06 November 2008

A Familiar Can of Worms

Why not both/and? A short diatribe in thirteen fourteen points
by Phil Johnson

said everything I wanted to say about the election months ago, and I wasn't planning to say more.

Then Justin Taylor posted an interview with Scott Klusendorf, in which Klusendorf said this:

Voices within Christendom will assert that evangelicals have spent too much time on politics, with little to show for it. What's really needed, so the claim will go, is more time preaching the gospel. Well, I'm all for preaching the gospel, but why should anyone suppose that political efforts aimed at protecting human life detract from the biblical command to go make disciples? Why can't pro-life Christians do both? Simply put, the answer to a lack of evangelical fervor for the gospel is not to withdraw our political advocacy for the weak and vulnerable; it's to encourage Christians to do a better job presenting the gospel. . . . In short, the true solution to our current political defeat is to equip more pro-lifers to engage the culture, not shrink back in defeat. Quitting now is simply not an option.

In light of everything I have previously said about the wrongheadedness of seeking political remedies for every manifestation of human depravity, I hafta respond to that, right?



Perhaps the best way for me to answer is by summarizing (and embellishing) some things I said Wednesday in the combox over at Dan Phillips's very cool-looking blog:
  1. I like Scott Klusendorf. I admire his energy and the clarity with which he expresses himself. I also appreciate his tireless devotion to his cause.
  2. Nevertheless, on the question of strategy, I find myself disagreeing with him frequently.
  3. Specifically, I think he (like most evangelicals) is blinded by starry-eyed naïveté if he really believes the three-decades-long effort to harness the church's political clout has done nothing to damage our collective testimony as the church of Christ or mute the gospel in the message we have communicated to our culture.
  4. On the one hand, Klusendorf has frequently replied to questions and qualms about evangelical political activism vs. gospel-centered ministry by insisting that there's absolutely no reason we cannot do both/and instead of either/or.
  5. On the other hand, Klusendorf elsewhere argues that both/and is an unreasonable standard to hold evangelical activists and their organizations to, because the pro-life movement is a "cultural reform effort." He says such movements cannot afford to be too concerned with doctrine, because in order "to work, they must be broad and inclusive."
  6. He also argues that stopping abortion must be a priority over evangelism in organizations like Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
  7. Klusendorf's own website is not exactly a sterling example of the both/and approach.
  8. And in reply to JT's question "what should Christian leaders do right now to advance the pro-life cause?" Klusendorf makes four suggestions, not one of which entails a both/and strategy or points Christians to the power of the gospel as a cultural change agent.
  9. So with regard to Klusendorf's key question: "Why can't pro-life Christians do both [gospel preaching and political lobbying]?"—perhaps the better question is, Why are so many not doing both?
  10. Klusendorf more or less answers that question when he characterizes the political arm of the pro-life movement as purely a "cultural reform effort." I think 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.
  11. I've been saying that for years. It's the main reason both/and is not the simple proposition Klusendorf sometimes insists it is.
  12. Notice how Klusendorf implies that to invest more energy and resources in gospel ministry is to "shrink back in defeat." A suggestion like that ought to jar our evangelical sensibilities. The fact that we take such comments in stride says a lot about evangelicals' lack of confidence in the power of the gospel. Preaching the gospel more boldly and earnestly than ever is hardly a form of "retreat." The popularity of such an opinion highlights how urgently evangelicals need to get back to being evangelical.
  13. In the wake of Tuesday's election, it would be utterly foolish for evangelicals not to ask some hard questions about our God-ordained priorities—re-examining all our strategies in light of Scripture, church history, and the speed with which we are losing ground while trying to "engage culture" via party politics. Honest answers are in order, too. For the record: Preemptively condemning those who will raise the questions is not what I mean by "honest."
  14. What will the evangelical activists do, for example, if they are relegated to third-party status by the secular humanists who control the agendas of both parties? That would surely change the equation, wouldn't it? Would it really be fruitful for Reformed and biblical Christians to invest resources in a quixotic third-party political quest? Or would the church finally devote more energy to serious, powerful gospel ministry?
I think you know how I would vote.

Phil's signature

73 comments:

DJP said...

A "somehow-it's-my-fault" note:

For reasons not worth detaining you with, I posted this for Phil. Even though I didn't touch the contents, the yellow box in which he had his Klusendorf quotation disappeared in the posting. He may fix it later; it's a Blogger quirk I don't understand and don't know how to deal with.

Sorry!

Christopher said...

Re: littlegreenfootballs.com link

I been feeling this coming on for a while now. Just look at the beating creationism has taken on that site. Social concerns are taking a back seat to fiscal & nat'l security concerns at a rapid pace among non-Evangelical GOP-ers. I think that when the GOP emerges from it's cocoon in 4-8 years, it will be far more Libertarian on social issues than it is now, if only for convenience. The election is bareley settled and Palin's pentecostalism is already being pegged as the reason for McCain's defeat among many disillusioned right wingers, left and centers too. If my gut feeling is correct, Evangelicals who have depended heavily on political machinery may have a harder time finding a vehicle for their message in the coming years. Just a thought.

johnMark said...

Phil,

You've got your crosshairs sighted-in and you've hit the target!

On the same blog where Klusendorf's article was posted there is a Romanist posting there too. What hope does this offer bring us as we stand together with the Gospel?

How can pro-life truly exist with a minimization of the Gospel? Or with no Gospel at all?

Thanks,

Mark

Tim Bertolet said...

