Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Have an Idea

The United States' second-richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax.

Here's my idea: Mr. Buffet, pay my taxes.

Two things would be accomplished: My tax burden would be lifted and I could help grow the economy through spending and investment; and his conscience could be salved.

After all, he probably makes more in fifteen minutes than I make in a year.

Maybe he could pay your taxes as well. (Just get in line behind me.)

Seriously, (or practically, since I am totally serious about him paying my taxes but I don't think he will), if you want to pay more to the government, then write a check and send it in. Don't ask for more laws to do what you think you should do anyway. Just do it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Christians In the Voting Booth

The election season is upon us way too early this time around. The candidates have generated no little discussion in the blogosphere, particularly of late it seems. Bob Jones's endorsement of Republican candidate Mitt Romney brought many of Jones' critics back out of their shell.

For my dollar, I see no reason for Jones to have endorsed anyone given the recent history of the school in the political scene. The events of 2000, which were really no different than the events of 96, 92, 88, 84, or 80 (when I shook Nancy Reagan's glove-covered hand), brought too much attention of the wrong kind to the school, and Jones, in my opinion, would have better served the school by not publicly getting involved.

However, there are some who seem to have a strange view of elections, particularly in this regard: They lambast those who would encourage voting for "the lesser of two evils." To me, this is either extremely naive, or rooted in a gross misconception of our fallen world. The truth is that all candidates are evil to some degree. We are always voting for the lesser of two evils (or three, or ten).

When a Christian goes into the voting booth, he does not do so with a word from God about whose name to check off. While the Bible does inform our view of moral issues, it does not do so unequivocally on political issues.

On top of that, we do not live in a simple world, where one issue is all that matters. Elections are complex because candidates hold a variety of positions. They are not a buffet from which can take a little from one and a little from another.

In the end, we have to check off the name of a sinner (or stand defiantly ... or apathetically) with our hands in our pockets. Let's face it: there are not, as of now, any great candidates this time around.

(And no, "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.")

The GOP is not God's Own Party. It has done a great disservice to Christians. But what should we expect? We live in a fallen world where power is important. Lest our horses get too high, let us not forget that power seeking in the church is as wrong as power seeking in politics is, and power seeking in the church usually has greater consequences.

Here's the bottom line for me: Will I, by my vote, be causing greater damage to our country? I am not convinced there is anyone running in this election that can actually help restore some of the things that have gone wrong. I say that on the one hand because one man (or woman) in the White House can only do so much; they still have to work with Congress and the courts. I say that on the other hand because there is no one running who I have seen who actually has clear Christian values in every area.

Ron Paul seems to be the darling of part of the conservative movement, but he thinks that individual states should get to decide whether murdering babies in the womb is okay. I think murdering the unborn is wrong no matter what state you are in, and I think the nation should say so. He is also for the legalization of drugs, something I oppose. On top of that, I think is he both naive about being president and unelectable anyway.

Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist preacher, whose record in Arkansas does not seem to be all that impressive, unless weight loss is a national priority. He says some great stuff, and has some fairly significant problems fiscally speaking, it seems.

Mitt Romney has held different positions on some issues causing some to call him a flip-flopper, but it could well be that his changes are principled rather than pragmatic. Who knows? Romney himself. Besides, he is "too pretty," and he is a Mormon (two common comments, neither of which seems to me to be particularly useful).

Guiliani is a liberal who happened to be mayor of NYC on 9/11. His cleanup of NYC was pretty impressive, but how does that help him overcome his liberal social positions? McCain and the rest all have similar problems. And that's just the good side of the spectrum. It is hard to imagine anyway that a serious Bible-believer could vote in good conscience for anyone currently running on the Democratic side of the spectrum.

For a president, their greatest power is the power of judicial appointments. The next president will probably have at least two, and perhaps four Supreme Court appointments. To whom do we want to give those?

I say you better think twice before casting a vote for someone that is unelectable, and giving four SCOTUS appointees to a Democrat. While Romney, or McCain, or some other Republican may nominate someone who will not overturn Roe, the Democrat most certainly will nominate someone who will not overturn it.

