30 April 2008

How Evangelicals Traded Their Spiritual Authority for a Mess of Political Pottage

by Phil Johnson



n the wake of Monday's post and some of the comments that followed it, I hasten to say that I'm not suggesting there's anything inherently sinful about holding electoral office or doing public service. If it's your calling to be mayor of your town or a congressman from your district, you'll get nothing but encouragement from me as long as you seek to fulfill that task to the glory of Christ. Still, you need to do that not merely by flexing your power, but mainly by being a consistent example of Christlike service and humility. Of course, that's just what every Christian in the secular workplace should endeavor to do. In the words of 1 Timothy 4:12, "in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."

I thank God for Christians whose vocation is to serve faithfully in our government—from people like my third son (who is a police officer) to those elected officials who are devoted Christians. I also have no objection to Christian bloggers who deal with political subjects. I read some of those blogs myself, and I often benefit from their insights.

But let's be clear, here: The church as a body has no calling to organize and protest in the political realm. Moreover, government service and political campaigning are different vocations from the calling of a pastor. It's well-nigh impossible to be a good pastor full time if you also fancy yourself a political lobbyist.

Practically the worst kind of spiritual treason any pastor or church body could ever commit would be to supplant the gospel message with a different message, or to allow a merely moral agenda to crowd out our spiritual duties. That is exactly the risk we take when we pour money and resources into political and legislative remedies for our society's spiritual problems.

At the moment, America is in the throes of one of the most hotly contested presidential elections ever. For the first time in more than two decades, the so-called religious right has no clear-cut favorite candidate in the race. None of the likely nominees from either party has credibly expressed any distinctly evangelical convictions. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the leading candidates on both sides are essentially secular humanists. The candidate who it now appears will be the Republican nominee is a man who has been wobbly on the issues of abortion and same-sex unions, and he has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn't share the passions of evangelical voters. He once referred to evangelical Republicans as "agents of intolerance."

Now, consider the bitter irony of this: For more than two decades the number one issue on the agenda of the evangelical wing of the religious right has been abortion. The number-one legislative goal of evangelical political activists has been to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion. Politically-active evangelicals have been instrumental—in fact, they have been the decisive factor—in the election of every Republican president from Ronald Reagan until now. And yet not only have they failed to achieve their single most-coveted political goal, but they are now approaching a presidential election without a single viable candidate who shares their views. Evangelicals have virtually nothing to show for all the time, energy, and resources they have invested in political efforts over the past three and a half decades.

And meanwhile, if anything, America's moral decline has accelerated dramatically since evangelicals became politically aggressive in the late 1970s. Although by most accounts evangelicals constitute the largest single voting bloc in America, they have been remarkably ineffective when it comes to using politics to reverse America's moral and spiritual decline. In fact, if you measure their success or failure according to their own stated political ambitions, evangelicals have failed spectacularly in America's political arena. Over the past quarter century, they have not accomplished any of their top long-term legislative or constitutional goals.

Worst of all, during that same period of time, the evangelical movement has completely lost its spiritual influence, because the evangelical segment of the church has grown increasingly worldly. Evangelicals have become accustomed to compromise. They have abandoned (or else are in the process of abandoning) virtually all the doctrinal distinctives that set their movement part from Roman Catholicism, liberal mainline Protestants, and the hordes of nominal Christians in America whose faith amounts to a kind of civil religion. Evangelicals have pretty much forfeited whatever real moral and spiritual authority their movement ever had.

Consider the fact that almost no one in the evangelical world had more political savvy than Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He actually advised the White House on evangelical issues. Before his fall from grace, The Wall Street Journal called him "one of the nation's most politically influential" ministers, and Harper's Magazine said this about him: "No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted." But whatever his accomplishments in the political arena, by his own admission Ted Haggard was a liar and a fraud in his private life.

I'm not suggesting that political activism is what made Ted Haggard a hypocrite, nor am I saying that he is typical of everyone in the mainstream of evangelical politics. I certainly hope he was a singular case.

But I am suggesting that any religious organization or movement that's more concerned with political expediency than with biblical truth is by definition following the error of the Pharisees and will breed the grossest kind of hypocrisy. I'm also suggesting that if the National Association of Evangelicals had been more concerned about their leaders' spiritual qualifications and less enamored with worldly skills like personal charisma and political shrewdness, they would never have had Ted Haggard as their president. He had never really distinguished himself in any of the biblical categories the apostle Paul outlined as qualifications for an elder. His one qualification was his mastery of the political process.

