10 November 2008

Evangelical Politics: A Few More thoughts

by Phil Johnson

ne of our commenters raised some excellent questions, just about the time I thought last Thursday's combox had played out. Having spent some time thinking about his questions and writing answers, I thought it would be better to post my answers here on our front page, rather than leave them at the end of a long comment-thread no one is reading any more.

So here you are:



Are you saying that Christians should never seek these political remedies, or that they are currently spending more time than they should seeking these remedies?

I keep saying that my main point is about how the church corporately should be spending her time and resources, not about what an individual who is vocationally (or avocationally) involved in politics should do.

To be clear:
  • I object to pastors who use their pulpits to organize voters rather than teach the Bible and proclaim the gospel.
  • I object to evangelical organizations (including certain Christian broadcasters, evangelical radio stations, the National Association of Evangelicals, various 501c3's, and even some churches) who raise money for "ministry" and then all they ever talk about are political issues and headline news, while rarely (if ever) mentioning the gospel.
  • I object to the fact that when the average unbeliever today hears the word evangelical, he thinks of a voting bloc rather than anything spiritual.
  • I object to the fact that most evangelicals are overwhelmingly on the same page politically, but their movement is doctrinally so diverse that they can't even agree what the gospel is.
  • I object to the fact that the average evangelical could not give a coherent, biblically sound summary of the gospel or a theologically accurate explanation of justification by faith—but they are more worried about an Obama presidency than they are about the disintegration of their own testimony.

If we take George Barna's data at face value (and I don't recommend that, but even a nuanced interpretation of his statistics would probably bear this out), the typical "evangelical" hasn't got a clue what the biblical idea of redemption is about. He isn't really sure he needs to be "saved" from anything other than the wave of immorality and economic crises liberal policies have foisted upon us. He believes the work of God in this world is all about a handful of highly-publicized moral issues involving sins other people commit. And he is convinced the first and most important remedy for our culture's moral meltdown is government-imposed legislation.

If Christians ought not seek these remedies, who should?

"Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).

Even individual Christians need to consider their priorities from a biblical perspective and make wise choices about the best use of time and resources. Which is ultimately the better long-term answer to sin—law, or gospel? Law certainly has a place, but it can never actually solve any of the social problems evangelicals are so agitated about nowadays. Even the individual Christian whose vocation is in politics or law enforcement needs to keep the gospel—not merely a message about morality or cultural reform—at the center of his testimony to unbelievers.

Our spiritual great-grandparents were even more exercised about the sin of drunkenness than Christians in this generation are about the slaughter of unborn children. They decided that a legal remedy—a constitutional amendment outlawing liquor—was the best solution. History has shown that they wasted their time and lots of resources, got sidetracked from their real message, and in the end accomplished exactly nothing.



As a Christian, I have a more important message to proclaim than "God hates fags," and I know a better, more long-term remedy for drunkenness and all its associated evils than Prohibition ever managed to be. The gospel is what Christian ministers ought to be known for, not for getting themselves arrested barricading clinic doors or screaming hateful slogans at their political opponents. Yes, I do realize most politically-oriented pastors and evangelical organizations do not go that far, but the evangelicals in the political arena who are most savvy about public relations tend to be the very ones who have perfected the art of compromise. It's really pretty hard to think of evangelical organizations or church leaders who are deeply involved in political causes and who are also known for being clear and uncompromising heralds of gospel truth. The two things simply don't work well together.

If seeking these remedies involved attempting to persuade people concerning the fundamental ideas at stake, rather than pushing people (voters, judges, legislators) to vote a certain way, would you approve of it more?

I'm always in favor of persuading people about what the Bible says. Abortion is murder. Homosexuality is gross sin. Drunkenness and extramarital sex are likewise wicked. We don't need to shy away from proclaiming the truth about the moral issues.

But if we're talking about doing ministry (as opposed to sheer political lobbying) then once we've established that homosexuality is an abomination, the rest of the message we are obliged to proclaim as ambassadors of Christ is the good news of how sinners can be redeemed from the guilt and bondage of those sins and be reconciled to God. If we focus our energies instead on secular legislative "remedies," we are simply not doing what Christ called us to do.

I don't think it's a complex issue at all.

And my guess is that if you look back in history and contemplate the question of prohibition vs. the sin of drunkenness (instead of gay partnerships and constitutional amendments defining what marriage is)—even if you only consider the pragmatic side of the issue—you'll probably see the point.

In short, there's a reason Spurgeon's preaching is still relevant and powerful today, but Billy Sunday looks like a bad parody.

Phil's signature

87 comments:

Hastey Words said...

"Even the individual Christian whose vocation is in politics or law enforcement needs to keep the gospel...at the center of his testimony to unbelievers."

Really excellent post, Phil. I needed this reminder.

John said...

Yes, excellent post. It is so easy to get caught up in these issues.

It's not our being against alcohol, or certain TV programs, or political agendas that make us different. It's the fact that we can say, "Regardless of this, Christ is still my King."

Really, being caught up in all of the political issues to such an extent is just another form of worldliness isn't it?

Matt said...

Thank you for the great post, Phil. I agree wholeheartedly with you that it's most unfortunate when we put our trust in government rather than in Christ.

You mention that politically savvy evangelicals are often the ones who are best at compromise. I agree.

To what extent do you think it's wise for Christians to be involved in politics at all?

The Doulos said...

Phil, I sustain your objections.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Well said, Phil. Key word being "corporately" and key thoughts on the scandal of the evangelical mind in our churches, with basic doctrine not being able to be articulated, etc.

I will say, however, that allowing for the style of oratory common at the time, and speaking "large" from a stage without microphone, Billy Sunday was pretty remarkable, esp. for his age. What must he have been like at 30? Also, let's remember that he staunchly upheld inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, indeed all of the fundamentals, against the creeping liberalism of the day. And even conservative estimates have a million plus decisions for Christ from his preaching.

Yes, he did make prohibition a "main thing" and shouldn't have. He also had personal tragedies at home (not unremarkable for fundamental preachers back then). But he was a Bible champion his whole Christian life and deserves props for that.

Lee Shelton IV said...

Thanks, Phil. We need to stress the gospel and its power to change hearts and minds. That certainly beats groaning and complaining about how some Christians need to repent because they didn't vote the way we wanted.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

John: "Really, being caught up in all of the political issues to such an extent is just another form of worldliness isn't it?"

Matt: "You mention that politically savvy evangelicals are often the ones who are best at compromise. I agree."

Lee Shelton IV: "That certainly beats groaning and complaining about how some Christians need to repent because they didn't vote the way we wanted."

I respectfully disagree. I have been following Daniel J. Phillips blog for the last month while TeamPyro was on hiatus and I staunchly submit that he's a superb witness of showing how a politically savvy evangelical Christian is not caught up in worldiness, nor compromised the Gospel (at all!), and hasn't fallen into the trap of a false antithesis of "Either/Or", but shown that "Both/And" is doable, achievable, and worthy of emulation.

I highly recommend reading Pastor Daniel J. Phillips blog for the last month.

CR said...

PJ: If we take George Barna's data at face value (and I don't recommend that, but even a nuanced interpretation of his statistics would probably bear this out), the typical "evangelical" hasn't got a clue what the biblical idea of redemption is about.

Phil, are you certain of this? The Barna groups asks some pretty good questions to sift out who are real evangelicals in contrast to what the MSM asks. According to Barna, only 7% of the US population is evangelical which sounds more reasonable than sometimes the 50 or more % you hear from the MSM. Barna does do a contrast between between born-again and evangelical. Evangelical has a more stricter criteria than born-again?

I don't know, maybe, by "typical" evangelical you mean what the MSM labels as a typical evangelical. Barna group has a more biblical definition of evangelical (at least by the questions they ask).

David Milton said...

Thanks Phil. Well said indeed.

Prohibition photo: Is that a pineapple on that woman's head in the middle?

stratagem said...

I object to evangelical organizations including certain Christian broadcasters... ...who raise money for "ministry" and then all they ever talk about are political issues and headline news, while rarely (if ever) mentioning the gospel.