While this was a short response based on a larger argument that has been made around here before, I think it is quite helpful and insightful. It is indeed ironic that those who claim for the need for "both/and" usually end up doing the "cultural reform effort" as their primary focus instead of the gospel.

Personally, I have little taste for the 'cultural reform effort' because what is it based upon? At best it is "law" not "gospel" in its approach. While law does just fine at condemning and even instructing, it does not have the power of the gospel to change the heart. All this is not to say that Christians should not be active in the public square, but do we enter with the gospel or sideline it?

Along the same lines (and hopefully not too off topic), I'm not sure that Christians should get too excited about the various votes on defining marriage that passed in Florida, Arizona and California. In California and Arizona that based by the narrowest margins... margins that will surely be reversed in less than one generation.

Yes, we should rejoice in the defense of marriage and the defense of the unborn but let's not get our hopes up in cultural reform. After all the secular humanists are quite good at cultural reform but indeed the weapons we should be fighting with should not be the weapons of the world.

Lisa said...

I thank the Lord for MacArthur's sermon called the Deadly Dangers of Moralism, which helped break me from political activism and see how harmful it was to the Gospel. This election has proved even more, how off the rails Christians are....

the fact is, all authority is given by God, and President "elect" Obama is that because of God... God does not make mistakes, and all things are done for His glory, which we on this side of heaven will never completely understand...

Christians need to take notice and repent of their gross idolatry to America, and their habit of "selective" sin. In all this talk of so called being "pro-life" and "pro-family".... Christians are silent on sins that feed in to both of these sins....
fornication, adultery, divorce...

they openly commit the sin of idolatry, blasphemy, slander, lies, deceit, covetousness, greed....

Well... no more needs to be said... God has spoken... and the indictment is on the church for losing its first love.

Phil Johnson said...

DJP:

No prob, and the reformatting of the post is not really your fault. See, when you edit a post in Blogger in "compose" mode rather than "edit html" mode, then when you save the post, Blogger rewrites all the code that was there before you went to "compose" mode. Everything from your text boxes to you italics codes are going to be reformatted, which in some cases, changes how it looks.

I knew that was going to happen, because I know you always use "compose" mode. So I saved my original html. No harm, no foul.

(This post could easily have waited till friday, tho. You didn't have to give up your prime Thursday time. But thanks for posting it.)

Jennifer said...

Mr. Johnson--

Thank you for posting this! I haven't the time right now to read through all the links, but I will as as soon as possible.

I volunteer at the only crisis pregnancy center in my area, and it's faith-based, but ecumenical. Many of the people there are Roman Catholic, and while we agree on the sanctity of human life, we disagree not only on fundamental doctrinal issues but on the best approach to ending abortion and the best way to interact with women who come to us for help and counseling.

Their way includes a deal of shame and guilt, I'm sad to say. It either pushes people away, or makes their struggle exponentially more difficult. Read: It puts the unborn child in even MORE danger. I prefer to extend grace, mercy, and gentleness and pray that God will change hearts. To be honest, I can't see Christ behaving in any other way.

My special focus is victims of rape, and I'm heartbroken to say that we've a high occurrence of rape where I live. Rape victims will speak with me over and over, and I repeatedly receive thanks because I do not shame them. I always tell them that this is because I serve a God who, while I was still a sinner, loved and saved me out of my sin--and models that love so tangibly in Christ, who does not SHAME, but SAVES!

God has blessed me, also, because I have been in their shoes. I survived a very violent rape myself, during which I was almost killed, and am open about its effects and the struggle I had when I thought a child had been conceived. (There was no child in my case.)

Extreme care must be taken with these women. They are, to borrow a phrase, "delicate souls." Statistically, they make up a very small percentage of women who seek abortive services, but they ARE out there. And people mustn't forget that these women have only recently been traumatized.

In my observation, this current election cycle has brought out some things that have made my ministry MUCH more difficult. We've had a HUGE increase in people who, desiring to become more "politically involved in ending abortion," have grouped outside our building, wearing partisan buttons/clothes and behaving in ways that turn my stomach.

They spew caustic political rhetoric while identifying themselves with Christ! These hurting women don't see broken hearts and genuine love--they see angry, zealous, self-righteous people who use hyper-charged words like "Nazi" and "murderer" and thrust gruesome photos of mutilated babies into their faces!

And it's not just happening outside crisis pregnancy centers like ours. Take a look at some of the Christian blogs, and you see the kind of thing the women I counsel read when THEY Google "abortion"+"Jesus." One of these women told me that she'd stumbled upon a Christian blog and contemplated SUICIDE after reading!

How many women do tactics like these turn away, both from help AND from Christ? I'm devastated at the thought.

It's Gospel alone that makes a difference in these battered and broken lives. It was the Gospel alone that made a difference in mine. I urge everyone reading this to understand that not every woman considering abortion is a cold-hearted "Nazi," and not every Christian who voted (or wanted to vote) for a candidate who opposes ALL abortion is a "Nazi" either.

My apologies for posting such a long, impassioned comment, but I'm compelled to speak out about this.

Christ is our only hope! Oh, but what a hope!

Fred Butler said...

If my gut feeling is correct, Evangelicals who have depended heavily on political machinery may have a harder time finding a vehicle for their message in the coming years. Just a thought.

This actually may be a good thing for the purity of the faith. One of my Canadian friends, Neil I think, once noted in a post of his that the inclusive postmodern Obama presidency will not tolerate the exclusivity of the gospel message. I think it is with Republicans, too. They see serious minded evangelicals, those who love God's word and vote morality over the pocket books, as a liability and I can see them purging evangelicals from their ranks just for those reasons.

