I just bumped into this comic since the previous Conversations, and I was struck by how much Christian literature falls in precisely this camp. As I’m looking into doing a church plant, I read quite a bit of literature about church planting and much of it is essentially summarized by, “I have a big church, here’s how you can get a big church too.” I realize that’s crassly cynical, but sometimes I think we could do with a bit more cynicism about the literature we consume in our own circles.
I say this not to imply that many who produce such literature are unqualified to do so, but rather to suggest we should be more credulous about molding ourselves as little Kellers or Pipers to aspire to their success (they are not representatives of the literature I mention above – merely public figures I imagine you all know). Frequently, the reasons for the success of even the best of us are entirely beyond our comprehension. We are inclined, naturally to look for the practical causes and reasons behind success, but the narratives which we generate from such an inquiry should be held lightly.
The last thing gospel minded churches need to do is to politicize their pulpits. But we also have to recognize that when the Bible is preached there are political ramifications.
The primary topic discussed on this Briefing is President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty. Al Mohler’s discussion here is useful, but I actually think his caution about speaking to the political motivations and likely outcomes of this action is unfortunate. As Mohler points out, there is undeniably a great deal of religious speech which necessarily has political implications, and we must not muzzle the church from speaking the gospel when the implications of such touch the political sphere. He also notes that Johnson amendment was virtually never enforced, which is good, but the arguments about the “cooling effect” somewhat misses the point. The widespread failure to enforce the Johnson amendment points to the fact that people, on a wide scale, actually do understand that you can’t speak meaningfully about virtually anything without such speech having political implications. The Johnson amendment, then, was law without any clear application or teeth – a tumor which, albeit annoying, was benign. Its removal actually brings to the fore the fundamental question behind the amendment – what are the limits on the church’s speech in the public square?
I personally am quite nervous about the way this has fallen out, as it represents an obvious attempt, on the part of Donald Trump, to enable to freer speech of those who advocated his political cause. 81% of white, evangelical Christians voted for Trump, and it is as predictable as Pixar making you cry about inanimate objects that Trump would want to free up that group to advocate his cause more openly. To be clear, I think, from a moral and legal perspective, that this change is entirely a positive one. It permits churches to be more honest and open about the implications of the gospel. However, the change also permits the church, if it is unwise, to wed itself more tightly to the moral garbage fire that is Donald Trump.
While the Johnson amendment was a silly, impractical, and ultimately immoral restriction, it is undeniable that fear of legal reprisals (the supposed “cooling effect”) have restrained many Christian ministers from more openly advocating political candidates. Even if the cause of this effect is immoral, the effect itself is actually quite desirable. With the guardrail removed, I fear that a great many Christian ministers will politicize their pulpits in toxic and evil ways. Seen this way, I believe that the gain is quite minimal, while the risk is massive. I pray we may have the wisdom to stay away from the cliff, guardrail or not, but I have no such faith in the evangelical church in America in this day and age. May God preserve us.
For a more nuts-and-bolts approach to the details of the EO, read here from TGC
Theological ideas not rooted in God’s Word—even if attractive and useful—are ultimately unwarranted. I can imagine how easy it is to draw powerful applications from the notion that Saul the persecutor met the risen Jesus and was so transformed that Jesus gave him a new name. That will preach, especially given how closely connected naming and identity are in Scripture. Nevertheless, without biblical evidence for such an idea, we should not use it. Even if it spoils the fun.
First, I think Dr. Lanier’s point is precisely correct. If you’ve been at seminary for much time at all, you start to hear the phrase “that will preach” echoing off the walls. Pastors and preachers have an strong draw toward ideas and construction which commend themselves to compelling use in sermons. The desire to preach compellingly is a positive one, but we have to be sure that we are pulling on ideas because they are true, not because they’re going to let us level a nice zinger at the congregation.
Second (and the real reason I included the article), is that I have taken two classes from Dr. Lanier recently and I actually laughed uncomfortably loudly at the bit below:
The problem is that such a view, however common, isn’t accurate. I hate to ruin the fun.
I guarantee you, he does not hate this, nor is he meaningfully able to conceal his glee throughout the article. This is absolutely not criticism, but rather one of those moments when you see someone’s personality come out so clearly in an article that you just have to laugh.
Indeed, I hope that we can have joy in digging deeply into the Word, tearing down myths and lies to make the truth clear. If more of us were jolly warriors, it would bless our cause.