And let's face it, fellow believers: Whether we like it or not, in the eyes of an observant world, Ted Haggard seems like a perfect mascot for the evangelical right.

Despite our outspokenness on selected issues in the political realm, American evangelicals have sent a mixed and often flatly contradictory message to anyone who looks at the big picture. Evangelical pulpits are notoriously weak and shallow. Evangelical churches are lukewarm and worldly. Evangelical people as a community tend to be increasingly unholy and are now virtually indistinguishable in lifestyle and behavior from their non-Christian neighbors. Evangelical leaders on the whole seem more concerned with being stylish and admired than with being clear and consistent.

For more than a decade now we have been hearing poll data that suggest people who identify themselves as evangelicals are just as susceptible to divorce and alcohol addiction as their unbelieving neighbors—which can only mean that our church rolls are filled with unconverted people. In fact, just about the only significant difference remaining between evangelicals and unbelievers is how we vote. No wonder the world hasn't taken the evangelical wing of the religious right seriously. The evangelical movement hasn't shown itself serious about what we profess to believe.



How did the evangelical movement get so far off track? I wouldn't suggest that evangelicalism's recent obsession with political activism is the only factor, but I do think it's a major one. If the same energies and resources that were poured into failed political efforts had been channeled into evangelism instead, I'm convinced that would have been instrumental in producing more spiritual good and hindering more of society's evils than all our lobbying, demonstrating, and voting combined.

In fact, it is my conviction that because they have invested so much in the political process, evangelicals have weakened their own movement with a tendency to compromise; they have sacrificed evangelical distinctives, and they have gone far off message from the central truths of the gospel. Political activism has been a disaster for the American evangelical movement on every front. Not only have we completely failed at the political process; we have failed even more egregiously to remain distinct from the world.

Phil's signature

52 comments:

Puritan said...

Election time is always a time when most 'Christians' show they have more loyalty for a political party than they have for Christ.

People go to great lengths to claim the Bible is silent on this, not believing it equips us for every good work. It's one thing to submit to a tyrannical leader like Nero, but to actually give someone our vote and blessing is a different matter altogether.

One of the reasons God put civil governments in place is to protect innocent life. So any candidate that isn't anti-abortion is disqualified, and should not get a Christian vote.

But many Christians claim they take a stand against certain things like abortion, yet when it comes to election, they show their faith without works is dead. When people say 'well, the anti-abortion candidate can't win, so I'll vote another,' what they are doing is making the statement to the world that 'we Christians say we take a stand against certain things, but we're not really bothered about it, because it doesn't really matter to us.'

But perhaps the biggest way Americans have sold their gospel for a pot of stew is the claim that George W Bush is a Christian. The man who's ran a country where the Bible and Ten Commandments can not be taught in public schools. "Having a form of Godliness but denying its power".

But the reason why "Evangelicals Traded Their Spiritual Authority for a Mess of Political Pottage is I think most of them are not Christians, like Esau they despise it.

Cameron said...

I agree with most of your basic premise, that the Church as a whole should not be focused on bringing about change through politics. Society will only truly change for the better when people, one by one, are born again and begin living according to God's standard.

However, I do think that the evangelical political movement has accomplished some good over the last twenty or so years. Although Roe vs. Wade has not been overturned, it has become harder to get an abortion. In many states minors require parental consent, and state money is not used to fund abortions. Further, it seems that evangelical political influence has slowed down the acceptance of homosexual unions and marriage. So while the movement has yet to accomplish it's primary goals, it still has accomplished some good, has it not?

I suppose I'm trying to say these lobby groups have accomplished some positive things. Though I fully agree the Church as a whole will be much more effective if we focus more on God's eternal message and less on temporal political gain.

JOYce@pfg said...

Let's imagine a candidate that professes the foundation of doctrines of grace and election rather than free will easy believism and then let's imagine a president that holds true to those teachings rather than compromise(has that happened in the last 5 administrations, for starters?). How could that president be president for long when there is protocol to follow in Washington(i.e. visits of the Pope or Dalai Lama, ecumenical services at the National Cathedral, ecumenical faith-based programs, etc.)? A Mess of Political Pottage, indeed.

So is voting the lesser of two or more evils depending on the point in election time(isn't that still evil) a compromise? Just what is a voter of faith to do from the perspective of what God says and means in His Word?

Puritan said...

P.S. that picture is quite a train treck

Rick Frueh said...

"Not only have we completely failed at the political process; we have failed even more egregiously to remain distinct from the world."

A succinct indictment on both ends. The remedy for the first clause will go a long way to focus our remedy for the last clause.

