Who does your thinking for you? That is meant to be a provocative question. Both God and government are interested in your answer – for very different reasons. President Biden and his team are certain that the only reason you don’t align yourself with their ideas is the “misinformation” you imbibe on the internet, or conservative radio or news shows.
Tragically, and I don’t use that word lightly,
media companies like Facebook, Twitter,
and much of the legacy media concur and are willing to manipulate or censor ideas with which they do not agree.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the political and cultural divide there are forces who are equally intent on spreading questionable ideas and outright lies in an attempt to widen the fractures already breaking apart our country and our churches. Sadly, far too many people who claim to be followers of Christ have allowed themselves to be manipulated by forces on both sides of the political aisle. Illustrations abound.
Consider five conversations currently tearing at the fabric of our culture:
§ The role and extent of government power over the lives of its citizens.
§ The absolute reality of a coming climate catastrophe and our obligatory course of action.
§ The problem of racial injustice; it’s historical reality, current reality, and our necessary response.
§ Abortion on demand and the right of women to choose versus the right of the unborn to life.
§ The LGBTQ+ war to change our culture’s understanding of sexual identity. It is a war in which no one is taking prisoners.
You might be able to lengthen or shorten that list but I don’t think you would deny that a lot of anger and, yes, misinformation, has been voiced by politicians, ordinary citizens, the media, denizens of the increasingly deranged internet, purveyors of woke culture, and disappointingly, far too many pastors who have become the blind leading the blind. As a result, we have arrived at a very precarious place in the history of our country and seem to be sliding deeper into a morass from which it will become increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves as a people.
So, what can we do? What steps can we take to bring theological clarity, wisdom and sanity to our conversations? Here are a few ideas.
The fear of God is our only authentic starting place.
In his wonderful book, Thinking and Acting Like a Christian (which I highly recommend), Bruce Lockerbie reminds us that “the fear of God” is the only authentic starting place for those who would choose to follow our Lord. Proverbs 9:10 states that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, of knowledge, of understanding. In my new book, Rethinking Discipleship: Why Christian Schooling Matters, I make the case that it is the “why” behind the “what and how” of Christian schooling.
The reason why that is true is simple. Our understanding of Scripture begins with the Author of Scripture and is essential, not just as a repository of theological information, but also provides a frame of reference for evaluating ideas, beliefs, practices, and policies. It’s what is referred to as a “biblical worldview.”
It informs and enlarges our capacity for allowing those Scriptures to serve as a kind of “Truth detector”, not only for us adults but for our churches and children as well. Our willingness to stand, and if necessary suffer, for that Truth will to a large extent depend on how seriously we take the Author of that Truth.
God’s Word is still our authority
For years Dallas Willard taught at the University of Southern California, one of the most elite private universities in the USA. He was a rarity in that kind of setting, a world class scholar and an unabashed, unapologetic follower of Jesus Christ. As a consequence, he was a frequently invited speaker at Christian higher education forums. In his book, The Great Omission, he recounts a telling story of one of those events.
What distinguishes the present time is that there is a lot more information
(and misinformation) available than ever before, and a lot of people are trying to sell it to us.
What happens to Jesus in the crush of information pushers? Unfortunately,
he is usually pushed aside. Many Christians' do not even think of him as one
with reliable information about their lives. Consequently, they do not
become his students.
If we are honest with ourselves we can easily see within the church the thinking Willard confronts in his workshop. In our upside-down world we, the creature, have become the potter, and the Word of God has become the clay that we shamelessly attempt to mold into our own image. What we don’t like we either ignore or rewrite. This shape-shifting approach to the Word of God is, however, an insufficient response to the radical ideas tearing at the fabric of our culture and our churches. Only the Truth can set us free and critical theory upon which critical race theory is based is not truth.
It takes courage to stand firm
During the summer of 2020 at the height of the racial unrest following the tragic and needless death of George Floyd, we saw an out pouring of anger that resulted in the destruction of hundreds of businesses, the toppling of historic statues considered racist, and attempts to terrorize and humiliate an untold number of “white supremacists” simply out for dinner with friends or family. Following that came attempts to coerce America’s businesses to adopt critical race theory forums and the attendant twitter rants outing those who resisted the insanity.
Two companies, Trader Joe’s and Goya, decided to say no to the “woke” mob. Trader Joe’s did so because they wouldn’t change supposedly racist labeling of their products and Goya, a Hispanic owned firm, for refusing to embrace the narrative of the mob. As it turns out both companies have flourished in the face of boycott threats. At the time, however, it took courage to stand up and say, “This is wrong and we will not take part in the insanity.”
We need to recover and embrace that kind of courage if we want to respond to the continued destruction of people who simply won’t bow to the currents of a culture unmoored from any sense of reality or connection to the Truth.
This is as true in the Church as it is in the culture as the Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the churches in Galatia. In that letter, he asks us to stiffen our spines in response to increasing attacks against the Gospel by reminding us that, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). This was such an important issue that Paul records a personal, painful public confrontation with Peter (see Galatians 2:11-14).
Can you imagine the outcry from many within the church were something similar to happen today? Yet when Truth is at stake, when the very nature of the Gospel and the work of the Church are being assaulted from all sides, what other choice do we have? To remain silent is to traitorously defect from our obligations.
A final thought.
Don’t Engage the Fool
I realize this advice runs counter to what many church leaders are saying. There are times, of course, when there is value in entering into sincere conversations over serious differences. After all, we are reminded by Peter to be ready to engage those who ask of the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:16). I am always ready to do so with anyone who truly wants to discuss tough issues. I’ve found, however, that such conversations are rare. Indeed, the author of Proverbs reminds us of the futility of engaging someone who is only interested in revealing their own mind (see Proverbs 18:1-3).
In Proverbs 26:4 we are instructed to not answer a fool according to his folly. I love to argue but I have learned the destructive nature of trying to reason with someone who has no intention of being reasonable. Jesus gives us the best response to that kind of situation. Kick the dust off your sandals and walk away.
I love what my friend, Bill Simmer, calls fierce conversations. They are part of the “iron sharpening iron” process that can help us see beyond our often-narrow focus on certain issues. Conversations are not rants, however. Those who rant aren’t actually interested in your ideas. They only want to employ whatever means are available to crush any divergent ideas. There is nothing to be gained from that kind of engagement. When it occurs the best course of action is a polite “No thank you. I’m not interested.”
Our God can survive quite well without our help. He doesn’t need our defense. Given the opportunity, we best serve Him with a clear, cogent, and when helpful, passionate declaration of Truth. At that point, our responsibility ends and the work of the Holy Spirit begins. Leave it to Him.
These are truly tough days. I doubt, however, that things will get better in the short term. However, Psalm 103:19 assures us that “The Lord has established His throne in heaven and His kingdom rules over all.” So, let’s do what we can, what we must, and leave the results to our LORD.