Speaking Truth to a Sinful Culture

I was born in the 1950s, became aware of the larger world and moral issues in the 1960s (subjected as we all were during that era to the so-called sexual revolution), solidified my Christian faith in the early-to-mid 1970s, slipped away from Christian reality for a while after that, only to return to faith in the late 1980s with supreme gratitude to God for His patience and willingness to forgive my stupidity.

I was blessed to be brought back from the brink of spiritual destruction. As a result, I speak earnestly and forcefully (with love, I trust) about the need to hold fast to His truth and not allow slippage to occur, both in the individuals I have the opportunity to influence (students, in particular) and in my ongoing concern for the Christian church’s witness to the world.

When the church—which is comprised of all those who have come to the foot of the Cross, repented of sin, and received the forgiveness and grace only offered there—stops being the voice of God on moral issues, the culture degrades in proportion to the church’s apostasy.

This hasn’t happened on all issues. Take abortion, for instance. Despite the efforts of those who want to see abortion accepted as normal, great strides have been made by Christians in our nation to stem that tide. Regardless of the government’s promotion of abortion via the Supreme Court, the attitude of Americans on that issue is shifting more and more toward rejection of that horrific act.

Not so with homosexuality, unfortunately. This has become the primary issue now with the government and the culture in general (entertainment media, especially) in an attempt to overthrow Biblical morality.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s-1970s era look around us and almost can’t believe what we see. What was once considered abnormal and not even to be mentioned publicly has become a celebration of “diversity.” Those who oppose the gay agenda are singled out as “haters,” “bigots,” and “narrow-minded.”

Same-sex marriage, from a Biblical standpoint, is an absurdity. Probably more than 90% of Americans would have said the same thing a mere twenty years ago. Now, even Republicans—you know, the “conservatives”—are on the verge of accepting it as normal. A recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Republican voters no longer have a problem with it.

While that certainly concerns me as a conservative, the more pressing problem is the change occurring with those who claim to be Christians. The shift within the supposed Christian community is disheartening.

One Christian professor at a Baptist seminary has come up with a sad, yet from my perspective, accurate description of what is happening. He sees evangelicals moving toward the same acceptance of same-sex marriage as the overall culture.

Here are the stages he outlines.

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelical starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The professor then goes on to state that while it may take some time for people to go from stage 2 to stage 3, once they hit stage 3, they quite often go rapidly into stage 4.

I teach at an evangelical university. During the Obama presidency, we, along with other evangelical universities, experienced pressure to change our public stand on this issue or else our students would be cut off from getting education loans and our accreditation might be withdrawn over time.

Some may think that just because we presently have a Republican Congress and a president who curries favor with evangelicals that we are “safe.” Believing that all is back to “normal” would be the height of wishful thinking.

It is crucial for those who truly know what it means to be brought out of the pit of sinful destruction and receive the mercy and grace of God to stand firm at this time on Biblical teaching about sin.

Many will twist my words, saying they are hateful. They are just the opposite. I want everyone caught in a sinful life to be set free. I needed that in my life at one point and God graciously gave me a new life. I seek the same for others.

All sin—homosexuality included—leads to chains that bind us. When we are in those chains, we get used to them and our consciences become seared. The Christian’s responsibility is, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to break through that seared conscience with the twin weapons of Truth and Love so that those caught in the trap will see their need and respond to God’s mercy through Christ.

To be faithful to God’s truth and to speak to our society about that truth is the most loving thing we can do.

Cheap Grace, Cheap Politics

Bad theology always leads to bad application in life. One of the worst theological mistakes is something called “cheap grace,” and this year we have seen the cheap grace theology rear its ugly head in the promotion of “cheap politics.”

What is meant by cheap grace? The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, in chapter 5, lays out the wonderful news that God’s grace has abounded even in the midst of sin. Where sin increased, he informs us, grace has increased all the more.

But lest he be misunderstood, in what we now call chapter 6, he went on to warn against what he knew would be one obvious misunderstanding:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . .

Our old self was crucified with Him . . . so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Many Christians then use chapter 7 of the same book to bolster the idea that Christians continue to sin all the time. I don’t agree with that interpretation. I believe Paul is speaking about his past life and the state of all men before becoming Christians.

Why do I believe that? At the end of that chapter, he declares, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Read chapter 8 and you will see that he goes on to talk about the victorious Christian life.

cheap-graceEven if you disagree with my interpretation, are you really going to promote the idea that Christians can constantly sin and that a transformation of life is not necessary? That is bad theology indeed.

I believe God calls us to holiness. I believe we are to have compassion on those caught in sin, but must at the same time hold up the moral standard and call people to faith in Christ to achieve that standard.

I don’t believe we should put people in positions of authority whose lives are walking testaments to supreme egotism and selfishness.

When I hear Christians say about political candidates, “Well, no one is perfect and Jesus isn’t running for president this year,” my spirit sinks when I contemplate the low moral bar we are so willing to accept.

Because I maintain that there are levels of imperfection in candidates and that some have crossed the line to the extent that we should never support them, I’ve been called a Pharisee, full of pride, and a Hillary supporter. Never mind that I hold Hillary to the same standard as Trump, and they both fail the test.

Whenever I’m accused of being a Clinton advocate, I simply remind people of the book I published back in 2001 that dealt with Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In that book, Mission: Impeachable, I gave the Republican congressmen who argued for his removal from office a platform to make their case. I have long been aware of the moral turpitude surrounding both Clintons. I have been writing and speaking about their multiple lies and corruption for years.

no-case-here

So please spare me the insult that I somehow want this woman in the White House.

