Three Guiding Principles for the Church

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. Doing so may reveal that we’ve gotten off track. Or it may affirm and empower us in the way in which we are already going.

With so many voices and competing truth claims pulling us this way and that, it behooves us to recall what it is that we are to be about as Christians, both individually and collectively. And when we turn to the Bible, God has given three main guiding principles. They are:

  • The Creation Mandate
  • The Great Commandment
  • The Great Commission

Let’s look at each briefly.

The Creation Mandate

Otherwise known as “The Cultural Mandate,” this is the nickname given to Genesis 1:28 which says: “God blessed them and said to them,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Christians throughout the ages have seen this as a call to cultural, familial, and societal participation. It calls people to get married and have children. To work to provide for yourself. To contribute to society. To pursue creative endeavors. To grow food. To take care of animals. To build cities. To seek the good of your community.

These ideas are echoed elsewhere in Scripture. To The Jewish exiles, the prophet Jeremiah passes on a message from God, urging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The Apostle Paul also reminds the Thessalonian church: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This guiding principle tells us that God assigns dignity to the mundane, to the normal parts of life. God does not call us only to evangelism or only to loving one another; he calls us also to work in the contexts of creation and our families and communities.

The Great Commandment

We see this spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is the call to be guided by love in all we do–first by love for God and then by love of other people. We love God by learning about him, using our energy to serve him, and communing with him. 1st Corinthians 13 lists ways that we can love our fellow humans–by treating them with kindness, being patient, assuming the best, and speaking the truth. This principle, the call to be guided by love, reminds us that God cares not just about our knowledge, but also about our affections and motivations.

The Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissions his disciples specifically and the church generally, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Similar ideas are expressed in Acts 1:8, which quotes Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The idea is that Christ wants his church to grow—in breadth (making new converts) and in depth (creating mature disciples). Another component of “breadth” is that Jesus wants disciples of all kinds of people. Following the pattern of Acts 1:8, Christians are to evangelize and disciple those near to them (Jerusalem), those unlike them (Samaria), and those far away from them (the ends of the earth). This guiding principle reminds local church bodies to look beyond themselves in the cause of bringing people to maturity in Christ. It may require immense effort and discomfort, and yet it is what God has called and empowered the church to do! Christ will build his church, the Gates of Hell will not prevail, and he calls us to participate in such a work.

Conclusion

When the church neglects any one of these principles, it becomes unbalanced; worse, it fails to live according to the call that God has given. On a corporate level, various denominations may tend to focus on one principle while neglecting another. On individual level, a person’s culture or personality may lend itself more towards one over the others. The point is not that everyone needs to apply these principles in the same way, but rather that all three should be pursued in some way–individually, yes; but even moreso, corporately.

On the other hand, to those who feel discouraged, unsure if their tasks matter, may these principles offer encouragement. Whether you are caring for children at home, making beautiful YouTube videos, teaching missionary kids, holding the hands of the sick, praying with a co-worker, or participating in local government—what you are doing matters for God’s Kingdom! Press on, dear friends!

So, in closing, let us remember the dignity of work, the beauty of creativity, and the weight of our duties to society and family. May we be guided by holy affections and motivations. And may we live out the vision of the expansion and maturity of Christ’s church.

Let’s get back to basics, shall we?

~Hannah 🌸

Ministry Matters: Receiving Ministry From Jesus // John 3:1-15

Ministry Matters 1

Text: John 3:1-15

Introduction:

Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, opened blind eyes, multiplied food for hungry people, and the list could go on, but all of these miracles pointed to the greatest of miracles – showing people the kingdom. Because once someone saw the kingdom of God at work on earth then they were born again. Their blinded eyes were opened. Why do think Paul went blind for three days and had scales on his eyes after he saw Jesus?

Was it simply because the light from Jesus’ glory was so bright that it blinded and that’s just what happens when you see Jesus? Maybe, but I think it was more than that. I think it was so people could relate to Paul’s story more.

Everyone may not know what it’s like to have Jesus personally come down and knock you off your horse, but anyone who has been saved can say with a surety that they know what’s like for scales to fall from their eyes as a result of seeing the kingdom.

