Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reformation Cries

For a long time Protestant Christians have observed October 31 as “Reformation Day,” celebrating the anniversary of what began with Martin Luther’s nailing of the so-called 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Because of the prevalence in America of non-denominational Christianity, many Christians are unaware of what the Reformation was about. This Reformation Day 2020 I want to offer to what were the main “cries” of the Reformation, simplified for those who might be unfamiliar: 

  1. Scripture is the Word of God before it is the Word of the church. That is, while the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20) proclaiming Christ’s identity as Savior and Lord of all (Matt. 16:16-18), which is the essence of both Testaments (OT - Prophets, NT - Apostles), it is the Word of God that governs the church, not the church that governs the Word. The Reformation was fundamentally a shifting of authority away from the church and back to the God who, by His Word, builds the church and calls the nations to Himself. Jesus does give the church the kingdom keys (Matt. 16:19). But the church exercises them in proclaiming and living out life under Jesus’ authority as Lord and Christ. 
  1. Salvation is less about what you can do for yourself and more about what God does for you. That is, salvation is God-centered, not man-centered. “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God,” says the Apostle (1 Peter 3:18, emph. mine). Far from bringing to the table an unbiased will able to choose Jesus, we only bring our need for His saving grace. He brings the saving grace, redeeming the one who recognizes that they they’ve been, as it were, snake-bitten by sin (see Jn. 3:14-15) and are in need of the One who bore the penalty for their sin at the cross so that a just God can forgive an unjust sinner without compromising His justice (cf. Rom. 3:24-26). He and He alone - not our so-called “free will” - can bring us to God. Therefore, just like God spoke creation into existence by His Word, so, through the Word, He shines the light of the glory of His Son into our hearts so that with eyes of faith we see Christ's glory and come to Him (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Therefore Jesus says, “No one can come to unless the Father who sent me draws Him” (Jn. 6:44), and, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27). Thus, He gets the glory, because He alone has done it (Ps. 52:9).
  1. Since sin has so ruined humanity that even their good works are “splendid vices” (Augustine), our only hope in the throne room of God must be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Why is it that, in that familiar Sermon on the Mount passage, Jesus tells people who did good works in His Name that He has never known them in the first place (Mt. 7:21-23)? It is because, by claiming their good works as the reason why He shouldn’t cast them out, they betray that they are trusting in those works instead of trusting in His redeeming work at the cross. Let's personalize: If you think you’re going to heaven and the New Heavens and New Earth because you’re a good person or better than anyone else, you’re not going. As I tell my 8th grade students, either Jesus takes your “F” at the cross and gives you His “A,” or, in Adam, you have an “F,” with no hope of an “A” (Rom. 5:12ff). But since Jesus offers you his "A," take it! 
  1. Since it’s all about what God does for us, whether discussing Jesus’ perfect life leading to the cross or the Holy Spirit’s ability to help us believe, one can only receive the Gospel by faith. And “faith” is here defined as looking to Jesus as the only hope anyone has before God. Luther once said that whereas we are more sinful than we ever imagined, yet, since Jesus wants fellowship with us, we know that He also is more gracious than we ever imagined. The door into Christianity is the heart attitude that says, “Christ must clothe me with righteousness or I will be clothed with unrighteousness, no matter what I do.” The heart attitude that believes and confesses that is faith. And even believing that requires God’s help, for “It has been granted you to … believe in him” (Phil. 1:29). As the old hymn says, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling." That is the attitude of faith.
  1. Finally, God is a missionary God, interested in drawing the nations to Himself for life transformation from the inside out. In other words, God’s message to the world is, “You must be born again, and I am open to you.” The pre-Reformation church didn’t not believe this. But from the 4th century onward, the missionary heart of God became, in many peoples’ view, more about colonizing and control. But since the reformers understood that God is about a new creation by faith in His Word (2 Cor. 5:17), recovered was the mission not to win wars (i.e., the Crusades, which admittedly has a complicated history), but to make disciples. Therefore Jesus tells the disciples that He (not they), by virtue of his resurrection, has ultimate authority over the whole of creation, and the disciples - and by extension, the church - are to go and teach obedience to His Word, sure of His presence, until He returns again (Matt. 28:18-20). 