I’ve also been ridiculed as someone who uses conscience as an excuse. Well, excuse me, but I will not willingly violate what I believe God is speaking to my conscience. It’s not an excuse; it’s a conviction.

This goes further. Throughout this campaign, people like me have had to constantly endure the disdain of those who lecture us that we have to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Well, excuse me again. I have never, throughout my lifetime voting experience, ever chosen the lesser of two evils. I have never deliberately, knowingly voted for evil.

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1972, having reached the ripe age of 21. Some might say I voted for evil because I cast my ballot for Richard Nixon. Keep in mind, though, that this was prior to all the Watergate revelations.

In all succeeding elections, not only at the presidential level, but at the state and local levels as well, I have sought to vote for the better candidate without a thought that the person I was voting for was a “lesser of two evils.”

In 2008, I cast my vote for John McCain. He was not my first choice, and I considered him a less desirable nominee than some of the other Republican candidates, but I never thought he was evil.

The same can be said for my 2012 vote for Mitt Romney. I had qualms about some of his policy positions in the past, but I didn’t perceive him as an evil person. His character stood the test for me.

This year has been entirely different. Both Hillary and Trump are on the other side of that moral dividing line, in my opinion. Trump is no less a liar than Hillary, and his character should have been a disqualification from the start.

path-to-270

What’s interesting is that most evangelicals agreed with my assessment for many months. Then something changed.

My blog is not widely known. I’m not a big name in the nation (for which I am actually grateful). The highest number of “likes” I had ever received for a blog prior to this year was 811 back during the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality.

Then, this year, right after the South Carolina Republican primary, which Trump won apparently with evangelical support, I wrote about how that was incongruous with Christian faith. That particular blog post blew all others out of the water, amassing more than 4,500 “likes.” If you want to go back to that one to see what I said, click on February 22, 2016, on the calendar to the right of this page.

I was encouraged after writing that post because it seemed as if evangelicals were united in decrying the type of candidate we had in Trump.

Then Trump won the nomination and I’ve been assailed ever since for staying the course with my views on his unsuitability for public office, especially an office as significant as the presidency.

good-evilA survey of evangelicals now shows that 72% have no issue with an immoral politician holding this high office. That number used to be 30%.

Oh, for the good old days of Bill Clinton when evangelicals actually cared about character. I see hypocrisy all around. What was decried and condemned in a former president on the Democrat side of politics is now excused in a candidate with a similar character only because he has an “R” by his name and he is running against another Clinton.

Some Christians are proclaiming that Trump is God’s anointed. One even told anti-Trumper Erick Erickson that his wife has cancer because he has spoken against Trump, and she would be healed if only he would change his mind.

We’re told Trump is the new Cyrus who will be God’s chosen vessel. I like Erickson’s response to that when he quoted Scripture himself, noting that Paul warned,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.

Get rid of that itch, please. Even if you believe you have no other option but to vote for Donald Trump, don’t be his cheerleader, and don’t twist Scripture to try to rationalize that he’s God’s anointed.

If you are going to vote for him, please do it with eyes wide open to who he really is, and could you do it with some measure of reluctance? That would be at least one step closer to the Biblical standard we are all called to uphold.

Those who are true Christians at heart (not just the cultural kind) need to reject cheap grace and the cheap politics that comes along with it.

Reflections of a Natural Introvert

I’m an introvert. Really, I am. Whenever I inform students of that fact, they have a hard time believing it because I’m animated when I teach and love to interact with humor.

But I am an introvert.

BooksMy natural inclination is to sit in my recliner in my study, surrounded by books, and devote myself to them. Let the world go away. Give me my peace and solitude. That, and a cup of coffee, is a pleasurable way to pass the time.

I’m constantly reading. Here’s what I have going right now on my reading schedule: C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love (slow going for someone who is not well versed in medieval writings); Paradise Lost (taking up a challenge because I’ve never read it and I would like to understand Lewis’s preface to it—another future reading); Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés (honing my cultural analysis); Os Guinness’s new book, Impossible People (a clarion call for Christians to be thorough Christians in our culture); and another Stephen Lawhead novel (because I just love his writing).

Yes, I’m reading all of those simultaneously. When classes begin again, I’m not going to get quite as much reading done as I am now.

That natural inclination to withdraw and enjoy my own little world comes into conflict with the urge within me, planted by God, I believe, to break out of the cocoon and speak His truth.

That’s why I teach, and that’s why I write this blog. Personally, I would love to avoid all controversies. I would relish leaving politics behind, especially this year when I see no viable option for the presidency.

Yet there is this “calling.” I’ve mentioned the prophet Jeremiah before, the one who cried out to God that he didn’t want to speak anymore because he kept getting bad reactions to his words. I understand.

Take My YokeThis is what God does to (and for) us, though. He pushes us out of that place of comfort. He tells us to take up His cross and be His disciples. He never promised that we would sail through life without burdens to bear.

I know that. Some days I embrace it; other days I utter the Jeremiah complaint.

The Lord allows us to withdraw at times; Jesus did the same in His ministry. But all withdrawals are for one purpose: regaining the strength to continue the calling. Withdrawals, if done properly, are the times we draw on His reservoir of grace so that we will be the most effective witnesses of His truth that we can be.

All of my reading is part of the preparation to be what God wants me to be in that world out there. As long as I keep that perspective, and not make an idol out of those relaxed times of peace, He will be able to use me for His ongoing purposes.

That’s my reflection for today. I thank God for the time to reflect. It steels me for whatever lies ahead.