We have a culture question from a pastor who asks this: “Pastor John, hello! In a recent TGC podcast, Sam Allberry said the following about campus outreach ministry:
People have often thought Christianity was a bit quaint, you know? “There, there — you’ve got your little faith kind of thing.” But increasingly, what we’re seeing in a more secular context is people actually saying to us, “Your faith is a danger to society.” And that’s a new space for us. And we’re used to being looked down on and slightly patronized. I don’t think we’re used to feeling like we are the enemy. People used to say, “I don’t like Christianity because it’s too moral.” Now, they’re saying, “I don’t like Christianity because it’s too immoral.” And whether it’s people saying Christianity is responsible for gay teenagers committing suicide, or for fostering intolerance, those arguments carry far more emotional force than some of the previous objections I would have dealt with ten or fifteen years ago.
“So here’s my question, Pastor John. Christianity started out as a powerful minority voice in culture. But at times in history, and today in America, Evangelicalism is a major cultural voice and possibly a deciding factor in the 2020 presidential election. So how do we respond as the tide turns and we hear criticisms coming our way that American Christianity is a bully, using its political and social sway for ends that the world says are mean, immoral, and even hateful?”
Life as Exiles
I don’t presume to have the last word on these complex matters, but I realize also that I don’t have the luxury of saying nothing or thinking nothing. I live in this very embattled world as a Christian, whose citizenship is in heaven, in allegiance to King Jesus first and foremost; and whose authoritative life charter is the Bible, not the US Constitution; and who has already died — I have already died — and my life is hidden with Christ in God. And yet, I live a bodily life here as an exile and sojourner. So I don’t feel like I have the luxury of saying nothing. And yet, I speak very much as an alien.
So I have three things, three kinds of responses to this kind of question and this situation in which we find ourselves.
What seems new for Christian experience is not new. I mean, the pastor, in a sense, said that and I want to underline it: that what we’re experiencing as new and a shift of attitude toward Christians is actually not new.
The biblical position on controversial social and cultural issues is not immoral, it’s not harmful, it’s not unloving, no matter what the culture says to the opposite.
Our political voice should be so permeated by the announcement of the horrors of divine wrath over the human race, and the glories of the gospel of divine rescue, and the unsearchable riches of Christ, the ruler of the nations, and the demand for repentance and faith from every citizen and every politician — so permeated with all that — that it is evident to all that political concerns for the true Christian fade into mists compared to these vastly greater realities.
So those are the three things that I want to say. Let me go back now and say just a word about each one of them.
1. Slandered from the Start
For the people of God to be regarded as immoral and dangerous is not new. We get the impression that it’s new, because for about three hundred years, we’ve lived in a peculiar aberration in the history of the world — called “America.” Far more biblically normal is what we read in the New Testament. The Jewish leader said of Jesus, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). In other words, “This man is very dangerous. We can’t let him talk anymore like this.”
“America is not the New Jerusalem, and politics is not salvation.”
And the same thing was said about the early Christians. The public accusation in Thessalonica was that “these men . . . have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The people of Thessalonica were saying that these men were acting against the decrees of Caesar, which meant they are calling up down and down up and good bad and bad good. And they’re going to wreck our good Roman world. So that’s not new.
Jesus was called the devil, and Matthew warned that if they called the master of the house the devil, they’re going to call us worse things (Matthew 10:25). And at the end of Paul’s life, the Jews in Rome said, “Well, we’ve heard about this sect, Christianity, and it is spoken against everywhere” (see Acts 28:22). Not just here and there, but everywhere. “This thing called Christianity, we hear it’s spoken against.”
And Peter warned that even though you’re doing good deeds, they’re going to speak against you as evildoers (1 Peter 2:12). So they’re going to twist our good deeds and make them sound like evil deeds. This is not new; it’s normal. It’s been the case from the beginning that Christians are slandered, and one of the worst slanders is to consider our love dangerous.
2. Speak the Truth in Love
The biblical position on controversial social and cultural issues is not immoral, it’s not harmful, and it’s not unloving. To say out loud that there is no such thing as so-called gay marriage, because God has created and defined marriage as a covenanted life together of a man and a woman — to say that out loud is not immoral. It’s not unloving. It’s true, it’s moral, and it’s loving, because God knows what is best for the world.
“It’s not harmful or unloving or immoral to stand up and say, ‘The commands of our Creator are good for us.’”
Therefore, it is self-destructive and treasonous to tell him or to tell people that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and to try to celebrate what the opposite is — namely, abomination. And the same is true of speaking out loud about biological men trying to be women or women trying to be men. And boys and girls should not be assisted in becoming what they’re not nor can ever be. And the same is true in saying out loud that God has issued commands against racism, and against killing unborn children, and against political swagger, and against dozens of other marks of modern America.
It’s not harmful or unloving or immoral to stand up and say, “The commands of our Creator are good for us, not harmful. And the path of repentance and faith in Christ, in obedience to his word, is the path of life and joy.” So it’s not immoral. It doesn’t matter what the world says. What matters is what is the actual case.
3. Hope in Your True Home
Here’s the last thing. I think it’s the most important and the most difficult to bring about; namely, that the political voice of Christians — especially pastors, I would say — should be so permeated by the announcement of the horrors of divine wrath over the human race because of God-belittling sin, and so permeated by the beauty of the gospel of divine rescue, and so permeated with the unsearchable riches of Christ, the ruler of the nations, and so permeated with the demand for repentance and faith from every citizen and every politician, that it is evident to the world that political concerns for true Christians fade into mists compared to these vastly greater realities.
And I think one of the great failures of much of American Christianity — especially in recent days, I would say — is that we have fit into the world, including the political world and the entertainment world and the educational world and the business world. We’ve just fit in so comfortably, so innocuously, that it appears to the world that we’re just at home here, and that we put our hope in all the same things and all the same processes and all the same products and all the same politics that they do.
His Kingdom Is Forever
So my point is that whatever we say about politics — I’m not saying we shouldn’t say anything — should have this flavor: We Christians have died with Christ, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Our citizenship is in heaven, not on the earth, and we await our King Jesus, who will come and banish all unbelief and all ungodliness from the planet. Every political candidate without faith in Jesus will perish in everlasting torment — Republican or Democrat.
“For the people of God to be regarded as immoral and dangerous is not new.”
God hates pride — including political pride — and all self-exalting swagger will be cut down by King Jesus, and God alone will be exalted in due time. America is not the New Jerusalem, and politics is not salvation. We may succeed in putting every fiscal policy, every wise social policy, every international policy in place, and America will still be a wicked people.
All cobelligerents that muffle the call to repent are unchristian and unloving. Calls for justice without calls for justice toward God — and what we should do toward him that’s right and owing to him — is a compromise with injustice. Under this radical orientation on Christ and his kingdom, we vote. And we expect very little of eternal consequence from our vote.
One day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day, the apostle says, in the presence of God (2 Peter 3:8). Which means that roughly two days have passed since Jesus went to heaven. And America, while she lasts, is about eight hours old. Our politics should be permeated by what is real, not what is so utterly ephemeral.