In short, the Reformation was a movement that recaptured things that history either lost or de-prioritized (I think the former). While many have rightly claimed that the Reformation is responsible for some problems in subsequent church history (and even world history),* one can not deny that the Reformation changed the world for the better. There are issues, yes, especially in the church. But the recapturing of, or, if you prefer, restating of the Gospel in the 16th century was a recapturing of the very idea necessary for said issues: God is at work, and God will orchestrate history to His decreed goals until the end. And until then He will help His church to sort things out as she fulfills her mission of disciple-making.  And whether it be a worldwide pandemic or contentious political ordeals, all will in the end terminate to His glory. For, “from him, through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever!” (Romans 11:36).


Indeed, soli deo gloria!  



*Kevin Vanhoozer surveys recent work criticizing the Reformation’s effect on the western world, even among Protestants, in Biblical Authority After Babel, 109-111 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Some Thoughts on Being a Christian in This Election

I'm not sure if you're aware or not, but 2020 an election year in America. Yeah, really. And elections, along with every other semi-important avenue of public life, have become so contentious that it seems safest to just stay out of any substantial discussion. Especially if you're a Christian, you're placed into an awkward position. Most evangelicals tend to be conservative politically, and yet the conservative candidates, including the current president, tend to have conspicuous character flaws. So believers have to decide where they want to place their compromise if they vote at all. I think it is important in a country like ours for citizens to vote. So, in my opinion, we should try and arrive at some clarity of conscience, and make a decision. 

Eric Metaxas and David French are high profile evangelicals who, as far as I can tell, well represent the two Christian positions during the current election. Watch the video linked above (rather lengthy) to hear their views. (If you’re on a smartphone and the video isn’t showing, click here. Sorry about that.)  I'd recommend that if you're short on time, watch the first 30 minutes. This time frame will give you both mens' opening arguments. If you have more time, at least go to about halfway through (50 minutes), as this will give you both of their rebuttals. 

I don't want to comment much on their arguments.  But let me say a couple of things: First, it seems that French is a little more optimistic about America's current societal moment, while Metaxas is a little more pessimistic. I think that there is truth on both sides. French does say early on that things are bad in America, but his arguing that Christians need not fear the results of this election assumes certain things about the current moment which I don't think opposing Christians assume. Metaxas sees the election as a clear issue of "Vote for Trump or else the current progressive trend in America will continue." One criticism of this view could be highlighted by asking Metaxas if he thinks the progressive trend has slowed down during Trump's current term. That being said, my disdain for progressivism and what it produces puts me into more agreement with Metaxas than French here. Nevertheless, to French's point, Jesus is King regardless of who is president. 

Second, French might warrant some criticism for suggesting that Christians' witness is compromised by voting for Trump. In a day like today where progressive metaphysics (read: beliefs, values, affections) seems to be growing quickly, I'm not sure if Christians could do anything that wouldn't get criticism from non-believers. "Vote left, for our witness" has at least as many problems as solutions. 

That leads to my third and final point: While Jesus did tell his followers to make sure that as much as it depends on them, they live at peace with everyone and be light-shiners in a dark world (see Mt. 5:14-16, Rom. 12:18), he also said quite clearly that the way the world knows our faith in Him is by our love for one another (see Jn. 13:35). How we treat each other is meant to set us apart from the world. Therefore, my prayer is that Christians would love one another and not write each other off in this election cycle. I think French and Metaxas demonstrate that there are good reasons to vote either way. If it can be settled that your vote is a conscience issue (and I think it can be settled - make a choice based on what will leave you with a clear conscience), then we in the household of faith shouldn't be judging one another for our vote. "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all appear before the judgment seat of God" (Rom. 14:10). 