  • That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that if the Gospel is hidden, it’s hidden to those that are perishing whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

This morning, I want us to start a new series called, “Ministry Matters,” and I want us to start it off by looking at this passage because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t really minister to people unless you’ve been ministered to. People can’t encounter Jesus through you if you’ve never encountered Jesus.

So, we have Jesus ministering to Nicodemus, and what is it that Nicodemus needs more than anything? He needs a complete transformation. He needs renewal. He needs regeneration.

  • If you don’t know what the word regeneration means, it’s a word that us stodgy Reformed use to describe what happens when Jesus comes in cleans house which is exactly what happens when someone is born again.

So, this morning, I want us to see that Nicodemus’ needs are our needs. His questions are our questions, and when we talk to other people, they’re like Nicodemus. They’ve got questions and Jesus has answers. They’ve got problems and Jesus has solutions.

It is no mere coincidence that this passage follows John 2:25 where John tells us that Jesus knew what is in the heart of man, then that is followed by this encounter with Nicodemus and this is followed by an encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

We have in John 3, Jesus talking with one who represents the intelligentsia, the upper echelon of society. He’s a religious leader. He has money, power, prestige, but he does not know what it is to truly see the Kingdom of God.

We have in John 4, a woman who represents those in the lower class of society. She has had 5 husbands and now she’s shacking up with a man who isn’t even her husband. She’s broke, busted, and disgusted, all because she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.

I think what John is doing here is illustrating his point in John 2:25. He’s essentially saying, “Jesus knows the very heart of man and if you don’t believe me, I recall a conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus, and then there was this other time with a Samaritan woman.” John is making it crystal clear that Jesus is looking beyond what we pretend to be, beyond what society says we are, beyond how everyone else sees us and He sees into our very soul and looks directly at our NEED FOR HIM.

So in this passage, we need to recognize the ways that we are like Nicodemus, and we need to see what it is exactly that Jesus is saying to us through this passage in John 3.

Ways We Are Like Nicodemus:
1. We Are Good At Being Religious
2. We Come to Jesus with What We [Think We] Know
3. We Must Listen to What Jesus Is Saying

We’re Good at Being Religious

We’ve got a lot in common with Nicodemus. First of all, we’re good at being religious. Let’s not get confused. There is a good religion and a bad religion. Good religion motivates us to serve God by caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). There is a bad religion that even the best of us seem to fall into sometimes. It’s this kind of religion that Nicodemus is good at and a lot of us are good at. And it’s sneaky because it hides behind moralism so it looks good on the outside, but on the inside it leaves you full of dead men’s bones. (Matthew 23:27)

The good religion, the true religion that James mentions in James 1:27 is fleshed out more in the next chapter in James 2, and it doesn’t have to do with making sure your shirt is tucked in, or making sure you’ve not cussed, or making sure the Jesus fish on your bumper is on straight, it has to do with how you treat other people.

When we end up falling into Nicodemus’ religion instead of James’ ‘pure and undefiled’ religion, there’s some things that happen.

Church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are to be.
In the deep south, Bible belt culture of Arkansas, we’re good at being religious. Church is all most of us have ever known so we’re good at attending church, but we’re bad at being the Church. I know because I’m bad at being the Church. I’m going to be brutally honest. It’s much easier to ask someone where they go to church than whether or not they know Jesus as their savior.


Worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live.
We always say, “Worship starts at 11 AM.” Now, we all know what that means. It means that the corporate worship service starts at 11 AM, but in reality, Worship starts when you become born-again and it continues all through eternity.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1, NRSV

The King James says, ‘reasonable service.’ Paul is saying that it only makes sense live as a sacrifice. Paul says earlier in Romans 8 that we are being killed all the day long (Romans 8:36). So, if you’re facing death, (and we all are because that’s what it means to be human) then you might as well live as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. You’re gonna die anyway you might as well lay yourself on the altar. 

  • That’s what it means to live a life of worship, but unfortunately we get in this habit of believing worship is simply what we do on Sunday morning.


Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.
So, when church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are, and worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live, Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.

Nicodemus had no idea who he was talking to. “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” He was right. Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he was only half right. And that’s the only truth the devil likes, those truths that are half true, but they’re still whole lies.

