12/12/17

Moore to the Point: Why Many Evangelical Leaders Are Selling Out

By: Jonathan Harris

For the past few years a growing segment of evangelical leadership has been marching toward the left culminating most recently in staunch opposition to and the defeat of Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore. To illustrate, I know of at least three statements denouncing the “Alt Right,” either originating with or supported by prominent Southern Baptist leaders during this year alone. You can read them here https://www.unifyingleadership.org, here https://static.coreapps.net/sbc-am2017/documents/f618b2f02b1fc085697b4f5d147cb58e.pdf, and here https://thewitnessbcc.com/charlottesville-declaration-appeal-church-america/ Let’s examine for a moment the most recent statement to show what I mean.

The title is, “OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP FROM AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS: WE NEED YOU TO SPEAK.” Here are a few important observations. First is the lack of similar statements made regarding President Obama. There was the Manhattan Declaration, but that did not single Obama out. So there exists one statement I can think of against the Left within eight years, and we already have three statements made against the almost undefinable “Alt Right” and Donald Trump within less than one year. What does this tell us about the level of moral outrage? Is it more grievous to Christians that a president has a few people in his cabinet that CNN calls racist, or that a president pushes transgender bathroom policy and unrestricted abortion?

It is noteworthy that two of the signers at my seminary, one of whom is an author of the statement itself, could not give the names of all three of the supposed “Alt Right” operatives in Trump’s cabinet when asked by the media to do so. This brings me to a second observation. If you read the statement carefully, you will find not only that the Constitution is misconstrued as an egalitarian document, but in the one place Scripture is quoted, it is taking out of context and recruited, ironically, in the cause of Licolnian nationalism. It is impossible for this sloppy open letter to have been written by careful historians or exegetes of Scripture.

A final observation, and a most important one, has to do with the purpose for such statements. It used to be that a resolution sponsored by evangelical organizations concerned a biblical matter. The Bible was the source of authority, and clarification as to its meaning was the intention. The most recent example from this tradition would be the Nashville statement on gender and sexuality. Recently however, evangelicals seem to be using public proclamations on moral issues as a virtue signaling tool. Scripture does not play a very prominent role in these statements, and an exegetical clarification as to its meaning is not on the radar.

I have long maintained that a monumental “rebranding” is being forged inside many evangelical organizations. Christians are sick and tired of being the targets of media critique and the laughing stock of the world. The “new guard” views the earlier religious right’s political involvement as the problem and resents them for it. For a few years in the early 2000’s it was popular to embarrassingly disapprove of political involvement and instead “just preach the Gospel!” as if the two were diametrically opposed. Within the last few years this sentiment has changed to a left-leaning call to “engage culture!” It is a reemergence of the social gospel, except not as many hungry people get fed. It is enough to take a stand even if it’s in the form of a tweet. Cries to forward social justice, implement affirmative-action, support “racial reconciliation,” and strip the land of anything that could be considered offensive, especially symbols of the Old South, are new ways to supposedly communicate gospel-centeredness. The advertisement has gone out to the world that evangelicals are tolerant people who care about “injustice.” Perhaps if the world can see that we truly care they will be more open to joining us?” Then in walks Trump, and this year Roy Moore, threatening their plan.

As great as the desire was among evangelicalism’s elite, they could not seem to persuade the rank-and-file pew sitters to not vote for Donald Trump, who achieved 80% of evangelical support. Some of the reasons for opposition were understandable, Trump’s personal morality being the main one. However, much of the criticism at the time, and almost all the criticism since the election, has centered on shared concerns with liberals over identity politics.

Unlike the president, Roy Moore did not possess the same character issues that gave some evangelicals apprehension over Trump. Moore was the evangelical hero, and still should have been going into the 2017 Alabama senatorial election. He was the “Ten Commandments” judge in 2002 and defied the Obergefell decision 13 years later. However, between these two events his popularity with the “big wigs” waned, and it was not because he changed. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Liberty Commission for the SBC and no relation to Roy Moore, criticized both Roy Moore and county clerk Kim Davis for not keeping their “Romans 13 obligation to see law and order followed.” No careful examination of Romans 13 would give anyone the idea that lesser magistrates are required to uphold arbitrary decisions by higher magistrates even if they are unlawful and immoral. Of course, this should not come as a surprise given Russell Moore’s admission the previous year that while he would not attend a same-sex wedding he would go to the reception. You read that last sentence correctly.