It seems to me our choices, at least in this election, are about a vote for a possibility or a vote for a sure thing.

But in this, I believe we should grant believers the liberty to vote for someone else. I understand the urge to "send a message" to the GOP that our vote is not secure. But I also understand the reality that a lifetime appointment of a liberal justice such as Breyer, Stevens, or Ginsberg has potential that lasts long beyond sending a message to the GOP this year.

And, by the way, we should also remember that we are not voting for a national pastor or a theologian-in-resident. To confuse political endorsements with religious affiliations is misguided to a very great degree. I believe it shows a great misunderstanding of ecclesiastical separation as taught in the Bible. To condemn Jones as compromising ecclesiastical separation by endorsing Romney does not help the cause of fundamentalism. I think it weakens it by confusing what ecclesiastical separation is really all about.

So let's be smart. And let's be principled. And let's not sell the future of the country down the river in hopes of salving a misguided political ideal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Few Things to Read

Boundless has a good article on homosexuality and how to deal with it using a personal account by a lesbian who has been saved.

I began meeting regularly with this man's girlfriend, who was quick to tell me that homosexuality was a sin that would condemn me to hell. She would pray with me every day. And every night I would cry myself to sleep praying, "God, change me! Why did you make me gay if that means I have to go to hell?" In my heart I wondered, "Is it true that God wants me to be forever separated from Him?"

The church I was attending did not share the hope for change that the gospel offers. Their stance was change first ... then God will accept you. I eventually got away from this woman and this church. I had asked God to change me, and He didn't. And so I embraced my lesbian identity.

Rick McKinley, at Imago Dei in Portland, has an interesting article on the emerging church.

It seems everywhere I go and speak these days people ask me the same question. It is, in some form or another, a version of this: Are you part of the emerging church? If they ask it another way it may be are you Emerging or Emergent? The letter “T” has become very important to them.

My common reply is; We seem to get put in the camp of Emerging, so I suppose we are.

Then the questions move to what the Emerging church believes about this or that. To which I reply the same things Baptists believe about it.

They scratch their head, think about what I have said and then ask, Which Baptist?

To which I reply, “exactly”.


The danger that I see is that people, particularly Americans love to quickly categorize people so they can either turn them into a celebrity or a demon. We really don’t want to read what they have written or take the time to get to know them. We simply want to know what category they fit in so we can pronounce our judgment if we disagree with them or subscribe to their podcast if we like what they said.

As always, I am not endorsing everything in either article, but they provide some food for thought about pressing ministry issues.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition is a new coalition of some forty evangelical leaders trying to establish a confessional basis for gospel ministry opposed to many of the new trends. They call themselves "a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures." These men met together for two years prior to their inaugural meeting at TEDS this past May. I decided not to go to the meeting, though I was tempted. I have downloaded some of the sessions from their website and have found them interesting.

There is an interesting article about them in CT by Colin Hansen which sparked my thinking on this again.

The GC has a substantial set of foundational documents which are pretty good and which, Hansen says, "bears the unmistakable fingerprints of [Tim] Keller." These footprints relate to the ministries of mercy and justice which is a core part of Keller's theology (and the subject of one of his most well known books, entitled oddly enough, Ministries of Mercy).

Keller's view stems from his view of the kingdom of God, which he sees as present now ("already but not yet"). Thus, he appeals almost exclusively to the OT and the Gospels to substantiate this view of social ministry to those outside the church. (He once preached a message on this topic based almost completely on the book of Proverbs.) This emphasis on the OT and the Gospels is necessary since there is virtually no support for his view of social ministry in the apostles' instructions to the churches. This view of the kingdom has some serious exegetical and theological issues that have been well-addressed by others, so I won't address that here.

One of the other main theological foundations for this social justice ministry is the incarnation of Christ. They argue frequently that since Jesus took human flesh to come to earth, therefore we should "incarnate the gospel" in our dealings with the poor and oppressed. Then they look at the passages that describe life in the kingdom from the OT and the Gospels and apply them to the church, in the mistaken view that the church is the kingdom, or that the kingdom is present now.