Solameanie said...

One concern I have is the potential for confusing the prophetic and political. So many moral issues such as homosexuality have become political issues. Look in Canada, Scandinavia and other places where pastors are jailed or fined for speaking out against homosexuality or other politically protected sins.

Should we be silent on these issues? Of course not. However, there is indeed a danger that when we get too political from the pulpit, we lose the prophetic voice. It's a frustrating dilemma.

markG said...

I've often thought about this:

If you were standing outside an abortion clinic, would your approach be to witness to the women going in, leaving aside the abortion issue altogether. Or would you try to convince them not to have the abortion (or both)?

Sharon said...

BTW, Dan, I sauntered over to your blog (shameless plug) and found it the most moving post-election perspective I've seen. Thank you.

A Musician by Grace

Daryl said...

I've found that nothing good ever follows a line like "I'm all for preaching the gospel but..."

Invariably it comes out that they are, in fact, not all for preaching the gospel.

Keep on guys, keep on.

donsands said...

It's both/and.

I'm a Christian. I'm an Anerican.

I get holy goose bumps when I hear Steve Green sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God".

I get goose bumps when I hear "My Country Tis of Thee" sung at a concert.

And although in this particular nation we seem to have an overlap, and even blending of the Gospel and nation, it can never be.

If I were a Christian in China it would be much more difficult in some ways to live for Christ, but in other ways, it would be clear cut.

Thanks for the good post.

Tim Brown said...

Thanks Phil!

It's
the Gospel, The Gospel, The Gospel!

Tim Brown said...

Oh, and Phil?

Next time you see John MacArthur, tell him I say "Thank You" for his book "Why Government Can't Save You".

Just after writing the post I linked to in my previous comment here, I got a link from Thomas Nelson so I could add it for free to my electronic library.

John used the scriptures to confirm everything that I had to arrive at on my own.

Again, thanks

Tim Brown said...

Fred Butler:

Yes!

BReformed said...

I think the Bible provides sufficient insight into our called ministry of reconciliation to God through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Jonah was sent to Nineveh, and despised the idea. Jonah's disinclination to do God's will speaks volumes about human nature, even of the elect, and how we will try and wrangle out of the singular thing God has asked us to do to carry out His work.

But more importantly, Jonah is an example that God had determined that the people were to be preached to, and the preaching would accomplished the goal God had in mind. Jonah was a foreigner to Nineveh - one might say he was "of another kingdom" - there was no political interest on his part, and no political capital for him to spend that might effect moral change in Nineveh.

Yet, Nineveh (for whom God says that He even cared about the cattle) repented at his preaching. I also note that Nineveh’s repentance was subsequent to Jonah’s own repentance for his disobedience in not being willing to preach.

The Church in our day has not yet embraced the depth of this truth, which explains why we keep writhing around on the same sword we fight with.

jeff said...

Thanks Phil and it's good to have the pyromaniacs back.

This is such an emotional topic. I must admit that I got a little tired of my church turning into a campaign headquarters for John McCain, when I didn't agree with his stand on many of the issues facing our country.

I believe in the sanctity of life and that God has condemned homosexuality. But I also am glad to live in a country where there is freedom. I have a right to speak my opinion, but I have to respect others' rights also. Morality cannot be legislated. We are commanded to live our lives holy before God. We will be held accountable for our sins, not the sins of others.

God bless.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "Why not Both/and?"

Don Sands: "It's both/and."

I appreciate your post PJ. Your counsel of warning is measured and thoughtful.

I should ask you this: Are there examples of Scripture of "Both/And" being practiced/taught... or even where good works has flowed out first from a regenerate person's faith as a living demonstration of the transforming work of the Gospel?

Maybe some unregenerate people are moved to a saving knowledge of Christ after seeing the fruit of Christians, causing them to be eager and open to the Message of the Gospel.

Both/And.

FWIW, I think your critique is more geared towards people who do only the social gospel and never open their mouths to share the Gospel verbally.

So your critique is applicable to the Social Gospel Christians (liberals and emergers) and not so much to biblical Christians who do both/and.

Pax.

MSC said...

Phil,
I am trying to get a handle on just where you stand with regard to the Christian's freedom and responsibility in matters of government. We all know we are to pray for the governing authorities but does our responsibility and/or freedom end there? Are we free to be involved in other ways? Or are we restricted from having any other voice in the affairs of government?

Since Romans 13 indicates that the governing authroities as ordained by God are His ministers for good that suggests to me that the government has a responsibility for good that it will be held accountable to God for. The question is how is "good" to be defined in Romans 13:4? If it is not a moral good, what is it? I doubt anybody would understand the "good" here as the gospel. Can it not be a common moral good that is a matter of common grace? If the government promotes policies that are morally repugnant can we expect to have a better chance of living "a tranquil and quiet life" (1 Tim. 2:2)?

Assumming the "good" is of a moral nature and since the government is a direct agent of God; furthermore, since believers are also agents of God are they not free to influence the government for the common good? Thus, can there be a both/and mentality? Or are believers free and responsible only and ever to proclaim the gospel? I am unclear on your position.

Frank Turk said...

TUAD:

Name three examples of conservatives who are legitimately "both/and". I'll bet you can't name two, but three is categorically impossible.

They don't exist. And without being excessively draconian with the near-miss Scripture-quoting, you cannot serve two masters, and our struggle is not with flesh and blood.

Phil Johnson said...

MSC:

Follow the link I gave at the very start of this post (as well as the "politics" label at the end of the post) and read the plethora of previous posts I have made dealing with this issue. Here's one that begins with my answer to the question you are asking.

