OF THE TIMES: BEING LED ASTRAY
March 30, 2009
Where’s the Hope in 2009?
Each New Year holds promise for change and renewal. Anticipating the future has captured the curiosity of folks throughout the ages. Accordingly, Christ’s disciples gathered at the Mount of Olives to ask their Lord what lies ahead. In response, Jesus warned of teaching “precepts of men” that war against sound Bible truth.
Red-Letter Justice: The Divisive Narrow Way
In reading the words of Jesus, highlighted by red ink in my Bible, I have been somewhat taken aback by the severity of the Lord’s words in labeling even religious folks “serpents,” “blind guides,” “fools,” “hypocrites,” “children of hell,” “white-washed tombs” and the like. Believers are not to give “dogs” what is holy, nor are they to cast pearls before “swine”. If I’m not mistaken, Christ’s dog- and swine- analogies likewise reference people (Mt. 7:6).
this seeming anomaly, I find it especially curious that progressive
Christian activists among the “emerging gang” of evangelical
clergy isolate red-letter segments of scripture with the purported,
no doubt noble mission of relating Jesus’ words to today’s
complex social issues.
In doing so, red-letter Christians assign preeminence to compassion and social justice for the poor. Notwithstanding, Jesus warned that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13). Yet in fleshing out issues of faith and politics, red-Letter Christians disparage this “narrow view” and then expand the majority dialogue of America’s Religious Right to embrace hot button issues of egalitarianism and wealth redistribution. They boast an inclusive moral agenda that presumes to unite, rather than divide.
Jesus said: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Mt. 13:11). Said “knowing” stretches limits of what humans consider to be compassionate, civil and just. It stands to reason that not all share equal status in the Kingdom of Christ, for “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 7:21).
Some are simply unworthy. Hence, “if a house [one enters] is not worthy,” Jesus commanded disciples to “shake off the dust from their feet as they leave that house or town” (Mt. 10:14). Fact is, “on the Day of Judgment, men will render account” (Mt. 12:36-37). Jesus questions, “How are [they—i.e., the unworthy] to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Mt. 23:33). No doubt carnal versions of compassion, civility and social justice will pale in that day.
Red-Letter Justice: Emerging Holistic Christianity
A likeable Christian activist among the “emerging gang,” Tony Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University who has teamed up with Mary Albert Darling to produce a book on "mystical Christianity." A Protestant well versed in Roman Catholic mysticism from the Ignatian tradition, Darling is an associate professor of communication at Spring Arbor University.
Appearing on Comedy Central with Stephen Colbert (4 February 2008), Campolo rightly affirmed the inerrancy of scripture and Christ’s indisputable compassion for the poor. However, in their book, Campolo and Darling advance a self-styled "holistic Christianity" inclusive of mystical spirituality, evangelism and social justice. They reason that because mystics experience God in trans-rational and non-empirical ways, all Christians are mystics open to new insights, “I-Thou relationships,” heightened awareness, conversion- and breakthrough- experiences.
Unfortunately, the term “holistic” raises a red flag. You see, it involves evolution into greater wholes (body, soul, spirit). Its goal is the balance of forces in our universe—namely, pantheism—clearly not Christian in concept.
Campolo further compares his brand of mystical experiences with what secularist William James described in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). Known as “Father of American Psychology,” James’ pragmatism interpreted truth in terms of practicality. This, of course, begs the question: How practical is a religion in which Christ’s followers are “hated by all for His name’s sake” (Mt. 10:22) and must “endure to the end in fear of him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 24:13; 10:28)?
William James is no mentor to true Christians. You see, as a member of the Society for Psychical Research, he encouraged scientific research into psychic or paranormal phenomena of telepathy, mesmerism, mediums, apparitions and physical phenomena associated with séances. Jesus’ kingdom “prepared for us from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34) makes no room for said practices (Deut. 18:9-12). From such seductions, Christians are to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).
Red-Letter Justice: Preeminent Regard for the World’s Poor
Christian activists correctly contend that Spirit-filled Christians must transcend partisan politics to affect social justice. It’s true. God is not a Democrat, Republican or Independent; but neither is He a “respecter of persons.” So-called red-letter Christians beg to differ. Based on their belief that Christ resides in the poor just waiting to be served, they elevate this one class above all. While compassion for the poor resonates with scripture, “red-letter Christianity” came, not from Holy Writ, but rather from a secular Jewish country-and-western disc jockey from Nashville; and this should tell us something!
Back to the red letters: Recall that, while in Bethany, Jesus sat at a table in the house of Simon the leper as a woman poured an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment on his head. Indignant at the insufferable waste, His disciples insisted that the ointment should have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor. Similarly piqued, purportedly non-partisan, progressive Christians go even further by assigning to the U.S. government a global mandate to eliminate poverty altogether.
Jesus saw it differently. In fact, he commended the woman for having done “a beautiful [not wasteful] thing.” “You always have the poor with you,” He explained. “But you will not always have Me” (Mt. 26:6 ff). His message was (and is) that preeminent regard for Jesus surpasses even rightful concern for the poor among us.
Feeding the poor is compellingly noble, but then there exists no red-letter mandate for government to lead the way. In their plan for our world “as it should be,” however, red-letter Christians favor expanded wealth-redistribution programs coupled with a significantly increased minimum wage. Apparently, they skip over Jesus’ parable of talents. Each grantee was given according to ability—be it five, two or one talent respectively. Those who doubled theirs received commendation, but the one who buried his single talent was deemed slothful. Even his one talent was taken, “for to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt. 13:12).
Rather than plunder a strong man’s goods, and thereby bind his ability to create additional wealth (Mt. 12:29), Jesus thought it better “to have invested money with the bankers to earn interest” on it (Mt. 25:27). Red-letter text says so!
Red-Letter Justice: Make Love, Not War
In The Secret Message of Jesus, Baltimore Pastor Brian McLaren advances “an emerging new world” distinguished by compassion, justice and world peace. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne forges “a creative protest against theological pranks and prophetic stunts” and points toward “The Simple Way” out of allegedly militaristic, right-wing political loyalties.
Where to begin? Apparently, red-letter Christians believe that guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans are more of a threat than nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Never mind that some 22,000 federal, state and local gun laws are already on the books. In their view, reason dictates enactment of even tougher gun laws. Add to this a sizable cut in the military budget and—hey!—we’re good to go. To red-letter Christians, reversal of warmongering social logic is the order of the day—this, despite the fact that it’s virtually impossible to defend against criminal motives without use of force and even military strength, when warranted.
To their credit, progressives advance principles of open dialogue, social justice and reconciliation, yet they accuse their brethren of being too war-like. For good reason, Jesus explains that “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Scriptures liken the church to a fighting army outfitted with the whole armor of God. Engaged in the good fight of faith, she prevails against rulers of darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:13-17; 2 Tim. 4:7; Eph. 6:12).
Jesus came “not to bring peace, but a sword” and “to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Mt. 10:34-35). Rather than prematurely beat our swords into plow shares, we accept that “this must take place”: family member against family member, nation against nation, ethnos against ethnos (Mt. 24:6). When we “hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus commanded that we refrain from alarm. The battle cry of the church triumphant is not the defunct mantra of a bygone era, “make love, not war”; but rather it is “onward, Christian soldiers”!
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Where’s the Hope?
If skewed “precepts of men” at war with Bible truth characterize 2009, as they surely do, where’s hope to be found? The answer, of course, is in words of life inspired by God Himself; words that are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness to the end that believers in Christ, might be thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).