Please Don’t Say or Think This: “Let’s Take Back America”

While watching a political documentary I shall not name, one Christian said that if enough evangelicals would register and vote, we could “take back the nation.” I started expostulating so loudly to my wife that my dog Sunny went over to her and climbed into her lap. He was even shaking. 

Now, I wasn’t angry at my wife or at my dog. I was angry with the rank idiocy of this statement. Here’s why:

First, evangelicals are not in agreement on the significance of issues or on who best represents their views. For example, black, Hispanic, and white evangelicals tend to vote differently. 

Second, this is America, not a theocracy. If you are a Christian and a citizen of the United States, you have the religious liberty (for now) to organize, contribute, and vote your conscience under God and before man. But so do other religious believers and those of no religious beliefs. So, we don’t “take back” the country from anyone. We never had it to begin with, despite the Christian influence on the country. If we mean that we want Judeo-Christian values to have more influence, then good. But skip the “take back” language, please. 

Third, the language of “taking back America” may concern non-Christians who think that Christians who get their way politically will put others in jeopardy in one way or another. But if we support the Constitution and the rule of law, that will not happen.

Fourth, there is a lot more to reforming and renewing America than winning political battles. In many races, both major candidates are debauched and it turns out (again) to be the lesser of two evils, which is also the evil of two lessers. Further, even good laws only go so far to improve society. Much must be done in the pre-political or non-political realms. As a Washington insider once told me, “There are a lot of dead bodies floating downstream by the time they get to Washington, DC.” He meant elected officials!

There is nothing wrong with educating and mobilizing Christians in politics. There is plenty wrong with “taking back America.”

Your Jesus, My Jesus?

Shock, anger, sadness, and fear came over me as I watched a clip of a group of protesters curse “your Jesus” in unison with the F-word. Has it come to this? And what is this? Who is Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth does not belong to anyone, so there is no “my Jesus” or “your Jesus,” there is only the genuine Jesus—the Lord of history and eternity, the man who walked the earth in ancient Palestine, who died on a cross and who rose from the dead. Whoever we are, we must not take God’s name in vain or paint the one true Messiah in false colors that represent us more than him.

Jesus was not a man of means and social standing, for he stood outside the religious establishment. He was a traveling teacher, preacher, prophet, and healer, and he had nowhere to lay his head. He was accused of being possessed by demons—this one who cast out demons as no other ever did or will do. He knew what was in the heart of people, and he had no need for their acclaim to fulfill this mission, which was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus was no nationalist. He warned that his own nation, his own beloved people, would be judged once again for their refusal to recognize their day of visitation, their rejection of the Messiah. He claimed to have authority over every nation, calling them repent and have faith in him (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus was no racist. His ministry focused on his Jewish people, but encompassed others; and he commissioned his followers to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He spoke with and revealed his identity to a Samaritan women, a racial and social outcast to most Jews (John 4). Jesus is the man for others, all others. 

Jesus was no violent revolutionary (a zealot), otherwise his followers would have taken up the sword and stumped for political power over Rome. He said to render to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:18-23). The state is not God, and neither are his followers anarchists who want to burn it all down. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The way of Jesus is the the way of Cross—self-sacrifice, daring hope, and bold love. It does not burn down; it builds up. It does not hate, but makes the necessary sacrifices of love. It is not content with injustice; it works for justice, but justice with knowledge and wisdom. It eschews the irrational reflexes of unreflective rage for fits of rage are the work of the sinful fallen nature. (Galatians 5:20). 

There is no “your Jesus” or “my Jesus.” We must content with the real Jesus—now and at the gateway to Eternity. We can get Jesus wrong, and he warned of those who claimed to follow him who would be exposed as frauds at the Last Day. Listen to Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

We can only speak of “my Jesus” when we have made him Lord of our lives, when we have accepted his death on our behalf to forgive our sins and give us a new start on justice, wisdom, and love. Is “my Jesus” the real Jesus? Is “your Jesus” the real Jesus?

