Sunday, July 21, 2019

Domesticating Christianity

In this post I will briefly interact with an article in the July issue of Christianity Today by Jeff Christopherson, Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board. I quote the relevant portions of the article at the bottom of my post. 

i) I'm always amused by hotheaded moralists who combine condescension and indignation with intellectual frivolity. To be a serious Christian ethicist, you can't resort to the simplistic, one-sided objections raised by Christopherson.

ii) Although changing one's position in light of new circumstances can be a mark of moral compromise, that's not necessarily or even presumptively the case. It depends on the issue and the motivation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was originally a pacifist, but ending up joining the plot to assassinate Hitler. A complete 180 from is original position. Is his change of heart morally discrediting? Likewise, Anglican philosopher Basil Mitchell was originally a pacifist, but as a young Englishman in WWII, he changed his mind as he compared his abstract pacifism with the palpable evil of the Third Reich. John Stott was initially a pacifist. He changed his mind. Does that automatically make him a hypocrite? Or take people who used to support abortion in the abstract until they were exposed to the bloody reality. Are these examples of moral capitulation? Whether revision or reversing your position when confronted with a new and extreme situation is hypocritical can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

ii) The church faces the perennial risk of becoming domesticated. Becoming an Establishment pet. Take puppet churches in Russia and Red China. Or state churches that were either subsidized by the state or had a religious monopoly. The church pays a price for that kind of governmental patronage. It can't afford to criticize the private lives of public officials. It can't afford to criticize foreign or domestic policy–for fear of losing the perks that come with governmental patronage. So that's a perennial temptation throughout church history. And there are many examples in which established churches become dogs on a leash. 

Among other things, the Apocalypse asserts the necessary independence of the Christian faith in relation to the state. A distance necessary to maintain its prophetic voice. 

iii) It's funny how scolds like Christopherson smear evangelicals, then turn right around and feign horror at the effects of their own smear tactics. They shape public perception by vilifying evangelicals, then appeal to public perception to justify their disdain. The vicious circularity is glaring. 

Insofar as evangelicals have a PR problem, the proper course of action is to educate unbelievers on our reasoning. To show that our position is, in fact, consistent, and their misimpression is the product of ignorance and simple-minded analysis. 

iv) What commonalities should evangelical Americans share with the Democrat Party, given its current ideological commitments? 

v) The allegation would have more traction if, in fact, evangelicals were assimilating to the Establishment. But they're doing the opposite. They vigorously oppose the secular progressive steamroller of Big Tech and the Democrat Party. So their political alliances are countercultural. It would be much easier to survive and thrive by becoming "progressive Christians" or renouncing Christianity altogether to identify with the secular progressives. 

vi) By contrast, scolds like Christopherson reprise the strategy of the Pharisees who maintain ritual purity by avoiding contamination through contact with untouchables. 

vii) The silence of scolds like Christopherson regarding the existential threat posed by secular progressive agenda makes you wonder if they themselves aren't closet progressives. Otherwise, why is there no sense of alarm on their part? 

viii) John Piper has said and done good things, but in the realm of ethics he's an Anabaptist. And the quoted statement is boneheaded. The secular police state promoted by Big Tech and the Democrat Party will outlaw Christianity. At best it will let progressive puppet churches exist–as a safe substitute for authentic Christianity, which poses a threat to godless absolutism.  

Here is a question. What happens to the mission field when partisan evangelicals collectively turn their missionary platforms into ideological troll farms? What happens to the mission field when our highest calling is to leverage a profound cultural angst into a vitriolic nationalism? What happens to the mission field when those with whom we disagree become cultural enemies to vanquish rather than friends and neighbors to love? 

The seamless convergence of cultural politics and religious identity has provided the climate for darkness to flourish with full permission from the very people who are commissioned to bring Jesus’ light...So, how do we clean up the toxic swamp that is today’s evangelical reputation?