Abortion is evil, and I'm closed-minded about this. Progressive metaphysics are functionally atheistic, and prone to produce more injustice than justice. Classical liberalism is all but dead, and progressivism is filling the gap left behind. But it is also true that Trump has character flaws and has done and said things which Christians shouldn't support. An all-out apologist Trump-support is problematic and worthy of criticism. Sigh, this is difficult. Let's show a little grace toward each other, let the Lord be the Lord, and disagree well. The Lord has been building his church for 2000 years; He will not stop because candidate A or B is elected. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jesus, Scripture, and Creed

 


Greetings all,

Forgive the funny look on my face in the above video thumbnail. Our adult Sunday school class is currently going through a remote study of the Westney Catechism, a catechism on Christian doctrine written and published by Westney Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario. Westney's theologian-in-residence is Craig Carter, whose books I have been reading recently in my doctoral studies.

I'm sharing the video because I love how this portion of the study lays out what I consider to be the most importance aspects of Christian teaching. I'm not suggesting that there is such a thing as "less important" teaching, but that, as Al Mohler has stated, Christians need to learn to do theological triage--that is, to distinguish between the foundational aspects of Christian doctrine and those other aspects that are secondary, and then focus most attention on the former. In this video, I work through the what I consider to be three of the main aspects of Christian teaching (what follows are not sentences from the catechism verbatim, but summary statements of my approach): 

1. What is Scripture? 

It is the revealed Word of God, written for our instruction,  bearing out the message of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, so that lost people would come to know Him and thereby enter into eternal, joy-filled life with God. The Bible is bi-covenantal, meaning that it is written in two parts, both after God reveals himself to a chosen people - the Old Testament to Jewish prophets, and the New to messianic Jewish apostles who believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. The Old employs typology and prophecy to predict and promise Jesus. The New demonstrates Jesus' coming, and interprets the typology and prophecy of the Old so that they make sense in Him.

2. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? 

It means to believe the Bible's message because the Bible's goal is to reveal Jesus. Scripture is not a set of instructions more than it is a revelation of a Person so that lost people, in finding Him, would themselves be found (Lk. 15:5). You can't have Jesus without the Bible, nor can you know Jesus without the Bible. Why? First, because each gospel account - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - anchors Jesus' identity in the Old Testament (so we need the OT to understand and appreciate him); second, everywhere in the gospels, Jesus upholds the authority of the OT as the Word of God to which his followers are responsible (ie, Matt. 4:4); and third, He told His disciples that He would send them His Holy Spirit to keep fresh in their minds all that He said and did and to help them to understand the meaning of it all (Jn. 14:26, 16:13). Therefore, they wrote, and their inspired writing comprises the the New Testament. Jesus ties himself to His Word, because He is Himself the Living Word (Jn. 1:1), and as the church opens the Bible and proclaims Him, He still speaks (Heb. 12:25). There is no Christianity that doesn't take Biblical doctrine seriously.

3. Is there a place for creeds and confessions? 

Yes, because we late modern Christians are not the first Christians. Rather, generation after generation of believers has come before us. Therefore, Paul passed down the teaching to Timothy who was then himself supposed to pass it down (2 Tim. 2:1-2). And Jesus prayed (and continues to intercede for) those who would believe the Apostles' message (see John 17:20-25), promising that He'd continue to lead them into His truth (17:26). It is good for believers to study and utilize the reflections on Scripture offered by previous generations. 

That is why the Westney Catechism uses the Apostles Creed as a "convenient and reliable way to sum up the Biblical message." The creed is framed in orthodox Trinitarian terms (I'll make a few comments under some chosen sections): 

Father 

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth 

    -Notice that the Creator is a Father - creation was produced by the outflowing of the eternal loving relationship of the Son and the Father. Hence, all things being made through Christ, the Word (Jn. 1:1-4).

Son

I believe in Jesus, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried. 

