Nadarkhani’s Release

Youcef Nadarkhani is free. The pastor who has languished in an Iranian prison for nearly three years was released on Saturday. He had been condemned to die for his faith, but he is now with his family. This is a personal victory for him, and I am grateful he has persevered and overcome the privations he suffered. He has proven his faith is genuine; he was willing to suffer a martyr’s fate for standing up for the truth of the Gospel.

But as an analysis of the situation notes, he was not fully exonerated by the Iranian regime. Although the apostasy charge was dismissed, he still was found guilty of conducting evangelistic activities. The penalty for that was three years in prison. He had served two years, eleven months, so upon payment of a fine, he was allowed to go free at this time. This is not real leniency on Iran’s part; it’s another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of a confused and distracted West. His release also follows only one day after Canada cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran. “See,” they are saying, “we’re not that bad; it’s the evil Western countries like Canada that are the real problem.”

Meanwhile, other Christians remain in Iranian prisons for precisely the same reason Nadarkhani was incarcerated. For a fuller treatment of this story, and how this episode doesn’t indicate a softening of the Iranian stance, I highly recommend an article from Commentary, which you can access here.

What does the future hold for Nadarkhani and his family? Will he stay in Iran or leave? Biblically, he is under no obligation to remain where he and his family are in danger of death. He could leave with a clear conscience. On the other hand, each Christian must seek the Lord’s guidance as to where he will do the most good for the advancement of the Gospel. Perhaps he may believe the Lord is calling him to stay. Whatever he decides, I rejoice today that he is free to fulfill God’s will for him. His imprisonment was a testimony to the truth; the rest of his life can be as well. May he continue to draw close to the Lord, and may his efforts for Him be blessed.

The New Zeitgeist

I’ve been thinking more about how Christianity and the absolute morality it embraces are experiencing a new, and more vociferous, round of condescension. The culture’s disdain for what are usually termed traditional values seems to be increasing. As I told one of my classes this past week, what was considered basic morality forty years ago is now criticized as hateful. I’m not the only one noticing this:

In the entertainment portion of our culture, one doesn’t have to search long and hard to find the new “zeitgeist.” We are preached at from almost every television program that homosexuality is not only permissible, but that anyone who opposes it is either hopelessly backward or evil. How many shows celebrate saving sex until marriage compared with the number that assume everyone lives together before marriage? When was the last time you witnessed a strong Christian portrayed as a model for how one should live rather than as a bigoted hatemonger? Do you remember when you didn’t have to be bombarded with vulgar language, particularly before 10:00 p.m.?

We’ve come a long way out of many closets in the past few years. As a result, politicians have become bolder in their pronouncements against traditional morality. For the first time in my lifetime, a major political party is set to endorse homosexual marriage. When the Democrats hold their convention next week, reports are that they plan to spend a lot of time advocating the right to abortion and same-sex marriage. They think we’ve reached that tipping point in our society when pushing for those measures will actually increase their likelihood of victory. They’re going to make a big deal over the artificially trumped-up/imaginary Republican “War on Women.” How many will see past that hypocrisy?

Will this really help the Democrat ticket? If it does, we are in worse shape as a nation than I thought. Naturally, I’m hoping that tactic backfires, but I’m only cautiously optimistic.

I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating: Christians need to come to grips with the fact that we’re not necessarily a majority anymore. We are quickly becoming a despised minority group subject to increasing pressures to conform to the modern zeitgeist. If we continue to resist, we will be hated. Yet we were told in advance this would be the case. This happened to the One we follow as well. As He told His disciples shortly before his crucifixion,

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you . . . because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.

The reason the prevailing culture of the time rose up against Jesus was because He revealed the sin in their hearts. If we are steadfast in pointing out the sins of our culture, it will rise up against us also. We need to be prepared. As the apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

I teach and write with the hope that we’re not that far gone yet as a culture, that a semblance of Biblical thinking may still remain and can be fanned into a flame once more. But if I am wrong, and the hostility toward the Biblical worldview has become so dominant it cannot be reversed, I will continue nonetheless. God has called us to faithfulness, and my purpose for living is to please Him by doing His will, regardless of the results. He looks at the heart and rewards accordingly. He’s seeking a faithful army that will remain steadfast. As His word abundantly demonstrates, He always works with a godly remnant. I want to be part of that remnant.