13 Principles for Addressing the Present Social Unrest

1. Pray for wisdom, safety, courage, and virtue–as a way of life.

2. Study the issues, such as a biblical view of justice, race, the state, and rights. For starters, read Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto. Then, Os Guinness, Last Call for Liberty.

3. Don’t speak about what you don’t know. Be different.

4. Don’t follow a multitude in doing evil–or being stupid.

5. Do not destroy anyone else’s property or threaten their person for your cause. 

“Civil war is the worst of all kinds of war”–Blaise Pascal. 

The end does not justify the means.

6. Don’t put your final hope in politics.

7. Don’t deny the importance of politics.

8. Politics is downstream from culture.

9. Work on strengthening the good, the true, and the beautiful in culture–in the home, in the school, in voluntary organizations.

10. Build up the church.

11. Never sacrifice personal virtue for the sake of supposedly common good.

12. Choose 1776 (American Revolution) over 1787 (French Revolution).

13. Chose Martin (Luther King, Jr.) over Malcolm (X). 

14. Don’t swallow non-Christian ideologies whole. Study the roots of ideas. For starters, see Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live (history of ideas). Then, James Sire, The Universe Next Door(worldviews).

Race, Thought, and Action

What would happen if we stopped taking about “racism”–trading insults back and forth–and took up matters of the just and loving treatment of human beings, according to their different backgrounds, ethnicity, and abilities? Is there a perspective that unfairly assesses and treats people? Of course. Can social systems partake of this, consciously or even unconsciously, Yes.

But instead of hurling invective, how about thinking hard about our common life as citizens, whether we are poor, rich, politics, community organizers, teachers, politicians, “red and yellow, black and white (and brown)”? Instead of throwing stones and toppling statues (some need to be peaceably removed), pick up some books and build your knowledge unto justice and compassion. And if you don’t know what to think, don’t open your mouth. Ponder, then speak when ready, Then act when the time is right.

Here are some things I am doing.

  1. Talking to African American friends about what they think of what is going on and asking them if they have been discriminated against because of their race. I should also talk to Latinos and Latinas, etc.
  2. Reading on the subject, such as Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Dispossessed and “Deep River: The Negro Spiritual Speaks to Life and Death. (I am quoting the later in the 2nd. edition of Christian Apologetics).
  3. Changing my syllabus for Apologetics and Ethics to include a book called Urban Apologetics, written by a black evangelical named Christopher Brooks.
  4. Praying for justice, peace, and love to prevail.

 

Law, Love, and Justice

A politician recently said that racism will only be solved through conversion Christ. Since the problem starts within, in the heart, the heart needs to be radically changed through the supernatural regenerating power of Jesus Christ. He is both right and wrong in saying this, and the difference between what is right and what is wrong is no small matter when the world is blowing up around us.

Sin starts within and works itself out in myriad ways. As James wrote:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-4).

Fights, quarrels, murder and more are rooted in inner discontent and strife. Coveting disorders the soul and does not allow it to rest in God. The best way to change behavior is to change the man or the woman from the inside out, one by one. We need peace with God through Christ to demonstrate peace with others. As Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

If we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ, we can live in God’s grace, knowing his love for us. We than, therefore, live conscientiously before the face of God without self-deception. Being “born again” through faith in Christ gives us a new position before God. It also changes our motivations and desires. Thus, the ultimate answer to racial injustice and all strife is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change our attitudes and feelings about others, such that we truly love our neighbor as ourselves. James also speaks against favoritism concerning wealth. But the principle applies to race as well.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).

 

Free Speech and Rightful Protest

America has more opportunities and avenues for free speech and political action than anywhere else in the world, despite all our problems and injustice. Let us, therefore, use these freedoms and not resort to violence. And let our civil government protect these freedoms, enshrined in the First Amendment.

If you think destroying other people’s property and threatening their livelihoods is right, then you are bewitched by a debauched utilitarian ethics: The end justified the means. You are not respecting the dignity of individuals (made in God’s image) or their property. If you want to be respected, then show respect. It is the Golden Rule of Jesus, the greatest nonviolent and constructive revolutionary of all time. If you worship him, love your neighbor, even your enemy.

