Book Review – Letters to an American Christian

It’s not polite to talk religion or politics…

…so let’s write a book on both.  Yeah…I wouldn’t have bought this book, but sometimes being a book reviewer forces me to read things I would normally run away from, which is usually a good thing.  I love to talk “religion” [note the intentional quotes], but truth be told I actually despise politics and avoid talking about it entirely. [Except in my head usually when I’m scrolling through Twitter…]  I can’t stomach the partisan rhetoric, the divorcing of a biblical world view for a political party and the overwhelming bloat and corruption that has come to be systemic.  

Now that I have that out of my system…let’s talk about this book.  Bruce Riley Ashford is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and regular contributor to religion and politics topics at places like Fox News.  The book is a series of “letters” between himself and a young Christian who is looking for guidance and perspective in how his new faith should interact with the world of politics.  This makes for a fun and enjoyable read.

Riley, as smart as he is, sees plenty of guys like me.  Christians can’t disengage from politics, as ugly as it may be sometimes.  “Our Christian faith functions as the deepest motivation for contributing for the common good of our nation…it gives [us] the courage to criticize powerful politicians, corporations, or influencers even there might be negative repercussions for doing so.” [6-7]

The world and the politics reflected in it are, undeniably, embedded into an overall God-centered worldview and a solid biblical theology.  The Bible tells us that sin is alive and well because of the rejection of God as our King.  “It should be no surprise that the realm of politics is twisted and corrupt.” [14]  I knew this was coming…I needed to hear this, and the first two chapters gave a great foundation and a great tone to begin.

I was very happy to see it doesn’t take Riley long to place a stake in the ground not only in a Biblical worldview of all things, including politics – but to also identify the most important political assembly – the church.

Yes, I reacted negatively to this at first as well, but the author defined his terms well “the church is political in the sense that it is the only divinely instituted embassy for Christ’s Kingship. And for that reason, it is the one policy assembly in which every Christian American should participate.” [31-32]

The church is a physical representation of the spiritual kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  This claim was not lost on the early Christians.  So much so that “Paul had to remind them to give proper respect to the Roman government and resist the temptation toward anarchy. If that were true of Jesus – the founder of our faith – and true of his first followers, doesn’t it make sense that God’s set-apart community today, the local church, would be similarly political?” [33]

Keeping boundaries in place is therefore very important here.  “Whereas statism is a situation in which the government exceeds its proper limits, ecclesiasticism is a circumstance in which the church oversteps its bounds.” [43]. We are not called to “take the place of government or control it.  On the other hand, governments and political leaders are not called by God to appoint pastors, baptize church meets, or interpret the Bible.” [41]. I was very happy to read this as well, in today’s world we can count on a steady stream of lane-swerving from both camps.

So…we need “Christian thinkers who will soak themselves in the biblical narrative and Christian tradition so that they will be able, reflexively and intuitively, to challenge the reigning narratives of the political, parties, and cable news networks. So they will counteract the foolishness that dominates our nations public square and the incivility the degrades our public discourse.” [54]

That might be my favorite paragraph in the whole book.    Of course, I’m totally still chicken to jump into a political discussion. To that end…the author spends the rest of the book reviewing a “Christian view on hot-button issues.”

I would commend these remaining chapters to you, as the author faces them head on with a solid biblical worldview, with a healthy balance of grace and love. I can’t say I agree with him on his perspectives and/or tone, but this is why we as Christians need to engage on politics and hot-button issues.  We need to be encouraged to think outside of our own thought patterns and be challenged on some things, and affirmed on others.

The third and final part of the book offered many helpful encouragements, I found his identification of four opportunities before us:

  1. We need to reintroduce God to the public imagination.
  2. We need to decenter ourselves in our political endeavors, God is the point.
  3. We need to reframe public issues in light of the gospel.
  4. We need to revitalize cultural institutions.  [IOW…don’t shrink back..get involved.]

I commend this book to all who are, perhaps like me, fearful to engage in political thought…it should be like all things – we do so with a solid biblical filter in place and all for the glory of God as we shine the light of the gospel to all.

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God of Our Own Understanding

lightstock_294429_xsmall_user_1188538Several times this week I’ve been confronted by others perspectives on God.  At an AA meeting, celebrating a friend’s sobriety, I heard testimony from others about how they trusted in God – “as they understood Him.”  A best-selling book has become a movie and will most likely make millions – but yet it portrays God in a way that is different from the Bible.   A popular “Christian” artist caused a firestorm on Twitter by discrediting the Orthodox teaching of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us on the cross.

