, and tribal image, while the other perspective seeks to become the image bearers of God, which looks exactly like Jesus.

This is the reason why many Christians in the United States are more comfortable talking about God than Jesus. When one creates an abstract god made in our image, one can cut-and-paste any value and belief system onto that god without having to account for any of the specifics. That god simply becomes a projection or expression of the people who have created it. That god has the same values and principles as the sinful and broken people who have constructed it. And that is precisely why I have no interest in our country “turning back to God.” Because the god to which this perspective wants us to turn back… doesn’t look like Jesus at all.

I would rather invite every person in our country to follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, because that is where real life and true freedom are found.

What do you say?  Let the civil conversation begin.

Next week I will be asking the question, “Was Jesus a Repuplican or Democrat?

allegiance (part 1)…

We live in a time when the allegiance of the American Christian must change…and it is something that is long overdue.

We have willingly been sucked into the political (both left and right) and nationalistic games of our day without any hesitation. In doing so…we have compromised the very allegiance and identity we are to have only in Jesus Christ and his Kingdom by giving our pledge of allegiance to political ideologies and the interests of nation-states, and then assuming their identity and their character.

We have given our allegiance to man-made ideas and man-made governments that are as sturdy as sand. We fight, argue, defend, and spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and effort investing in those things to which we have given our allegiance. The profoundly sad and tragic truth is that we are significantly quicker to defend and fight for our life and liberty as citizens of the United States than we are to stand firm in our allegiance to Jesus Christ without compromising our identity in his Kingdom. Do you see the problem?

The great tragedy of the American Christian is that we want to have two lovers in the same bed at the same time…but there is only room for one. We want to chase, pursue, and work hard for one lover…while the other lover jealously waits for our full fidelity. And we consistently compromise our marriage vows to our faithful spouse while we rampantly pursue and seductively try to charm and tame the untamable mistress. She cannot be tamed…and we are mistaken if we believe we can tame her.

The Christian ought not have allegiance to or affinity toward ANY ideological, political, or governmental system of the world. The Scriptures state that there is great satanic power that works in the kingdoms of the world to oppress and destroy humanity, and has been working to this end from the beginning of time. Any system in the world may fall prey to this destructive power. That does not mean we ought not pray for our leaders or our governments to exemplify God’s justice and mercy in the world, but it does mean that we ought to be vigilant and stand guard against giving our pledge of allegiance to it.

If history is anything, it ought to be regarded as a way to learn from our past so as to not make the same mistakes again. As such, history ought to give caution and pause to people of faith who put their hope, faith, and trust in any ideological, political, or governmental system.

The late Art Katz, a messianic Jew, recounted the relationship and affinity German Jews had to the cultural, scientific, and economic development of Germany:

[We] were so deeply ensconced as Germans with a 2000-year tenure in Germany, though we were Jews…the fact of the matter was that we were more German than we were Jewish. And though the dark clouds gathered, we could not believe what they indicated. And we said, in that human way that does not want to recognize painful things, “This too shall pass.” The tragic thing was…it didn’t.

And who could have imagined that the land of Beethoven, Hegel, Nitsche, Schopenhauer, Gerda, and Schiller could be the land of the systematic annihilation of the Jewish people. It was inconceivable. And because the Jews were so taken up with the virtue of German civilization, they became its victim. They themselves had participated in the creation of the monster…and were instrumental in creating the very civilization that destroyed them.

I don’t want to pretend for a second that the situation of the American Christian is in any way, shape, or form like the plight or suffering of the Jewish Holocaust victims. But this recounting should be a very appropriate caution and lesson for the American Christian who has been incredibly instrumental and influential in the development of the United States. It should further give us pause to the fact that, while we ought to only have one allegiance to Jesus Christ and his Kingdom, we could very well be devoured by the very entity that we helped create and in which we have put our hope, faith, and trust. Do we not see that putting our hope, faith, and trust in any political movement or governmental entity is ultimately a dead-end road?

The Christian is told to not put our hope, faith, and trust in those things of earth that can be shaken. Rather, we are called to put our hope, faith, and trust in that which will never be shaken. So let us only give our allegiance to the King and the Kingdom that will never be shaken, and let us learn the secret of being content in any and all situations while demonstrating the love, justice, and mercies of God to the world.

read allegiance (part 2)…