I reserve the right to steal, I mean borrow, the "mess of political pottage" phrase.

SolaMommy said...

Preach it, brother!

Jerry said...

I wondered from the picture at the top of the post whether there would be lots of dead horse flogging to follow.

I am happy to say that the only dead horse is the failed strategy of attempting to change the world by any means other than the Gospel, and that it should be buried as soon as possible.

stratagem said...

Lots to agree with in this article. Here's one little thing that I feel is shaky, though:

Evangelicals have virtually nothing to show for all the time, energy, and resources they have invested in political efforts over the past three and a half decades.

Not so fast. How can anyone know this? Granted, no political constituency gets everything it wants, but without the influence of God's Spirit (manifested in faithful Christians) in every sphere of life, including the political, this world could literally be Auschwitz-like by now. It may be that we have a lot to show for being involved and organized, even if it's just to have slowed down the rate of societal entropy. Unless one has a "control group" somewhere, it's hard to say we'd have been better off to neglect politics, or not. The world, left to its own devices, will make evil laws.

Chris Freeland said...

This is good stuff Phil.

Of course, weren't you a candidate for the governor's seat a few years ago? Where was the religious right then?

They missed their chance...

Drew said...

I agree with your main point 100%

corinthian said...

"Evangelicals have virtually nothing to show for all the time, energy, and resources they have invested in political efforts over the past three and a half decades."

I agree that not all has been done that could be, but Bush's overturning of partial birth abortion alone is worth the effort. Also, our goal as Christians in government is not to change the grand scale of earth's kingdom's but to lead people to Christ. I recall Reagan praying with Gorby for example, who has now come out as a believer. How many Christians are led to Christ by Christians in politics?
Perhaps what these candidates should focus on is Godly character, not big promises. Consider Daniel though, who was simple faithful for years, not much action, but there for a few BIG moments. Berlin wall, 9-11, big moments where we needed someone listening to God? You bet.

Frank Turk said...

DOWN WITH THEONOMY!

There -- I said it, and now you can all hate me for a good reason.

Luke S. said...

The NY Times has an excellent, lengthy piece in a similar vein: "The Evangelical Crackup". There's some excellent insights from people who have been 'fighting the fight' for a long time (to not much avail), and I especially like this one:

“When you mix politics and religion,” Carlson said, “you get politics.”

stratagem said...

It doesn't make me hate you, Frank; I don't know what Theonomy means (and I ain't looking it up, either).

Preson said...

Puritan:
I understand what you are saying about Christians standing up against abortion, but how many times now have we voted against it and it has not changed? GWB ran his entire race based on the premise that he would end abortion. He did nothing. Yet we continue to put our weight behind people that keep lying to us about it.
At some point, if we really want to start making a dent in the amount of abortions that take place, we need to study WHY women are choosing to have abortions.
The number one reason (scientific analysis has shown) is because of poverty. There is a direct correlation between poverty and abortion, as one goes up, so does the other. We can have a huge impact on the amount of abortions every year by studying the candidates economical strategies and voting accordingly (not even necessarily for president, but our congressional votes are actually more important). As people slip from middle class into poverty, abortion rates rise.
Attacking the factors that lead to abortion, (poverty, teen pregnancy, public sex ed classes, poor counseling) combined with preaching the Gospel (giving them salvation, self-worth, living for eternal things) would make a much bigger impact on abortion than just putting a ballot in a box for a guy who "says" he will do something about it (wink-wink).

Red & Black Redneck said...

I would submit that we have a lot to show for the past thirty years of Evangelical whoring for political power: the emergent church, theological and doctrinal shallowness, the whole litany of self-focused-life-application-centered "Bible studies," increasing irrelevance in the world, Joel Osteen, TBN, "purpose-driven" stuff, dispensational end-times nonsense (which affects foreign policy) and so on and so on.

An entire generation of believers has been raised with the idea that bringing about political change to improve "morality" is the purpose of the Church, rather than "go[ing] and mak[ing] disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus] commanded..." Clearly, that is error.

Christ came to be the atonement and the propitiation for sin. He did not come to be the quarantor of a moral world within which I can live my "best purpose driven life now."

It seems to me that the Church ought to step away from political involvement but that individual Christians ought to be involved as their consciences, informed by the Word of God, dictate.

stratagem said...

The GOP uses abortion rhetoric to buy naivangelicals' votes, but has no intention of actually strongly making the case against abortion after elections are over. That would cost too many votes. GWB understands this very well.

