Friday, October 27, 2006

Should Christians Fast from Politics?

I enjoyed listening to Al Mohler's thoughts on this question discussed on his radio program during a leisurely jog a couple nights ago. He discussed David Kuo's book on the Bush administration (recent related post here). Best of all, I think Mohler more or less says what I believe. We ought to vote, and it's reasonable to attempt to exert influence. But we shouldn't trust in politics to transform culture, and we certainly shouldn't let cultural and political involvement distract the Church in any way from its mission of evangelism and discipleship.

The most interesting part to me was his question, "Is it possible [as Kuo asserts] that this White House has duped and seduced American evangelical Christians?"

I can sum up his answer in two words: "Well, DUH!"

If you want more, here it is:
[A]ny Christian who would be so seduced either doesn't understand Christianity or doesn't understand the political process. . . . I'm not shocked by [the low priority moral issues sometimes get] because I expect that. I don't just assume that that means all of a sudden I should get cynical about either this administration or the political process. The only way you can be newly cynical about this is if you were horribly naive before, which, by the way, has to explain David Kuo. Either he was dishonest in this book or he was just extremely naive.
This part of the discussion starts around 15:00 in. Listen further for his discussion of the seduction of evangelical leaders.

On a related question, I'm wondering why folks associated with Reformed soteriology vary so widely on the role of the Church in politics and culture. People like MacArthur, Doran, and Mohler minimize the Church's role. People like Carl Henry, Tim Keller, and Paleo commenter "Keith" make politics and culture a much higher priority. My initial instinct is that it comes down to the premillennialism of the former versus the amillennialism or postmillennialism of the latter, but then there are scads of evangelicals who vehemently reject Reformed soteriology who are into politics and culture up to their eyeballs. I would genuinely appreciate a plausible explanation.

12 comments:

Keith said...

Wow! I'm in the same list as Carl Henry and Tim Keller. Ben, you just made my day. I'm not sure why you put my name in quotation marks though. Keith really is my Christian name -- Keith Phillips.

One clarification, I don't think I've argued strongly for putting our hope in politics (I'm really no Henry or Keller though, so I may be forgetting) or even for a lot of political activism.

I have defended the position that Scripture gives Christians a cultural mandate. And I do believe that we produce culture no matter what we think of it's importance, so we might as well produce a culture that reflects truth and helps propogate truth.

Christ changes individuals, families, churches, communities, and governements. All of these influence all the others, so all should be viewed as worthy of attention. I don't think we can say that there is a set order to how they help or hurt each other.

Even so, I tend to think that we need to change culture in order to change politics -- not change politics in order to change culture.

Ben said...

Keith,

Thought you'd like that.

I wasn't trying to suggest your name isn't real, but rather that I didn't know your last name and "Keith" isn't necessarily a name people should be expecting to recognize.

I realize you've been defending the cultural mandate, not necessarily a political one. But if I'm reading you right, you believe that a more healthy (i.e. consistent with biblical worldview) culture, which includes legal authorities and the political processes that define them, will aid evangelism.

Hope that clarifies

Keith said...

Yeah, overall I like it, and your clarification is fairly good.

However, I'm still not sure that I've made myself totally clear.

I think that a culture that perpetuates a worldview in which people presuppose the existence of things like truth, morality, eternal life, and divine judgement can aid evangelism because in such a culture people more easily understand the need for Christ.

That thought, though, does not mean that evangelism can not occur in cultures antagonistic to the Christian worldview. Many, many people are evangelized in such situations.

In other words, evangelism can and does occur in all kinds of cultures.

Even so, it seems self evident that good cultures are better than bad cultures and that Christians should work for the good because it is good.

Anyway, I'll let it rest, and just thank you again for mentioning my name alongside Henry and Keller. I am smiling and enjoying the discussion.

Oh, like you, I wonder why some arminian premil guys go after culture and politics. I think they do it differently than the reformed, but why do they do it at all? In there scheme, things need to get worse for Christ to return, so why work to make things better? As far as why MacArthur, Doran, and Mohler minimize culture, I think you already explained it -- they are only "reformed" in soteriology.

Still smiling

Keith said...

One more thing to confuse things even more -- I agree with the Mohler quote in your post.