    -Note, Jesus couldn't have had an earthly father involved in his conception, because sin would have passed to him since "all sinned" in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19). Yes Eve was the deceived one (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but Adam was responsible, and sin passes through the dad. Hence, circumcision throughout the OT is a reminder of Adam's responsibility (and also the responsibility especially of dads). But Jesus had his mother Mary and his Heavenly Father, as the Holy Spirit conceived him in Mary. 

He descended to the dead.

    -Note, I like this rewording, from "He descended into hell." In one sense, He went through hell at the cross, and then went to the dead. 1 Peter 3:19ff is a difficult passage to use in support of a notion that Jesus went into hell after death, especially considering that he told the thief on the cross that He'd see him in paradise that same day (Lk. 23:43).

On the third day, he rose again; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

    -Note, according to Daniel 7, the Son of Man receives the Kingdom when he appears before the heavenly throne. That's why He went back to heaven - having accomplished the work the Father gave him to do, He receives the Kingdom. And He thus sends out His Spirit to believers (Ac. 2:33), and they are transferred into His Kingdom (Col. 1:13-14). The Kingdom is not on earth yet in fullness, but it is present substantially in the church and among believers throughout the world. 

Spirit 

I believe in the Holy Spirit 

    -Note, all that is following is included under the heading of the Spirit, because it is all accomplished by the Spirit. 

The holy catholic church

    -That is, the universal church, wherever the true gospel is preached, believed, and lived. 

The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen.

    -Thus, the church continues on 2000 years after Jesus established the New Covenant, with the saving message that binds Satan, redeems the world, and restores that which was lost in the Fall. All glory to God for what He continues to do! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Fake News and the Man Who Is Truth

Theologian Miroslav Volf recently tweeted this: 


“We are drowning in fake news, and complain about it. But it’s ubiquitous partly because we actually crave it. We fear truth about the world and replace it with fantasy, just as we fear truth about our own hearts and flood ourselves with a steady stream of our intimate ‘fake news.’”


As I read Volf’s tweet, I was reminded of a viral tweet thread from a year or so ago by a philosopher named Nick Hinton that suggested that in 2012, the world entered into an alternate dimension or universe. Hinton's proposition would explain why so many of us look back and wonder what happened to the “normal” world we thought knew before 2012. Surely it isn’t that the world was perfect before, but it was manageable and things just felt different than they do now. It seems like something happened then, and there is no explanation. This theory would also explain the so-called Mandela Effect, where people my age remember certain things from childhood the same way that others do, but can’t find evidence of those things being how we remember them. One example, among many: Many thought the beloved bear family's name from the children's series was spelled Berenstein Bears, but it was actually Berenstain Bears.


When I first read of the alternate universe theory, my initial thought was about how we are masters at creating theories to explain the unexplainable and elusive world around. And as Volf said, we crave when others offer theories, whether plausible or implausible. I wonder if it is the case that people crave theories like this so that they can avoid true reality. 


When the Apostle John called Jesus the “logos” (read: logic, reason, order) of God (Jn. 1:1-2), he was saying that Jesus is Himself reality. To come to him for the grace and truth that He offers (1:14,17) requires recognizing the need for grace (that we need saved) and for truth (that we’re confused and need him to reorient us to reality as He alone can define it.) Given that since the Fall humanity has been, as it were, hiding behind the bushes and running from God (see Psalm 2:1-3, 53:1-3; Is. 53:6), we do all that we can to avoid taking God’s diagnoses, instead accepting conspiracy theories and fake news. And not only do we accept them; we crave them. We need them to stay in our little partial-truth realities which we’ve constructed to feel safe and righteous.


And the sad thing is this: You can read this and say, “Yes, that’s me; I’ve avoided him,” but if you then say, “But I want to come to Jesus now,” He’ll not only receive you, but will throw a party for you (Lk. 15:6, 9, 22-24). He’d be so happy to bring you home where you belong. Further, you could say, “No, I don’t care, fake news is better,” and if you have a change of heart five years from now, he'd still be ready. Though I'd caution you to be careful, because if you put it off until then, you might find yourself stuck and unable to find Him. (Our hearts change as we make choices, usually unbeknownst to us.)