As to poverty, if you want a laundry list of the things that cause poverty and hence abortion, read "Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives" by Laura Schlessinger.

wordsmith said...

There is a substantial difference between correlation and causation. Even a first-year student in an intro to stats course will learn that correlation does not imply causation, provided he's not using class time to catch some z's.

Were we to grant that premise (strong correlation between poverty and abortion rates) for the sake of argument, that nonetheless give no warrant to conclude that eliminating poverty will result in a decrease in abortions - any more than training the cock to crow at midnight will result in dawn coming six hours earlier.

Drew said...

And who cares about causation? The Bible calls us to care for the poor AND defend life, regardless of the relationship.

Fighting poverty as a means to end abortion is putting the cart before the horse. We approach the poor with an open hand because God commands it (De 15:11, among many others). We obey, not because of any particular result, but because God is God and we are not.

J. Wesley said...

Strategem-


"The GOP uses abortion rhetoric to buy naivangelicals' votes, but has no intention of actually strongly making the case against abortion after elections are over. That would cost too many votes. GWB understands this very well"

There is no monolithic "GOP" that makes collective decisions like the Borg. There are some GOP types who use Christians cynically. There are other GOP leaders who are -extremely- committed to the cause of the unborn.

While I have a lot of problems with George Bush, your analysis in this case is wrong and unfair. We don't have to speculate about whether George Bush is willing to lose votes in order to defend life -- he's done it.

Do you really not remember the stem cell battle which has taken place for the past seven years? If memory serves, his first executive order dealt with protecting embryos from stem-cell research.I know for certain that his first veto was one to prevent Congress from funding the destruction of embryos. And he has been stalwart ever since.

Have you really not seen the relentless drumbeat of negative press Bush has received for the past seven years on this subject? Even many secular conservatives have blasted him. And swing voters are appalled by his position, because they've been mesmerized by the promises of wonderful new therapies from Big Pharma.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike the policies of George Bush, but give the man some credit. He's willing to lose votes to preserve life.

J. Wesley said...

preson-

"I understand what you are saying about Christians standing up against abortion, but how many times now have we voted against it and it has not changed?"

Yes it has. The number of abortions is way down and public opinion on the subject has shifted in our direction, particularly in the younger generations. The number of abortion providers has dropped significantly. Parental notification laws, increased regulation of abortion facilities (thus dropping their profitability), informed consent laws and other incremental progress has advanced. More importantly, we now have 4 Supreme Court justices almost certain to overturn or gut Roe v. Wade. NONE of this would have happened without Christian involvement.


"GWB ran his entire race based on the premise that he would end abortion."

Um, no. His "entire race" was based on a platform of issues. Only a constitutional amendment can "end abortion", and I remember no time when he promised that one would pass during his four-year term. Anyone with a brain knows there's no political possibility of an amendment passing right now.

What Bush has done is to support incremental changes to abortion law and tirelessly promote federal judges (including two Supremes) who are solid on the abortion issue. He has quietly remade our judiciary with Federalist Society types.

Andrew Jones said...

good post, Phil. I agree. I think the church is more effective when it is bringing justice on a grassroots level - among the people, like they did in the book of Acts . . than trying to lobby politicians and woo power towards their objectives.

hey - sorry for being a jerk the other week and not listening to you in the 'context discussions'. My wife is still chewing me out for that. I would send you flowers but my wife might get jealous.

wordsmith said...

Drew,

Don't be silly. Causation is relevant - we know, as Christians, that the evil of abortion arises from an evil heart, not the size of one's bank account.

Redistribution of wealth could be mandated in the political arena (although there is no Scriptural authority to do so), but that would do absolutely nothing to remedy the evil heart condition that is the ultimate cause of mothers killing their babies before they even see the light of day.

Hence the futility of trusting in political means to accomplish spiritual goals.

stratagem said...

Wesley
Actually I don't have big problems with GWB, as you say you do. I concede that Bush has done some good things in the area of partial birth abortion, stem cells, etc. while under heat for doing so. I think he is a man of conviction and courage in many areas. He doesn't always make the right decisions, but no president does.

My main issue is that the GOP is largely populated with politicians who won't make the case against abortion publicly and with stridency. The practice of abortion is pretty hard to defend, when it comes right down to it. I would even settle for them making a crusade of convincing people not to have abortions, rather than a legislative approach.

Perhaps Bush would make the case against abortion to the populace, if he were capable of making an articulate case for anything. But he isn't capable of that, which is my biggest beef with him by far (his lack of articulation on any subject). But I also concede that this handicap is an ability issue, not a character issue, in his case. In the case of many other GOP politicos, it is a character issue. Hope that clears things up.