Is any of this a big deal?  Social media has seen a slew of reprisal posts calling for people to “calm down” with all this doctrine and just love each other, after all people…we aren’t supposed to be theologians, are we?  That’s just for seminarians, Pastors, and other egg-heads, right? [No…that picture is not me…]  Well…yes, we are…because anytime we open our mouth (out loud or online) about God, we are theologians.  So it is sort of a big deal- because like it or not, we are all theologians.  The question remains will we be good theologians or bad ones?

The way to be a good theologian is to seek to know God where he reveals himself and teaches us about himself – in His Word, the Bible.  We must therefore conform our thoughts about God to be aligned with what’s in the Bible, not of our own understanding. Here…don’t believe me – look what the Bible says…

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

(1 Corinthians 2:12–13 ESV)

Two applications come from consideration of this passage.

  1. The Holy Spirit brings understanding.  Our eyes have to be opened by God to understand spiritual things.  Jesus is the one who “utters the words of God and gives the Spirit without measure.” [John 3:34] so we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of God proclaimed about Jesus…the gospel.  After conversion, we continue to seek deeper growth and understanding through the Holy Spirit causing us to understand God’s word.
  2. Theology informs our lives – we live out what we believe.  Humans are interpreters.  We all have a worldview, a perspective that we filter life through.  What we believe about God is HUGE, it colors all of our interpretations about life, so we must be all the more diligent to ensure it is accurate, as compared to who God claims to be in the Bible.   Otherwise…we can drift away into strange and dangerous teachings. [See more from Hebrews 2:1; 2 Tim 4:4, etc.]

 

Refocusing from the Post-Pastoral Haze

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So. Yeah. This past Tuesday night I became a Pastor. Officially voted in. Some emotions include: humbled, joyful, numb, scared, excited, anxious, ready-to-get-going, did I mention humbled? I have a blurred memory that night of people asking me how I was feeling (perhaps I looked shocked or sick?) and my response was “Um…kinda numb right now. Thanks.” As the numbness has started to dissipate, it’s time to get back to normal with blogging/journaling. (The treadmill can wait…)

My focus will be discipleship and worship. On the discipleship side, I’ll be working first with the youth groups who are fresh off of a trip to WOL Snow Camp where many professed faith in Jesus for new life and reconciliation with God.

How fitting that I was in Matthew 28 today on the reading plan. This is the crux of our task in discipleship:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Jesus is the authority over all. We are commanded to submit to him, making disciples of all nations. How do we do that? We use the word of God – teaching them to obey all that he has commanded us. The whole word of God, all of it, Old and New Testaments is one story – the plan of redemption. God’s plan to redeem us sinful humans back to him, thru His Son – Jesus. We boldly proclaim and “hold fast” to the word of life (Phil 1:16) – it is our tool for making disciples, his all sufficient perfect word.

May we dig deeply into it today and have the courage to trust that what God has commanded us in it is far better than anything this world offers us.

All of the Bible points to Jesus

Reading in Luke 24, and John 21-21 today…talking about the resurrection of Jesus. Besides the totally amazing nature of that in an of itself, the other thing that struck me was the prominence of the Scriptures and how it is explained in these passages.

  1. All of the Bible points to Jesus. Luke 24:27 says “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus is talking to his disciples after God raised him from the dead, they were “slow to understand” what everything meant and Jesus makes it plain to them…all of the Bible points to me, all the prophecies he fulfilled and all of the story of Israel is the working of God’s redemptive plan in history to bring about the events that just happened.
  2. We have the scriptures written down so that we may believe. John 20:31 says “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The fulfilling of all the prophecies and God’s redemptive plan, his rescue mission for us is in Jesus…and it is all recorded by men carried along by the Holy Spirit, this isn’t something man invented. God’s word is clear in 2 Peter 1:20-21

    20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

    All of scripture, Old and New Testaments, point to Jesus the “Christ” – the “Anointed One”, the Messiah. They are written by men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, men ‘spoke from God’ as the verse says above —  with one purpose and one story line – to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for us to believe, and by believing have life in his name.

    Let us read with word from this perspective – they are not just words on a page, they are the story of life that God offers us in Jesus!