You have a voice, so don’t use a fist.
Speak, even yell, but don’t hit or throw.
Make a sign and show it. Don’t make a bomb and throw it.
You have a vote, so don’t use a torch.
You can protest, but do not destroy.
Be angry, but in your anger, do not sin.
Govern yourself as you seek to reform our civil government.

Street brutality is no answer to police brutality, which is real and must be addressed.

Pray and work. Work and pray. Pray while you work. Work while you pray.

May God bring justice and peace.

 

Honoring Ravi: Apologetics!

You can honor the ministry and legacy of Ravi Zacharias by doing one thing. Make the presentation and defense of the gospel a high priority in your life just as he did. You won’t be as winsome, but so what? As someone said about Ravi, “Unlike many Evangelicals, he actually evangelized instead of being all about politics.” We need both, but Ravi knew his calling, and we are all called to make the gospel known in our generation. Perhaps we need less political pontificating.

So, read a few of Ravi Zacharias’s books. Watch his incomparable messages on line. Perhaps get some training at The Zacharias Institute. Consider donating to RZIM. Then bring the gospel to others in any way you can: prayer, talking to people, listening to people, inviting people to church, writing cards and letters, sending emails, being a godly presence in people’s lives over time, speaking publicly for Christ, writing articles that commend Jesus, doing good works in Jesus name without bragging, being on panel discussions where the gospel is addressed, doing debates and discussions with non-Christians while speaking the truth in love. If you are a preacher, then preach on apologetics when fitting. If you are able, teach an apologetics class at your church. Don’t let any high school student attend a secular university without training in apologetics!

Always “watch your life and doctrine closely,” as Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:16).

 

In Defense of Fear

Too often we hear that we should not be affected by fear, especially in the pandemic. No, fear–of the right kind–is good.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Bible tells us. We should be in awe and hold God in the highest respect, even though he is our friend through Jesus, and even our Father in heaven. We fear not Gods wrath if we are covered in Christ’s righteousness, but we should still fear God.

Fear of the professor’s bad grades is the beginning of academic wisdom, even if the professor is kind and helpful. This fear leads to improvement and academic safety.

Fear of death from a deadly disease is wise. Altering your behavior accordingly is right, given a severe threat. Being cautious and controlling your urges is the better part of virtue.

Going out in public without precautions and screaming about the loss of your “rights” in a pandemic is unwise, imprudent, and potentially harmful to others.

Remember, if you get the virus because you were careless, it may not hurt you too much. However, in so doing, you weaponize yourself and you may give the virus to someone who becomes very ill or who may die from it.

So, be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Crisis, Virus, and Ideology

With social media, anyone can post anything about anything. You are your own editor, publisher, and promoter. Everyone is an expert or can pose as one. Or perhaps the idea of an expert is dead. Since ethos is essential in persuasion, let me “speak as a fool” (as Apostle Paul put it) about myself before making some comments about crisis, virus, and ideology.

I speak for no organization. I am not an ordained minister, not a physician, and not a scientist. I belong to no political party. I am an evangelical Christian who is a philosopher, author, and professor. I am sixty-three years old and have been a Christian since 1976. I have taught full-time as a professor of philosophy since 1993 and have been an adjunct professor at three secular colleges. I have published and taught on many topics, including the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of technology, theology, moral philosophy, social issues, postmodernism, theology of culture, Jesus, Blaise Pascal, and political philosophy. I’ve been around the block a few times. So, here are a few reflections on responses to the current pandemic.

I see people’s political views eclipsing their reasoning and this concerns me greatly. Conservatives are tending to downplay the crisis, fearing that it is some kind of ruse for liberal politics. Criticisms of the President’s handling of the corona pandemic are taken to be merely political. Some seem to think that if you voted for Trump and are not a Democrat, you must never criticize him. Or they think that if you criticize Trump, you support a far-left ideology. That is the fallacy of a false dichotomy. That is not how reality or democracy works. Facts are more important than ideological conformity. Being ideologically blinded is marked by at least four tendencies. (1) You dismiss out of hand views contrary to your own. (2) You consult only news and opinion sources that share you views. (3) You see the world in only stark binary terms (us and them). (4) You are quick to attack the motives of those you disagree with.