A Harbinger of Things to Come?

My fear is that the violence is going to escalate, and that Christian organizations are going to be the target. The shooting at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday may be a harbinger of things to come.

You see, the FRC is courageously taking the lead on calling for upholding traditional moral beliefs such as the Biblical definition of marriage. For their stance, they are being classified as a “hate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others of like mind. This is the same organization that designated Chick-Fil-A as a purveyor of hatred as well.

The man who entered the FRC headquarters was carrying a Chick-Fil-A bag, pretended to be an intern so he could infiltrate the building, and when questioned by a guard because he seemed suspicious, shouted out that he opposed what FRC stood for, and then began shooting. As you can see from the photo of him when he was taken away by the authorities, there was ample reason for the guard, who was injured during the scuffle, to be suspicious. The man, it turns out, volunteers for an LGBT “community center” in D.C. I wonder how many of those letters in the acronym he claims for himself?

FRC is only standing for what society has always called marriage. Christians who speak out against homosexuality are doing what Christians have done throughout the centuries: identifying a sin, calling upon those who are engaged in the sin to repent, and offering a new life free from the bondage of that sin. That’s not hate; that’s showing the way to true life. It’s an attempt to help people who have succumbed to a sinful lifestyle that separates from God.

Except for fringe groups like the small Westboro Baptist crowd [well, “crowd” is too generous a term], no genuine Christian hates people trapped in homosexuality. Instead, they want to reach out to them and speak the truth in love, seeking to turn them from an activity that has eternal consequences. It’s the Christian pattern for dealing with all sins, and it’s based on what Jesus said needs to be done.

The LGBT “community,” on the other hand, has become nearly hysterical over any disagreement with their lifestyle choice. Of course, they don’t consider it a choice; they claim they are born that way, without any scientific backing for a homosexual gene. They have become adept at classifying anyone who critiques them as “haters.” This is incendiary language that can only breed more incidents like the one at FRC. That’s why I say we may be witnessing the start of a series of such episodes. They hope to silence Christians through intimidation.

Will it work? I’m concerned that far too many evangelicals are already drinking the kool-aid on this issue. Some will be so afraid of speaking up that their voice will be absent just when it is most needed. Others will decide that perhaps the Scriptures are being misunderstood and will take sides with the homosexual agenda because, they say, Jesus loves everyone unconditionally. They will buy into the lie that God made some people homosexual, and that it is as valid as heterosexuality.

The pressure will be even greater if the federal government forces religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage by threatening to withhold funds to students at evangelical universities, for instance. How many Christian colleges and universities will hold firm in the face of threats like that? Those threats may be coming; more violence is in the offing. The first may be allayed by a Republican sweep in November, yet that very Republican sweep could lead to an increase in the violence.

Here’s a little reminder from the short book of Jude:

I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in . . . ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Contending for the faith is about to become more of a necessity than ever.

Barton & Jefferson (Continued & Concluded)

Last Friday, I wrote a post about the controversy over Thomas Nelson ceasing publication of David Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies. My aim was to offer a balanced perspective: I appreciate Barton’s ultimate goal of restoring the knowledge of our nation’s Biblical heritage, yet I take issue with him over trying to force someone like Jefferson into the Christian mold. From my own study of the Founding era and of Jefferson himself, I cannot subscribe to the view that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian.

Barton has written a response at his Wallbuilders site to some of the critiques that others have leveled at him. I read his response, and I now have a response to that. Without going into all the details he presents, I will focus on two of his points.

First, Barton takes aim at academic elites who think they are the absolute experts with respect to historical knowledge and proper understanding of primary documents. I have a lot of sympathy with this critique, but a few qualms as well. After successfully navigating through a doctoral program myself, I can say with complete confidence that having letters such as “p,” “h,” and “d” after one’s name does not confer omniscience. There also is a great temptation to believe you are now in a select fraternity of the privileged; there’s almost a gnostic “special knowledge” quality to this temptation. And yes, there are some professional historians with an agenda who want to rip out all the vast evidence of the Biblical underpinnings of American society and government. But one must be careful not to paint all those with history doctorates with that broad stroke.