The public flip-flop of evangelicals on the importance of personal character within public office has created a tsunami of an integrity crisis within larger evangelicalism. The collective perception that public figures are held to account by evangelicals, or given a free pass, adjudicated solely on the color of the candidate’s brand is difficult to dance around. The moral inconsistency of our positions only leads a watching world to conclude that our religious convictions—the essence of our faith—is up for sale. It’s a venal dogma.[5]

Rather than clear alignment between evangelicals and any political party, Tim Keller suggested that believers should have some commonalities with both political parties but should be uncomfortable aligning themselves completely with either.[6] A blind capitulation to a political party as a play for power always leads to spiritual compromise.

John Piper also didn’t mince words when he stated, “I’m one hundred times more passionate about creating Christians and churches that will be faithful, biblical, countercultural, and spiritually minded in a socialist America, in a Muslim America, in a communist America, than I am in preventing a Muslim America or a communist America. That puts me in a very different ballpark than many public voices.”[10] 


  1. Off topic, but it appears that "Catholic Answers" can't give a coherent response to a question whether anyone in the OT really existed,

  2. These people must live on a different planet than me. Even if Keller's thesis (that we shouldn't be "all in" for one party) is correct it doesn't mean that we won't be de facto in agreement with Republicans on so many things that we will look "in the tank" with them. Let's take a look at the left's position on things. I use "left" in a very generalizing way to include progressives, socialists, communists (PSC), etc.

    1. Abortion- PSCs think it okay to kill children for a variety of reasons and actively pursue that objective. No Christian Ethic should ever over look this fact. It is analogous to German Christians saying that they supported the Nazis for their economic policies, but the treatment of Jews was a "complex question" which is the retort of many progressive evangelicals... Abortion is "complex". So, on this orthodox protestants ought to be with the Republicans.

    2. Private Property- The bible is pretty clear that private property is a right of human beings. It should be subservient to God's law, but the bible seems to be pretty clear that the State shouldn't have carte blanche to tax its people into oblivion. So, on this an orthodox protestant will should probably side with a view that would protect the rights of people in society to the fruits of their labor. Socialists, Progressives, and Communists view private property as an institution that is inherently unjust. Again, this is another area that PSCs are against scripture and Natural Law.

    3. The Family- The PSCs have done everything in their power to undermine the family unit. This has been done by the promotion of Sodomy, lesbianism, transgenderism, and a host of sexual perversion. It's hard to see how a Christian can have much common ground with worldviews with such diametrically opposed views to a Christian Worldview. My assumption is that most Evangelical "Intelligentsia" do not have real working relationships with those on the far left. They have created in their mind a person who just "wants justice" for other people, the problem is that the left has very different understandings of what justice is, and how it should be enforced. For instance, many on the left (especially anarcho-communists/socialists, a growing group) view the family as an oppressive institution, and that children should be liberated from their parents. This is very difficult to square with Christian teaching. This can also be seen if any knowledge is had of socialists and communists movements in the 20th century. It seems to me that evangelicals are abysmally ignorant of history and how PSCs have viewed cultural issues, so I won't hold my breath.
    For an excellent book on the Left's undermining of the family check out "The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom" by Gabriele Kuby.

    And for good measure I will add that the Trump administration has continued to promote sexual immorality in foreign countries. I just read an article about how the American ambassador to Poland denounced the Polish president for encouraging the rejection of LGBT movements in his country. I find this very disturbing and wrong. Obama did this as well.

    These are just three issues, there are more, but I think these three would justify any Christian in supporting a candidate who opposed the PSCs on these issues. Trump is arguably, not a good person. However, if he supports justices that will minimize abortions and beat back Planned Parenthood in any way, supports general policies that support the well being of the family, and seeks to restrain government encroachment into every sphere of life, then I'll vote for him over and over again until the PSCs are no longer an option. Evangelicals have their head up their rear because they love to have the NYT, WaPo, and the secular intelligentsia pat them on the back. They forget that the knives of the secularist is always sharp

  3. There will be fewer Christians and fewer opportunities to share the gospel in a socialist, Muslim, or communist country. What is Piper on?

    1. self-hatred? Before I changed churches my pastor would apologize on a regular basis to the LGBT "communities". It's an epidemic in evangelicalism.