Short Thoughts said...

Good post Phil. Cent mentioned theonomy. While there is certainly a distinct difference between theonomists and the evangelical right, how would you address theonomy from the perspective you have given here?

Bill said...

Great post Phil, you said exactly what I was thinking - although a lot better than I could have.

I also find it ironic that so many 'evangelicals' spend so much time trying to rid the world of evil when the Bible seems fairly clear that wickedness WILL continue to grow and grow until Jesus returns.

Isn't that like 'kicking against the goads'?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't speak out against immorality but surely at some point we must submit to the teaching of Scripture and devote ourselves to the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

.02
Bill

DJP said...

BTW, I disagree with everyone, to 1° or another.

Just thought I'd share.

Have a nice day!

(c:

Terry Rayburn said...

Phil,

Well said.

One of the difficulties is the dynamic connection between "truth" and fullness of the Spirit.

When a Christian engages politically (not bad per se), they are sorely tempted to "spin", like the rest of the politicos, instead of striving for truth.

Spin is at its core, lying.

They spin to win, the winning becoming more important than truth.

Example:

An American Conservative who [rightly, let's assume] opposes Socialized healthcare, but instead of merely making his case, he touts our healthcare as the best system in the world, "denies" that there are any problems with the system (buzzer goes off...there's the lie, er, spin), and thereby mixes truth with error...

...which is spin...

...which is lying.

And when we lie, we grieve or quench the Holy Spirit, walk "according to the flesh", at least for a time, and so have sold our Spiritual birthright for a pot of votes.

When we accept the fact that "truth" might not win an election, but we speak the truth anyway, and leave the results to God, we've gone a long way toward understanding that it's God, not us, who turns the hearts of the Kings and Congressmen and voters like a river.

And we shine as a light in the darkness.

Garet said...

Great post Phil.

From my sermon two weeks ago:

It is my opinion that much of what calls itself “Evangelical Christianity” in America today is not Christianity at all, but a folk religion, wherein beliefs, superstitions and rituals are codified and passed from generation to generation, creating a cultural religion. This folk Christianity is focused more on reforming the morality of the cultural then it is on preserving and teaching the theology of the Gospel. It treats the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as an entry point into a religion of law keeping and moral performance, rather than as the sum total of Christian religion. Unfortunately, because it has lost track of true Christian doctrine, it has put too much stock in the ability of human beings and weighs people down entrapping them in the moral performance narrative. If we would look around at our culture, we see that the effort to reform the morality of the culture has not worked, for it cannot and will not, and in fact has resulted in more cultural evil then it started with. The chasm between the secular culture and the Christian culture is widening, and on one side the secular is becoming more outlandish in their sin and on the other side it seems the Christians are becoming more judgmental, condemning and irrelevant. But the reality is that both are obeying the moral performance narrative, just at opposite ends of the spectrum. The secular person says that being judgmental is the worst of all evils and in an attempt to not be judgmental further poisons his own environment with wickedness. The folk Christian says that being a morally pure culture is the greatest of goods and further alienates him self from the culture he wishes to change, effectively accelerating its demise.

While this jab of my sermon wasn't directed at politics, it certainly relates. Many Evangelicals don't trust the Gospel to do it's work, rather, their's is an attempt to force people to turn from their sin nature, as if they actually can apart from God's grace.

And I second Frank. Down with THEONOMY! I'm not significant enough in the blogosphere to be hated, so I won't worry about it.

Bonnie said...

I am a mother of four, living below the poverty level in public housing. Although my kids were all born while I was married and living slightly above the poverty level, I can't imagine deciding to have an abortion because of poverty.

However, that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because the idea of redistributing wealth is rather silly, not to mention the fact that it would put our very lives in jeopardy. The rich ignore us, and the middle class tends to despise us. Can you imagine what would happen to us if the middle class perceived us to be an even greater threat than we are now? So please, no redistribution. There are far worse things in life than poverty.

Besides, it'll never happen anyway. Relative wealth is nothing more than a comparison, which means the middle class needs us in order for there to be a middle class, and I take comfort in that. There is a certain status in knowing that my friends and I are preventing the middle class from becoming the new poor, just by virtue of our existence!

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew Jones: "My wife is still chewing me out for that. I would send you flowers but my wife might get jealous."

No worries. You get a full reprieve for that. Your posts on the subject were good—some of the best interaction I've ever been able to provoke from the Emerging community.