After what I wrote on Friday, some may view me as part of that fraternity. Well, that would be almost laughable. I’ve spent most of my post-doctoral existence critiquing that very fraternity as a close-knit group of thinkers and writers who think with and write to one another. Very few of them write a book that the general public is aware of. My desire has always been to provide well-documented, scholarly writing that is geared more toward a general audience. When I penned my doctoral dissertation on Noah Webster, for instance, I determined to break from dissertationese and write in a fashion that could be understood and appreciated by a wider audience than merely my dissertation committee.

So, yes, I agree with Barton that a fraternity of the elite does exist; however, many of his critics do not belong to that fraternity, so to lump everyone together into an amorphous academic elite does not effectively answer the criticisms of his book.

Another part of his defense that I found weak was his assertion that Jefferson only wandered off the Christian path toward the end of his life. I think it is pretty obvious Jefferson was a good Anglican in his younger days only as an external convention; it was how he was raised and what was expected of him. I doubt he ever made any kind of real commitment to orthodox Christian faith. Even when Barton writes of Jefferson’s deviations from some points of doctrine, he does not emphasize that Jefferson denied the deity of Christ. No one who denies the deity of Christ can be a Christian. And this deviation didn’t wait until his later years; his time in France in the mid-1780s marks a decided turn in his views. Jefferson loved French society with its permissiveness in both thought and action. It was this very permissiveness and decadence that turned the stomach of John Adams when he went to France.

I think Barton has chosen the wrong person to try to redeem historically. In my view, Jefferson doesn’t rank very high in a list of Founders who deserve our admiration. Yes, he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but even he later noted he didn’t contribute anything original to the document; he was simply putting into words the general consensus of the time. Yes, he attended church services in the Capitol, but he did so primarily because he thought it important that the chief executive give his approval to religion. He saw religion as beneficial to society with respect to its morals, but he never submitted his life to the One who set the moral standard.

I also defend Jefferson as the author of the “separation of church and state” letter. That letter was not a declaration of complete separation of faith from public office, but only an affirmation to Baptists that the federal government was not going to set up an official church. Further, I use some Jefferson quotes that are quite pithy with respect to federalism and taxes. He is very quotable, and sometimes says exactly what I wish to communicate to my students. So I don’t despise Jefferson, but I do have a critique of his character and worldview throughout his long tenure in public office.

Before we put Jefferson on a pedestal, consider the following:

  • There has been much controversy over his relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave on his plantation. It is not conclusive that Jefferson fathered children with Hemings; it could have been his younger brother Randolph. Yet I personally believe it is more probable that the elder Jefferson is the father. Honest people can disagree on this point, but Jefferson’s close relationship with Maria Cosway [a married woman] while he was in France and his general acceptance of lax French morality lend themselves to that probability. Jefferson also freed Hemings’s children at the end of his life. He didn’t do that for any of his other slaves.
  • In the 1790s and beyond, Jefferson was enamored of the French Revolution, which, at one point, carried out a policy of dechristianization. He never came to grips with the violent nature of that revolution and supported it completely.
  • As George Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson continually worked behind the scenes to undermine Washington’s policy toward France, which was neutrality. He even sponsored a newspaper that was set up for the express purpose of lambasting the Washington administration and Washington personally. Jefferson harbored the belief that Washington was trying to set himself up as a king. Early in his second term, Washington lost patience with the disloyal Jefferson and would have sacked him had Jefferson not resigned his position.
  • John Adams was elected president in 1796. In a quirk that was later corrected by a constitutional amendment, Jefferson became his vice president even though he was in the opposing party. Adams, to his credit, reached out a hand of friendship to Jefferson and sought to bring him aboard as an active colleague in his administration. Jefferson rejected the hand of friendship and worked to replace Adams with himself in the next election. He placed his own personal political interest ahead of the nation’s well-being.
  • As president, Jefferson, in tandem with a Congress dominated by his party, placed an embargo on all American goods in an attempt to keep American shipping out of the Napoleonic wars. This relegated an entire section of the nation, New England, to potential poverty. It also just happened to be the section that was the most anti-Jefferson politically. The embargo was a major disaster for American commerce and prosperity, it had to be repealed as one of the final acts of the Jefferson administration, and Jefferson left office a defeated man. His presidency was looked upon as a failure due to this.
  • Although fiscally prudent as president, Jefferson was profligate in his personal finances. He continually spent more money than he had. At one point, he sold his entire library to try to pay his debts. It became the foundation of the Library of Congress. However, he fell back into debt again, and at his death his home, Monticello, along with all his slaves, had to be sold to cover his obligations.

