Political Theology

I am pretty Augustinian when I come to what I believe about salvation. If that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s OK, its more commonly known and expounded on by John Calvin, and goes by Calvinism in a lot of circles. One of the key points in this system is that humans are totally depraved, meaning they do not seek nor do they want to do good. There are a lot of reasons I believe this to be true, Scripture and the like, but the place I find this to be most glaring is on Twitter. The amount of vitriol and hate that spews from all corners of the Twitter-verse is a confirmation, at least to me, of this tenant of Augustinian thought. It’s almost humorous how people can turn innocent statements into fights to the death; case in point, I saw Beth Moore raked over the coals for buying a new puppy.

Seriously, what has our discourse come to? While I don’t think its fine that we deal with people on social media with an unyielding bent that would make the old Soviet Union seem compliant, it is definitely sinful when we carry this type of discourse, or rigidity to discourse with fellow believers, about areas of disagreement we have in theology. It seems like many of us have taken our cues for discussion from the political area where evisceration of those who disagree with us is required, instead of from the Bible. Sure, there are certainly some areas in the realm of the Christian life that we cannot agree to disagree, but those areas are far smaller than we like to think they are. In my view, those who can affirm the ancient creeds of the faith, the Nicene and the Apostle’s, are brothers and sisters in the faith. We may disagree on how we do church, how we view salvation, and a whole host of other issues, but they are my family. Unfortunately, I believe that has become a minority view. We want to define our circles so narrowly that everyone who doesn’t agree with us on major and minor issues aren’t welcome in our fellowships, cannot be on our leadership teams, and have a questionable relationship with the Lord. I am not sure how we read the words of the Lord and are able to treat those who disagree with us so poorly, but we continue to do this, and not only on social media.

It may surprise us to learn that this is not new. The Apostle Paul had to deal with people who wanted to keep drawing their circles narrowly instead of embracing the unfathomable grace that God gives in Christ. We read his rebuking of the Galatians for wanting to add works of the Law to the Gospel, and laugh at their ignorance; while we make the same type of judgments on those who disagree with us. It has become so bad, at least to me, that I told Rachel recently we are going to have to change denominations and go to one where people are allowed to disagree with the dogma of the “enlightened,” and focus on pushing the Gospel forward. My denomination left me, because they have adopted the ways of politicians instead of the ways of Jesus.

If you have watched the Civil War series by Ken Burns, you no doubt remember Shelby Foote (best present I got this year was his Civil War narrative history, thanks baby!) and his commentary. A stately Southern gentleman, he gave some amazing insights on the War. One of the things he said that struck me was that the Civil War resulted from a failure of politicians to compromise, which was the absolute genius of our political system. Compromise was required to get things done. No one person, or party, or faction, or section of the country got to decide for everyone else. Discussion, debate, and persuasion was required because we were all members of the same family, America. This has been lost in the modern political age, and I fear it has been lost in our modern theological age as well. We are so ignorant of history. Politics and religion mingling as bedfellows and discourse partners brought us the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Remember them, they are the ones who killed our Lord; and the same spirit is destroying our unity in Christ.

Halfhearted Followers Aren’t Followers

I was reading through one of my favorite theological newsletters recently, Facebook, and came across a story I had forgotten in the Bible. It is about a king in Judah during the time of the divided Kingdom, when Israel was full of wicked kings and Judah was full of mostly wicked kings. Judah, however; had the slight advantage because all of its kings were not necessarily horrible. There were some kings that sought to honor God, even if they were few in number.

The story of this king, Amaziah is found in II Kings and also in II Chronicles, and it is the passage in II Chronicles 25, specifically verse 2, that caught my eye. Often it is easy to skip over this type of history in the Bible, and I probably have read this many times and it never struck me. The chronicler says this about Amaziah “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…” which sounds really awesome. I think all of us who are Christ followers would want this said about us, wouldn’t we? Jim – he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord! What a great narrative of our lives!

Unfortunately for Amaziah, that is not all the narrator said, he concluded “but not wholeheartedly.” BOOM. Amaziah was outwardly seeking to do what was right, but his heart was not in it. Perhaps it was to curry favor with the people in Judah, or because it was what his parents wanted, or because it was expected of him. In any case, Amaziah’s commitment to the Lord was marginal at best. In fact, later in this chapter we can read how he slaughtered the Edomites, brought back foreign gods to Judah, and worshiped them. His true loyalty was not to the Lord, but to his own desires. 

Isn’t that the story of most of the Christian life we see today? We see it in the prosperity preacher: love God because He will make you rich! We see it in the people who love God, go to church, and give “everything” they have in pursuit of Him, until their lives turn sorrowful. We see it in the folks who go to church for 20, 30, 40 or more years, but whose lives are far from on mission for His glory. We see people serve God halfheartedly, and then we abandon Him when its expedient. Sometimes that expedience is political: people believe their convictions are what God wants so they bend their morality towards those who align with their view of government. People we know sell out their principles and morals for the sake of being “right” politically. The truth is politicians use Christians on both sides to keep their power. We see this happen in people’s relationships. They love God as long as their girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband does. If it changes, they turn away from God to find pleasure in other things. We see this socially. People love God when everyone agrees with what God says about their cultural beliefs, but when the culture turns on those beliefs, they abandon God to stick with cultural. When people turn their back on doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord they begin the decline into an irrelevant Christian life; at best, at worst they completely forsake Him, like we see in Psalm 1:1-2.

Any commitment that is not wholehearted is not a commitment. The story of Amaziah teaches us that we can proclaim how much we love God and will do what’s right, while our hearts are far from Him, His values, and His mission.

I have been in the place of Amaziah too many times, and for too long at times, to not feel immense conviction from that simple statement “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.”  I do not want to identify with Amaziah anymore. I want my wife, my kids, and my friends to be able to say “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” PERIOD. The life of a Christ follower is hard work. We have to stand out because what we believe is often unpopular in culture, in church, in politics – at least for me it is. We have to be committed, because if it is done right, it will cost us everything. We have to be wise, because people will try to use us to get ahead. We have to be vigilant, because people and powers we don’t understand are seeking to steer us off course.

Simply stated, we have to love God more than we love anything else, all the time, always. 

How committed am I to the Lord: His will, His way, His time, His joy, His blessing, His sorrow, His purpose, and His mission? That question rings in my head, and can be haunting if I am not absolutely sold out to Him. Anything less is playing at being a Christ follower. Imagine what would happen if we as believers, stopped being halfhearted in our commitments to God. Imagine what would happen if we sought to be holy, instead of being OK being whitewashed tombs, as Jesus called the Pharisees. I say this to myself and to you: Christ follower – stop settling for the half assed life and embrace the mission of God.