I'll bet you are going to get into hot water for mentioning Focus on the Family almost by name! Egads! :-)

BTW, I couldn't agree more. Read the latest column by Cal Thomas, "Christian Right, R.I.P." for a most encouraging and sensible article on this subject.

will shurtliff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

CR:”only 7% of the US population is evangelical which sounds more reasonable than sometimes the 50 or more % you hear from the MSM.”

This map might confirm your point @ http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/archives/church_bodies.gif

Keith said...

A bit of a tangent, but looking at those ladies in the photo makes want to drink!

The IBEX Scribe said...

Very well said.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what "we" are fighting against politically. We are trying to stop the symptoms rather than focusing on the reason that sin abounds.

I think the most disgusting "Christian" political statement I have read in the past few years was regarding the war. It said that we need to spread democracy so doors can be opened for God to work in these countries. Excuse me? God is not limited by human government. God does not sit around waiting for us to open doors for Him. God does not need our political agenda. We need to be about God's agenda.

We each have a political voice, some greater than others, and we should use it, but let us not lose sight of what matters most.

stratagem said...

I think the gospel is served well by Bonehoeffer (sic) but not so much by the prohibition ladies in your photo. I think that us pro-lifers are in the former group.

Are you referring to Bonhoeffer's attempted assassination of Hitler, or to something else he did? I'm not understanding the parallel.

atruefaith.com said...

"Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).

There it is. As the Religious Right stands dumbfounded by the results of last Tuesday and as the Religious Left works ever harder to justify to themselves that they haven’t become the very thing they’ve used as an excuse to abandon orthodoxy, we have the Word the Lord of Life telling us to leave it alone. Actually, he says more doesn’t he? He says “let the dead bury their own dead.” Or in essence, let the dead worry about the affairs of the dead, you go and concern yourself with life. You go and preach life and revel in the affairs of eternal living.

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD:

Here's what I said to you in Thursday's combox:

Me: "Your definition of what you mean by 'both/and' is so flexible as to be utterly meaningless. For the umpteenth time, what I object to is not activism per se, but the style of political activism where the activist assumes the main (or only) way the church can 'engage' or impact our culture is by wielding her power as a political lobby or voting bloc."

Now, before you try to set me against my blogging partner, please re-read the above post and look for the bulleted points under the words "To be clear." I think you'll see that none of the things I have said "I object to. . . " applies to anything Dan has done or written on his own blog. Has Dan been raising money to support electioneering and calling that "ministry"? Has he used his church's pulpit as a platform for advancing his pet political causes? Has he set the gospel aside so that he can champion a political agenda without upsetting Jewish and Mormon conservatives? Has he ever suggested that the church's one-and-only hope for impacting our culture and halting the moral meltdown is by imposing legislative restraints at the polling places? Just how, precisely, do you imagine that Dan's blogging constitutes a challenge to anything I have said in the above post?

No. On second thought--before you answer that question, you need to define what you mean when you bat the expression "both/and" around. Go back to Thursday's post, read the numbered list (and this time pay special attebntion to points 4-6). Then come back and give a definition for what YOU mean when you say "both/and." You need to include some rational argument to show that you are using it the same way I am, and not merely equivocating in order to score cheap points by continually misrepresenting my position.

Since I made this very point last Thursday in reply to one of your comments and you basically ignored it and persisted in doing more of the same, you don't get to comment in this thread again until you carefully define what you mean when you use the expression "both/and" in this context.

The IBEX Scribe said...

I think that the parallel of Nazi Germany is much more appropriate than the parallel of prohibition.

Phil was making a parallel primarily between Prohibition and bans on homosexual marriage.

Phil Johnson said...

Will: "I think the gospel is served well by Bonehoeffer"

See, I don't think that's true at all. Bonhoeffer's "gospel" was a neo-orthodox mess of works-religion blended (as all works-based systems are) with an earthly view of righteousness. He said some good and quotable things, if you cherry-pick the best of Bonhoeffer, but if someone came here championing his theology as a complete package, I would strongly object.

Bonhoeffer and (dare I say this?) Martin Luther King have been beatified even in the secular mind as wonderful saints who epitomized the true message of Christianity whilst being "engaged" with political efforts to shape culture. Neither really was a preacher of the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Both of them are classic examples of the very thing I am raising a concern about: they let a political agenda eclipse and redefine the gospel for them.

William said...

Ok, thanks Phil. I didn't know that about DB. Maybe my example was bad. What about Cori Ten Boom? I guess my point is that when we look at WWII Germany and we think about the wholesale slaughter we ask why the church didn't do something.

Do you think that the proper reaction of the church to Hitler was not to call the Nazi's out on the killing of Jews, invalids, mentally retarded etc?

Keeping the parallel with abortion (which I think is a good one), should the WWII German Christians have said that the holocaust was a political issue and that the best thing to do was continue preaching the gospel with more purity?

That doesn't seem right to me.

Am I understanding you right?

Matt said...

Bonhoeffer and (dare I say this?) Martin Luther King have been beatified even in the secular mind as wonderful saints who epitomized the true message of Christianity whilst being "engaged" with political efforts to shape culture. Neither really was a preacher of the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Both of them are classic examples of the very thing I am raising a concern about: they let a political agenda eclipse and redefine the gospel for them.

I'm glad someone finally said it. For all the warm praise about Martin Luther King Jr. (there is much to praise him for), I don't think it's being unfair to say that his wasn't exactly a gospel-centred ministry. Same goes for Bonhoeffer.

Phil, given what you just said (which I agree with), do you think that politics could be/is a legitimate calling for gospel-centred Christians? Or does politics as a vocation invariably lead to spiritual decline even for the individual?

Chad V. said...

Ibex

Good point above when you said "God is not limited by human government.

Persecution is a mysterious means by which God spreads the gospel. Anyone who thinks that the best way to be able to spread the gospel is through the proliferation of democracy hasn't read their bible very carefully. The gospel was very well spread under the rule of Nero and the imprisonment of Paul.

Furthermore, there is not one word from the scriptures that encourages the church to lobby for political change, rather is says the be subject to the authorities. There is nothing wrong with Christians participating in the political process and doing their duty as good citizens as long as their fidelity with Christ and the gospel is primary and not confused with the false notion that standing for the truth means lobbying against what ever their pet political issue is. One should be willing to lose the fight over abortion or homosexual marriage in defense of the gospel of Christ or to stand for the gospel above and before those kinds of issues.

A great study for how to see how one may live for Christ in a wicked culture is to do a good study of the book of Daniel. Unfortunately I think that most people in the church if they know anything about that book at all only know something about the 9th chapter. There is so much besides predictive prophecy in the book of Daniel.

Chad V. said...

Let me add that Christians need not be afraid of the loss of democracy. Our citizenship is in heaven. Like Phil already pointed out. Let the dead bury their dead.

Chad V. said...

Can anyone verify this for me? I have heard that Bonhoeffer was not a trinitarian.

Phil Johnson said...

Will: "Do you think that the proper reaction of the church to Hitler was not to call the Nazi's out on the killing of Jews, invalids, mentally retarded etc?"

The church in pre-WWII Germany had long since ceased to preach the gospel. That's one of the things that made Hitler's rise to power in Germany so easy. German theology had become notoriously--well, German. It was a blend of pietistic, Socinian, rationalistic, and pagan ideas masquerading as Christianity. I strongly suspect Nazi Germany would not have happened at all if it had not been for the "Emergence" of German theology, starting, really, with some strains of German pietism going all the way back to the early 18th century.

So the problem in Nazi Germany was not merely that the church preached the gospel when they ought to have been trying to assassinate Hitler a la Bonhoeffer. The real problem was that the gospel had already been practically silenced in Germany generations before Hitler, and the vast majority of churches there were not Christian at all.

What would I do under an evil regime like Hitler's? I would not try to assassinate him. I hope I would have the courage to oppose Hitler by preaching the gospel, even if it provoked him to make a garden torch out of me, like Nero did with the Christians in Paul's generation.