Nicodemus was speaking to the very God who placed each star in the sky and called it by name. The same God that, by the Word of His mouth, called the universe in being, knew Nicodemus intimately, and knows us intimately inside and out, and He still loves us.

 

We Come to Jesus with What We Think We Know

Next, not only are we good at being religious, but we have a tendency to come to Jesus with what we think we know.

One of the most striking things about this passage is that the first things Nicodemus says is, “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” And then Jesus proceeds to unravel everything.

“Nicodemus said, “We know.” Then he began to rehearse the things he knew (or thought he knew) and with which he wanted to begin the discussion: (1) that Jesus was continuing to do many miracles; (2) that these miracles were intended to authenticate him as a teacher sent from God; and that therefore, (3) Jesus was the one to whom he should listen. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, Jesus replied that such an approach to knowledge was wrong and that Nicodemus could therefore know nothing until he had first experienced an inward, spiritual transformation. “You must be born anew,” Jesus told him (John 3:7).
– James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith


Do you know what this means? It means that it’s not that tell you who Jesus is, it’s the Spirit. All throughout the Gospels, there were people who saw the miracles, and yet they still wanted to kill Jesus. Even though they saw the miracles, they were still blind. They’re the kind of people that Jesus talked about when he said, “Seeing, they do not see… hearing, they do not hear.”

There have been atheists who have said, “I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I just don’t see any evidence for God. I just see a bunch contradictory fairy tales.” Why? Because they approach God with what they think they know because their eyes haven’t been opened to see the kingdom.

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3, NKJV

When you’re born again your eyes are opened and the whole world looks different, and you begin to see God at work. You wonder why people don’t believe in God, it’s because God hasn’t opened their eyes yet.

So far, what we have in common with Nicodemus is that we’re good at being religious, we come to Jesus with what we think we know, and finally, like Nicodemus, we need to hear what Jesus is saying.


We Must Hear What Jesus is Saying

As we go from verse 5 on down to the rest of the passage, Jesus starts alluding to some Old Testament passages that Nicodemus should know, but he’s not picking it up.

Jesus even tells him in verse 10, “How is it that you’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t even know these things?”

So, we’re going to see the first allusion to the Old Testament in verse 5.

Born of Water and Spirit
“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5, NKJV

Jesus knows that Nicodemus had memorized the law and the prophets so He wanted to use imagery that Nicodemus would understand.

The only possible meaning is that Jesus has to be referring to the imagery of water found in Ezekiel 36 where God promises to vindicate his name and sanctify His people by sprinkling them with clean water.

“I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”
– Ezekiel 36:23-27, NLT

Jesus is taking Nicodemus back to this portion of Scripture because although the Old Testament never uses the words, “born again,” Ezekiel 36 shows us what it means.

  • When I was 15 years old I remember my grandfather, a Pentecostal evangelist, preaching a sermon from Ezekiel 36 entitled, “Open Heart Surgery.” As a prop, he had a Build-A-Bear teddy bear, and a rock that he had painted red to represent the heart of stone, and then he had a little plush heart to show the ‘heart of flesh.’ He spent an hour preaching faith and repentance to a packed house at a campmeeting in Reeds Spring, Missouri. 

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15, NKJV

Jesus alludes a second time to a passage of Scripture that Nicodemus should be familiar with, Numbers 21. As a matter of fact, “familiar” is an understatement. Nicodemus should be intimate with this passage because as someone who is a teacher in Israel he is required to memorize the Old Testaments scriptures front and back. Not only that, but these people being bitten by snakes were his people. His was immediately recalling this.

“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” – Numbers 21:4-9, NKJV

I imagine that when Jesus is saying this, that, at least for a split-second, Nicodemus is picturing this incident from the scroll containing the Book of Numbers. He’s had to memorize it, he’s had to hear it taught, it’s been passed down from generation to generation.

God’s people becoming rebellious and complaining and then they are bitten and killed by these snakes.

It’s passages like this that skeptics of the Bible look to and say, “If God is so loving, then why did he send serpents to bite and kill His own people?” When we approach something like this and say that God is not loving because he does something like this, then we start with the assumption that we, as mortal, finite beings, are the ultimate standard of what love and justice is.