There are many more, if you look around.

Socorro said...

Phil,
I was introduced to your site by a "freakishly Tall" radio host on a small little program WOTM... thanks Todd!
And thank you Phil for this post.. I also wanted to thank...Lisa

Lisa,
thanks, I just searched and found Johnnie Mac's article you mentioned in your post (as soon as I am done here, I a reading it). Your post was so insightful. I heard Allister Begg, speak at a Summer Bible Conference sponsored by Shadow Mountain Church and one thing that stood-out in his sermon, was... "God will still be Sovereign on November 5th, and God will still be Sovereign on January 21st!"
Having time to internalize this, made the presidential results more "bearable".
Socorro

Rachael Starke said...

TUAD - Thanks! I think both groups have failed.

The social gospellers failed by reversing secondary and primary goals, with some temporal success and devastating failures to show for it. The less the whole gospel has been preached, the less it has been understood, and lived. As Jennifer pointed out so eloquently, not actively and consistently having the gospel steer every aspect of our engagement with culture often does devastating harm.

But those of us on the other side, represented by many here, seem to perhaps not be considering where perhaps we've failed too.

((Ducking and cringing at my hubris in suggesting that so many people here who I respect for their wisdom and intellect might not be thinking completely clearly about this one thing. But hey, this is a "Safe Place", right? :) Here goes.))

Let's say our crowd looks at what happened on Tuesday and says "See! The legislative process failed, and is poised to fail even more specatularly!! TheGospelTheGospel!!Retreat! Retreat!!!"

The ways things are going, there is a real possibility that a day is coming when, like Europe, all religious engagement in society will be legislatively stifled. All those of faith whose faith infoms their desires to work in fields of science, medicine, education, industry, for the common good, will be excluded. First, no more conscience clauses for abortions. Then, medical researchers that won't do stem cell research. Then any science professor that holds to any form of creationism. Then, any elementary science teacher who does. Then...

And sure. Our crowd responds "Yeah! Bring it on! Persecution purifies the church!!! The blood of the martyrs!!!!"

So, why not just, to quote one of the great lines in movie-dom- "Skip to the end! Skip to the end!" Instead of being an agent of the Holy Spirit in fighting to restrain evil, let's march to Washington to legislate it, so we can bring on all that purifying persecution now!

I believe some of us, in some ways may be waving the flag of the gospel in such a way that only lets peole see one side. And ironically, it's my growing understanding of how all of Scripture, even for me tough books like James - points to Christ and what He did on the cross, and what is compelling me to consider how I may have been too "be warmed and filled"-ish in my engagement with culture, particularly abortion.

And it's the gospel which also is compelling me to get back to my kids, so I won't be able to read responses until tonight. So you have many hours to pile on. :)

Prodigal Knot said...

I'm for preaching the gospel, standing for Bible truths, and let got handle the rest. The only true way to reform anything is by the power of the gospel and God.

We need it preached "in season and out of season" and put our faith and trust in God's words. Let Him handle the obstacles.

Phil Johnson said...

Rachael:

Your comment reminded me of a fourteenth proposition I intended to include in the original blogpost, but it was late last night, and I forgot:

14. Klusendorf suggests that to invest more energy and resources in gospel ministry is to "shrink back in defeat." A statement like that ought to jar our evangelical sensibilities. The fact that we take such comments in stride says a lot about evangelicals' lack of confidence in the power of the gospel. Preaching the gospel more boldly and earnestly than ever is hardly a form of "retreat." The popularity of such an opinion highlights how urgently evangelicals need to get back to being evangelical.

Frank Turk said...

Phil:

You should have not left out that point 14.

I have a post about what kind of Gospel we are preaching simmering in a notebook (actual handwriting) in my mostly-vacant apartment, and it may be the most controversial thing I have ever written.

DJP said...

Tease.

Phil Johnson said...

OK, so I added it to the main post and made it number 12.

Bruce said...

What are we to think about the efforts of William Wilberforce? Aren't they to be commended, even though his energies were primarily invested in political processes to end the legal practice of a moral evil?

Phil Johnson said...

Bruce: "What are we to think about the efforts of William Wilberforce?"

See the links I pointed to in my reply to "MSC" above. Wilberforce is an excellent model for individual Christians who happen to be working in government positions or who are called to elected office.

Now read Wilberforce's book (A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country Contrasted with Real Christianity) and pay attention to how markedly different his message was from American Evangelicals who invest their main energies in politics today while suppressing (and sometimes <cough>Hugh Hewitt</cough> even denying) the unpopular parts of the gospel message in order to keep political coalitions with their Jewish and Catholic allies from unravelling.

Wilberforce's book starts, for example, with a chapter on total depravity and the lost state of all people (titled: "Inadequate conceptions of the corruption of human nature"). Where's that message being proclaimed by the political pro-life lobbyists of today?

~Mark said...

Phil,

very good post!

Jennifer, thank you for all that you do, even in response to your own pain. It is always awesome to hear about God birthing peace from Chaos.

Since it seems that in this comment thread links to on-topic posts are being allowed (I'm careful to mind the rules of somebody else's house!) I hope it's ok if I add what I've written.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Gilbert said...

Solameanie said:

"One concern I have is the potential for confusing the prophetic and political. So many moral issues such as homosexuality have become political issues. Look in Canada, Scandinavia and other places where pastors are jailed or fined for speaking out against homosexuality or other politically protected sins."

Yes, but those issues are spirtual, but are crossover issues that get thrown into the political arena as well.