  4. You are right, that is a bone-headed comment by Piper.

  5. I can see the value of wrestling with the big picture of the struggle of this whole thing.

    I would encourage everyone to go to Piper's actual article and listen to the whole thing to understand the context of what he was saying. It does not seem as 'bone-headed" when I listened to the whole thing.

    They were asking Piper why he does not comment on politics, larger sociological issues, economics, geo-political things (wars, military, etc.) as much (but he is clear that he does comment on social ethics when it touches on things like abortion, homosexuality, and racism).

    He was commenting in 2018 right after Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez won her election in her district. Piper said that he does not time to study all the macro-issues of socialism, communism, politics, economics, etc. - BUT he hopes and wants other Christians who have time to devote to the issues and write and respond intelligently on those issues to do that; and he said he would probably read some of them.

    John Piper has said and done good things, but in the realm of ethics he's an Anabaptist. And the quoted statement is boneheaded.

    Steve, can you flesh that out more about "in the realm of ethics he's an Anabaptist". Do you mean in the realm of politics, society, macro-economics, geo-political issues, military - war issues. Are you pointing to the Anabaptism tradition of staying out of politics and being pacifists. ( It feels like that is what you mean, rather than "just ethics")

    Also, is there not a sense in which if Pastors and churches were more skilled and concentrated on gospel issues and discipleship, spiritual growth, eternal truths of sanctification and perseverance, and cultural witness - (actual evangelism with people (not just yelling the gospel at someone for 10 minutes, but actually interaction, process, listening, speaking the truth, but with some more relational, hospitality, listening, etc. but not compromising on the truths of the gospel and actually also getting to the truths of the gospel - one on one and home hospitality situations - not just a political / macro-level social tweet, etc.), then more conversions would take place and then families built up and local communities improve morally and ethically and then the results are more influential and impactful on the culture as a whole?

    MacArthur is similar in that respect.

    The article in Christianity Today quoted from this Piper article / ask Pastor John interview, but when I read the whole thing, his comment did not seem as "bone-headed" as it first appeared.

    I feel what he feels - I don't know enough about macro-political issues, socialism, economics, military and geo-political issues - so if I don't know enough to comment intelligently, I tend to shy away from those issues.

    1. "Steve, can you flesh that out more about "in the realm of ethics he's an Anabaptist"."

      For one thing, he's a pacifist. But that's related to his hyper-Christocentrism. From what I've read, he acts like natural goods have no value in themselves. They are just a temporary bridge to Jesus, and once you cross the bridge, you put all that behind you.

    2. He tends toward those things, but I serious doubt that he would say the Allies side in WW 2 ( vs. Nazis, Japan) was wrong, unless I missed something.


    4. Thanks for that - I had not seen that before.
      Piper makes a really strong case against personal revenge / pride / trigger happy, wild-west, "I will show you" vigilante spirit - that even born again Christians can be susceptible to act upon.

      The stuff that Antifa does gives me that same reaction of anger of against them - they are absolutely some of the most evil people in our society today and if tempted by their crap, I would haul off and probably do something I would regret. I feel like locking all of them up and putting them in prison for life - they are such ugly and disgusting people, . . . IMO. (that's my flesh talking - . . . Lord help me . . . )

      What is the moment of life-threatening danger for? Is it for showing how powerful and preemptive we have been? Is it to show our shrewdness — that we have a gun in our back pocket and we can show you something? That is a response learned from Jason Bourne, not Jesus and the Bible. That response appeals to everything earthly in us, and requires no miracle of the new birth. It is as common and as easy as eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

      That was a pretty powerful argumentation, with all the other content.

      He never wrote against police or the military actions of US and Allies against the Nazis, so I assume that he thinks that was right, as a last resort, in the spirit of western just-war theory. If so, he is not technically a pacifist. But he makes a strong argument against the personal one to one spirit of vengeance (wild west vigilante- ism) and tends toward almost total personal pacifism.

    5. The character that Liam Neeson played in the "Taken" films - no that was a cool macho man that I enjoyed seeing him kill the bad guys. The sex-slave traffickers deserved to be killed by that Liam Neeson character.
      Those movies gave me an emotional feeling at the end of finally! there is justice in this world.
      He was even better than Jason Bourne. (more cool, more masculine, more skilled, and saved his daughter and wife, until they killed his wife in the 3rd movie.)