That’s where we go wrong. We start trying to interpret the Bible with our own feelings and preferences. So, we must always start with God.

Sin offends God. It’s not about the offense or the sin, it’s about who’s been offended by this sin.

And ultimately, in spite us offending Him with our sin and rebellion, He gives us Jesus. Jesus takes our wrath on Himself, and if we look at our sin as it’s laid on Jesus’ shoulders, then we will live.

Think about the philosophical implications of that for a minute: The Israelites had to confront the confront the very thing that was afflicting them, but they couldn’t do it on their own terms. If they did it on their own terms, they would die, but if they just obeyed Moses, and ultimately God, and did things God’s way, then they would live. And what was required of them wasn’t hard, all they had to do was look, and that’s all you have to do. All you have to do is look at Jesus.

“Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”
– How Deep the Father’s Love For Us

“Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith… The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” – Arthur W. Pink

Conclusion

How Do We Become Born Again?
Look to Christ in faith! In Isaiah 45, we have the most loving command that God has ever given humanity.

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” – Isaiah 45:22, KJV

All you have to do is look to Him and be saved!! Then God follows this command with, “for I am God, and there is none else.” He’s saying that there’s no one else who can save you! There’s nobody who can provide an atoning sacrifice!!

John never tells us the conclusion of Nicodemus’ story, but it does tell us the conclusion of the story those who have been born again and those who have not been born again.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3:36, NKJV

If you want life, eternal and abundant, then it’s yours in Christ.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn together, and as we sing, these altars are our open. Let Jesus minister to you this morning, and let us pray for you.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we are Yours. As the old hymn says, “You have opened the life gate that we may go in” and we are grateful. This morning, I pray that You would grant us faith and repentance. Give us life and power by Your Spirit, and we’ll give You all the praise, glory, and honor. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

Tell Me Yours

Before we jump in together on this list, two things that inspired it and finally made me write it.

First, the album Crimson Cord by Propaganda has a song of similar style and idea. I know poetry isn’t my thing, so you get this instead. But if you want to know the soundtrack of my college years up until now, it’s probably every Prop album ever.

Second, there’s the painfully awkward moment after preaching where people tell you how good you did. It’s awkward because early on it feels like a tightrope between humility and arrogance, thankfulness and not wanting to take credit. I’ve learned to just say “thank you so much, glad you enjoyed it” but truth be told, I didn’t learn and grow up in a vaccum. So for every time I say “thank you” What I really mean is this:

I’m by no means looking for thank yous or high fives either, I didn’t earn them. I’m just a servant. But you can thank every person in every church my dad ever pastored. They put up with a smart mouth, Bible know it all, or so I thought. Thanks for the cool houses and for giving my parents a chance.

You can thank the city of Texarkana. The place where for the first year I hated because I was sick of moving as a kid. I remember not wanting to go to school, because I was socially awkward and didn’t know anybody. But even now it’s the city that beats my heart. You can thank every member of Richmond Road Baptist Church from 2000 until present day. I’ve only known love like that in maybe one other church in my whole life. You can thank John Lewis, who saw I had the ability to teach, and gave me opportunities to lead. It was the first time I realized I could preach the Gospel full time and still have fun.

You can thank Coach Bill Keopple and Kris Nichols. They are the meanest men I’ve ever known in my life, and I would even now run through a brick wall for either of them. Thank Audrey Wright for showing me what good writing was, and Matt Coleman for showing I could do it. These two English teachers showed me writing and reading will get you a long way in life. Thank Marsha Petty, who’s chemistry class I hated but she told every student that we were smart enough to succeed. I remembered that in college.

Go thank Dr. Porter and Dr. Slayton, who put up with my Cage stage Calvinism, and loved me enough to let me think I had it all figured out. Thank Dr. Jameson, who told me I was never wrong to ask questions, just wrong in the way I asked them. Go thank Dr. Thomas for telling me “you know how to preach” when I wasn’t so sure anymore. Please go thank Ann G and Corley. Thanks for giving me a radio show, I know that wasn’t easy. Thanks to Dr. New, who I should’ve paid much more attention to in class. Thanks to Nathan Brewer, Jose, Zach, David, Danny, Tyler, most people in my Bible classes. I appreciate the discussions. You guys were a huge encouragement. Thank Alex Geiger, who told me I was the wokest  Reformed guy he ever met.