Fast forward to 2017. Judge Moore survives the Alabama senatorial primary despite little help from prominent evangelicals, and surprisingly beats both Trump’s and the establishment’s pick. It was a done deal until the Washington Post ran a story on November 9th reporting the allegation that Leigh Corfman was molested by Moore in 1979 when she was only 14. Then the snowball started rolling downhill. Two more women accused Moore of molestation. Despite, being faithfully married for over thirty years and being in public life for longer without the slightest hint of inappropriate behavior, the charges stuck. Even after confirming accuser Beverly Nelson’s tampered-with yearbook and false description of the restaurant she and Moore supposedly met at, the charges stuck. Despite the unlikely opportunity Moore would have had to date Corfman during the 12 day window before she moved from her mother’s house, the charges stuck. Despite the fact that the “mall banning” story turned out to be a complete fabrication, the charges still stuck.

Christians normally expect to be condemned by the media, but from evangelical Christian leaders too? To his credit, Franklin Graham was the only one who seemed willing to publicly stick by Moore. Of course Russell Moore accused Christians who supported Roy Moore of worshiping power and seeing women and girls as expendable. Al Mohler insinuated to CNN’s Don Lemon that Moore’s less-than-serious response to the accusations made against him cast doubt on the judge’s innocence. Raymond Ortland, a council member at the Gospel Coalition accused Christians who supported Roy Moore as believing in a different salvation altogether. In the “Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem,” Joe Carter, a senior editor at the Gospel Coalition called Christians who supported Moore “hypocrites.” I happen to know this sentiment is coming from the same Gospel Coalition that is putting on the MLK50 conference next year. As a result the SBC seminary I attend is even offering credits on the subject of Martin Luther King Jr. as a history course for those who would like to attend—this despite King not being a Southern Baptist or even possibly an orthodox Christian, and more relevantly a faithful husband. Martin Luther King Jr. was a confirmed serial adulterer. So Christians who support an orthodox Christian with dubious and unconfirmed accusations against him are hypocrites, while Christians who honor a possible false-convert with confirmed sexual improprieties are not? This observation is in no way meant to discount some of the good things MLK did, but to honor him while condemning Moore looks a lot more like hypocrisy.

What is more disturbing than any of this perhaps is the unwillingness on the part of many evangelical leaders to apply an actual Biblical standard to the situation. The “two or three witness” standard for authenticating truth. Deuteronomy 19:15 is one place in which this standard is mentioned:
A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge [singular] be established. ESV
It is interesting to note that the only person that seems to have more than one witness against them in the whole situation is Beverly Nelson, Moore’s most vocal accuser. Some evangelical elitists have not only thumbed their nose at due process, but they’ve ignored Scripture’s own standard in establishing authenticity.

Was their influence enough to sway the Alabama election? When the results are within two percentage points in a highly populated evangelical state, the answer is quite possibly, “Yes.” However, such victory comes at a price. Those who have watched Southern Baptists and Gospel Coalition leaders condemn Moore while not uttering a peep about pro-abortion Doug Jones are not likely to take them seriously, which is a very bad thing. Evangelical leaders think they are establishing their moral authority when in reality they are ripping it down by betraying their own principles. The world will never accept them, but the world will use them, whether they know they are being used or not. More importantly, it would seem they are unknowingly perhaps putting favor with the world over favor with God. If it comes to the point that they completely reject biblical authority on social issues and alienate their base their voices will be insignificant indeed, which is exactly what Satan wants. Let’s pray they wake up before they have nowhere left to turn.

12/7/17

Harvey Weinstein vs. Jedediah Smith and True American Manhood

By: Jonathan Harris

I just recently finished a biography of the life of Jedediah Smith, one of the most famous American explorers, pathfinders, and mountain men. Smith was the first person of European descent to reach California approaching it from the east. Though he died in his early 30s, his life is one of the most exciting stories of American history. 

Smith’s world was one of discovery, excitement, potential, diversity, survival, beauty, and terror. Jedediah Smith personifies what it means to be an independent traditional American man. He brought Yankee ingenuity and a Protestant work ethic to lands in which it was never known. The grace of God, along with a hearty determination to survive and knack for knowing when trouble was about to ensue kept him alive. Smith was an honorable Christian man though he had his own share of flaws. He was human. He was American. 

