Phil Johnson has done me the honor of expressing a public point of disagreement. Let me say at the outset that Bro. Phil is performing a magnificent service to the Christian community as an information clearing house for men like John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, among others.
Needless to say, all these men, Bro. Phil included, have done far more good for the cause of the kingdom than I’ll ever do. I’m a Lilliputian, craning my neck to behold their Olympian exploits!
Still, there’s room in the kingdom for Lilliputians as well as Gullivers, so I’ll continue to do my little best for the cause.
In the current debate over political activism and cobelligerence, I have not directed any of my comments to Bro. Phil. Since, however, he has now interacted with something of mine on this particular issue, I think I ought to make an effort to be responsive to his concerns.
And the rationale for mobilizing the church to political activism is extremely muddy and without any clear biblical warrant. Even Steve Hays has not been very convincing on this issue.
The problem I have with this statement is that he doesn’t say what would count, in his eyes, as clear biblical warrant.
I have written a recent essay (“Cobelligerence”) in which I discuss, at a general level, what I think would count as Biblical warrant for what we do.
In addition, Jus Divinum posted on my blog a comment which I thought was very germane to this whole question:
I think the argument for ECB is a common-sense argument from general ethical duties, like love for your neighbor, combined with an understanding of the purpose of government, and of law in general.
So I’m more than happy, to the best of my limited ability, to accommodate Bro. Phil’s request if he could accommodate me by spelling out his own criteria, or explaining what, exactly, he did not find convincing in my discussion thus far.
At first glance, I don’t agree with the way he has cast the issue here. I don’t see the ECBers as mobilizing “the church.” What I see them doing is to mobilize Christians.
Now, since most Christians are church-goers, and since church is where they all come together at one time and place, if you want to mobilize Christians, you naturally reach out to them where you can find them—just as if you want to evangelize teenagers, you go to where teenagers hangout, such as a shopping mall or video arcade or high school or sunny beach.
Is Campus Crusade mobilizing the university to do evangelism? I don’t think so. It is simply making use of its facilities or going to where the students go.
In fact, the church is often used as an information-clearing house to disseminate information. The pastor will use the occasion of the worship service to make announcements about various extra-curricular activities involving church members.
Likewise, many church bulletin boards and websites are used to advertise various community events, such as a gospel concert or Christian speaker at some offsite location.
In the meantime, let’s take a parallel example. Indeed, let’s lift our examples directly from Bro. Phil’s playbook:
It depends, of course, on how much of your message or your testimony you have to stifle in order to "team up." If your allies are Jewish and you hold back from declaring the exclusivity of Christ in order to hold your coalition together; or if your allies are Roman Catholic and you carefully avoid any discussion of sola fide or sola Scriptura—then you are sacrificing your distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel. It happens all the time.
The pattern has been that those who invest the most in "the culture war stuff" are often the last ones to press the actual claims of the gospel, declare the truth of redemption through Christ's atoning work, proclaim the exclusivity of Christ, and preach the full and unadulterated gospel.
By the way, if you want to see this principle in action, tune into "Focus on the Family" for six months and keep a record of how many times the gospel is clearly affirmed on that broadcast, compared to the number times you are exhorted to write your senator or participate in this or that boycott, campaign, or protest.
I am convinced that the kind of political activism they were involved with is incompatible with the true calling and priorities of the gospel ministry.
The unspoken, but operating assumption here seems to be every-member evangelism. The priority for every Christian is to be engaged in some form of evangelism, whether mass evangelism or friendship evangelism.
Now, I’m all for personal witnessing. But one question I’d respectfully pose to Bro. Phil is where he finds clear biblical warrant for every-member evangelism—as well as how the biblical warrant for every-member evangelism is any more direct than the biblical warrant for Evangelical cobelligerence.
In fact, one could just as well make a biblical case against every-member evangelism. One could argue that the whole point of the church as a body of believers consisting of different members with different talents is that every Christian does not have the same calling in life—every Christian is not an evangelist or minister of the gospel.
Indeed, wasn’t that a basic principle of the Reformation? Catholicism had, and still has, this two-tier piety between the laity and the religious. To be a family man or wife and mother is second-best.
But the Protestant Reformers repudiated this monkish, split-level piety. A Christian could serve God outside the priestly vocation.
What is more, in Presbyterian polity and ecclesiology, it would be considered out of order for a man who is not a church officer to be preaching the gospel as if he were an ordained minister of the gospel. When Bro. Phil and others are criticizing Dr. Dobson for not doing, many Presbyterians would criticize Dr. Dobson were he to do that very thing on a regular basis. They would say that this activity belongs to the regular ministry of the church. Indeed, they regard any parachurch ministry as usurping the prerogatives of the church. Where Bro. Phil comes down on this, I don’t know.
One final observation and comment:
They become obsessed with issues like getting prayer back in schools, ignoring the fact that any prayer ever sanctioned by the American government would have to be a prayer that implicitly denies Christ's rightful lordship.
I happen to agree with Bro. Phil about this. But I’d say two things:
i) The reason we don’t have more astute leadership in ECB is that those who are more astute are attacking ECB rather than taking the lead and making it better.
ii) It is quite true that ECB can get detoured into token issues like school prayer. However, it’s my impression that those who criticize ECB for getting detoured into token issues continue criticize ECB when it redirects its efforts to causes rather than symptoms.
Why would the only gov’t-sanctioned prayer be a non-sectarian prayer? Because that is how the Supreme Court has twisted the Establishment Clause. But when ECBers lobby for nominees whom, they hope, will exercise judicial restraint and respect original intent, they come in for the same criticism. And when someone like Judge Moore gets really radical and says that the whole point of the Establishment Clause was to prohibit the Federal gov’t from meddling in the religious autonomy of the states, he, too, comes in for the same criticism.
That, then, is my Lilliputian contribution to this phase of the debate.