Go thank Brooke and Maegan for breaking my heart. He whom God would use mightily, He wounds deeply. They were good knives of Soverign wounding. I would’ve never met Allyson, who looked me straight in my eyes in Kroger and said what those two never would: “I’m going with you no matter what happens.” She’s the steel in my spine when I don’t want to keep going. She’s taught me more about grace and love than anyone else. I love you babe.

Please go thank Donny Parrish, who called me a “preaching snob” for wanting the Gospel preached in Chapel. I decided to pick that badge up and wear it forever. That day I decided the Gospel was all I ever needed to be successful. Please thank who ever snitched me out and told the Church in Cassvile, MO I frequent bars. You guys changed my life for the better that day, though I didn’t know it then, I see it now. Thanks for showing me that the grass is greener in other pastures. Thank you.

Please thank Brent and Mack Nelson for giving me far more than a room to crash in for six months while I got my life back together. You’re the best friends I could have.

You can go thank Kevin Hale for kicking my butt, loving me like a brother, then repeating the process. Thank you for loving my arrogance out of me. Thank you for challenging me.

Go thank Lynn and Marilyn, CJ and Roland, Catie and Andrew, Bekah and John. Distance only makes the heart grow fonder. Thank Nathan, for always being my favorite pitcher, partner in crime, best heckler at games. You’re tough as nails, and no one can tell me otherwise. Play hard have fun.

Whatever you do, go thank Tanya. She always taught me how to be responsible. Who listened to the same Peter Pan movie day after day. Go tell her “you did it”. She drove me crazy during my teen years, but all she ever wanted was for me to be a man. Thanks, Mom.

But please, go grab Jerry. Get some salsa, or whatever else he’s making and thank him for teaching me about humility and strength. Thank him for all the Razorback games, all the music he ever sang. Thank him for showing me that manhood is not what feats you can accomplish, the the reputation of your name. Thank him for showing me the only way one stands in the pulpit is humbly. Thank him for all the jokes, the impressions, and movies that bust my sides each time we get together. Thanks for loving me enough to share the Gospel with me so I finally got it. You’re who I’ve always wanted to grow up to be.

 

The God of Boring Conversions

Maybe it’s my Evangelical, Missionary Baptist upbringing, but I’ve always loathed my boring testimony.  When I was a pre-teen, I went to church camp pretty regular. Every night there was some sort of late night activity: movie night, skit night, musical night, etc. But one year, we were greeted with “testimony night”. What happens is people get up, and in front of everyone , tell about who they were before getting saved and who they are now. This by the way is what introverts think of when they imagine what Hell will be like. Either publicly confessing all your sins so that every stranger in a crowded room of peers and adults know your darkest secrets or an eternity of Stand and Greet Your Neighbor Time and you don’t know anyone.

I never got up. Not just because it’s terrifying but also because I didn’t have a very good testimony. It’s boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve absolutely come to a place where I’ve realized that I am a sinner and without Christ, lost without hope. I’m just saying if you are asking for a total black and white transformation I don’t think I can promise you that.

Because I’ve always been in the church.

My parents raised me in a Christian home where we always prayed, we always heard the Gospel. We went to church every Sunday without fail. I don’t remember a time not knowing I was a sinner. Seriously, I’ve always understood that Christ died for me. I made a profession of faith at seven. Seven year olds don’t usually have radical stories of transformation when they’ve grown up in the Church. Sure, I coveted my friend’s Veggie Tale collection, but I by no means was a pagan. And because of that background, my teen years weren’t this rebellious time of hedonism. Again, by no means was I perfect. My parents will be the first to tell you I wasn’t. But I also wouldn’t call my Christian walk a radical transformation.

Flash forward to my Bible college years, and I’m in my bedroom my junior year, sitting there in the near dark thinking, “Am I really a Christian? Has Christ really saved me? I know I’m a sinner and I have nowhere outside of Christ to go. But this radical transformation thing? I don’t have it. I’ve always been here.”