One of the most famous stories about Smith involves a battle between him and a grizzly bear. The grizzly bear took off part of his scalp with it’s claws. Smith instructed one of his men to sew his scalp back on including a mangled ear. Without a complaint, Smith immediately jumped on a horse when the stitching was complete and road for miles. He possessed that noble quality once referred to as true grit. In his interactions with indigenous people, Smith was very fair minded, constantly offering gifts to stave off trouble and encourage trade. His descriptions of many varied groups of native Americans are fascinating. Every tribe was very different, and treated him and his men differently. Ultimately, Smith lost his life to Comanches he was trying to make peace with. But this was after many close calls with hostile tribes that he survived. Smith had much to overcome and contend with in the fur trade. Through deserts with no water, mountains with no warmth, and wildernesses with no food, he kept going. Stubborn persistence and optimistic leadership made Smith into the legend he is now.

As I read Barton H. Barbour’s book on Smith, I thought about our own time. It goes without saying that American masculinity is anything but revered—g a clear and unshakable course are not in step with today’s template for a soft and passive male. Jedediah Smith is no longer a hero to hardly anyone in my generation, but neither are Lewis and Clark or Charles Limberg or Teddy Roosevelt. Superheroes are in vogue, but they do not possess the traditional traits of American masculinity. Captain America is perhaps the closest we come, but even he lacks the leadership skills one would hope to find in someone who bears his title. And in a traditional sense, he tends to be the passive one even in his romantic interests. Furthermore, he is not real. Jedediah Smith is. And I wonder whether that is the issue. Reality. Do we as a culture view men in the way they ought to be, or are we attempting to remake them in the image of something they were never intended to be. 

Perhaps having an unclear direction is not always a sign of humility. It can also be a sign of cowardice. Perhaps as the Jedediah Smiths of the world have decreased the Harvey Weinsteins of the world have increased. If a man is designed to possess within himself a dream for what could be, a drive for how to get there, and a destination to be proud of, the culture we currently live in does not know how to channel this passion.

One key ingredient for the formation of the traditional American man, and indeed the ideal Western man, was a meaningful destination. When a man knew it was possible for him to take pride in something that lasted, such as people and place, he spent his God given energies on worthwhile endeavors. The bonds of matrimony and duty to God and country set  honorable boundaries that directed masculinity. Men were awarded with admiration for raising families and enduring hardship for a greater cause. Most men, if they were not married were preparing to be someday. True fulfillment was found outside of selfish ambition. 

Today what we have is a situation in which selfish ambition reigns supreme. There is nothing outside of self to validate masculine existence. Society does not reward selfless endurance. Being a protector and provider for females is seen as degrading since it insinuates that females are somehow incomplete or lacking in some area. But the result is that males lack completeness. They still have desire and drive, but no destination. 

In this vacuum in which we live, men have made their own destination based upon primitive hormonal inclinations. There is nothing of lasting value, therefore they will settle for something cheap that temporarily gives the illusion of fulfillment. There is far too much risk in exerting oneself to fight for something one would only be criticized for supporting anyway. If you wonder why the military is hurting for recruits and it seems like just about every politician is corrupt this is your answer. It is far easier and more rewarding to channel dreams and drive into fantasy than it is reality. Video games, Where there is no physical risk, have taken the place of outdoorsman activities. Taking risks and making mistakes in the real world in order to build character for a future destination is not important because there is no destination.

The irony of our current situation is this: Harvey Weinstein with his multimillion dollar house and tuxedo is the barbarian. Jedediah Smith with his wool blanket and buckskin jacket is the civilized man. Smith’s rewards were just over the next peak where their may exist trouble, but there also existed the satisfaction of blazing a trail for others and seeing the world in its virgin form as the Creator made it. Harvey Weinstein’s rewards were not rewards at all. He had the pleasure of titillating his body in relationships that were not real where no one could approve except those of his buddies with whom he joked. His life has been a joke. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Men have become jokes. Have you watched any sitcoms lately? 