Why in the world would I say his willingness to receive you is sad? Because although this grace is so incredible, so free, and so freeing, we'd rather live off a diet of fake news and conspiracy theories. The sadness isn’t his willingness to give life, but our unwillingness to question ourselves long enough to consider whether or not He can. And we don’t realize what our addiction to autonomy and therefore fake news and conspiracies is doing to us.


But if you’re ready for reality, He is ready to give it to you. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve avoided Him; come to Him now. It might seem like there is cultural, sociological, and personal baggage associated with becoming a Christian these days. But there's baggage and prejudice with whatever way you choose to live. I’m suggesting that you consider leaving your half reality and come into Truth, whose name is Jesus. He’ll change your life, answer your questions, and take care of your baggage. He promises rest to the weary and peace to the war-torn. Is that you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Learning Love

I’ve been engaging recently in a lot of reading about the loving nature of God. This love is Trinitarian  and eternal, which is why Jesus says what He says in the so-called High Priestly prayer of John 17: “Father I desire that they (my followers), whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24).  It is a remarkable notion that God and the Son loved one another before the foundation of the world. That means that before God is rule-giver and even Creator, He is Father and Son in loving relationship.

This undergirds why the Gospel is all about family and loving relationship:
   -Family - being adopted into God’s family so that the believer is an heir with Christ who calls on God as Abba Father (Jn. 1:12-13, Gal. 4:5-6);
   -Loving relationship - living in the reality that your Father hears you, is looking out for your very best, and is working for your good (Lk. 18:7-8, Rom. 8:28, 1 Jn. 5:14).

It is in his nature to be this way: A loving Father who expresses that love to his children in whom he delights.

What Salvation Is

But this also explains what salvation is: The restoration of the relationship which was lost in Eden. If the Fall is the descent from knowing God in truth (so that now, “none seek for God,” Ps. 14:2, and now there are “strongholds raised against the knowledge of God,” 2 Cor. 10:4-5), then redemption is Jesus’ descent to us in order to consequently ascend us back into the relationship with the Father for which we were created.

Notice that Jesus ends the aforementioned prayer this way: “I made known to them (my followers) your (the Father’s) name, and I will continue to make it known...” why? “That the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). Make two very important notes here: First, that the the name of the Father is an expression of His love for His Son. That is, God’s self-expression is a statement about His eternal love for His Son. Think of Jesus’ baptism - “This is my son, whom I love” (Mt. 3:17). To know the Father is by necessity to know His love for His Son. This means that, if I can be so bold, before you can appreciate his love for you, you have to appreciate his love for the Son. Only when this Trinitarian love settles into your mind can you understand that He therefore loves you too because you are united by faith with His Son.

And secondly, notice that once the knowledge of this Father and Son love is acquired, that very love comes into the believer along with Jesus’ own presence. This is a knowledge that is more than intellectual ascent. Rather, it is a knowledge that enters into our hearts and changes us. This is why Paul says that with the heart one believes and is justified (Rom. 10:10). Further, note that Paul elsewhere says that this love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). When Jesus prayed this prayer in John 17, he had just finished telling the disciples about how the Holy Spirit is his very presence with them: About the believer, “(My Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him ... the Spirit of truth (will) .. be with you forever” (Jn. 14:23, 16). At 17:26 He is praying that the Holy Spirit will continue bringing home His very presence as the disciples continue to grow in knowing the love of the Father and the Son.