Incidentally, Paul is our model for how to respond to evil governments; not Bonhoeffer.

Stefan said...

Phil:

For the record, I think TUAD was disagreeing with other commenters, rather than with your original post.

Stefan said...

Re German theology: ...Not to mention that it was the birthplace of Higher Criticism, also going back to the 18th century.

Solameanie said...

So, Phil...when are you going to run for mayor of Los Angeles? They need a man like you . . .

Just kidding. You can throw an In-N-Out burger at me the next time you see me. ;)

Rachael Starke said...

Phil,

"I object to the fact that the average evangelical could not give a coherent, biblically sound summary of the gospel or a theologically accurate explanation of justification by faith—but they are more worried about an Obama presidency than they are about the disintegration of their own testimony."

This it really the point that nails it (and speaking of nailing, this whole post seems like it could be the beginning of a great set of 21st Century theses on the state of the American church in the 21st century). When the average Christian does not know how to give a coherent, biblically sound summary of the gospel, what kind of expectation can we have that they know how to live a coherent, biblically sound expression of the gospel?? And how surprised ought we to be that, in this ignorance, they fall back or dive headlong into the same disastrous error that the original Pharisees did - trusting in the laws of men, flavored by the law of God, to save them.

But I think our ignorance has corrupted our testimony in more than one way. Not knowing the gospel is oneway. Not living the gospel - having it inform the way we talk, vote, shop, drive, live with and speak to our neighbors- is another. And that's also something that is so woefully lacking in so-called "gospel-centered" preaching - we hear a whole lot about Jesus' words, but aren't reminded of how He was the Living Word - all of His actions embodying His words - and how we, as bearers of His Spirit, ought to be sold out to embodying His words, too.

If we did, I agree, we'd be spending a whole lot less time talking about propositions, but perhaps we'd be spending a whole lot more time being like Jesus in Matthew 9 - eating with homosexuals and offering them His life-changing mercy, the same mercy He offered a wretch like me.

William said...

But assuming you could not go back in history and fix the roots of the problem (and I agree with you about those roots) and you stood in the middle of WWII as a German, would you never preach against the killing of Jews? Would you never encourage people to hide jews, to protect the innocent etc? Would you never confront the beast? Would Hitler care what you preached if you never made his Evil political deeds (killing of Jews, national aggression etc) a topic of urgency in the church? John the Baptist was killed because he called Herod out on divorce. John the author of Revelation called out the evil deeds of rulers (i.e. Rev 13).

I don't think it is biblical to be quiet about the mass murder of babies. I think that the church needs to have a voice on this issue.

On the other hand, I also agree that the root needs to be addressed. We need to not sacrifice the gospel as we speak for the unborn. There is no good in watering down our attack on the wicked root in order to fix the symptoms. But there is nothing wrong with attacking symptoms.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Phil:"The church in pre-WWII Germany had long since ceased to preach the gospel. That's one of the things that made Hitler's rise to power in Germany so easy."


I agree the rise of Hitler was the result of the Christian church within Germany becoming inept long before his rise to power. Consequences of bad decisions can take a while to manifest themselves and nothing is a greater symbol or embodiment of that very consequence than the leader(s) a country chooses to elect (and/or empower).

As the quotes below reveal, Hitler was more concerned about the Christian church than he was of an internal opposing political party:

"The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death.... We'll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State."- Adolf Hilter

"Kerrl, with noblest of intentions, wanted to attempt a synthesis between National Socialism and Christianity. I don't believe the thing's possible, and I see the obstacle in Christianity itself..."- Adolf Hitler

“I'll make these damned parsons feel the power of the state in a way they would never have believed possible. For the moment I am just keeping my eye upon them: if I ever have the slightest suspicion that they are getting dangerous, I will shoot the lot of them. This filthy reptile raises its head whenever there is a sign of weakness in the State, and therefore it must be stamped on. We have no sort of use for a fairy story invented by the Jews. The fate of a few filthy lousy Jews and epileptics is not worth bothering about."- Adolf Hitler

stratagem said...

William: notice the difference between the Church pointing out the evil-ness of society's evils, and taking political action to force an end to them. I believe Phil is criticizing the latter, not the former. I don't remember John the Baptist taking up a petition or mounting a referendum to force Herod to divorce his brother's wife. He did point out the evil of it, though, and paid with his life.

corinthian said...

I like the post, but I do think the Body of Christ, sometimes corporately, has a role in being the salt and light. It was very discouraging to me to hear my friends, some who oppose abortion, say that is was not an important issue. This is a failure of the church in defining sanctity of life issues, justice issues etc.

A block of salt may be too much, but often a grain is too little. A match may not be enough but a roaring fire, just right.

There are issues that society expects the church to speak on and unfortunately the loudest voices heard are often the liberal churches promoting abortion, homosexuality or whatever the cause of the year is. When we are silent, even those in conservative congregations get confused.

So, preach the Gospel, but all of it, not avoiding the difficult passages on divorce and materialism and everything else. Part of preaching the Gospel is convicting sin, who says we should not do that publicly? (And just because Fred Phelps does it hatefully and others do it wrong, does not mean it should not be done)

William said...

nothingnewunderthesun,

But was not one of the reasons that Hitler hated the church that they stood against his wicked decisions?

Would he have cared had Christians kept out of politics? What tyrant would not be content to let the church stay private? Doesn't the gospel changing hearts also lead to hearts that challenge government when it oppresses?

corinthian said...

btw, any chance of getting a facebook posting link so I can share with my friends?

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

William:"But was not one of the reasons that Hitler hated the church that they stood against his wicked decisions?"


Absolutely, but like all evil men, Hitler did not view himself as evil (and/or sinful), and described Christianity as the following:

"There is something very unhealthy about Christianity."

"Pure Christianity-- leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind. It is merely whole-hearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics."

"The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity."

Shawn said...

Great post Phil...
I am always suprised, especially since I attend a Church that is faithful to preach the Word, that so many men there can talk for hours about all the in and outs of politics, the economy, and various other things that don't have anything to do with Scripture, but cannot coherently explain what the Gospel message is truly about. Worse yet, most can't even remember what the sermon, that just ended 5 minutes prior, was on.

I believe that Christians today fall into the trap of being entangled in the affairs of this world, instead of focusing on the fact that they are in the midst of a war, and instead of being dilligent to arm themselves with the sword of the Spirit, which, as you all know, is the Word of God, they have become casualties on the battlefield because their mind is not in the fight, but on the temporal things of this world that will soon pass away.

Phil Johnson said...

Will: "I don't think it is biblical to be quiet about the mass murder of babies. I think that the church needs to have a voice on this issue."

Who ever said we should be "quiet" about it?

Corinthian: "I do think the Body of Christ, sometimes corporately, has a role in being the salt and light."

OK. But what do you mean by that? I've pointed out elsewhere that evangelicals in our generation have become so accustomed to equating the idea of "salt and light" with political activism that they don't even pay attention to what Matthew 5 is actually talking about.

I posted a long series about that misconception not very long ago.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Dr. Mohler is interviewed here

http://www.albertmohler.com/blog.php


Thanks for the clarifying Phil!

Phil Johnson said...

Caleb:

Good link. Thanks. Best line:

"It just ought to remind many Christians we have placed too much confidence in the political process in the first place"--Al Mohler.

Quest said...

Phil, you mentioned politics and law enforcement ... what about law itself?

As a Christian studying in law school, I've got a long while to decide on a career path, but I have absolutely no desire to work in the secular world of law.

Christian lawyers, however, often tend to gravitate to the legal/political arena of fighting for or against certain causes (abortion, homesexuality, etc.). While I have no issue with battling these evils, and it seems like an appealing area to make a difference, it still provides an interesting tug-of-war in that my main desire is not to stray from the focus of reaching the lost.

Anyways, I was just curious if you had some advice for Christian lawyers, many of whom are extremely dedicated to these aforementioned causes.

