And To Dust You Shall Return

Here’s a sincere question for my conservative Christian friends: as we lined up to vote for George W. Bush in 2000, would any of us have believed that in a short 15 years, the favorite candidate of the “Christian right” would be a philandering casino tycoon and Clinton donor with four bankruptcies, two divorces and God only knows how many affairs under his belt; an outspoken defender of partial birth abortion, gun control and the abuse of eminent domain who became famous by objectifying women and successful by paying off corrupt politicians (and is shameless enough to boast openly about it); a man whose insincerity is as plain as the hair on his head and whose assumed “Christianity,” though of the shallowest possible type, still comes across as an implausible piece of bad acting? Be honest – would any of us have believed that story for an instant?

Church, the political “Christian right” was at its best a defective clone, conceived in the laboratory of human invention – a heartless deformity on life support. It has been dead for some time and by now it stinketh. Now that the Trump campaign has done us all the favor of a very public, very nasty autopsy on national television, can we just bury it and get back to the proclamation of the Word, with an extra helping of humility? It’s past time, brothers and sisters.

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A Protest That Is Also Prophecy?

I don’t endorse all of his politics, but the world today gives Edwin Markham’s classic poem, Man With a Hoe, an eerily prescient ring. He wrote it after seeing the renowned painting by Millet.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world
After the silence of the centuries?

Is The Gospel “Endangered?” Liam Goligher Answers

This past Sunday morning at Tenth Dr. Goligher had this to say:

The end of Christianity has been trumpeted from the beginning of Christianity. People probably imagined that once the apostles were dead – those men who had been the eye and ear witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus – that would be the end of this nascent Christian movement. When Diocletian launched his assault on Christians, people might have thought that systematic persecution by the Romans would have been the end of Christianity. And when, during those long years of the Middle Ages … the Gospel was eviscerated of its core message [and] evangelical dynamism was lost for that period … you might have wondered whether the Gospel was lost. In the era of the Reformation with the banning and the burnings … you might have thought, “This is the end of the Gospel; it’s going to be lost.” And then in the era of rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism, and (currently) secularism, you may throw up your hands in horror and say, “The Gospel will be lost!”

Paul is saying here that [the Gospel] will never die. Rome came and went. The Middle Ages and the medieval Church came and went… Rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism and secularism are already in the process of becoming undone, if only you read the literature. Our western society, which has rejected Christianity (and its own history in doing so) and is trying to purge from memory all traces of that former influence, is well down the road to disintegration and becoming a footnote on the pages of history. But the church, and the Gospel, survives. It will survive the seminary professors who no longer think it credible. It will survive the pessimistic pastors who no longer think it culturally cool. It will survive the popular media that have declared it passé. It will survive!

(Emphasis mine. Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wow. There is so much to think about here. On one hand, how encouraging it is to be reminded that Divine Providence still rules history, and always will. On the other, what a powerful antidote to the national arrogance that pervades American culture and policy today. I’ve always been bothered by the tendency of many Christians in America to dismiss any concern for our national direction with the airy remark, “God’s in control! I’m sure it will all work out.” Yes, He is in control, and it will work out according to His will. As a Christian, I find that infinitely encouraging; as an American, however, it is rather terrifying. I find no cause for comfort in the squandered blessings, rejected truths and despised boundaries that litter our nation’s recent history.

As I’ve considered these words, I’ve recognized an error in my own thinking. I’ve argued for some time that the unholy alliance between the evangelical church in America and the war lobby (and, of course, the bad theology and worse eschatology on which this alliance is founded) is a grave threat to the global spread of the Gospel. I’ve been wrong. Such a view underestimates the permanency and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Gospel, but the evangelical church in America, that is threatened by our willingness to combine and corrupt our message with an immoral political agenda.

Perhaps this seems a rather dark and dismal response to an incredibly uplifting and encouraging message. But in the end, I am encouraged, and thankful as well: thankful for the Gospel; thankful for the Sovereign God who orders history and will preserve His Gospel and His church; and thankful for Liam and his faithfulness to “guard the good deposit entrusted to him.” God grant us more men who are willing to speak out for the Gospel and stand unashamed in the face of this hostile culture.