Phil:

I can't recall the last time I have heard human depravity come up in the pro-life movement's discussion of the issue. Without a baseline, a benchmark of why pro-life is so pro-life, we need to see ourselves as we really are. Without it, we stand on quicksand. Which is why we are losing the battle. And without infusing the Gospel into it, how can we say how valuable life is? By whose standard? And since when did Jesus use politics to further his glory, other than being murdered by politicians? Seems to be a lesson somewhere in that...

Frank Turk said...

{cough} {cough}

... squish ...

Bruce said...

Ok, I see where you're coming from Phil. I couldn't agree more.

Caleb Kolstad said...

I have only read your post and have not read the other gents post at Justin Tyler's site.

I think the “both/and effort” should be strived for even if it isn't always perfectly achieved. Yes, you're right the gospel is and always should be our main ministry focus. But spending time fighting for the lives of innocent children is not at odds with being a faithful Christian. William Wilberforce may be a great example of this both/and commitment.

I’m sure there are times when watching the Chicago Cubs interferes with your greater commitment to the Word and the gospel but that does not mean you must throw out your TV or stop following sports. We all have a tendency to turn good things into idols and must acknowledge those sins before God and response accordingly (which is often different for different Christians).

Just because some Christians have compromised the gospel in their genuine effort to promote the pro-life agenda or the pro-family movement doesn’t mean we must throw out the “both/and” concept.

I share your concerns and agree with a lot of what John MacArthur says in “Why Government Can’t Save.” I just think sometimes your reaction to those errors is a bit much. Al Mohler and John Piper seem to be able to do the both/and quite well.

Thanks for stimulating greater thought on this most important topic.

Chris said...

"Why are so many not doing both?" I have made the same observation. I recently visited a founder of a new "faith-based" crisis pregnancy center in our area. They are the only one in our area, but I was saddened to find that part of their strategy was to diminish doctrine and gospel proclamation so that pregnant mothers not be offended by the message. They ensured that there are no christian imagery or symbols such as crosses in their center so that noone is "scared away." I admire their effort to help and I will probably help them, but I may eventually voice my concern about their attitudes concerning the gospel and what they communicate.

Rachael Starke said...

Chris,
And I've seen the reverse.

I know of a church whose entire response to Hurricane Katrina was to ship out a giant box of John MacArthur's books.

I know of another church whose response to their budget crunch is to shut down their food pantry, while keeping their pastors' salaries steady.

How is that Both/And?

Phil Johnson said...

Caleb: "But spending time fighting for the lives of innocent children is not at odds with being a faithful Christian."

Well, who ever said it was?

But, see, Caleb: If you're totally incapable of making a distinction in your own mind between "fighting for the lives of innocent children" and turning the evangelical movement into a Political Action Committee--then you're missing the easiest part of my argument. There are many ways for Christians to "fight for the lives of innocent children," and guess what? Not all of them involve forging political alliances between the church and Baal-worshipers.

Now, if I started lobbying for the evangelical movement to join hands with People for the American Way and other groups that lobby against mentioning God in public in order to keep the Chicago Cubs from ever doing something this stupid again, then your analogy might work.

As it is, that crack was just a long foul ball.

Libbie said...

You know, you all manage to make me feel cheerful about all this again. Because I'm a country where men do lose their jobs for even allowing the opinion of 'creation by God' to be discussed. And the church in this land is so very, very far from where it should be.

We've fudged for a long time, and are infected by many of the harmful things in the US church. Some are trying to model the church led moral reform by politics (because it's shiny and American, and we can be quite over-awed by you somethimes) and I'm not really sure what headway it's making.

I've lamented not being able to vote pro-life in the UK, and it's not something I'm ever going to be happy about, but in some ways, I think it's a blessing that the church as a whole isn't able to look to government to change. I still lobby, write pointed letters to my MP - the home secretary (which she pointedly ignores), support things which restrain evil, and oppose things which do not. But I don't for a minute think it's a task that my church should 'mobilize' for.

My husband's faithful Christian grandfather died peacefully last night, and in the midst of all this world shift, I've been doing a lot of thinking, as you might imagine. I am so much more determined to be foolish in the eyes of the world, and pin my hopes solely on the power of the gospel. We are not moral activists with a fish sticker, after all.

sorry, I appear to have blogged in your comment section...

Morris Brooks said...

Frank,

What is the gospel that we preach would be a good follow up to all of this. After all, that is the starting point for our differentiation from the culture, and its proper preaching and practice would keep the church from being enculcated by the culture.

Morris

Jim said...

Phil,
Instead of trashing a man who says he is trying to do both/and, why not show us what both/and looks like. I am a Christian who knows that doing both/and is necessary, but there are few pastors who are willing to even try to show us what this looks like. Christians like myself need help in both preaching the gospel and defending innocents at the same time...it is hard, but most pastors are unwilling to try, only willing to criticize where we fail. Stand up and be an example if you know how to do it better! In the meantime, I dont see you standing up for those who cant speak for themselves.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Rachel: "TUAD - Thanks! I think both groups have failed."

Rachel, you're welcome! But I think I owe you a big thanks as well! Because I agree with you that both groups have failed as well!! The Social Gospel'ers (LibProts and Emergers) and the Gospel-Only-No-Works Christians are both very disappointing.

Caleb Kolestad: "I think the “both/and effort” should be strived for even if it isn't always perfectly achieved.

Al Mohler and John Piper seem to be able to do the both/and quite well."


Daniel J. Phillips and Justin Taylor also seem to do the both/and quite well too. I fully agree with you Caleb.