Jefferson’s contributions to the American Founding were mixed. His positives were either balanced by his negatives or his negatives outweighed his positives. That’s a judgment call. However, I would advise Barton and others not to spend so much time resuscitating Jefferson’s reputation. There are other Founders who deserve more attention. To Barton’s credit, he has not ignored other Founders who have a Christian foundation, and when he focuses on them, he can continue to perform a valuable service. But it’s time to stop attempting to defend the indefensible.

Ponderings on the Values Voters Summit

Each year in D.C., family-friendly organizations sponsor the Values Voters Summit, which ends with a straw poll to determine which candidate comes closest to the traditional Judeo-Christian moral values of the attendees. Two controversies emanated from this year’s summit: the first had to do with Ron Paul emerging as the winner of the poll, despite the fact that other candidates had stronger credentials for pro-life and pro-traditional marriage stances; the second revolved around a comment by a pastor that Mormonism is a cult, and not Christian.

Let’s deal with them in that order.

Paul seems to have a knack at doing well in these types of polls. Every time there’s a TV debate with the candidates, he always seems to come out on top when viewers are asked to phone in their choice for the winner. Yet his numbers are never very high in scientific polls. Why is this? As I’ve noted before, Paul has a loyal following that is deep, but not very wide. They are quite organized, especially in these types of situations. Attendees at the summit question the validity of the final result, where Paul took 37% and runner-up Herman Cain got 23%. I wasn’t there, but those who were noticed something: even though this summit lasted two days, an unusually high number showed up to register on the second day (about 600), listened to Paul speak, then left.

What was going on? There’s good reason to believe these were Paul supporters who showed up just for the purpose of voting for him, and that they had little interest in the overall summit, the purpose of which was to listen to all the candidates, then decide. They, in effect, were not true attendees with the same goals as the others; their goal was different. Critics of the final vote note that without those extra “attendees” on Saturday morning, Cain would have won the poll handily. In other words, it was a skewed result.

Reports are that Cain deeply impressed the real attendees, and that he had them on their feet constantly, generating tremendous enthusiasm. And Cain’s numbers in the scientific polls are far more impressive than Paul’s. One, a CBS poll, has him tied with Romney for the lead; another has him twenty points ahead, although that seems to be more dubious. Overall, though, Cain is making real strides toward the nomination, despite the charge against him that he has no government experience.

Then there’s the Mormonism issue with Romney, who is a member of the Mormon faith. The pastor who introduced Rick Perry labeled him a true Christian, as opposed to Romney, who was part of a cult. That has raised a ruckus, even to the point of calling the pastor a bigot. What to say about this?

First, the pastor is guilty of bad politics. If you are going to point out a departure from the Christian faith, you need to do so in a manner that allows a fuller explanation of your belief. It doesn’t fit in a short intro; all that does is provide ammunition for those who seek to denigrate your viewpoint. He needed a different venue for making the statement.

The substance of his comment, however, was accurate. Mormonism started in the 1820s, the brainchild of Joseph Smith, a man who was very good at coming up with schemes for making money. He said he was visited by angels. One of them told him where to dig to find an ancient book, and he [Smith] was the only one who could interpret what was in the book. Supposedly, the angel said that all the Christian denominations had fallen away from the true faith, and Smith was the only one with the whole truth. The Book of Mormon tells of an ancient civilization in North America descended from the lost tribes of Israel. The only problem is that there is no archeological evidence at all for this claim. Theologically, Mormonism doesn’t have the same view of who Jesus Christ is. He is not the unique, only-begotten Son of God. He’s no different than we are when we take our rightful place as rulers in eternity. There are too many differences with orthodox Christianity to list here. Suffice to say, the pastor was correct when he made the distinction. Mormonism is not a Christian denomination; it is something else entirely. That’s not a bigoted statement; it’s merely an observation based on the evidence.

