Monday, September 26, 2016

Political Musings

Beyond quips on social media, I’ve never publicly written about politics. Religion is controversial enough, Christianity even more so. Theological discourse can devolve into intellectual nitpicking which borders on being unhelpful. As a pastor, the state of Christianity and the discussion of theology—even the nit picks—are passions of mine because both, in some way, fall under the cloak of shepherding. Dogmatism in political position, however,  does not. I have not publicly commented much on politics because as a pastor I don’t want people to be distracted from the Gospel by my political positions or the candidates I support.

This political season has been unlike any I’ve experienced before. It seems like the stakes have never been higher and the candidates never more divisive. Christians have fallen all across the political spectrum. Some, totally disgusted by the GOP’s nomination of Trump,  have decided to vote for what they see as a safer, centrist Clinton. Some disillusioned Cruz supports vow to sit out the election or vote third party. Others have resigned to voting for the “lesser of two evils.” And some are actually excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

More than any other election cycle, I’ve been thinking through the Christian’s role in politics. This, in part, is due to my frustration and growing disillusionment with the Republican party. They aren’t all that different from the democrats and aren’t delivering for the conservative base that elects them. With conservative social values continuing to decline, I’ve been contemplating how we much we should expect an unsaved world to adopt Christian ethics through governmental legislation.

Of course, I believe Christians should vote their consciences. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that pervades every aspect of the believer’s life because all of life is to be lived under the lordship of Jesus. What, then, do Christians do in a situation like we have now where the party nominee doesn’t promote Christian values? Do we bind our consciences as tightly to our political philosophy as we would our theological principles or our Christian ethics? Is there any give in our political positions or at least in our candidate? Do we become politically pragmatic and seek a candidate that will accomplish some of what we want but actually has a shot at being elected? Below are some musings on politics, specifically the General Election. I don’t pretend to have the answers—and these musings are simply that—musings. They aren’t refined arguments meant to convince. They are simply some reflections I am having in the midst of an exciting, divisive, and confusing political season.

Purity and Pragmatism
While all Christians desire, I think, a world that is black an white, we live in a fallen, broken world. Many things are not black or white but different shades of gray. Part of my own maturing has been realizing that while there are some things that are black and white, there are many things that are not. This world, its people, myself—all are complicated.  Living with this reality, of course, creates tension.  Politics provides many tensions because things that may appear on the surface level to be clear, are upon further inspection much more complicated. An example would be someone who is conservative in theology but not conservative in their politics.  To be conservative in theology is to believe that the Bible is the word of God, Jesus was fully divine and fully human, the resurrection really happened, etc. One’s affirmation of a conservative credo does not necessitate his affirmation in political conservatism. He may be a committed liberal and prefer a more socialistic government because of his genuine concern about the poor. Now it clearly can be debated if liberal policies are actually more beneficial to the poor than conservative ones—but therein is this described political tension. Two people can both unflinchingly affirm the essentials of Christianity, they can be purists in theology and yet be on opposite ends of the political spectrum. And Christians can be purists in theology and fall all along the spectrum not just camping at the ends.   This troubles the Christian conscience because Christians by and large are rightly people with dogmatic convictions. We are purists in theology and its only natural to desire to be a purists in our politics as well.
But Theological convictions have the weight of eternal consequence, political philosophy does not. Purity in theology does not necessitate purity in politics.

Christians desire the right candidate, most Christians are conservative politically and desire a candidate who is Bible believing, God fearing, morally upright, kind, strong, and a champion of Reagan conservatism. We can strive for this candidate, but eventually we have to face reality, that is a rare candidate. Our political party is a two party system, in name at least (and it often feels like a one party system as there is increasingly little lived out differences between the two parties). Political reality is not black and white because politics is all about the art of compromise--it is all about shades of gray. In 2012, Mitt Romney was not what most Christians wanted. In 2008, John McCain was as lack luster a candidate as the GOP has put forward in a long time. Yet Christians held their noses and voted for moderate McCain in 2008, and Mormon, moderate Romney in 2012 because pragmatism, “the lesser of two evils” ultimately won out. Just as recently as last week, the Conservative, Constitutionalist, Christian Knight in Shining Armor Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump—much to the dismay of the political purists. Cruz did it because maintaining political purism is nearly impossible. Of course, it is possible to remain a political pursuit, but at what cost? It’s impossible to maintain political purity and actually win elections and actually get your political platform instated. It's better to get some of what you want than nothing at all.