Here’s what I was missing: God is a God of boring salvation too. Yes, there are times when He redeems people like He does Paul (Acts 9); a great black and white difference. He shows up on the Damascus road, rocks our world, shows us our sin and that Christ died for us and keeps us by faith. Sometimes, salvation comes out of nowhere and people are radically changed. And for these we should be grateful. They are great stories of God who goes and saves His people out of their bondage.

But sometimes, God is a God to us and to our children. Sometimes, He is just keeping His covenant promises. He doesn’t need a Damascus road but, rather puts us in families where, like Timothy, we’ve always known the Scriptures. I was born into a family where I would always hear the Gospel. That wasn’t chance, God is sovereign in His redemption. Instead of saying, “Oh He is a great redeemer!” I’m rather struck by looking back and seeing His strong arm to protect me. I could marvel forever at His ongoing faithfulness to keep me when I do sin. As the hymn Abide With Me says,

“Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.”

So if you, dear Christian, would doubt God’s faithfulness to you on the grounds that your conversion isn’t flashy enough, let me encourage you. God saves the rebel. He most certainly does. But He also saves His covenant children. You don’t need get a better story, but to get one more look at Christ.

Christocrat 2: No, Taxation isn’t Theft

 

I get it. As someone who used to consider myself a libertarian at one point, I get where you’re coming from. You don’t like paying taxes, and the government shouldn’t force you to pay them. And I know it’s edgy and cool for the memelord libertarians to remind everybody of what they think about our current tax structure; especially considering that everybody is focused on paying their taxes right now. But as far as those Christian brothers and sisters who consider themselves libertarian, we need to chat. Because I don’t think you can prove your “taxation is theft” Biblically. In fact I think if you take your premise to its furthest conclusion, you’ll find that your statement is far from what is Biblically acceptable.

First off, let’s just start with the obvious: Scripture doesn’t say that it is. Nowhere in Scripture are taxes equated with theft. They just aren’t. Often in Scripture other sins are equated with another. Hated is equated with murder. Lust is equated with adultery. But never do we see taxation as equated with theft. In fact when asked “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” Christ has a chance to outright condemn it. Here it is. Black (or Red) and white for all of us to know for sure. But Christ doesn’t condemn taxation. Rather, He calls for His believers to “render unto Caesar.”

Now of course some will say, “But how much is Caesar’s? What’s the percentage?” But listen to the heart of the question. The heart is not concerned with obedience to God and submission to the governing authorities that He has set in place. Rather it is like the nervous high school student during a True Love Waits lesson in Wednesday Night Youth lesson: What can I get away with? This is not what we are called to practice. Rather, it is putting our political desires above the Word of God.

Not only is Scripture silent on the morality of taxation itself, it does not condemn those tax collectors who collect fairly. Stick with me, we’re about to connect the dots real quick. Let’s assume the Libertarian manta is Biblically true. I’m going to give you this as a test of validity: Taxation is theft. What does that make tax collectors? Thieves. That’s the simple answer. Now we have an instance (Luke 3:12) where Tax collectors come to John the Baptizer and ask him, “What should we do?” or to modernize it, “How should we live?” So here it is, the thieves have come to John and asked them what to do. But John doesn’t tell them, “Get a new job” but rather to collect only what is owed. Don’t lie or swindle people to line your own pockets. So does John excuse sin? Does he advise people to willfully continue breaking the Ten Commandments? Christ does a similar thing in Luke 19:1-10. He doesn’t admonish the tax collector to leave his job. Rather he says that salvation has come to his house. Does Christ excuse or justify blatant sin? Either taxation is theft or Christ is OK with sinners continuing to sin. You decide how you want to answer that question.

Until then, Paul writes to us to pay our taxes because God has placed the government over us (Rom 13:7) I know that’s not fun for the libertarian to hear. I know it’s hard. The mantra is dead. Taxation isn’t theft. Maybe it’s time we give it up for a more Biblical understanding of our duty to each other.