Meanwhile, Romney, who is supposed to be the frontrunner, did very poorly at the Values Voters Summit, earning a mere 4% of voter preference. The true activists in the Republican party are not satisfied with Romney as the heir apparent:

This race is not over.

Being Faithful unto Death

Yousef Nadarkhani lives under a sentence of death. Iran plans to execute him for the crime of being a Christian pastor. It all  began in 2009 when Nadarkhani objected to his children being indoctrinated into Islam in the school they were required to attend. He was standing for parental rights as well as the Christian faith.

His outspoken views led to his arrest and the eventual death penalty sentence. This has created a furor in what could be called the remnant of the civilized world. In a rare moment of moral clarity, even the Obama administration has spoken against this unjust sentence. Republicans and Democrats alike unite in admonishing the Iranian regime and calling for Nadarkhani’s release.

Iran is under some pressure, therefore, to review the case. At one point this past week, his lawyer believed there was a 95% chance that the verdict would be overturned. Then, amazingly, the Iranian government changed its tactics—no, Nadarkhani was not being sentenced to death for being a Christian; rather, it was because he had raped someone and even ran a brothel.

That one doesn’t survive the laugh test. It is so transparently false that no one is buying it. These false accusations are reminiscent of the Stalin Show Trials of the 1930s or how Hitler got rid of his enemies: concoct a fantastic story without a shred of evidence and use it to advance the goals of the regime.

What’s going to happen to Pastor Nadarkhani? No one knows for sure yet, but it doesn’t look hopeful. In the midst of this, though, one thing is crystal clear—this man is a model of Christian steadfastness and devotion to the One who saved him from sin. His refusal to deny his Savior is a testimony to the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. His life—and perhaps his death—will serve as a sobering reminder to Western Christians that we are not simply playing a religious game. We are eternal beings with either heaven or hell awaiting us, and we must answer the call to be faithful, even unto death.

Think of Yousef Nadarkhani; pray for him and for his family. Let his life be an inspiration to those of us who claim the name of Christ.

A 9/11 Reflection

My church last night held a superb 9/11 remembrance. The video clips were familiar but always sobering as we relived the events of that day. The personal testimonies were compelling. Remarks by the mayor, chief of police, county sheriff, and fire chief were not only appropriate but inspiring. The music, professional yet heartfelt, led us all into the presence of the Lord. The pastor’s message was perfect for the evening.

It’s nice being part of a community where the various elected officials and appointed first responders feel at home in the Lord’s house. They knew they had the genuine respect and appreciation of the people. Lakeland, Florida, is the kind of place where meetings still begin with prayer. It remains culturally conservative overall, and promoting Christian morality is expected. The local pro-life center that helps lead women away from abortion and into embracing life is influential enough to fill the ballroom in the city’s event complex every time it holds its annual fundraiser.

There will never be unanimity in any community, but there can be consensus. A consensus exists here.

After 9/11, there were hopes that consensus could be achieved nationwide. Yet we are a divided country, roughly half Christian and/or culturally conservative, half secular/progressive allied—I think incongruously—with some who believe that’s the Christian way to go. The cultural divide reveals itself in our politics, where we are again almost evenly split.

Do I seek consensus? Yes, but the only real consensus—the only one of any value—has to be grounded in a Biblical worldview. Anything else will ultimately fail. As we face the challenges ahead—and there will be many, some quite severe—my prayer is that those challenges will drive us closer to a dependence on the One without whom life has no meaning. When we embrace Him, we finally come face to face with what life is all about, and we find the purpose for which we were created.

I believe 9/11 should have been a call to repentance and to humble ourselves before the God who seeks to forgive and redeem. For some, it was, and for that we can be grateful. God has a way of extracting the precious from the worthless. There are no guarantees there won’t be other 9/11-type events that will rock our world. How we face them, and whether we turn to Him who provides the strength and the wisdom to overcome, remains a question mark. I hope we will pass the test.