Moving Past the Conservative/Liberal Divide
Christians have long been fighting in the culture wars, but I don't think there is a culture war because the conservative side has lost. Abortion, thankfully, seems to be stalling—but this isn’t because people have become convinced of life beginning at conception. It’s stalled because we now have the ability to see a baby inside a womb more clearly than we ever have, which is causing some to pause. Marriage, on the other hand is totally past turning around. With the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States, conservatives felt a stinging, crushing defeat. But conservatives didn’t lose that battle on June 26, 2015. Conservatives and Christians lost that fight when they themselves failed to maintain their marriages and  opted for divorces. The failure of Christians to pursue holiness ultimately led to a defeat in the culture wars, because Christians have failed to foster their walk with God which would cause Christ to illuminate their lives, families, churches, and finally their communities.

As far back as I can remember I’ve been a conservative political purist—up to a point. I settled for McCain in '08 and voted for Romney in '12. But this election cycle I’m not being a purist in the sense that I’m not interested in voting for a candidate who some the litmus test for conservatism. And who decides what the litmus test is? W? Paul Ryan? Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? “Conservative” is a term that has lost all meaning. How can this word describe Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Donald Trump?  In addition to not seeking the conservative litmus test, I no longer have any faith in the Republican party. They have catered to evangelical Christians and promised us that they would spend money responsibly, guard marriage and end abortion. But its all been a lie. Christians often chide minorities for being exploited by the Democratic party but fail to see that the Republican party has done the same thing to them—again and again and again.

This election cycle I’m not at all interested in looking at who the conservative candidate and who the liberal candidate is. America is demoralized and economically broken. This election I’m interested in the candidate who is going to prioritize the American citizen—the candidate who is going to protect us and put us back to work and undo the years of globalistic policies that have crushed the working man. This election, I’ve moved past the conservative/ liberal divide entirely to American nationalism. 


The Trump Factor
Donald Trump is the most fascinating presidential candidate running in the modern era. He is a billionaire with bad hair, failed marriages, a foul mouth, and has a penchant to smash his opponents with quick, sharp, insults. He is not exactly the picture of political correctness.

I don’t think its any secret to anyone that I’m not only a supporter of Donald Trump, but also an ardent admirer. I’ve wanted him to run for years before this election season. I celebrated his rise to the political forefront in 2011-12 with his championing of the birther issue. He excited me not so much for the content of the claim that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States, but because he was a figure of opposition. The Republican party had and continues to be abysmally, tragically, laughably weak.  When Donald Trump stood against the Obama administration through news interviews, speeches, flirtation with running and even writing Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again it felt like we finally had a strong champion on our side.

And while he didn’t pull the trigger on running in 2012, Trump took the nation by storm when he announced his long awaited bid for the presidency on June 16, 2015. Shortly thereafter he took first place in the polls and never went back. He then knocked out 16 opponents and earned the most votes ever in any GOP primary.  Donald Trump passes the usual bullet point litmus test for being a conservative:

  • Anti Obamacare 
  • For a smaller government with fiscal responsibility
  • Cut Taxes
  • Has a tough immigration/ border policy
  • Pro-gun rights
  • Pro-military
  • Pro-life
  • Pro traditional marriage. 
While his being a conservative has not always been the case, Trump has over the years  evolved to more conservative positions in every way—like Ronald Reagan before him. This is something he readily admits.  But I’m not supporting Trump because he is a conservative. I’m supporting Trump because he is an American nationalist. He is campaigning on an America First platform. Fighting for and protecting the American citizen is his driving mantra. 

Donald Trump is a great political enigma—he is a man who decisively, and uncontestedly won a primary election having no governmental experience whatsoever. He is a man who breaks all political rules and simply speaks his mind. He doesn’t talk like a lawyer with precision and total consistency. He talks like the people you talk to every single day, sometimes contradicting what he said earlier. He a billionaire populist crying out at the injustices inflicted on the little man by political supremacists like the Clintons and their disastrous decisions like NAFTA. At times, he even sounds like Bernie Sanders, fighting for the economically oppressed. He is the outside candidate that the Establishment fears because he is controlled by no one. He is for the most part self financing his campaign. He is the most populist presidential candidate we’ve had in a long, long time.
 