And no, Christian lawyer is not an oxymoron. Not yet, at least ;)

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Politics is inherently a ‘machine of compromise’, and I’m always surprised when people act surprised that politics is compromising their beliefs.

Obviously we need to take an active part in the political process, but we shouldn’t make it into a false idol in the interim.

Some of our government buildings and financial institutions are designed after ‘Roman temples’, so that should tell you something:

http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_461575773_3/american_architecture.html

One Salient Oversight said...

So, Phil, what would you say to a Christian blogger who was depicting a potential Obama presidency as a form of Nazism?

And would you want such a person contributing to a group blog?

Jason said...

Would our nation be in the shape it is in, if it's Christians put the time effort and energy in the Gospel as it does politics?
I may be off base, but some where in the past thirty years or so the church was seduced by the republican party. We were told that they could return America to it's proper course. We left the bride groom at the alter and told him not to worry, the republicans would save us. I vote republican. However, they are not my salvation. No political party can "save" America or the world. That job was filled and completed by Jesus. I must tell more people.

Daryl said...

Jason,

It may we worth noting that Rome got worse and fell, after the church began.
I think there's a lesson for the church in that.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Anyone in public office (liberal or conservative) who attempts to compromise Christianity in the attempt to merge it with any secular (economic or political) system is at risk in possibly following in the footstep of Hann Kerrl (Reichsminister of Church Affairs)- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanns_Kerrl

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD:

Read my words carefully: "you don't get to comment in this thread again until you carefully define what you mean when you use the expression 'both/and' in this context."

A suggestion about how I might redefine MY terms doesn't count.

OSO:

It depends on what the blogger in question was actually saying. If he is comparing the abortion epidemic to the holocaust and suggesting that someone who fancies himself a great champion of the right to slaughter unborn infants has all the moral timbre of a Hitler, I would say the comparison is apt, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

For the zillionth time: I'm not suggesting Christians should shut up and tolerate abortion; I'm suggesting that we need to rethink our strategy for opposing it. I'm certainly not proposing any strategy that would have us lapse into utter silence about it.

Phil Johnson said...

. . . or pretend it's not really evil.

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD:

Perhaps an illustration will help you see why your line of argument isn't working. If we were talking about hydroginated fats instead of politics, here is how your line of reasoning would sound:

PJ: I don't like margarine on my toast. I much prefer the taste of butter.

TUaD: Most people casually refer to margarine as "butter," so you must mean that you like Parkay, right?

PJ: No, I am expressly contrasting butter and Parkay and saying I prefer the former.

TUaD: But Dan Phillips uses Parkay and calls it "butter." So you're OK with the taste of that brand, right?

PJ: No TUaD, I have clearly defined what I mean by "butter," and you can't make me say something I'm not saying by imposing your definition of butter onto my original statement.

TUaD: But there's even a brand called "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." You must be OK with that on your toast, because even Fabio can't believe it's not butter.

PJ: I don't think you have grasped the essence of what I am saying. I have tried to define clearly what I mean by "Butter." You are arguing against my position by substituting a different definition for the term butter. Why don't you define clearly what you mean by the term, and I'll explain to you how my definition differs from yours?

TUaD: I think when Scott K. speaks of butter, he has Fleishman's in mind. Why don't we compromise and use that as the definition of butter?

Yeesh.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

Sorry, TUaD:

That was no definition, either. It was simply another restatement of what you keep saying.

Maybe you should look up the word "definition" in the dictionary.

Sharon said...

Phil pseudo-quoting TUaD: I think when Scott K. speaks of butter, he has Fleishman's in mind. Why don't we compromise and use that as the definition of butter?

Definitely a LOL comment!

A Musician by Grace

DJP said...

Phil — fwiw, your five bullet-points in particular are well-aimed, and I heartily agree. Well-said!

Stefan said...

Upon closer examination of that photo, some of them have extremely prudish expressions, like the pastor's wife in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. No wonder the Church Lady was such a successful stereotype.

Alan Robuck said...

As the one whose questions prompted this post, I would like to come clean about my motives for asking those question.

I observe that the worldview of the political left, which I call “liberalism” for short, is America’s unofficial state religion, by which I mean: 1) that it is the worldview held by most of America’s intellectual authorities, 2) that is followed by most politicians/bureaucrats/judges when they make official decisions, and 3) that serves as the basis for the ordering of American society. It is this adherence to liberalism that explains most deeply why immorality and disorder continue to advance.

My question is, who will fight against the domination of liberalism? Political parties are only interested in garnering votes, not upsetting potential voters, and so they cannot afford to argue against the liberalism that is conventional wisdom. And most churches (along with most Christian parachurch organizations) are either opposed to political involvement or else they are engaged only in political lobbying. Very few Christian organizations are doing what must be done in this sphere: aggressively bringing into the public square arguments based on first principles (biblical principles) about how society ought to be ordered.

Ergo there must be a campaign of “conservative apologetics” that is concerned with these first principles. And this campaign would need to be carried out mainly by Christians, because it must be grounded in a biblical understanding. But there is a strong tradition, of which this blog is an especially intelligent and influential representative, of opposition to Christian involvement with politics. Therefore I anticipate that should this campaign get under way, there will be Christian voices raised against it. And so I am interested in understanding these objections, making reasoned responses to them, and even learning from them. Thanks for hearing me out.

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD:

Let me try to help you out by defining my terms. What is the expression "both/and" (as I have used it in this thread) shorthand for in my mind? Since you seem to be struggling to understand me, it's only fair for me to spell it out.

The key reference to that expression in my post last Thursday was this: "He is tacitly acknowledging that if we inject the gospel into the political apparatus of the pro-life movement, we will undermine the ecumenicity that holds the movement together. . . I've been saying that for years. It's the main reason both/and is not the simple proposition Klusendorf sometimes insists it is."

Now, when I speak of the impossibility of juggling "both/and," what I am saying is--

Evangelical organizations, churches, and shepherds-of-flocks cannot BOTH
1. Maintain solid, long-term political alliances with non-evangelical co-belligerents
AND:
2. proclaim in clear and unvarnished terms the aspects of the gospel that anger those allies or run contrary to their fundamental belief systems.

In other words, you can't both faithfully proclaim sola fide and forge working alliances with papists and Mormons. You simply are not faithfully upholding the priority of the gospel if you give space on your web site for a Catholic priest to advocate his moralism without reference to the gospel. Etc.

But when you insist that "both/and" is a perfectly simple approach to ministry, what you are saying is--

There's no reason whatsoever that evangelicals cannot BOTH
A. hold and express strong convictions about the moral overtones of certain political issues, including opinions about what and whom we should vote for
AND
B. faithfully proclaim the gospel

But, see: no one has argued that the A/B version of "both/and" is impossible. What I have consistently declared impossible is the 1/2 version. By treating the two as interchangeable, you are muddying the issue.

I think LOTS of Christians do that, and that's why this is such a volatile issue. Suggest that evangelicals should be better known for the gospel than for their advocacy of certain legislation, and someone will inevitably accuse you of denying individual Christians the right to political opinions. That's not what this thread is about at all. And the fact that there are so many evangelicals (not just secular media and non-Christian observers) who simply cannot make such a simple distinction shows what a huge problem our movement has got itself into.

Phil Johnson said...

Alan: "Therefore I anticipate that should this campaign get under way, there will be Christian voices raised against it. And so I am interested in understanding these objections, making reasoned responses to them, and even learning from them. Thanks for hearing me out."

Speaking only for myself (because I can't speak for Frank and Dan on issues like this) I think your whole syllogism goes astray with your major premise. I wouldn't classify political liberalism as our culture's root problem. I would not even say it's America’s "unofficial state religion."

I would say the de facto religion of America today is paganism. I am convinced the creeping growth of pagan beliefs in popular cultural represents a far greater threat than liberal politicians in congress. I'll grant that liberal courts and liberal politicians are often facilitators for the spread of paganism, and many of of our politicians and political institutions could aptly be described as pagan. But the problem is their paganism, not their liberalism.