I think the key here might be defining terms what is "politics" what is "culture" and what is "church".

I think that the church evangelizing and discipling properly will result in a certain culture.

Bruce McKanna said...

Not to butt in, but I'll lend my support to "Keith" "Phillips" and his buddies Henry and Keller.

As long as Christians work jobs, raise families, eat food, and sing songs, they are creating culture whether they like it or not. Even if all Christians were suddenly to become pastors or missionaries as full-time occupations, they would not be able to avoid participating in culture, and thus either going with the prevailing winds of the world or living according to The Way. But the fact is most Christians are not full-time pastors and missionaries (and rightly so), and many of us in the West are not just working a job, but working in a profession, which means that we often have great opportunities to shape and not just be shaped by our world.

Whether I am a farmer, teacher, biologist or lawyer, I am not only to "do" it to the glory of God, but I am to "be" it to the glory of God. I do not believe that that attitude and approach should be limited to doing good work in my little cubicle all alone, but seeking to bring truth and beauty to my industry/field/sector. I do not do this just so I can make a more effective evangelistic pitch later on; it's simply because it is honoring to God.

Thus, a Christian politician should be more than honest. He or she should be crafting bills, enforcing laws, and shaping societal structures to reflect God's character: mercy, justice, faithfulness, truth, love, etc. This is not to create a Christian nation, redeem culture, or "take back America." It is simply faithful Christian living in the world in which God put us to be his image and have dominion.

Why are those who don't have this theology so deeply into politics? I believe that it's the fact that they just can't help themselves in their love of and identity with traditional Americanism. Do you ever see Falwell urging fair trade? Outside of "moral" issues, guys like Falwell, Dobson, Sheldon, and Robertson take positions on economics and foreign policy that seek a continued American dominance on the world scene. What's distinctively Christian about that?

And I also see that the precipitous moral decline of our country has perhaps drawn these Christians instinctively into the fight even when their theology doesn't warrant that kind of political response. This is, of course, connected to the Americanism issue, since it often seems they are more concerned about not losing "our country" and "our values" than they are about seeing Christ proclaimed and exalted.

Too often the activism of Christians has been akin to the proverbial pendulum. When we feel we have influence, we believe in politics. When we are losing traction, we say we should have no part in it. We are in an unusual moment in history that seems to encourage loud voices on both sides.

I agree that we shouldn't trust in politics and politicians. But that doesn't to mean that we shouldn't do politics-- it simply means that we do it and do it rightly because it is right, not because we are going to achieve the Kingdom apart from the King.

Ben, when are you going to read Russell Moore's The Kingdom of Christ?

Keith said...

Keith Phillips says amen.

Ben said...

Keith,

I think I'm understanding you better than I regurgitate you.

My position in all this is probably somewhat fluid, and I don't doubt that some of my previous statements may be contradictory, although I don't have any in mind. My current position is that the mission of the church as a body is to evangelize and make disciples. The mission of individual believers is to reflect accurately the image of God to the world, in whatever pursuits they engage themselves. I don't see those two missions as mutually exclusive at all.

I do agree that these actions will have influence culture and politics. I deny that this influence is necessary as some sort of pre-evangelism, although my opinion is that it may be used providentially to cultivate seeds sown in evangelism.

How different is that from what you guys are saying?

By the way, I don't believe that dispensational theology demands that the world gets any worse than it is for the rapture to occur. I think this is a common distortion, although there may be some dispensationalists who've said that in the past.

Bruce,

Is it possible that the non-reformed dispensationalists just like power and influence?

My working theory on those guys is that they have a small view of God and a big view of man, so they think not only that they must carry the culture war in their own efforts, but also that they can do so successfully. But that's just a theory.

On Russell Moore's book, it's on the list, but I perceive a great deal of required reading in my future over the next several months. Maybe in June-ish? Can I finish Wells' quadrilogy first? Please? Just one more to go.

Ben said...

If you want to write a review, BTW, I might know a place that would publish it. Royalties are pretty scant though.

Keith said...

I think I agree with your last regurgitation almost completely -- have one or both of us changed, or have we just finally understood one another?