Sometimes people are perplexed how I, as a Christian pastor, can no only vote for Trump, but be an enthusiastic supporter. It's not that I believe that he is a Christian. He isn't one, that's clear. He bears no fruit of a regenerated heart. I do not excuse or celebrate his glaring moral failings. Nor do I pretend like they don't exist. Because I love my country and see it declining on a global stage, and because I hate seeing so many people losing their jobs I do not have the luxury to allow my reservations about his personal life stand in the way. The stakes are too high, people's well being is on the line. Both conservatives and liberals need to get on board the Trump Train because nationalism, an America First platform, is what can turn our country around.

 

I believe with all my heart Donald Trump is also what America needs right now. He's a bull dog. He's gruff. He's a scrapper. He is the anti-Obama. I enthusiastically support Donald Trump because he is the nationalist, populist, anti-establishment candidate who will be aggressive and fight for the American people. He doesn't need to be running. He's a successful billionaire. He's placing his personal life and prosperity on the line because he genuinely loves his country. He desires to see America returned to economic prosperity, with a rejuvenated military and world wide respect.

Barack Obama's policies continued under Hillary Clinton is not something the common man can survive for another four or eight years. We've all seen people or ourselves experienced pay cuts, loss of jobs and homes because of Obama's economic incompetence. Hillary only represents more of the same. America desperately needs leadership change and I think that the man for the job is Donald J. Trump. I'm voting for him because I'm past the conservative/liberal divide. I want someone who will put America first and fight for the common man. He has promised to make America great again and I'm willing to give him that chance.





Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book Recommendation: "Free Grace Theology" Five Ways it Diminishes the Gospel

Wayne Grudem is best known for his prolific Systematic Theology. It has helped make theology accessible and enjoyable for the Christian layman. With his "Free Grace Theology" 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel, Grudem intends to demonstrate that the claims of Free Grace Theology are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching on saving faith. The book is short, only being 160 pages. It is made up of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion.

    Introduction
    1: Not the “Faith Alone” of the Reformation
    2: No Call to Repent from Sin
    3: False Assurance
    4: Under-emphasis on Trust in the Person of Christ
    5: Unlikely Interpretations
    Conclusion

In his introduction, Grudem helpfully defines the debate as being around the issues of utmost importance. He is not interested in fighting for the label of “lordship salvation” as this is a loaded term used by Free Grace Theologians against the historic protestant position. The debate should not revolve around loaded terms, instead both theological positions should be examined with Scripture on two major points: 1) Whether repentance is necessary for saving faith, and 2) the nature of good works in the Christian life.

Following the introduction, Grudem lays out his case against Free Grace Theology in five ways (as the book title reveals). First, he begins with historical theology—reciting what has been the classic Christian consensus regarding saving faith. Free Grace Advocates, Grudem reveals, fundamentally misunderstand sola fide—faith alone. For them, this means faith is all that is required for salvation. Christian consensus, however, has always taught that we are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. In other words, saving faith must have accompanying works and fruit that demonstrate a changed life or that faith is a dead faith (James 2:14-26). In his survey, Grudem cites John Calvin (1509-1564), the Formula of Concord (1576), the 39 Articles of the Church of England (1571), the Westminster Confession of Faith(1646), the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833), John Wesley (1703-1791), and the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths (1916). Historically, the consensus among different significant figures, denominations and time is undeniable—the historic protestant position is at odds with Free Grace Theology. Second, Grudem challenges the errant definition of repentance as being only a change of mind. Third, he summarizes the dangerous consequences of teaching a salvation invitation that does not include the need to repent--it creates false converts. These individuals have an intellectual knowledge of Christ, but nothing more. Fourth,  Grudem identifies Free Grace Theology's tendency to actually diminish the person of Christ. Finally, Grudem closes his work by exposing and countering the exegetically unwarranted interpretations offered by Free Grace Theologians on texts which counter their position.

Free Grace Theology has profoundly, negatively, impacted many individual's understanding of the nature of saving faith. Most damaging (in my opinion) is its enabling of individuals to to have assurance that they are truly saved while they continue to live in their sin. Free Grace Theology has no doubt created the "converts" of the chilling text Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Wayne Grudem set out to write a critique of Free Grace Theology and demonstrate how it diminishes the Gospel. He has succeeded. He writes clearly, and kindly while not compromising the Gospel. My own experience with Free Grace Theology began in my teens with theological controversy in my youth group. I have been surprised to see easy believism continue to surface throughout my life at revival meetings, teen camps, Christian college, seminary, and in local churches. I am grateful for Grudem’s work and intend to recommend it along with John MacArthur’s classic The Gospel According to Jesus to those struggling with understanding the nature of saving faith. Grudem has once again enriched the church with another timely volume. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five