I think this is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18 that the Christians in Ephesus would be able to comprehend “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that (they) may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19): When your heart learns this love of Christ and the Father, Christ and the Father enter into your heart by the Holy Spirit. So, Paul prays for it. The fullness of God consists in the enjoyment of the love of the Father and the Son. Far from being a theologian’s theoretical construct, the Trinity is actually the very shape of Christian faith. Maybe this is why the ancients spent so much time trying to articulate the doctrine accurately: The Trinity is more than a doctrine - instead, we’re talking about God’s own nature, and that which we are brought into when we come to Christ.

Running From, or Running To God

I know this is all theoretical and heavy theology, but let me make it personal: The essence of the fall in Eden was Adam and Eve’s giving into Satan’s temptation to think that God doesn’t love them, is instead lying to them, and isn’t out for their good. Read the first six or seven verses of Genesis 3 - that is exactly the temptation: God is lying to you, don’t listen to him. And I would suggest that that wrong belief is the fuel for the world’s continued run from God, whether atheistic and anti-Christ societies, or young adults in a generally Christian society growing up in church and then leaving it behind: Wrong thoughts about God and whether or not He loves you enough to tell you the truth about yourself, the world, and how to become the you you were made to be. Usually it is a God who is first concerned with rules from whom people are running. And of course He is the Lawgiver and, as Creator, demands our acknowledgement of Him and loving fear (Prov. 1). But what if before anything else, He is a loving Community who invites people into life with Him so they can enjoy His love as they journey into eternity? In other words, what if, instead of following your heart, you were made for “the fellowship of the Father and the Son” (1 John 1:3), and it is not until His love fills your heart that you can trust your heart enough to follow it?

Jesus offers himself at the cross as the demonstration of the fact that even if you don’t believe it, God’s heart is a Father’s heart. And He will not only have you, but He’ll embrace you, clean you, save you, and give you your life back.

Run to him.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Jesus’s Uniqueness

I’ve made a practice over the years of talking in sermons and lessons about Jesus’s uniqueness. Examining him as the gospels present him (as well as how the apostles spoke of him in their preaching and letters), there is no doubt about it: He’s perfect. The perfect human - indeed more than human - but human, and so perfectly.

Michael Reeves, the president of Union School of Theology in Wales, is one of my two favorite living theologians (along with Graeme Goldsworthy). Reeves has an arresting two paragraphs on Jesus’ uniqueness that is worth devoting a whole blog post to. In terms of sheer power, I place this short passage up next to CS Lewis’s famous Liar, Lunatic, or Lord passage in Mere Christianity.

Enjoy:

Generous and genial, firm and resolute, (Jesus) was always surprising. Loving but not sloppy, his insight unsettled people and his kindness won them. Indeed, he was a man of extraordinary - and extraordinarily appealing - contrasts. You simply couldn’t make him up, for you’d make him only one or the other. He was red-blooded and human, but not rough. Pure, but never dull. Serious with sunbeams of wit. Sharper than cut glass, he out-argued all comers, but never for the sake of the win. He knew no failings in himself, yet was transparently humble. He made the grandest claims for himself, yet without a whiff of pomposity. He ransacked the temple, spoke of hellfire, called Herod a fox, the Pharisees pimped-up corpses, and yet never do you doubt his love as you read his life.

“With a huge heart, he hated evil and felt for the needy. He loved God and he loved people. You look at him and you have to say, ‘Here is a man truly alive, unwithered in any way, far more viral and vigorous, far more full and complete, far more human than any other.’” (Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ, 54-55, emphasis in original)

The reason I’m a Christian is not because I was raised in it or because America is a Christian nation (in fact, compelling studies have suggested that it is doubtful that even 15% of American self-professed Christians are truly living in Jesus.) Rather, I’m a Christian because of what Reeves distilled above: Jesus is perfect, and his identity, genuineness, and truth are unassailable. To know him is to know life, and life to the fullest. Hence, “He is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). If taking up a cross daily, whether literally or figuratively, meant drawing closer to Him, it would be worth it, because in him is life and life eternal

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Phil Vischer, the Gospel, and True Righteousness

Pastor Gabriel Hughes of Kansas has written a thoughtful critique of Phil Vischer’s recent viral video explaining systemic racism in America. I watched Vischer’s video earlier this week and found some of the information helpful, but other aspects of it not so helpful. I’ve not been able to write or comment on it because of various time constraints (church reopen, dissertation proposal work, etc.) I’ve also been reading and listening to a lot of voices regarding racial tensions in America. So I’ve been waiting on a pastor of similar stripes as me to reflect on Vischer’s video. Thanks Gabe.