Incidentally, I'm nearly in your time zone at the moment. I'm in Sicily this week, teaching 40+ hours of theology in one week. It's grueling, but fun. I'd love to stp by the UK when I'm done, but I'm headed the other direction, to Malta, before going home.

So it may be awhile before I get to reply to your posts on contextualization, but I still intend to do it. I'm a glutton for punishment.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "Political activism has been a disaster for the American evangelical movement on every front. Not only have we completely failed at the political process; we have failed even more egregiously to remain distinct from the world."

I think it's healthy to have a diversity of opinion about this declaration regarding today's political pottage. Your opinion would also find hearty agreement from Franky Schaeffer.

However, I can't help but be reminded about the founders of our country and how much Christian and biblical influence played a role in the founding of our country from the pilgrims on the Mayflower Compact to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

I may be in the minority here, but I really, really, really appreciate the Christians who got involved in politics back during the founding of this country.

IMHO, a reasonable case could be made that the moral decline of this country is attributable to the decline of Christianity and to the simultaneous rise of secular liberalism.

Bonnie said...

How do we know that God was ever pleased with our politics as a nation? We tend to equate prosperity and wealth with God's blessings, but isn't it just as possible that we, as a nation, have already received our reward here on earth?

The fact that the US was founded on Christian principles doesn't necessarily mean that God blessed us and protected us. The religious freedoms we gave ourselves likely set the stage for the problems we have today because we basically thumbed our collective noses at God and gave everyone permission to worship any god they chose, despite the fact that God said we shall worship only Him. Of course our country's founding fathers could not predict this -- as fallen humans, they could not see the big picture. But God certainly could.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Bonnie: "The religious freedoms we gave ourselves likely set the stage for the problems we have today because we basically thumbed our collective noses at God and gave everyone permission to worship any god they chose, despite the fact that God said we shall worship only Him."

Frank Turk: "DOWN WITH THEONOMY!"

donsands said...

"But let's be clear, here: The church as a body has no calling to organize and protest in the political realm."-Phil

Amen.

Surely the congregation can gather at different times to discuss our nation's government, with their local senators, and even perhaps have the pastor there to pray to our Lord Jesus for the meeting, but never let it be on the Lord's day, as some well known leaders have done.
That makes the Word of God second to political agendas, or at least equal.

I thought a tomato was a vegetable?

Bonnie said...

No Don, a tomato isn't a vegetable. But ketchup is, because Ronald Reagan said so.

J. Wesley said...

Phil-

"But let's be clear, here: The church as a body has no calling to organize and protest in the political realm."-Phil


While I agree with this sentiment in the broad strokes, I'm concerned about its totalism. My belief has always been that the church should avoid political entanglements on issues in which the Bible is silent.

But I'm troubled by the sharp division you've drawn here. What about situations such as abortion? Or the Holocaust? Slavery? The Ukrainian famine? Is the church truly not empowered to organize collectively for political action in these situations?

It could be that we're understanding the term "political realm" differently. If you mean "the realm of ELECTORAL politics" then I think I'd tend to be in agreement. If you mean "partisan politics" I agree as well. If you mean it more broadly, however, I'm not so sure.

Crisis pregnancy centers are "political." Working for social justice is "political." Speaking out against immorality is political.

One thing that's been lost in this discussion at times is that Christians became involved in politics out of self-defense. Politics encroached on US, not the other way around. And in a society where politics has insinuated itself into all aspects of life, it seems hard to me to draw too bold a line between the political and non-political realms. . .

The more I read your statement, the more I'm left with a feeling of "Herm?"

Where does the prophetic role of the Church fit into your theology? (I ask this humbly, because I know I have a lot to learn in this area.)

Markus said...

Phil wrote:

"If the same energies and resources that were poured into failed political efforts had been channeled into evangelism instead, I'm convinced that would have been instrumental in producing more spiritual good and hindering more of society's evils than all our lobbying, demonstrating, and voting combined."

Yes, yes, and a thousand times YES!

Can I take it a step further? I'm convinced that political activism has not only been a practical failure, but even harmful to the cause of Christ, in that it has sent a mixed message to the unsaved, who now equate Christianity with a set of values and behaviors rather than with what it really is: new life in Christ.

Unconverted people quite naturally resent being compelled (in any way) to live according to a Christian morality they have not bought into -- and in fact cannot even understand why they should. "[T]he natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

So why not persuade them to buy into it via the gospel?

I mean, isn't that our mandate? Preaching the gospel to a world that is in need not of morality, but of spiritual life?