Rachel Starke: "I know of a church whose entire response to Hurricane Katrina was to ship out a giant box of John MacArthur's books."

I think that's a good gesture, but how much better would it have been if they could have shipped much needed supplies along with the books? Or maybe even better yet, what if they could have sent volunteers to both physically aid victims and to preach the Gospel through their rescue efforts, 1-on-1 evangelizing, and giving out pastor John MacArthur's books?

Jim: "Instead of trashing a man who says he is trying to do both/and, why not show us what both/and looks like. I am a Christian who knows that doing both/and is necessary, but there are few pastors who are willing to even try to show us what this looks like. Christians like myself need help in both preaching the gospel and defending innocents at the same time...it is hard, but most pastors are unwilling to try, only willing to criticize where we fail. Stand up and be an example if you know how to do it better! In the meantime, I dont see you standing up for those who cant speak for themselves."

Jim, I might not have said it exactly like you did, but the gist of what you're saying is germane.

I might have asked: Did Jesus do both/and? Eg.,

Healing on the sabbath ...

Preaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan ...

Matt Gumm said...

Frank: more controversial than that never-published piece on Christmas music?

Phil Johnson said...

Jim: "Instead of trashing a man who says he is trying to do both/and,

I'm not "trashing" anyone.

Jim: "why not show us what both/and looks like?"

I am not the one arguing in favor of "both/and" (mobilizing the church as a body for both political activism/protest/lobbying and gospel-centered ministry).

Jim: "I dont see you standing up for those who cant speak for themselves."

See my comment to Caleb Kolstad (above). If you cannot possibly imagine a way of "standing up for those who cant speak for themselves" without forging unequal political yokes or staging Operation-Rescue-style protests, then of course you don't see me doing it.

If, on the other hand, you can see the value of Crisis Pregnancy Centers that are committed to offering gospel-centered spiritual help along with anti-abortion counsel and financial support to women in need, I could point you to my eighteen-year-long record of support, involvement, and advocacy on behalf of our local CPCs.

TUaD: "I might have asked: Did Jesus do both/and? Eg., Healing on the sabbath ...Preaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan ..."

Let's not lose sight of what kind of "both/and" this post is about. It's not a question of faith vs. works, or words vs. actions, or whatever kind of dichotomy you are hinting at by juxtaposing Jesus' healing ministry against His preaching ministry.

To make the point you are trying to make, you would have to show where Jesus organized His followers to protest and oppose Roman atrocities in Israel. He didn't do that. That was the tactic of the zealots.

Remember: the question is whether the church as a body can legitimately become a true and effective player in the machinery of American politics without sacrificing key aspects of the gospel message she is commissioned to proclaim.

I still say no.

And I think it's intriguing that those who say they disagree can't seem to keep the actual point in clear focus.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Phil,

You wrote, "If you cannot possibly imagine a way of "standing up for those who cant speak for themselves" without forging unequal political yokes or staging Operation-Rescue-style protests, then of course you don't see me doing it.

If, on the other hand, you can see the value of Crisis Pregnancy Centers that are committed to offering gospel-centered spiritual help along with anti-abortion counsel and financial support to women in need, I could point you to my eighteen-year-long record of support, involvement, and advocacy on behalf of our local CPCs."

Good points. I just think being a Christian in this particular country (America) allows for a variety of Christian options. We should all preach the gospel and fight for what we believe is morally right. Perhaps some disagree on how to do the former?

Grace,

Caleb Kolstad said...

As a former member of Pastor Phil's church fellowship group i know he is committed to preaching and living out the gospel. Please don't misread my comments...

Some who don't know Phil may have questioned that commitment from reading this one post but that's simply unfair. Let's not follow the McCain camps recent example and go postal on on our own here. :)

T4G

CR said...

I wish JT would interview DA Carson on this subject. (By the way, Johnmark, I am responsible, I think, for the Francis Beckwith post being locked because I was the first commenter who asked JT why he would have an apostate and Roman Catholic guest blog on that issue).

I've been reading through his new book, Christ and Culture - Revisited, - very edifying. DA Carson suggests two opposing dangers for Christians. On the one side, Christians apparently think that faithful evangelism and teaching the Bible are the only things we should be concerned about (e.g., we need not get involved with, say, the indigent, AIDS patients or the abused; we need not be concerned with the arts and we certainly need not be directly involved with the challenges of government. DA Carson labels this as "docetic Christianity."

On the other side, he argues some Christians become so engrossed in minitries of compassion and justice to the exclusion of evangelism and teaching the Bible.

DA Carson gives a couple of great examples of how to hold the two in balance: Howell Harris, George Whitfield, John Wesley. Carson says that they were instrumental in banning slavery, outlawing child labor and reforming the prison system in British Empire. But Carson also points out that by and large they were first and foremost gospel Christians, deeply engaged in their local churches, extraordinary disciplined in their own Bible reading and evangelism.

Carson also gives some other examples like Abraham Kuyper.

Jay said...

What do you think of this statement:

“A church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly counter-intuitive to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non-Christian west.” - Tim Keller

Frank Turk said...

TUAD:

John Piper and Justin Taylor spend equal amounts of time/energy on politics and the Gospel? You couldn't possibly quantify that.

Scottj said...

I think it was in Carson's inaugural address for the Gospel Coalition that he said something like this: a generation of believers preach the Gospel and accept the implications. The next generation assumes the Gospel and identifies with the implications. By the third generation all that is left is the implications.

I think I'm finally seeing the folly in starting with the implications of the Gospel, anyway, because without the Gospel it is not Good News.

CR said...