This is really my whole argument: If evangelicals in politics managed success in every single point of their current political agenda, so that America suddenly took a hard right turn politically, this would still be a pagan culture, not a Christian one.

Or to say it another way, if the root problem with our culture really were political liberalism, then, yes, the answer would be conservative social policies. But we know that's not the true answer to our culture's spiritual problems, don't we? After all, Singapore is an extremely conservative culture, but it's not a Christian society.

Christianity, not merely conservatism, is the real answer to what ails our culture.

(For the benefit of those who are determined to misconstrue everything: When I say Christianity is the real answer, I'm saying we need to be making disciples of the people in our culture, not that we ought to be working for a theonomic government.)

a new beginning said...

"Give him all praise and glory, and hang only on him."

Your words convicted me as I had began to hang on the new government's leadership for this or that instead of trusting God.

Thank you, really.

Andrew said...

Phil said,
"Suggest that evangelicals should be better known for the gospel than for their advocacy of certain legislation, and someone will inevitably accuse you of denying individual Christians the right to political opinions... And the fact that there are so many evangelicals... who simply cannot make such a simple distinction shows what a huge problem our movement has got itself into.

From reading the meta here and at DJP's blog, this has been astounding to me. And the readers struggling with this distinction aren't dumb. They're not unregenerate. BUT there is something so utterly practical and efficient about the promise political success that it causes many of us to (unknowingly) shove the gospel aside as if it were of secondary importance.

It's seems that for some reason there is something peculiar to Christian political activism that is blinding. That is the best way I know how to describe it.

Great post, Phil! I often lurk here and I learn so much from you Pyros. Keep up the great work.

Jack said...

People won't do right until they want to, and can. Unregenerated people can't want to, and they can't can.

Politics is the surface forth kicked up by a society's religious beliefs. If we change the nation's religious beliefs, we will inevitably transform its laws, eventually. But you can't build a Biblical law system on top of a pagan society.

donsands said...

"Christianity, not merely conservatism, is the real answer to what ails our culture."

Amen.

"Conservative humanism is just as wrong as liberal humanism."

What about the Supreme Court Building having Moses holding the Ten Commandments?
Was that wrong for our government to do?
Should President Obama remove these sculptures, would that be a good thing, and the Church of course would protest, but could most of the Christians who would be protesting be able to quote the Ten Commandments themselves?

Just a couple thoughts I had. good discussion btw.

CR said...

I have to admit, the butter thing got me LOL, also.

Let me try to inject something. Something that Sproul mentioned and I think it's a good point is that he said one of the things that we have to understand as Christians is that there are issues besides distinctively Christian issues that we face. These are issues, which Sproul calls, "common grace" issues that we should march with anyone, Christian, humanist, pagan, atheist, whoever, in the cause, e.g., right to life, because, here the sanctity of human life is at stake, because we share that concern with people way beyond the scope of the Christian community and so we coooperate with people with different backgrounds and different persuasions. Some other examples are gay marriages (like the prop 8 in CA) and intelligent design.

And I think PJ's contention, is that if you want to do that, don't call it ministry. And we shouldn't. And we shouldn't be under the illusion of trying to partner in the endeavors goal of the "both/and" that PJ has already described.

And I think, we should be involved in common grace issues where we can. But here's the key, you don't do that in lieu of being engaged in your local church; you don't do that in lieu of your own Bible reading, evangelism and discipleship of others. I mean there are 168 hours in a week - 56 is gone with sleep, and you have a 40 hour work week, so that does leave about 70 or so hours available. If you're doing the Bible reading and some evangelism and discipling others and you want to work on those the common grace issues and partnering with others (and I think we must when we can), I think that is time well spent, certainly better than watching TV. And I think we have an obligation to work on those common grace issues, just don't think that replaces the Great Commission, because it doesn't. We don't necessarily do the Great Commission exclusive of everything else (although may believe we can), but at the same that important stuff does not replace the work of the Great Commission.

Tom said...

Phil quoting Al Mohler: "It just ought to remind many Christians we have placed too much confidence in the political process in the first place"

Perhaps the reason the political process looks so potent to some Christians is because their churches are so weak in comparison.

Rick Frueh said...

I am not sure about the spiritual mechanics needed to "convince" dead people about the validity of Biblically moral issues. It seems akin to telling a corpse to straighten his tie. Can he? And even if we do it for him by "persuading" him about certain issues, what has been accomplished? Without God's life giving Spirit he is still an enemy of Christ and he is still dead even while espousing a pro-life position (for example) from the casket.

TruthMatters said...

Thanks for your insight on this issue, Phil. I've struggled for awhile trying to reconcile what I know to be a Biblically-based worldview on issues currently facing our culture with what the Bible says regarding our role and involvement in the political arena.

I even blogged on this myself last week after the election and finally came to the following (overly-simplified for the sake of brevity) conclusion regarding the church:

1. We're not under a Scriptural mandate to reshape our society as it regards political issues.

a. - after all, God is sovereign; He will look out for the church and His people. (Isaiah 14:24, Psalm 22:8)

b. - more importantly, we lose sight of our primary mission (spreading the gospel of Christ). (Matt. 28:19)

c. - we ignore Jesus' example; having come into a world filled with poverty, slavery and oppression, He didn't address these issues politically.

2. But as individuals, if we vote, we are obligated to do so based on a Biblically-informed worldview.

a. - "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31.)

b. - Since we're ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we ought to represent our "home nation" clearly and effectively.

The thing that stands out to me the most about your powerful explanation, Phil, is that the church institutionally cannot continue to water down the gospel in an effort to achieve social and political change. Regardless of how important some of the issues are today (e.g., abortion), we can never forget that the core of our message is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thanks again, Phil.

CR said...

But there are some issues, Rick, that are not distinctively Christian, abortion and gay marriage are just two examples. CA proved that gay marriage was not a distinctively Christian issue. The Mormons put in a lot of money to push prop 8 in California. I think Mormon members (not the church, but their members) poured in $30 million into the prop 8, campaign. Many black Americans who ignorantly (and I would go so far as to say sinfully) voted for Obama in CA, voted overwhelmingly for prop 8. I don't believe, e.g., the Holocaust was a distinctive Christian issue nor was slavery, and nor was the Civil Rights Act.

The Great Awakening witnessed massive social change led by George Whitfiled and John Wesley and their contemparies. These contemporaies were key in getting slavery banned, outlawing child labor and reforming the prison system. Many of these contemporaries partnered with people other than Christians. But, as DA Carson reminds us, these Christian leaders were first and foremost gospel Christians, deeply involved in their local churches and disciplined in their Bible reading, evangelism and discipleship.

Abraham Kuyper was another example, he was committed to the gospel and understood the value of exercising godly influence in the culture. He didn't tangle the church as the church in his broader endeavors that he pursued as a Christian.

Susan said...

Now that I have a government job, I definitely think about law vs. grace a lot more. Law really doesn't save, even though good laws do restrain evil to a degree by instilling fear of punishment in people. It is really a blessing to be under grace and not law....

"If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:3-4).

Rick Frueh said...

"These contemporaies were key in getting slavery banned,"

You make a curious point, in that the New Testament never deals with the morality of slavery, it only gives spiritual advice to slaves that become believers to be humble and submissive. And slave owners who are believers should treat their slaves with goodness and respect.

We deduce the wrongness of slavery from the overall teachings of Scripture but not from any specific dealings with the subject - why not? Why didn't Paul come right out and take a paragraph to confront slavery as immoral and wrong? Can we not suggest that the change in morality, both personal and in a community, must be a residual effect of the influence brought to bear by the powerful impact of the gospel itself?

Since the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, even truth which is arrived at by Biblical principle rather than specific teaching, how can we supplant that vehicle and attempt to bring moral modification by the democratic process? Would not our efforts be better served by a profound deepening of our committment to live and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the only authentic change that isn't a mirage?