There are significant problems with these arguments, all of which I will not get into here. I will simply touch on it briefly.

First, Jesus' incarnation was not cross-cultural ministry. Jesus was not moving from one culture to another. There is no way that we can follow the pattern of Jesus incarnation. We are already flesh, and us ministering to the poor of sick is in no way analogous to Jesus leaving heaven to die for sin. While we might legitimately debate how the church or individual Christians should deal with social justice issues, we cannot base that debate on the incarnation of Jesus. The Bible does not teach that Jesus came primarily, or even equally, to do social justice as compared to dying for sin. When the epistle says "Be like Christ" or "be conformed to the image of his Son," it is not talking about social justice. It is talking about personal holiness. Along the road of personal holiness, it is doubtless that our relationships with others will be affected. But it is a dangerous road to say that Jesus' incarnation was a model for our ministry among the poor, sick, or "socially oppressed."

Second, Jesus' life on earth was largely in a kingdom context, not a church context. The Gospels were written to the church, but we need to think very critically about how they relate to life in the church, particularly with respect to the works of Jesus (which included miracles, something absent from the incarnational ministry proponents). The OT Kingdom prophesied is a time of great change on earth, including changes in the physical/material world, government, health, etc. Those things happened during the life of Jesus to some degree because "the kingdom was hand." Yet the rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish people meant that the kingdom was "taken away" and would be "given to a people producing the fruit of it." There is no necessary rationale to see the "people producing the fruit of it" as the church. It is better to see it as end time Israel, in accord with the prophets, Paul, and John who all clearly prophesied of a revival of end-time Israel who will accept the Messiah.

These social justice issues seen during Jesus' time are not being seen now because the King prophesied to bring about these changes is at the right hand of his Father's throne, rather than on his own throne. This does not mean that the Gospels have no relevance for the church. It simply means that we must think critically about the discontinuity (as it is commonly called).

Third, this approach can undermine the authority of the Epistles which were written to direct life in the church. The absence of these social justice issues in the Epistles and Acts gives us a strong indication of the view that the church should take. Our mandate is to make disciples, not to solve poverty, or AIDS, or these other issues. The Bible does teach love for others, both in and outside the church. Yet it does not teach that the mandate of the church is social justice in society at large.

In the end, the danger of this statement by the GC is that those who do not share Keller's view of social justice ministry may be virtually excised from evangelicalism. The GC foundational documents talk about the "older evangelicalism" in this way:
On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.
The "other hand" is those who denied the personal nature of sin and instead focused on the corporate nature of sin. Again, from the GC about this group (essentially the social gospel movement):
The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood-bought status in Christ received through personal faith.
Contrasting these positions is not a fair comparison. These are not two extremes where both must be avoided. The focus of the gospel is not on corporate sin in any sense. Jesus did not die to save society from itself. He died to save sinners from sin. The social gospel (represented in the previous quote) was not in any way biblical. The "older evangelicals" may have had their issues in some areas, but their emphasis on the individual nature of sin, personal conversion, and "safe passage to heaven" is clear in the NT.

While we can appreciate the emphasis of the GC and clarifying and maintaining the gospel, we need to think critically about what some of their foundational documents are actually saying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kids and Sports

Here's a good article about kids, sports, and parents. It wasn't all that long ago a parent was killed at a hockey game ... by another parent in the stands.

But I know this: Incidents like these are becoming increasingly common in a child-obsessed society where kids are taught little respect for authority figures. Where children can do no wrong in mom and dad's eyes. Where kids are never taught that decisions and actions have consequences. Where parents too often expect everyone to worship at the altar of little Johnny and little Janie.

Sadly, the era of ``helicopter parents'' -- so named because they hover over their child's every action and activity -- is apparently here to stay.

I remember complaining about the officiating to my dad. He had a simple response: You want to play next game? Then stop complaining.

Ironically, I find it much harder to shut up as a coach then as a player. And I care less as a coach then I did as a player. (I still care a lot; just not as much as I used to.)

Wierd, isn't it? When will parents start to teach their children some common decency? And model it for them?