Rachael,

Piggybacking off a question you asked PJ on this topic at Dan's blog about one of your hypotheticals to PJ of you asking the elders at GCC to support your project. Again, I don't mean to plug Carson's new book, but it's really great.

Carson talks about a couple of contemporary churches in major urban centers (belonging to two different denominations) and he says how both these churches are known for their excellence in expository Bible preaching and have congregations growing rapidly, mostly by conversion with an average in the low 30's. (If I had to guess, one of these churches might be 10th Presbyterian church where Philip Ryken preaches, but Carson gives no hint of the church's name so I could be wrong).

Both these churches distinguish between the forms of ministry and service where the (a)the church as a church engages vs. (b) the forms of ministry an service in which Christians belonging to those churches engage.

You have Christians in these churches helping those suffering with AIDS, running programs for the poor, serving in senior branches of government, bringing in Christian witness to bear in organizations and legislative decisions (I wonder if the other church is Capitol Hill Baptist Church). The senior minister at one of these churches told Carson that a significant percentage of prayer times in this church is spent asking the Lord to help those involved in these kinds of endeavors. This senior minister has helped raised funds outside the church to finance some of these operations. This minister said he judged it inappropriate for the church, as a church, to be running these operations.

Anyway, Carson is talking about this all in the context of distinctions between the church and the state. He cites these as examples Christians being heavily involved in activities which were widely perceived to be the responsibility of the state. He tries to make a distinction between what Christians do and what the church as a church does.

Anyway, it's an interesting read and I thought it would be helpful to your question and applicable to this meta.

atruefaith.com said...

Phil,

You've pretty much nailed it, but when I read...

"In short, the true solution to our current political defeat is to equip more pro-lifers to engage the culture, not shrink back in defeat. Quitting now is simply not an option."

I was forced into only one conclusion. That the "cause" has now exceeded the message. The Gospel is not a means to an end. It is the end to the means.

Qutting now is simply not an option. For the Christian, how true! But its not victory at the ballot box he fights for, but a right to claim a share in the victory that already was, is and forever will be.

atruefaith.com said...

Jay,

“A church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly counter-intuitive to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non-Christian west.” - Tim Keller

..I knew there was a reason I liked Keller.

CR said...

Jay quoting Keller: “A church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches.

If you look at the dying Christianity in the UK, for example, you see Christians there, who may be doctrinally conservative but soft socialists. There are more Muslims attending mosques in the UK every weekend than Christians attending churches. Muslims there are more engaged in the culture and with the people, but many of the Christians there leave it up to the state to take care of a lot of the social needs. So, the little doctrinally sound preaching that exists in the UK (and it's very little) is having little effect.

That trend is happening here also. More Americans think government should do more for them and if we leave it up to the state to take care of many of the social needs and not be as engaged with the culture, we'll become like most of Western Europe.

So Christianity I think is definitely a both/and.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Jim: "... why not show us what both/and looks like."

PJ: "...I could point you to my eighteen-year-long record of support, involvement, and advocacy on behalf of our local CPCs."

PJ: "Not all of them involve forging political alliances between the church and Baal-worshipers."

Hmmmmmmm.... PJ, let's consider the possibility that you do favor a Both/And except when it involves alliances with churches like the Catholics and the Mormons, or even LibProts. In which case, might it not be the possibility that your real protest is not really against the "Both/And" method of being Salt and Light, but more rather that you possess a Fundamentalist-separatism streak within you, something that hitherto you might not have been aware of?

On DJP's blog, you wrote "So if you're thinking I might be about to join forces with the Roman Catholic Church in my town to propose ballot measures for the next election, sorry to disappoint."

No problem. Do what you want. But let's suppose that conservative biblical evangelicals did team up with conservative Catholics and conservative Mormons (and with other social conservatives) to craft the ballot measure called Proposition 8 in California which says that marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman. Now do you oppose biblical Christians joining together with other social conservatives to put a check on cultural moral decay as in the example of Proposition 8?

If I understand your position correctly, it's akin to the Fundamentalists who objected to the Billy Graham crusades because Billy was too ecumenical for their tastes, and Billy wouldn't do it the Fundamentalist way.

Rachael Starke said...

CR -

"Both these churches distinguish between the forms of ministry and service where the (a)the church as a church engages vs. (b) the forms of ministry an service in which Christians belonging to those churches engage."

Thanks. That's exactly the kind of distinction I was trying and failing to make and work through.

I have a good friend in the Christian publishing industry - I'm going to check in with her about getting a copy of the Carson book right away. I was about to start reading an old copy of Boice's "Transforming Our World" out of deference to my dear husband, with whom I was passionately thinking out loud this morning. I'll still read that, of course, then I'll read the Carson book too.

Tim Pauley said...

In any long discussion of the church and politics, I like to throw in at least one reminder of the importance of seeking to share the gospel with and disciple our government leaders. This is something almost never mentioned. It is a task every church should certainly get behind.

www.capmin.org
www.capitolcolumns.blogspot.com

Caleb Kolstad said...

Great point Tim!

Phil Johnson said...

TUaD:

1. Please re-read my preceding comment.

2. 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.

3. I have never suggested that the church should be silent or inactive on the issue of abortion. Your insistence on suggesting that my opposition to abortion is somehow inconsistent with my opposition to the "both/and" approach advocated by Scott Klusendorf suggests you haven't really thought this issue through very carefully.

4. Of course I "possess a Fundamentalist-separatism streak within," but is is not "something that hitherto [I] might not have been aware of." Do you ever actually read what I write?