And to those who would add "transforming society through politics" to this mandate, let me ask this: if social reform is so important for Christians, why is it not found in the Apostles' practice in the Acts or in their teachings in the Epistles? If you have to go back to the Gospels to find a political mandate that is nowhere carried out or taught by the apostles who were directly commissioned by Christ, I would suggest you're going beyond the Lord's clear directives. And that can only lead to -- at best -- major problems. Rome anyone?

donsands said...

"No Don, a tomato isn't a vegetable. But ketchup is, because Ronald Reagan said so."

I like tomatoes on my cold cut subs, but not apples.

Did President Reagan say that? Well, I'm good with that.

Bonnie said...

What? No APPLES on your cold cut subs? How un-American, Don! There ought to be a law!

Maybe tomatoes have been reclassified as a veggie since I last worked in the produce department at a local supermarket, but I don't know. I don't even remember why they were considered a fruit, but there was a reason and I was taught that "everyone" mistakes tomatoes for a vegetable.

Now I'm curious... but not that curious. Besides, I need to get back on track with this discussion because I'm mixing apples and tomatoes here.

The Neo-Puritan said...

Finally, an excellently written article addressing what I keep trying to explain to my friends, though many of them like a simplistic worldview where the bad guys and the good guys can be lumped into two distinct categories (with shiny colors and mascots).

Either the Republicans beat us with sticks (the democrats gonna git you) or they tell us about the carrots (no more abortion, marriage amendment) they're going to give us.

The "Christian" republicans had control of the entire political system, house, senate, and oval office for six years and what happens?

They forget about my issues and go invade Iraq. And while they're at how many hundreds of thousands of Christians have been killed because of the anarchy over there? Don't believe me? Go type in "Iraqi Christians" in google and see the horror for yourselves.

I'm done with the party lines and, I'm voting for the only man who I can vote for with a clean conscience and that is Ron Paul. Mark my words, if you vote McCain he will not stop abortion or gay marriage and will probably draft me to go fight Iran.

I'm finished.

I'm done with a "Christian" president who lied about Iraq and now has caused hundreds of thousands of real Christians to die in the anarchy we've created.

I'm finished with politics, I'm not going to campaign, I'm not going to canvass, I'm done with the shell game (and it is a shell game).

I will vote my conscience and then spend my time on evangelism and supporting those in evangelism.

I will no longer be a pawn which people intend to move to suit their own purposes. I follow the commands of Christ, not the commands of focus on the family or John McCain.

If they draft me to a war that is unjust will I run, skip town?

Yes, and my conscience will be clean.

(I'm not here to argue with anyone politically, just posting my views on the con-job)

Carlo said...

Phil wrote: "How did the evangelical movement get so far off track? I wouldn't suggest that evangelicalism's recent obsession with political activism is the only factor, but I do think it's a major one. If the same energies and resources that were poured into failed political efforts had been channeled into evangelism instead, I'm convinced that would have been instrumental in producing more spiritual good and hindering more of society's evils than all our lobbying, demonstrating, and voting combined."

My response: I disagree that a "major" factor of evangelicalism being off track is political activism.

We have to stop believing that the reason for the stifling of the advance of the gospel are things of this world. I think the real major factor why evangelicalism is off track is obvious - and it's because the gospel is not being advanced. A huge factor why the gospel is not being advanced is because we are not persecuted and the reason why we're not being persecuted is because of the powers of darkness operating around the world.

In Muslim countries Christians are summarily murdered, beaten, raped, etc., because Satan's aim is to not have the gospel advanced. In some places like Africa, you have the guys running around literally buck naked filled with demonic possession.

In the United States, it's a much different and craftier weapon. 2/3 of the money of the church comes from the United State. Satan does not want to stir the pot of the church in America, so what does he do, everything in his power to put us in a stupor because if he were to stir the pot, and Christians would start being persecuted, the church would get on its knees and start praying and fasting and the gospel would start advancing. It's important to understand that the enemy of the gospel being advanced are not things of this world, but the spiritual powers of darkness.

While I may agree that obtuse political activism may be a symptom of the breakdown of evangelicalism it certainly is not a factor because Satan can find a whole bunch of other ways to subdue evangelicalism - actually he already has some other ways - Pro games being played on Sunday; (wow, imagine if all the NFL players came to saving faith in Christ and refused to play on Sunday – the NFL fans would say, ‘what power is this that the NFL would be cancelled!); he's got evolution in the schools; seeker sensitive in churches, etc. etc. etc.

poststop said...

"The church as a body has no calling to organize and protest in the political realm."