Hughes’s Critique

Essentially, Gabe posits a few main premises contra Vischer:
1. The gospel - the power of God for salvation (Roman 1:16), where He demonstrates His fatherly love through giving His righteousness as a gift - alone has the power to change hearts such that true life change can happen. The outward effect is not only that societal ills can be corrected, but people can rise above any oppression of which they’re subject. As I’ve heard from several black voices this week, you don’t do people any favors by focusing them in on how oppressed they are. Instead, people are served better by having possibilities shown to them if they’ll commit to rise above the problems, believing that the God of heaven has lovingly equipped them with all that they need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and refuse to let people drag them down. The gospel of God’s grace motivates to get your house in order and overcome issues, knowing that He cares for you.

2. The data Vischer shares is at points shortsighted - much of it only tells one side of the story. One example is his data sharing that black people moved from the South to the Northern cities for work, after which white people left said cities taking the jobs with them.  But I’ve read examples of black people moving to certain parts of town and essentially running whites out who wanted to be neighbors.* Granted, at that time whites could relocate much easier than blacks due to unjust redlining (which has now been illegal for 50 years). But my point is that this aspect of the story changes the narrative a little bit and makes it not so obvious what the “problem” is.

3. Much of the data simply addressed past ills with which most of us wouldn’t argue. But what exactly is the solution today? Vischer admitted that he doesn’t know, suggesting that a good start is for white Christians to simply care more than they do. Naming problems with lots in life (socioeconomic positions) but not naming solutions is dicey especially when Christians are told to humbly live in their lot (1 Thes. 4:11, 2 Thes. 3:12, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) and seek faithfulness where God has them. If one is faithful over their little, God will put them over more (cf. Mt. 25:23, Lk. 12:44).

The Issue

There isn’t a lot I can say that hasn’t been said already. I don’t want to contribute too much to the endless barrage of what seems like propaganda from each side. I’ll just add a couple of more points.

First, here’s the rub for me: I was raised in a midwestern Christian home and went to a Christian college in the urban South. But it wasn’t until I was in ministry that I began to read the Bible intently. Jesus changed my life - I was born again. I finally understood the gospel of repentance, faith, transformation of heart, and living for God’s glory. All that I had experienced prior might have prepared me for that, but it certainly wasn’t the source for that. The sovereign working of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8) is the source. The circles in which I ran before did not major in Gospel clarity, but could rather be characterized as driven by a concern for mercy ministry and state of the art church music. I don’t want to say it was legalism, because that might be unfair to those true believers within those circles. But there wasn’t any clarity about the fact that we’re not saved by the good things we do but rather by the good things Jesus has done (Rom. 5:19): Not by our righteousness, but by His. This Gospel wasn’t the plausibility structure. And if the Gospel is not the plausibility structure some form of legalism usually is. Judging by the seemingly well-intentioned capitulation to cultural narrative by those within these circles, it seems like the Gospel still isn’t. Even sadder, leaders in circles where the gospel was recently quite clearly the plausibility structure seem to have capitulated, undergoing what has been called “mission drift.”

The above paragraph is why many of us struggle with the prevailing narrative in news and media: We believe that the Lordship of Jesus is minimized when Christians treat policy as the healer of society’s ills. Voddie Baucham has recently said that social justice has roots in Marxism.  Whether or not all of those advocating social justice are Marxist (Black Lives Matter organization is explicitly Marxist), many of us are concerned with what at least seems like dressing worldly justice methods up in Christian-ethics clothes. Further, worldly attempts at justice never actually work. Controversial Christian writer Doug Wilson has argued that addressing the evil of slavery in an unbiblical way is why America still has racial tension today.** As Thomas Sowell often suggests, problems not addressed soundly lead to further problems. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus alone can heal, even ethnic barriers. He has been doing exactly this for centuries (Eph. 2:19ff; cf. Ac. 13:1).