Why Do They Hate Us?

I wonder if any question has ever been asked more often with less sincerity. The complete absence of curiosity on this point, especially among my fellow Christian conservatives, is appalling. My head is spinning with the comments I’ve heard just in the last few days from professing believers, some even members of my own denomination, my own church.

“Arabs really are just not nice people,” one friend observed. (Really? Is that as far as your mind is permitted to wander?) “People are people,” I told her. “They need the gospel-” “They’ve rejected the gospel,” she replied decisively.

Who are “they,” I wondered. When did they reject the gospel? What gospel did they reject? Have they ever really heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are the ideas and concepts they associate with Christianity likely to aid in winning them over? Are American Christians doing anything about that? Do American Christians even care?

Put yourself in the shoes of a middle eastern Muslim for a moment. (No, it isn’t an act of treason, and no, you won’t go to hell if you die while doing this exercise.)

Imagine that you were born and raised to believe in one god who expects you to earn your salvation by good deeds and strict adherence to his law. Imagine that every authority you know, from vigilante mobs to religious leaders to the tyrannical government you live under, sees violence as an appropriate response to offensive speech.

Imagine that in your world America is synonymous with Christianity. But you don’t know the America that for so long was a beacon of hope to oppressed people; the America that opened its doors to offer freedom and opportunity to the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses. You know America only as the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation; a “Christian” nation that exports obscenity and imports drugs. You know America as the money behind brutal dictators and the police states they control; as the source of drone attacks that strike without warning and kill indiscriminately; as the proponent of brutal economic sanctions that condemn the poor to a slow death long before the elites in your government feel the pinch. You know America as the land of politicians who think its okay to kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children to further their own economic interests; as the place where soldiers who kill unarmed civilians in cold blood are protected but soldiers who expose them are mercilessly prosecuted.

Pretend you are an Afghan who survived a drone attack on a wedding that killed your wife and left your child with permanent brain injury. (The US government has since christened your loved ones “militants.”) Or maybe you would rather be a Yemeni whose brother got on the wrong side of local authorities and ended up in Guantanamo. (After four years imprisonment he was cleared but he’s still there ten years out because the US hasn’t found a safe place to release him.) Imagine you are an Iraqi who hailed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein only to watch as professional fear-mongers dismantled your country’s civil institutions and pocketed millions while your society descended into chaos and violence.

Picture yourself as an Iranian father whose daughter is dying because the medication she needs is no longer available. (You’ve demanded an explanation and been told that the US is deliberately using economic sanctions to prevent its importation so that Iranians will die.) Or put yourself in the shoes of a Pakistani whose young son was vaccinated with something by a doctor you later learned was working for the CIA, and he died two months later. (The hospital says it was pneumonia but the talk on the street is that it was the secret substance in the “vaccine.”) “What nonsense!” you say. “Totally irrational!” Of course it is irrational to you and me, but not to someone in that world. They don’t trust their governments any more than you or I would, and they certainly don’t trust our government. Can you blame them?

Imagine … what’s that? You can’t take it anymore? Neither can they. It is true that a crummy you-tube drama doesn’t explain all the recent rage among Muslims. Neither does self-righteous nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free. Religion and culture don’t explain it either; while Islamic culture is violent to a great extent, that has been the case for the last 1500 years since the religion was founded. But this visceral anger targeted directly at the west and America in particular is a recent phenomenon – certainly within the last fifty years.

Self-righteous punditry aside, it isn’t the violence that strikes me as senseless. Trying to understand the current outburst of Muslim rage without taking American policies and intervention into account is senseless. Writing off all Muslims for “rejecting” a Gospel they’ve never heard is senseless. Imposing democracy by force on a society that has understandably grown to hate us is senseless. Killing innocent women and children to help dissuade the survivors from becoming terrorists is senseless. Sending American soldiers to die in tribal wars in Afghanistan is senseless. And calling support for such reckless insanity “conservative” is perhaps the most senseless thing of all.