What if social services starts nabbing our children because we spank? Should we organize, protest, repent?

The third lecture here is pretty good (free). Perhaps there are ways of organizing and protesting without abandoning the gospel calling and/or looking like fools.

Blenheim Lectures

A quote that may have some bearing...or not.

"Because the premillennialist expects defeat in history, he does not want his name associated with some futile social project. He does not want to be publicly embarrassed retroactively for his naive efforts to build a successful long-term institution devoted to social transformation in history." - Gary North, The Dominion Covenant (p. 18)

Andrew Jones said...

phil. hope it goes well in Italy. Enjoy the pizza - as i always do when i am there.

when i was there last time, i ate pizza 5 nights in a row.

no need to respond to those posts. it was just my stubborn self proving an old point and not really interacting with your side or exploring where your thinking might lead.

maybe we should have done the coffee first?

Bonnie said...

In a very real way our religious freedom is the result of political activism. Our nation's founders wanted to govern themselves, to be freed from the tyranny of taxation without representation, and to worship God freely, without the threat of either persecution or government mandated beliefs and rituals. On the surface those desires seem worthy and noble.

But Jesus never told us to run from persecution. Jesus said, "Go out and make disciples in all nations," not "Go out and make a nation where you can be free from persecution as my disciples." He said we would be hated as He was hated, but we were to proclaim the Gospel anyway, facing persecution and trusting in Him rather than in our own human wisdom and strength to save us.

But our nation's founders had a "better" idea -- government-mandated religious freedom that would enable us to avoid and escape the torture and suffering Jesus was put through before He was killed. How could God have possibly been pleased with that when He sent His own Son to suffer and die so that we might be saved?

I believe our government-given religious freedom is the root cause of both the "easy believism" that is rampant in America today, and the influx of cults and other religious groups who are now demanding the same freedoms our country's founders gave us when they established the Constitution. The problems we see and experience today are the result of fallen human beings attempting to govern themselves, thinking they had discovered a way to please both God and man. But as Scripture clearly tells us, we cannot serve two masters. As soon as we serve ourselves, we become our own masters and we stop serving God.

eastendjim said...

It may be that we have a lot to show for being involved and organized, even if it's just to have slowed down the rate of societal entropy.

Is that a success though?
Does reducing societal entropy reduce the quantity of citizens who are under God's wrath?

dac said...

Bonnie

I think it goes to the reformation - to the Dangerous Idea (great book) that each Christian has the authority and responsibility to read and apply the bible.

Once you take control away from some individual or centralized power, and give it to the individual, of course we will see variation and heresy.

While that has been one of the results, think through the options. We should all go back to roman catholicism? We should have the Church of England telling us what and how to believe?

Either we have a system that allows (and requires) each believer to read and apply scripture, or we have some type of magisterium. I vote for our system.

It is the reformation that has brought us to this point.

Bonnie said...

Dac

No, I don't think we should go back to Roman Catholicism or have the Church of England tell us what to do. I don't have a solution because the only real solution is found in Christ, not in man-made systems of religion or government. I just don't think it's possible to have any system that pleases both God and man, at least in part because there will always be more non-Christians or "Almost Christians" than true Christians, so even if our government had established Christianity as our official religion, eventually there would have been an uprising here too. And any system created by man will eventually self-destruct because it's created by imperfect sinners who can't see the big picture. While our system may have once been the "safest" for us as Christians, it also undermined our ability to face persecution, and it opened the door to rampant apostasy and heresy because it forced us to grant the same freedoms to all religious groups. We tend to think it's the best system in the world but since true freedom is found only in Christ, it's no better or worse than any other man-made system. It's just different.

Capitol Ministries said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

There's certainly a place to critique all of those evangelical leaders and organizations who are "doing it wrong," but how about a little support for those who are doing it right? It seems that whenever this topic comes up seldom does anyone mention the fact that there is a solid evangelical organization dedicated solely to proclaiming the gospel and making disciples in the political arena. It's called Capitol Ministries (see www.capmin.org.)

Mrs. Hall said...

From I Samuel 12:

13Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the LORD hath set a king over you.

14If ye will fear the LORD, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the LORD your God:

15But if ye will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall the hand of the LORD be against you, as it was against your fathers.

We have no good choice for president, in my opinion, but it is not the fault of the candidates. "We the People" do the nominating. It is not "Shame on you, John McCain," but "Shame on us, the People."

von said...

DOWN WITH THEONOMY!

Theonomy = 'theo' God + 'nomos' law

Thus 'down with the law of God'?

Is it not written:
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

and

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.