For some, measures taken by governments to hinder the spread of the virus are taken as a gateway to totalitarianism. As a conservative, I have long criticized statism—the notion that the state is the central institution for order and meaning in society. Other forms of government are just as important as civil government: self-government (virtue), family government, church government, school government, and the governments of private organizations. However, the state or civil government has its proper place and—because of its coercive power—can accomplish much that the private sector cannot. Thus, when lives are at stake, it is appropriate for the state to restrict activities, such as closing down businesses, taking economic measures, and restricting public meetings. The public good demands this and all decisions cannot be left to private choices. Remember what Apostle Paul wrote about civil government.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-5).

This does not give the governing authorities carte blanc permission to take away basic human rights or to control the church. May it never be! Scripture tells us of godly people standing up to the state (Exodus 1; Acts 5:26). Citizens must sometimes rise up against tyrannical governments or secretly disobey them. (On this, see Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto.) But the issue today is not so much about civil liberties, as it is about public health and common sense. If the mayor of a city limits the operation of businesses—even though there are only a few reported cases of corona virus in the state—that is no reason to accuse her of tyranny. Rather, the she should be complimented for being conservative in protecting the health of citizens. When the stakes are high—dying of the virus—the measures should be aggressively conservative, because so much is at stake. This is Prudential Reasoning 101.

In times of crisis, critical thinking is often a causality. But the greater the crisis, the greater the need for cool heads—and for warm hearts, wise action, and faithful prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presence

You and I need media to communicate with one another. Speech is one medium to bring thought into oral expression. Writing is another medium to bring thought into the world through inscription of various kinds. When electricity was pressed into communicative service long ago, new media were added to the human scene: telegraphy, radio, telephones, television, cell phones, and the Internet.

All mediation creates a new environment, which changes the communication and changes the people communicating. Those who first used telephones felt it odd that a voice could be so radically separated from a human being who was speaking somewhere in the general vicinity.

Electronic mediation allows for informational extensions beyond that of the immediate. I have FaceTime with a friend in Czech Republic, because we cannot meet at the local pub for now. However, all these electronic mediations separate as well as unite. FaceTime shows me a face and gives me a voice, but I cannot shake hands, put a hand on a shoulder, or pick up the kinetic subtleties I would experience if I were in a room with my friend. Moreover, I depend on the camera to give me the angle of vision. When face to face, I can move around the room, literally lean into the conversation, and communicate with my full body in ways not available through face time. Mediation gives, and mediation takes away.

Now let us open our Bibles. The Apostle John ended two of his three letters with a desire we may read over too quickly.

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete (2 John 12).

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face (3 John 13-14).

John realizes the limitations of quill and parchment—that ancient kind of mediation that we understand as pen and the paper—and now, more and more, as keyboard and the screen. His realization was based on his experience of the Incarnation itself, as he tells us.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1 John 1:1-4).

The Apostle, Paul, said much the same in two places.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (Romans 1:11-12).

Paul was about to write the book of Romans, the most thorough account of Christian theology in the entirety of holy Scripture. Yet even that was not the same as seeing the recipients of his letter. Paul yearned for the “mutual encouragement” that comes from face-to-face fellowship. He writes the same to his young charge, Pastor Timothy:  “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Examples like this could be multiplied. They reveal that personal presence cannot be replaced by any medium of communication. Being with someone is not identical to any other form of communication. I am not devaluing letters, emails, texts, or even tweets. However, we gain wisdom when we understand the nature of the medium we are using—its weaknesses and its strengths. But we should not be so deceived as to think that the on-line classroom is exchangeable for the in-person classroom or the on-line church service is exchangeable for the in-person church service. Presence matters because matter matters. It matters to God, and it should matter for us. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Thus, we should practice the presence of God and practice the presence of other people.

For more on these ideas, see Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997).