Only minor quibbles would be: I don't think the individual believers must reflect God's glory individualistically -- there's no reason to outlaw coalitions of Christians. I also think that discipleship is probably much more about culture and community than you -- it's not just about ethics.

Oh, and I know that Dispensationalism doesn't require the world to get worse for Christ to return -- imminence and all that. However, it most certainly does require that the world not get any better. So, the question remains, why work to make the world better?

Bruce McKanna said...

Ben, I'll gladly add your point to my list, and I'm sure you'd agree that the lust for power, influence, and plain old attention is pretty common to human beings in general. It was clear from Falwell's own statements on NPR a couple of months ago that he likes to say things just to get a bigger reaction and more exposure (so the message can be heard, of course).

I agree with you that our work in culture is not done as pre-evangelism. This is true for many reasons, but I am especially troubled whenever we feel we need to justify doing good on the grounds of some sort of instrumental or utilitarian value. The closest Scriptural support for doing good to aid evangelism that I can think of would be in Titus 2:1-10 (specifically 5, 8, and 10). However, there is no way for us to look at this passage and say that evangelism was the reason for them to live godly lives—this needs no justification! But at the same time, they needed to pursue godly habits and avoid sin, knowing that failure in these things would negatively impact their witness.

Simply put, our line of thought should not be:
We need to do our “most important job,” which is evangelism.
So we should do good deeds, in order that our evangelism will be more successful.
But rather:
We must live godly lives because we have been redeemed by Christ’s death for us.
We must consider how our sinful acts undermine our claim to be devoted to Christ, who died for our sin; conversely, when we do good, it reflects the reality of the new creation in us.

Why is the difference so important? Because the first way of reasoning makes our good deeds a means to an end, and we come off as buying an audience and underestimating the gospel’s power. The second way of thinking makes our good deeds integral to what God has done in us through the gospel, and thus makes the gospel all the more true by giving evidence of its effects.

As I said in a previous post, we do good works because we are in the world and we were made to live in it, imaging God and having dominion. But as Christians, we are to do what is right also because we have been redeemed. Perhaps this could be described as a “new creation” mandate. We are not just saved souls, we are redeemed people who are living in a fallen world—a real world that should see and experience the real transformation in our lives.

The social gospel says we will "save" the world by our good deeds. The true gospel says Jesus saves sinners by grace in order “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” See Titus 2:11 all the way through 3:8.

Now go back to Titus 2:1-10. The reason why sinning harms the spread of the Gospel is because we can’t preach a gospel that says God is holy, people are sinful, and all must come to Christ in faith for the forgiveness of sins to avoid eternal punishment, if at the same time we are indifferent to sin in our own lives. We can’t proclaim the lordship of Christ over all things if we aren’t living as his obedient servants. Personal sin discredits the evangel and undermines our evangelism. Holy living (not just abstaining from evil, but doing good) adorns the evangel and supports our evangelism.

How does this relate to the question of Christians in politics? A Christian should not be involved for the wrong reasons: to redeem society (liberal) or to save America (conservative). He should be active in government if he has the desire, ability, and calling to public service, if he is doing so for the glory of God, thus bringing honor to Christ and his gospel. His devotion to God will not compete with his ability to serve people, but rather acts as the basis for that service. His faithful work will witness to the truth of the gospel even as his evangelism seeks to give witness to the true gospel. His life is corroborating the gospel rather than sabotaging it.

When will we see love, sacrifice, justice, mercy and humility along with truth as the marks of Christian political action? Would it be accurate to say that our "truth-speaking" has been in some sense less true for its lack of the above?

Ben said...

Keith,

I think we've done two things: 1) Narrowed down our areas of disagreement more precisely so that they're not as broad as they might have appeared, and 2) Figured out how to talk in the same categories. I think that's mostly on my side.

But I will point out one more major area of disagreement. I do not at all believe that we're working to make the world better. Making the world better is neither our objective nor our ability.

Ben said...

Bruce,

I think you need to be blogging. Or writing. Or something. That kind of articulation deserves more than a comment thread.

In other words, I agree with you. Right down the line. Funny how Cedarville to TEDS can look so much like BJU to MBBC to SEBTS. Nature over nurture, perhaps?