A Few Resources

Second, I would add a couple of more points to Gabe’s counter-data:
-Harvard professor Roland Fryer has led a comprehensive study suggesting that police are actually less likely to shoot a black suspect than a white one. (See page 39 for the conclusions of the highly technical study.)  See here for another study that suggests the same conclusion. Contrast that with the narrative that white cops are hunting blacks (George Floyd’s lawyer said that black deaths at the hands of police “feels like genocide.” Potential Biden running mate Val Demings has made similar comments.) Claims like this are at most false and at least counterproductive.

-A Chicago Tribune study has suggested it is no longer the case (if it ever was before; Larry Elder has said there are issues with past studies) that blacks are getting less calls for jobs.

-My favorite Christian rapper Shai Linne has said that Christians denying systemic racism today is akin to previous generations dismissing charges of racism by essentially saying “At least it’s better than it used to be.” But this skirts the issue: If systemic racism exists, the data should back it up quite clearly, and it doesn’t seem like it does. Instead, it seems to me that the data suggests residual effects of past racism. Watch Larry Elder and Ben Shapiro to see counterarguments to the notion of racism as a major problem in America today. In particular, Elder’s video from the 1:30 mark is devastating to the notion that systemic racism is obviously still the problem. Also see Elder’s twitter feed for fact after fact and graph after graph suggesting quite compellingly that the typical talking points of media are at least dishonest and at most not factual. Seriously, Larry Elder is a whirlwind of data. I can’t recommend enough watching his video linked above.

Is the Gospel enough?

We want the Gospel preached because it has changed our lives and it always delivers on what it promises. People come to God through His Gospel promises (2 Pet. 1:3), and their Father teaches them to live new lives (Tit. 2:11-14) characterized as “adorning the doctrine of God our Savior” (Tit. 2:10). People can change their lives even if they’re still effected by societal ills from past generations. There are certainly injustices in our day. But we’re suggesting that this world will always have injustice (for only will the new heavens and the new earth have true righteousness, 2 Pet. 3:13). People who follow Jesus in their lots in life not only have the promise of His blessing as they walk in His wisdom (see all of Proverbs), but they can learn to have contentment in the here and now (Phil 4:10-13). This promise is minimized when Christians follow the world’s solutions to its problems. The reason I oppose critical race theory, intersectionality, and any other thought school is not because I don’t see injustices. It is because these devices are man-made while the Gospel is divine (2 Cor. 10:3-4), and the reporting of said injustices are not only dishonest, but are proposing solutions that will just create more injustices. Only Jesus saves through true repentance, and only He can give you the dignity and the joy which you long for.

I’ll admit with Vischer that these issues are very complex and it is hard for any of us to have the final word. But we think that God does. And faith in Him and His Son is to be crucified to the world and the world to you. The twist is that it is at this point that the believer is empowered to live in the world even with all of its darkness. That’s why we set our hope fully on Jesus (1 Peter 1:13.) He won’t disappoint us, but will lead us gloriously into His Kingdom. That is our true home.

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*See Lyle Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of AW Tozer, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008, 147-150. There Dorsett relays the story of recently migrated black residents moving into the region of Chicago where AW Tozer pastored and, in no uncertain terms, asking Tozer and his mostly white congregation, along with other white residents of the region, to leave the area. Because of redlining, it was indeed easier for whites to move, while blacks were really locked into certain areas. That is significant. But the point is that the history is not simple, but complex, as sometimes people respond to sin (racism) with sin (pressuring friendly people to leave an area.)
**Doug Wilson, Black and Tan: Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America, Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 49-50.