Are we admitting that a powerful demonstration of the gospel by the assumed millions of believers in America is insufficient to bring about a moral righteousness without the parallel (which too often becomes primary) energy of the democratic process?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

There are various ways to provide definitions. One method is called definition by example: A definition that provides a representative example of a term. This is what I did when I wrote previously in an irenic attempt to gain common ground with you:

"Let me define "Both/And" by example. And as before, I'll be looking to Pastor Daniel J. Phillips as an exemplar model of a devoted disciple of Christ who both preach the Gospel and also engage the culture as a Christian participant in the political process of this country.

DJP: "Quislings. But the most disgraceful of all are professedly Christian enablers. ... You professed Christians who voted for Obama, you had every reason to know what that man was going to do."

"You Christians who did not vote or went third-party, you can tell yourselves you did otherwise."

And you pastors who could not find it in yourselves even to say, from the pulpit, that life is an important consideration when voting... I don't know what to say to you. I know some very fine men are absolutely convinced that all politics should be kept out of the pulpit. But is life politics? Is the stewardship of one's vote politics? Are we really called to give no guidance whatever for the pressing moral issues of citizenship?"

"Now, today is the time to fight — peacefully, of course. By reasoning, persuading, pleading.

Participate! Act! Do what's right, to the best of your ability!"

"I certainly don't think a Christian has to be a Republican. I just don't think he can be a Democrat." (from a 2006 post).

"I do not believe a Christian can morally vote for Obama."

"You vote for him, you are complicit. You have no excuse. You can never look back at Hitler's Germany and scold those who assisted his Hellish designs. You're them."

"Final plea to my readers in contested states

Do you live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, or any other battleground/contested state? Then I'm pleading with you: vote for McCain."

PJ: "I think you'll see that none of the things I have said "I object to. . . " applies to anything Dan has done or written on his own blog. Has Dan been raising money to support electioneering and calling that "ministry"?"

PJ, since none of the things you object to applies to anything that Daniel J. Phillips has done or written on his blog, and since I propose that Daniel J. Phillips be uplifted as someone who does the "Both/And" approach within biblically glorifying stylistic standards, we're on the same page."

I hope that's sufficiently clear.

With respect to your last comment to me, I wish to thank you very much because you have provided helpful clarity to what you are specifically objecting to with regards to the "Both/And" approach. This is good progress, and makes the previous dialogue well worth it!

So we all agree with you on:

"There's no reason whatsoever that evangelicals cannot BOTH

A. hold and express strong convictions about the moral overtones of certain political issues, including opinions about what and whom we should vote for
AND
B. faithfully proclaim the gospel."

But let's unpack the other "Both/And" that you do strenuously object to and see whether we may make further profitable explorations into underlying assumptions, shall we?

"Now, when I speak of the impossibility of juggling "both/and," what I am saying is--

Evangelical organizations, churches, and shepherds-of-flocks cannot BOTH
1. Maintain solid, long-term political alliances with non-evangelical co-belligerents
AND:
2. proclaim in clear and unvarnished terms the aspects of the gospel that anger those allies or run contrary to their fundamental belief systems.

In other words, you can't both faithfully proclaim sola fide and forge working alliances with papists and Mormons. You simply are not faithfully upholding the priority of the gospel if you give space on your web site for a Catholic priest to advocate his moralism without reference to the gospel. Etc."

Let me ask you this in return: Have you ever considered whether a cease-fire in doctrinal warfare might be sanctified by God for some situations, some circumstances, and/or at some times? Would you categorically condemn all temporal truce-making by conservative evangelical Christians with those who are at doctrinal odds with conservative evangelical Christians with regards to the Gospel?

You've extolled Pastor Albert Mohler above. Have you read the following article, Standing Together, Standing Apart:
Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise
, by Mohler? He writes:

"With all this in mind, and with the cultural challenges now before us, Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox should stand without embarrassment as co-belligerents in the culture war. The last persons on earth to have an honest disagreement may also be the last on earth to recognize transcendent truth and moral principles—even the sanctity of human life itself.

Seventh and finally, we must be ready to stand together in cultural co-belligerence, rooted in a common core of philosophical and theological principles, without demanding confessional agreement or pretending that this has been achieved.

We claim the name of Christ. We claim a purchase on the Great Tradition of authentic Christianity. Each of our traditions claims to be normative Christianity. These claims are incommensurate and necessarily involve conflict. These claims do not necessarily prevent cooperation in the cultural arena.

In the sovereign providence of God, we face a great cultural challenge. We must be unembarrassed co-belligerents in this battle. Human rights, human dignity, and human happiness hang in the balance. Standing together, we work with each other. Standing apart, we witness to each other. Nothing less will do."

Forgive me if I wasn't clear before, but when I was thinking of "Both/And" I had in mind Mohler's article about how it's permissible to be cultural co-belligerents with those who don't share precisely the same Gospel. Do you agree with Mohler, PJ?

I, for one, can see how our God can bless and sanctify a temporary truce, a cease-fire by conservative evangelical Christians, especially when it doesn't compromise or diminish the Gospel.

PJ: "This is really my whole argument: If evangelicals in politics managed success in every single point of their current political agenda, so that America suddenly took a hard right turn politically, this would still be a pagan culture, not a Christian one."

With all due respect, it's a rather trite point, but I do grant that perhaps for some readers it is a revelatory insight.

It is worthy of note that in order to zealously establish your point (over several threads), you've taken swipes at James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Billy Graham, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and even perhaps the broad-based coalition that helped to pass Proposition 8 in California.

And if you wish to delete this comment as well, that is your perogative. Censorship of a respectful dissenting view is up to you.

Phil Johnson said...

Me: "In other words, you can't both faithfully proclaim sola fide and forge working alliances with papists and Mormons. You simply are not faithfully upholding the priority of the gospel if you give space on your web site for a Catholic priest to advocate his moralism without reference to the gospel. Etc."

TUaD: "Let me ask you this in return: Have you ever considered whether a cease-fire in doctrinal warfare might be sanctified by God for some situations, some circumstances, and/or at some times?"

So is it your view that the differences between the Roman Catholic and/or Mormon gospel and the biblical doctrine of justification by faith amount to secondary issues? Would you say the non-Christian contingency in the religious right are more like the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:1-5 (who merely needed more instruction)--or are they actually spiritual counterparts of the Pharisees, whom Jesus opposed on every possible point (even though there were certainly aspects of their belief system he could have affirmed and made common cause with against Roman pagan practices if He were so inclined)?

Because I would say Mormonism, magisterial Roman Catholicism, and all varieties of modern Judaism represent the very kind of false religions the big-picture spiritual warfare is all about. Those teachings are precisely the sort of ideological strongholds Paul says we are supposed to be tearing down (2 Corinthians 10:5).

As a matter of fact, Rome's denial of the gospel, together with her catalogue of extrabiblical superstitions and manmade doctrines that keep untold millions from trusting Christ alone, strike me as far grosser evils than abortion. That's not to minimize the evil of abortion; but hopefully it puts the wickedness of damning false religion in perspective.

In that light, what you are really describing is not "a cease-fire in doctrinal warfare [that] might be sanctified by God"; it's an abandonment of our true spiritual warfare for a lesser cause.

TUaD: "I, for one, can see how our God can bless and sanctify a temporary truce, a cease-fire by conservative evangelical Christians, especially when it doesn't compromise or diminish the Gospel."

But that is a contradiction in terms. What you are actually arguing for--setting aside our doctrinal differences with Mormons and other false religions (even "temporarily") in order to work with them for a moral cause which you have unaccountably deemed more important than the mutually contradictory versions of the gospel we proclaim--does compromise the gospel by definition.

I realize the average modern and postmodern evangelical refuses to acknowledge that such a clear antithesis exists. Lots of people on both sides are trying hard to erase the vestiges of that antithesis for the sake of bringing Rome and evangelicals together in the so-called "culture war." They must do that, because if you recognize that the difference is so fundamental as to constitute two completely different, contradictory gospels, then there's no biblical way to justify any kind of formal co-belligerence where we agree not to make an issue of the things we disagree on.

Bottom line: the proposal calls for a cease-fire in the battle between two different gospels. There's no way that doesn't compromise the true gospel, no matter how many people insist otherwise.