5. For the record, I have always said I think Billy Graham's strategy of "ecumenical evangelism" is wrongheaded, unbiblical, and counterproductive. I would go so far as to say it is one of the main reasons evangelicalism is in such a mess today.

6. Until evangelicals move past the notion that if Billy Graham did something, it must be OK--and until we can shed the notion that we must never agree with the fundies about anything--evangelicalism will continue to be a decaying hive of serious problems.

Phil Johnson said...

. . . not to dump on Billy's 90th birthday celebration or anything, but you brought it up.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "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."

I'm glad that you've stated your objection for the upteenth time because I think (finally!) clarity has been achieved. And for the benefit of all! In fact, I think everyone agrees far more than they disagree on this issue because of your helpful clarifying statement above.

#1. I might be wrong, but I don't think Scott Klusendorf is an activist who "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."

#2. "...what I object to is not activism per se, but the style of political activism..."

This is progress! This is a breakthrough. So you do believe in Both/And as long as the style of activism (political or otherwise) conforms to your idea of the proper biblical "style".

So if I understand you correctly, if a Christian group (or some Christians) has a formal statement of the pre-emininence of the Gospel in their mission/vision/purpose statement and preaches the Gospel while doing fruitful works for the Glory of God, then you, as Grand PoohBah of correct Biblical style for Christian engagement with the culture, would then approve. Is that correct?

Your objection is just a matter of stylistic preference, whereby Caleb Kolstad's would seem very applicable to your objections about style:

"I think the “both/and effort” should be strived for even if it isn't always perfectly achieved."

Fair enough?

Phil Johnson said...

All I can say, TUaD, is that your inability to grasp a point you don't like is indeed impressive.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

A sneer does not become you, PJ.

donsands said...

"Billy's 90th birthday celebration"

Lord bless Mr. Graham. Billy Graham. What a life this man had.

His ministry was gospel centered, and did incredible works for the sake of Christ to the poor, and to the hurting.

Would Billy be a good example for us?
Though his theology was weak.

Russ said...

It seems that PJ & TUaD (and all of us!) need to read Eph 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. If I needed any more evidence for it (NOT!), remember Tuesday, 11/4, a day that will live in at least as much infamy as 12/7/1941.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Russ,

I genuinely hold PJ in great esteem and respect. God has used PJ in mighty ways to both preach the Gospel and to demonstrate the various fruits of the Spirit.

Again, I think that all the folks on this thread who have stated that they think that "Both/And" has been done, can be done, should be done, and even biblically commanded to be done, are in far more agreement with PJ than in disagreement.

Per your suggestion Russ, I'm donning the Armor of God to do the Both/And work of a servant-soldier of Christ.

Alan Robuck said...

You have spoken against "the wrongheadedness of seeking political remedies for every manifestation of human depravity." I'm inclined to disagree with you, but I need some clarification as to exactly what your position is:

1) 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?

2) If Christians ought not seek these remedies, who should?

3) 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?

Derek Ashton said...

Phil,

Great post! You hit the nail on the head. How can anyone disagree with a call for the American church to get its focus back on the Gospel? Gospel-grounded believers WILL act with compassion and grace in society, but that's not saying both/and - it's saying FIRST THINGS FIRST. Our acts of compassion and grace have to be rooted in the Gospel, or they will quickly degenerate into mere liberalism. It seems we have forgotten where we GOT compassion and grace in the first place.

Keep calling us back to what matters most.

Alan Robuck said...

Thanks for clarifying your position. I agree with you that most evangelicals don't know the Gospel very well, because most evangelical pastors and teachers do a poor job of teaching Christian doctrine. And I also agree that it is not the business of churches to organize political action.

You say:

"But if we're talking about doing ministry (as opposed to secular work) 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."

Are you saying that Klusendorf's organization is a Christian organization, and therefore they are obligated to put the Gospel front and center? (After all, they're not a church, and therefore your criticisms of churches would not apply.) And therefore if they did not identify themselves as Christian then you would have no complaint?

donsands said...

I could hardly understand what Billy Sunday was saying, but what I did hear and see looked more like a political campaign speaker, than a gospel preacher.

If you mix the Word of God with politics, it ruins it.

"But you speak the things which become sound doctrine: ... that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
Teaching us... to live righteously, and godly in this present world;
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ;
Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all sin, and purify unto Himself a pecurilar people, zealous of good works.
These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise you." Titus 2:1,10-15

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Caleb Kolstad: "I think the “both/and effort” should be strived for even if it isn't always perfectly achieved."

Another example of this imperfect striving (besides the broad-based coalition behind the passage of Prop. 8 in California) for "Both/And" would be the Civil Rights activism of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

As Justin Taylor quotes:

""Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government."

Taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963, cited in The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture by Scott Klusendorf (forthcoming)."

Phil Johnson said...

Alan:

I moved my answer to your questions to the front page and made it my Monday blogpost.

Alan: "Are you saying that Klusendorf's organization is a Christian organization, and therefore they are obligated to put the Gospel front and center? (After all, they're not a church, and therefore your criticisms of churches would not apply.) And therefore if they did not identify themselves as Christian then you would have no complaint?"

I don't know enough about Klusendorf's organization to give you an intelligent answer to that. My post was prompted by what he said, but that doesn't mean all my criticisms or replies to people's questions in this thread apply to him or his organization. Neither this post nor the comment-thread has focused on him, and I would like to keep it that way. As I said, I like him.

Regarding the church/parachurch distinction: my comments apply to 501c3 organizations who call what they do "ministry" and raise money from Christians and churches to support their activities.