As the readers of this blog know, I have no love for the anti-theological post-American secularists at Newsweek. When it comes to thinking clearly about anything related to anything older than things born or invented in 1960, they have the uncanny ability to completely disgrace themselves in every way imaginable – sociologically, intellectually, ethically. They tell blatant lies as if they were transparently true or unfathomly clever and undiscoverable as false, and they slander the wise and the loving as foolish, hateful, stupid and crass. If tomorrow all the issues of Newsweek printed in the last 10 years were consumed by a fire or a herd of donkeys, I would cheer on the blaze and make the burros honored guests in my home.
There is nothing good to say about Newsweek except maybe that they have somehow survived in spite of being utterly useless for the reporting of American events – and to be that incompetent and yet that durable ought to at least get a nod of appreciation even from their most bitter enemies.
This week – Easter week, of course – they published a cover story from the nearly-irrelevant Andrew Sullivan, titled (now get this) “Christianity in Crisis.” In that article, Sullivan’s thesis is transparent: Stupid, hateful Christians are bad, but you can kick them all to the curb and just love Jesus.
Now, Sullivan is not saying what the young and untested rapper Jefferson Bethke was taken to task for – namely, a bit of hubris when it comes to distinguishing between “the church” and “self-indulgent religion”. What Sullivan said was that the Jesus we should love should be the Jesus who never did anything miraculous, and died at the hands of his oppressors – but did not raise from the dead. Whatever it is that Sullivan believes about Jesus, it doesn’t include Easter: Easter is for rubes and racists and rich people who need a hobby.
My singular response to Sullivan is this: since you’re not a Christian, you don’t really get a say in it. I don’t really have the time or the patience to debunk the ignorant musings of a fellow who can’t even decide which moral teachings of Jesus are worth striving for; when he wants to come to the table and thereafter talk about whether Jesus actually died for a good reason, therefore giving us a good reason to live, I find him unqualified at best.
But that is actually not why I’m writing today. I am actually writing because Trevin Wax gave it his best yesterday over at The Gospel Coalition to respond to the frothy gurgling noises coming from Newsweek on this subject, and frankly I thought he utterly blew it.
You see: Trevin was attempting to reason with Andrew Sullivan. That is, in spite of the fact that Andrew Sullivan is a self-proclaimed Roman Catholic who dismisses the authority of the Pope in moral and religious matters, Trevin thinks he can root out the central yet vulnerable thesis in Sullivan’s essay and overcome it with good will and sound rationale. It’s a nice thought, and I credit it to Trevin’s youth and Christian upbringing, but the odds of convincing one single person who agrees with Sullivan’s essay that Sullivan is wrong about anything is only slightly better than winning last week’s Mega Millions lottery for which you can now no longer buy any tickets – the drawing is done, and the winner(s) are already chosen.
Let’s get a flavor of what Sullivan wrote to get an idea of why I think Trevin got it all wrong:
[American Christianity] would also, one imagines, baffle Jesus of Nazareth. The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in either Jefferson’s or the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery. The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.And here’s where Trevin wanted to go with that:
On the one hand, Sullivan is absolutely right to point out the politicized nature of Christianity in the West. He has witnessed the counterfeit gospel of activism that gives us “culture warriors” from the Right and the world’s “errand runners” from the Left. He has seen what happens when churches unite around a cause rather than the cross, and the results are indeed repugnant. If we deny the shortcomings of the church or minimize the scandals, the abuse of power, or the existence of injustice behind our stained-glass windows, we are departing from the righteous vision of Jesus’ kingdom and joining the first-century Pharisees.
Likewise, we should admit that we have too often been known more for our denunciations of those outside our walls than for our passion to uproot our own self-righteous hypocrisy, something Jesus was always confronting in His day. Sullivan sees many of the problems within contemporary Christianity with a perception that should give us pause and bring us back to our knees.
Unfortunately, his solution is woefully inadequate. He wants to return to the simple message of Jesus as if that message can be divorced from the Man who delivered it. Despite his protests against a politicized faith, Sullivan is saying we should follow a Man whose primary message concerned a kingdom. You can’t get more political than that.That is to say, “well, Sullivan is mostly right about us, but he just misunderstands Jesus.”
To which I, today, respond: what an innocent act of self-immolation as an attempt to gain the sympathy of people who have no urge toward sympathy for anyone but those who are in full agreement with them. “Yes, I know we’re a sick and sad lot of malcontents, but Jesus Saves,” is the argument? Jesus saves? In what way then? And how does he save since you think you’re such a lousy example?
What is grossly unfortunate in this approach is that it assumes that we ought to accept the stereotypes thrust upon us in the media. Does it ever occur to anyone (Andrew Sullivan, for example, or Trevin Wax) that there is a reason that the only people the media can find who hate homosexuals (and anyone associated by any means necessary with homosexuals) are the inbred heretics at Fred Phelps’ church? While the Red Cross is often reported as the first responders to all manner of tragedies worldwide, why aren’t the demographics of the volunteers in the Red Cross ever examined? Why are the statistics about marriage and social achievement, and the relationship of education and marriage to social prosperity, ever discussed seriously in the media rather than the constant cheer-leading for potential alternatives paraded out as equally-acceptable even though they frankly and objectively are not?
The stereotypes don’t hold up to the slightest examination – and to say so as I am here, frankly, gets one branded as ego-maniacal, hateful, and pompous. Yet if even the hint of a stereotype is alluded to toward the other side, it’s the intellectual equivalent of sexual misconduct (you know, the bad kind, not the kind absolved by Newsweek and Andrew Sullivan) – and the outrage it ignites is unquenchable.
So for Trevin to approach this like a fair fight is, frankly, unworkable. He’d be better served carrying a blancmange upon entering an MMA cage to soothe Brock Lesnar than hoping his aw-shucks apologetics will faze these people. It can’t succeed – especially when he never actually gets to the Gospel. Sure: he mentions an atoning cross and a victorious resurrection – but that is not declaring the Gospel. That is not even reciting it: that’s citing it as if it was one proposition among many – which, by the way, Sullivan would agree to. There’s no offense there to disarm Sullivan’s self-reverential importance.
What Trevin ought to be doing, since he is writing at the Gospel Coalition, and he’s the editor of something called the Gospel Project at Lifeway Resources, is trot out the Gospel. Sullivan has the unmitigated gall to call himself righteous-by-works in this article – and to crudely slander all manner of people who would plainly say they need a savior and not good advice. Yet Sullivan thins Jesus out to a fortune cookie we can randomly quote in order to “learn how to live,” – as if Sullivan lives like either Jesus or the medieval monk he praises in his article.
If we’re citing Jesus at random, Sullivan, here’s one for the ages:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
And that is the Jesus of Easter, Sullivan: that is the Jesus who matters, and to whom you will one day bow your knee along with the rest of all creation. The question is only if you will meet him as your savior, or as your judge. In spite of my disdain for you – perhaps in some way because of it, because you insult him, and make it clear that you are an enemy to him now, as I once was – I pray that Jesus will overcome you now when repentance and salvation is possible, rather than at that time, when your redemption is impossible.
And that Trevin Wax and the Gospel Coalition couldn’t find a way to say that much to you after your insults and your condescension is, frankly, a worse indictment of us Christians than you could have composed.
I’ll take next week off unless we live-blog T4G. This Sunday, you should find yourself someplace where the people are rejoicing and broken in spirit over the fact that the tomb, which seemed to hold the defeat of Jesus, was found miraculously open and victoriously empty. Because we serve a God of miracles and victory – not a god too small to bother to worship -- be there and be blessed.