Sadly, efforts to eradicate the antithesis are working remarkably well. It's not because cobelligerance has helped us see one another in a clearer, more accurate light. It's because evangelicals have given up their distinctives so much and become so unconcerned about gospel truth that the average evangelical today couldn't even give a cogent account of how his views differ from RCism.

And the even sadder truth is that mainstream evangelicalism ISN'T much different from pre-Reformation Rome anymore. The current obsession with moral issues, coupled with an easy willingness to declare the kind of "cease-fire" you envision, is one of the major reasons for that.

Again, it's not a cease-fire at all; it is a retreat from the true battle.

Thanks for finally fessing up to what YOU meant by "both/and."

(But once more: quit trying to drag third-party names into discussions they are no part of and trying to shift the argument from you to someone else. That is a besetting sin of yours, it seems. I don't reply to comments of that nature.)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CR said...

Rick: You make a curious point, in that the New Testament never deals with the morality of slavery, it only gives spiritual advice to slaves that become believers to be humble and submissive. And slave owners who are believers should treat their slaves with goodness and respect.

I think there are a lot of moral issues that the Bible does not deal with (pornography -didn't exist; Internet pornography - didn't exist; child labor). Also, the democratic structure of government we enjoy today did not exist during the canon of Scriptures and would not exist for another 1,700 years. So, what would be the purpose of Paul or anyone to bring it up, because we couldn't do anything about it.

Rick: Can we not suggest that the change in morality, both personal and in a community, must be a residual effect of the influence brought to bear by the powerful impact of the gospel itself?

The Bible does not seek merely "moral" transformation. Any 12 step program can do that. But in terms of spiritual transformation, if there is going to be any transformation at all, it must come from outside of ourselves. Laws cannot tranforms us, educators cannot transform us, psychologists cannot transform, sociologists cannot transform us.

But I have never suggested that the goal of this endeavor is to transform people. The goal of laws is not to transform hearts. It never was and it never is. But we shouldn't abandon efforts to work with people when we can to legislate morality - especially life and death ethical issues.

Rick: We deduce the wrongness of slavery from the overall teachings of Scripture but not from any specific dealings with the subject - why not?

Well, we definitely, certainly not only deduce, but we can find the explicit passages in Scripture against manstealing (which is the form of slavery this country had). But sadly it was something not all Christians believed in. Some believed that "states' rights" superceded the immorality of slavery. And like I said, when we can, we work with others on common grace issues to end such practices.

Rick: Since the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, even truth which is arrived at by Biblical principle rather than specific teaching, how can we supplant that vehicle and attempt to bring moral modification by the democratic process?

I'm not suggesting in any way, shape or form, that anything supplants the Holy Spirit's work.

What I am saying is that we have an obligation in the exiled city we live in to do good in the city. That would include legislative efforts to protect the unborn. That does not supplant the work of the Holy Spirit or the transforming power of the gospel.

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD: "I disagree that this is a "besetting sin" as you call it."

Please. I have lost count of the times you have come into our meta with links and quotes from smeone you expect me to disagree with, or else taken something we have posted here to another blog where you know it will cause a row. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has pointed this tendency out to you, either.

TUaD: "If you don't agree . . . then, as you've stated, don't reply."

No. Now that I have asked you to stop it, if you persist in doing it anyway, I'm going to treat it as a rule-4 violation, which it is. That means you get two more infractions, which I will delete anyway without a single pang of conscience. And after that you will be permanently banned.

Are you sure that's a game you want to play?

corinthian said...

"OK. But what do you mean by that? I've pointed out elsewhere that evangelicals in our generation have become so accustomed to equating the idea of "salt and light" with political activism that they don't even pay attention to what Matthew 5 is actually talking about."

What I mean by being the salt and light corporately is being it publicly. There seems to be a false distinction between personal witness and the witness of the body. Also,what "defines" political activism? If two or more are gathered, is that now the church being political whereas I standing alone are not? I don't think we can really make that distinction. Does it become church activity when...1) the tax code says so? 2) the pastor gets involved 3) it is on a Sunday morning or evening? 4) a candidate's name is mentioned or alluded to? 5) Scripture actaully directly addresses a current topic (like taxes)?
So when is it the church and when is it church folk and when is it social and when political?

I am not using Matthew 5 to require political activism necessarily, but i think we are ALL somewhat subjective when we say what the church should speak on or not. You can't preach all of scripture without hitting politics.

Here is a definition of politics "Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. The term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions." So my question is, how are we to be salt and light WITHOUT affecting decisions?
Still want a facebook link.
:)

Phil Johnson said...

Corinthian: "What I mean by being the salt and light corporately is being it publicly. There seems to be a false distinction between personal witness and the witness of the body."

I wasn't asking about what you meant by "corporately." I was asking what you mean by "being salt and light." There seems to be an unspoken assumption that this entails lobbying for a legislative agenda in the realm of secular politics. I'm suggesting that's about as far as possible from what Jesus had in mind when he called us salt and light. You should have read the links I pointed you to, and I think you would have understood my question better.

But your misunderstanding illustrates the depth of the problem I'm talking about here. So many evangelicals unthinkingly equate the idea of "salt and light" with working for legislative remedies to society's ills that it's almost impossible to get them to reexamine that presupposition, even when someone makes the point in bold type.

Betsy Markman said...

This is one of the best things I've read in a while. I'm so glad to hear voices crying out in the wilderness. Keep up the good work!

Phil Johnson said...

One other thing:

Corinthian: "There seems to be a false distinction between personal witness and the witness of the body. Also,what 'defines' political activism? If two or more are gathered, is that now the church being political whereas I standing alone are not? I don't think we can really make that distinction. Does it become church activity when...1) the tax code says so? 2) the pastor gets involved 3) it is on a Sunday morning or evening? 4) a candidate's name is mentioned or alluded to? 5) Scripture actaully directly addresses a current topic (like taxes)?
So when is it the church and when is it church folk and when is it social and when political?"


That's a fine example of deconstruction, but the issues we are discussing are not that murky. You could probably think of a hypothetical example of "activism" so borderline that it's hard to say whether it's individual or corporate and hard to determine whether it's "political" or otherwise. But for the most part, those categories are not so difficult to grasp. They are certainly not so vague as to render the distinctions utterly useless.

So do you just want to be argumentative, or did you have in mind a specific kind of corporate political activism that you are prepared to argue is a legitimate example of what Jesus had in mind when He said we are salt and light?

CR said...

PJ: So do you just want to be argumentative, or did you have in mind a specific kind of corporate political activism that you are prepared to argue is a legitimate example of what Jesus had in mind when He said we are salt and light?

Obviously, Jesus did not have in mind corporate political activism that we enjoy today , because that did not exist in the Roman world. The question is, could there implications for us today that it could be applied today for that.

Reading my study notes of my new ESVSB, for Luke 14: 24, it writes: "Most salt came from the Dead Sea and contained impurities (carnallite and gypsum). If not processed properly, it would have a poor taste and would be wose than useless, being unusable for food and creating a dispolsal problem. If the conditions of discipleship (vv. 26-27, 33) are not kept, the disciples likewise will become less than worthless (cf. Rev. 3: 15-17)."

Given that the immediate preceding context is talking about discipleship, and since political and legislative activism doesn't make disciples, it doesn't appear that political activism could even be an implication of those passages for us today.

It doesn't mean that Christians should not be involved in political activism, I think they should in some way. But it doesn't appear we could use the salt and light passages for things like that.

I would say in fact, one of the things that is really killing the church is that discipleship is not exercised. You have many who make a genuine profession of faith and stumble along the way, for years, because no one bothers to take them under their arms and disciple them never mind proper discipleship. So, they're stumbling along the way, making a zillion mistakes, learning things the hard way, and really unusable for long periods of time.

Chad V. said...

Actually, I think that one of the things that's killing the church is that there are lots of people who believe that God will sanctify a temporary truce regarding doctrinal truth. That God is some how pleased when the people whom he saved to a love of the truth put it aside temporarily. It is sin to ever put aside doctrinal truth.