      The desire for justice against real evil like those in those movies, is strong.

    6. now
      that was a cool macho man that I enjoyed seeing him kill the bad guys.

  6. The church faces the perennial risk of becoming domesticated. Becoming an Establishment pet.

    Yes, that is a big problem and I feel the weight of what you are seeking to communicate as a whole.

    also, in the Islamic world, the church of North Africa was completely destroyed and so many converted to Islam because in the 200 years before Islam took over, they had been exhausted by the Donatist controversy after Augustine died in 430 AD, and then had become Arian from the Vandal invasions. 400s-600s AD. The Coptic Church in Egypt survived because it held onto the great doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity (the Councils and theology of Nicea - 325 AD, Constantinople - 381 AD, and Ephesus -431 AD, vs. Nestorianism (Cyril of Alexandria was one of their heros, as was Athanasius earlier). But, they became Miaphysite and resented the macro-policies of Theodosius, Justinian (500s) and Hericlius (early 600s right before Islam invaded) as Emperors who sent troops to their areas - Palestine, Syria, Levant, Egypt to try and force the Miaphysites to Chalcedonian creed and theology. (they were called "Monophysites" by the orthodox Chalcedonian Creed believers / larger culture out of Constantinople and Rome, etc. but they were termed it "Mia-physite" (that the human nature of Jesus was absorbed into the Divine Nature after Jesus' resurrection and glorified body / nature.) (If I understand their doctrine right).

    They all - Syrian, Levant areas, Armenia, and the Coptic church - they all became pacifists because of the Islamic force / wars / Jihads and Dhimmi principles.

    When Islam conquered the Middle East / Levant / Egypt / North Africa, because of their Dhimmi principles, it became too late to do anything, so I hear what Steve and others (who are pointing out the problems with what Evangelicals like Russell Moore, and David French type never Trumpers) are saying about "masculine Christianity", although admit I don't know how to articulate the whole complicated thing.

    Take puppet churches in Russia and Red China. Or state churches that were either subsidized by the state or had a religious monopoly.

    True there are puppet churches under communist regimes - but are they not apostate and not converted ? (maybe some members are converted) - but the true Christians and churches are the house churches and underground church movement.

    Islam is harsher than Communists in that Christianity has grown in China, etc. yet it was pretty much wiped out in the Muslim world - and only exists underground and quiet and small in Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.

    1. Ken -- I see what you mean ... ///My main calling is not to help America be anything, but to help the church be the church./// -- but there is a real difficulty in just letting things slide into Islam or Communism, which is essentially the thing that Piper said he would allow to happen that I thought was "bone headed". Once you get there, the church often CANNOT be the church -- and that often because all the Christians are dead. We are not at that point yet, but there are places in the world where that IS true.


  7. A little qualification of above:

    The house church movement in Iran has grown, but there is also lots of immaturity, lack of training, heresies, lots of confusion over the doctrine of the Trinity and justification by faith alone, etc. - most are getting Pentecostal and Charismatic and decision-ism evangelism (Arminian theological - free will -paradigm) and even word of faith theology by satellite TV, and internet, etc. Iranians long to breathe the air of political freedom, but with that also comes the potential for all sorts of bad doctrine and confusion, without good training in theology and church history and church practice.

    Many are fleeing Iran, especially after they get caught and arrested and released again. Lots of ethnic Iranian churches are in Europe, Canada, Australia, USA now. - in areas where they have freedom to exist and also to get better training in theology.

  8. I think Tim Keller's comment is more "bone-headed" than Piper's comment. In context, I see what Piper is saying. Keller's statement however, given what I see in the Democrat party is truly boneheaded.

  9. More listening to Prager University videos and material, Hillsdale College Constitution / western values material, Ben Shapiro, and even Jordan Peterson - are good sources that balance out the "Anabaptist" piety tendencies (pacificism, avoiding politics) that many Evangelicals have.