No Mulligans

Today we as Evangelicals get to once and for all decide what our values are. We get to determine if we’re going to hand over values and morality for political power, or if “values” and “morality” actually mean something. Today we have to determine if we have any spine left. Or if we’re just Evanjellyfish

Let me be very clear. This is not a critique of the Church. I think too often we speak of the political realm like the Church as an institution must say something and I don’t think that’s the case. In fact that may be how we got here in the first place. What I am critiquing is the American Evangelical culture that we’ve developed over the last few decades. What I’m speaking about is something that I’m not sure can be called Christianity at all. Yes it’s adherants are professing believers; but I’m not sure it can be called Christianity.

I have sat down, and by and large kept my mouth shut while our President says and does things that are not only immature, but also below the actions not just of a president, but of a leader in any regard. But my critique is mostly not of the President. Shocking as it may be, I’ve given up. Wicked people do wicked things. It’s not a surprise. It shouldn’t be anyway.

But let’s catch everybody up on what’s going on as of late. It is being alleged that the President had an inappropriate relationship with an adult film star before running for office. That is to say that he cheated on his third wife with an adult entertainer. Not only that, but then as a candidate, paid hush money to said actress in order to keep her quiet. That is what we face. Of course these have all been denied.

But let’s be very clear. If the President at any time cheated on his wife and had an inappropriate relationship with anybody, he is a liar and an adulterer. He has desecrated the sanctity of marriage. He has not only lied, but with money has coerced others to lie for him. He is a sinner. He should repent. If these allegations are true as the woman’s 2011 interview suggests, then shame on him. Shame.

But that’s not my issue. Oh no, as shameful as that is I’ve got an even bigger bee in my bonnet. Because while I certainly expect sinners to do sinful things, I think Christian leaders who at this point still pretend like he’s never done anything wrong can jump off a cliff. Seriosuly, at this point they’re doing more harm than good. Oh, we can say “The President is surrounding himself with faithful Evangelicals.” But what’s the point of all they are are yes men; false prophets and brown nosers? Robert Jeffress has his choir sing a song about Trump. If that isn’t blatant idolatry I don’t know what is. Tony Perkins has come and said that we as Evangelicals are giving Trump a mulligan on this adultry issue. Yes that’s right. A mulligan. A do over.

Understand dear reader, I know my lane. We’re a small blog. I get it. I’m thankful for every single one of you who read Late Night Theology. You are all great. I highly doubt That Tony Perkins is going to read this.

But

He should know that forgiveness does not come without repentance. That’s like, a major tenant of the faith. You want to be forgiven, you must repent and confess that your a sinner. That hasn’t happened yet. He should know that David was a man after God’s heart because he repented, not because he slept with (raped?) Uriah’s wife. He should know that exchanging the birthright of the Gospel for the red soup of power is a really bad step for the Church. He should know he doesn’t speak for all of us. He should know he’s a charlatan, and he’s not fooling anybody.

What these court Evanjellyfish leaders are doing won’t stop. You think this is Trump’s last mulligan? You think it’s his first? They’re just going to keep finding ways to excuse it. Franklin Graham was asked last night the difference between the Daniels affair and the Lewinsky scandal was. His response? Trump wasn’t in office at the time.

Shocking as it is, he’s absolutely right. I was upset at first, but he’s shown his hand. The emphasis on morality depends who sits in the chair. See if it’s Clinton, this is a scandal. We have a culture of falsehood, adultry, and sin. But now that it’s Trump, it’s all about what he will do as a president. Let’s not focus on his sin, let’s vote for the worldview. This isn’t just favoritism, this is hypocracy. Oh you thought Post-Modern gymnastics was just a thing at those “liberal universities”? No, sadly morality is relative to Jeffress, Graham, and Perkins. All my life I’ve heard about how we need to vote our values; and that’s good. Our morals and values are the spine of our political life. But these are Evanjellyfish.

Today, we as Evangelicals, true Bible believing Evangelicals have to decide. Are we going to let these people sell out for thirty pieces of silver and access to the Oval Office? Are we going to pretend that we don’t care about morality? Was that just lip service for power? Maybe so. While they be willing to overlook the President’s sins; I’m not giving Perkins, Jeffress, or Graham any mulligans.

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