Such people will do well to remember that no one can serve two masters. You will love one and despise the other. Matt 6:24 and that whoever does not gather with Christ scatters abroad Matt 12:30.

Chad V. said...

Perhaps killing the church is a poor choice of words. No one can kill the church, the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but the gospel can be obfuscated and true Christians run the risk of being the ones who give place to the Devil.

The Devil would be perfectly happy if abortion were obliterated at the expense of the truth of the gospel.

Daryl said...

"The Devil would be perfectly happy if abortion were obliterated at the expense of the truth of the gospel."

Someone oughta publish that on the wall of every church on the planet. And then change "abortion" to whatever the most apparently pressing issue at the time happens to be.

Well said Chad, well said.

And, to avoid the odd comments that too often follow good statements like that, we might add. "He'd be happy too, if we all knew the truth of the gospel and never lifted a finger to help our fellow man."

(Or, even better, we could ignore me altogether and just say "What Phil said...")

corinthian said...

""That's a fine example of deconstruction, but the issues we are discussing are not that murky. You could probably think of a hypothetical example of "activism" so borderline that it's hard to say whether it's individual or corporate and hard to determine whether it's "political" or otherwise.""

Well, calling it deconstructionalism does not really answer my question. BTW, I am not writing to argue, i am really trying to hash it out, you seem a little irritated though, maybe I'm just reading into your tone something that is not there.
You set up a bit of a straw man by objecting to organizations that "who raise money for "ministry" and then all they ever talk about are political issues and headline news, while rarely (if ever) mentioning the gospel." but what about those that do work for causes AND preach the Gospel?
It certainly seemed like Jesus preached about societal issues from the "pulpit" and as another poster pointed out, the governmental system was different then so "activism" was different. Jesus was arrested partially because he was causing civil unrest, he was accusing the leaders of being ungodly and hypocrites. I just think you're setting up too much of an either/or when there is some middle ground.
thanks for the discussion though, I enjoy this site immensely

Phil Johnson said...

Corinthian: "It certainly seemed like Jesus preached about societal issues from the "pulpit" and as another poster pointed out, the governmental system was different then so "activism" was different. Jesus was arrested partially because he was causing civil unrest . . ."

1. "Societal issues"? What does that have to do with anything whatsoever under discussion here?

2. Are you suggesting that Jesus' ministry strategy boils down to political activism via civil disobedience whereby He was trying to alter the course of the Roman or Herodian governments?

3. I think it's interesting that when I tried to point out to TUaD how far off the mark his comments were, you showed up immediately with a new Blogger account making essentially the same arguments based on the same misconstruals of practically, every point. I'm not "irritated"; I'm just trying to keep my answers as short as possible when dealing with long comments which only restate the same trite ideas that have already been replied to repeatedly.

Corinthian: "but what about those that do work for causes AND preach the Gospel?"

1. for the ten-billionth time, no one is suggesting that Christian organizations should not "work for causes" or talk about "societal issues."

2. Read the context of the phrase you quoted, and you will have the answer to your question: I have no objection to organizations that "work for causes" while keeping the gospel at the center of their message.

3. It is a fact, however, that those who "work for causes" by immersing themselves in the political process rarely if ever do manage to keep the gospel at the center. And that is true for all the reasons I have repeatedly listed.

corinthian said...

1. "Societal issues"? What does that have to do with anything whatsoever under discussion here?

Well, being that issues like divorce, care for the poor, etc are "societal issues", and there are laws that are made regarding these issues, and Jesus spoke about these issues, I would say quite a bit. What is politics if not the ruling of the people?

2. Are you suggesting that Jesus' ministry strategy boils down to political activism via civil disobedience whereby He was trying to alter the course of the Roman or Herodian governments?

Phil, I never said it "boiled down" to anything. Again, you're setting up my comments as a straw man to knock them down. Are you really saying that Jesus said nothing to or about rulers and how they ruled, and beyond the Gospels, that scripture has no commentary on government?

3. I think it's interesting that when I tried to point out to TUaD how far off the mark his comments were, you showed up immediately with a new Blogger account making essentially the same arguments based on the same misconstruals of practically, every point. I'm not "irritated"; I'm just trying to keep my answers as short as possible when dealing with long comments which only restate the same trite ideas that have already been replied to repeatedly.

I assume here that you are implying that TUaD and I are the same. Nice personal attack dude. If you check you archives, you will see I have occasionally posted here before although my integrity in doing so has never been questioned. Perhaps some of your points are being "miconstrualed" because some are finding them a little unclear.

I am really disappointed in this whole exchange as I believe all you have done is shot down questions. I think I will skip next week in Durham, which I was looking forward to.

Phil Johnson said...

Corinthian: "Well, being that issues like divorce, care for the poor, etc are "societal issues", and there are laws that are made regarding these issues, and Jesus spoke about these issues, I would say quite a bit. What is politics if not the ruling of the people?"

Politics is "The art or science of government, dealing with the form, organization, and administration of a State or part of a State, and with the regulation of its relations with other States."

Moreover (yet again--for the umpty-billionth time) the question on the table is not, and never has been, about whether we should be concerned for the poor, the sanctity of marriage, etc. Of course we should, and we should speak the biblical truth boldly about those issues.

The actual question on the table is whether the church has any mandate to organize her members into a voting bloc in order to attempt to remedy those issues and others like them via legislation and other political means. Or does the actual comission Christ gave us (and the ambassadorship to which He has appointed us) involve a different kind of message--about redemption?

I say it is the latter. I'm not saying Christians should be unconcerned about any realm where "there are laws that are made regarding these issues." So pointing out over and over that Jesus spoke about moral issues per se doesn't make any point against anything I have ever said or implied. It certainly does not prove that we have a biblical mandate to commandeer the political apparatus of our nation in order to address moral issues in a totally non-redemptive way.

Incidentally, the one clear political stance Jesus took on the most controversial political and legislative issues of His day had to do with the payment of taxes. I don't see a lot of evangelical political activism trying to bring tax-evaders to justice. The agenda of evangelical politicians seems unduly slanted toward a handful of very specific issues. Why is that, if your argument is valid? Why do we not rally the church to seek political remedies for, say, religious hypocrisy or false doctrine?

Corinthian: "Again, you're setting up my comments as a straw man to knock them down. Are you really saying that Jesus said nothing to or about rulers and how they ruled, and beyond the Gospels, that scripture has no commentary on government?"

No. Of course not. (What was that about straw men? You are beating up a pretty lame scarecrow yourself.) I'm saying this: The fact that Jesus' teaching applies to people in government--as well as people in show business or people who do construction work--does not amount to a mandate for the church to regulate or participate as a collective body in any of those fields of endeavor.

Corinthians: "If you check you archives, you will see I have occasionally posted here before although my integrity in doing so has never been questioned."

Well, then please forgive my suspicion and my impatience. But I do think if you would simply read the posts and comments tagged "politics" here at our blog, you will find you have not yet raised a single point that has not already been asked and answered repeatedly.

Corinthians: "Perhaps some of your points are being "miconstrualed" because some are finding them a little unclear."

There is, of course, that possibility. But I have read every comment in every thread we have ever had on the subject of politics, and there are exactly two commenters who seem persistently unable to grasp what I am saying--but who keep arguing against things I have never said (while they complain about "straw men"!). Most commenters have not had so much trouble understanding what my position actually is, even though many of them disagree with it.

Corinthian: "I am really disappointed in this whole exchange as I believe all you have done is shot down questions. I think I will skip next week in Durham, which I was looking forward to."

You'll be missed. Meanwhile, I think if you'll give a fair reading to what I have actually written on this issue, and the multitude of comments I have replied to in depth (again: click on the "politics" tab), you'll discover that I have indeed answered every question multiple times before "sh[ooting] down" any of them.

You may have the last word if you like, and then I'm going to close the thread.

corinthian said...

My last word is simply this Phil, keep up the great work, the Church needs men like you.