Recently, many in our culture have sought to expose and shame men for channeling their energies into inappropriate sexual exploits, but I would like to ask this question, “Where should they be channeling their energy?” They are not respected as husbands, fathers, providers, or leaders. When men are left without a destination, dreams will only be shaped by drive, and drive will only be shaped by hormones. My hope for my children is that they will look to men like Jedediah Smith to blaze the trail of their lives. That they will see the importance of transcendent meaning in masculinity. That they will embrace real heroes who actually existed, and exemplify hard work, self-sacrifice and purpose. I want them to pursue real accomplishment, not cheap sexual conquest. Perhaps one day men will realize they have been cheated out of their own identity. Perhaps on that day the American mountain man will reemerge. 

12/3/17

A Review of Michael Card's "The Walk."

By: Jonathan Harris

Over the past semester I have read a number of books on Christian discipleship—being a disciple, making disciples, shaping church ministry toward the goal of discipleship, etc. I would not say any of these popular Christian works have been unhelpful, but I think I should say that none of them has come close to impacting my life as much as Michael Card’s “The Walk.” It could be that my familiarity with and favor toward the author’s musical contributions made my ears wider as I listened to the author’s words—but I think there was much more to it. While many helpful Christian books focus on spiritual disciplines and strategies connected with forming successful discipleship stories, Card’s book is a discipleship story, and it’s reach went beyond my intellect. Doctrine and strategy are important and useful, but it is interesting that Jesus’ own teaching on discipleship was contained within a story. It is in the narrative of the gospels that Christians mine for the golden nuggets of doctrine and strategy. I think it is because Michael Card’s short book, like the gospels, contains teaching alongside of and within a story that it captured my attention on a deeper level. As the subtitle suggests, “The Walk” is “The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends.” Through ups and downs, faults and foibles, joys and jubilations, triumphs and tragedies, braveries and fears, two friends help each other “unwrap Jesus.” As Card’s mentor, Bill Lane expressed, “When God gives a gift he wraps it in a person.” Bill Lane was God’s gift to Michael Card, but he is also now God’s gift to me through Card’s experience. In a small way I have been able to know Bill Lane through the eyes of Michael Card. The knowledge I have of him—his idiosyncrasies, personality, style, reactions to situations, have all become the canvas upon which the truths of Christian discipleship are painted. I am thankful that Michael Card took the time to record his experience with exemplified Christian discipleship and shared it with me.

The format of “The Walk,” is built around “three phases in Jesus’ pattern of discipleship.” The call to be with Jesus, the commissioning of the disciples, and returning to Jesus describes the three basic divisions of the book. Card describes how this pattern, learned from Bill Lane, is applied  in his own life:
I wake in the morning, and I’m with Jesus. I learn from Him. I read His Word. I spend time with Him. I realize my commission, and then I go out. I do His work and I speak His word. Then, at the end of the day, I come back and report to Jesus everything I’ve done and everything I’ve said. Now I hear Him say, “Come with Me to a quiet place and get some rest.” (125-126)
Card adds, “You can apply the cycle over a day, over a matter of months, or over a lifetime. That was my experience with Bill.” And it is this experience with Bill that the author primarily focuses on; dipping in and out of their walk together in order to concentrate the mind of the reader on a deeper spiritual significance.

One of the best illustrations of this is located in two chapters on what Bill Lane referred to as “the wilderness.” When Michael would “come to Bill with some problem . . . he would look at me as if he understood that more was going on than the often petty, superficial circumstances.” Card takes us back to a young version of himself navigating the dating scene, experience heartbreak along the way. Though such experiences are thought to be commonplace, and therefore “small” perhaps, they are not always small to the person going through them. Bill Lane understood this. I could almost sense him feeling the pain and wishing he could take it upon himself were it not for the benefits such an experience was bringing to the life of Michael. The wilderness is where Sonship is established. In other words, God becomes a true Father to those who are forced to rely on him. Israel learned this while wandering the desert for 40 years. Jesus experienced the same dependency during His 40 days of temptation. Becoming a more true son or daughter of God is a deeper spiritual reality oftentimes hidden by pain.

The formation of Michael Card and Bill Lane’s discipleship relationship itself carried with it the reality of something deeper, something better, something spiritual. Timing is not left up to chance. Before the two met, Lane had recently departed from a Christian seminary under personally difficult circumstances. He also moved from a place where he had experienced close relationships with Christian students into a secular university setting. Longing for someone he could invest himself in and “unwrap Jesus” with, Bill told his wife about a fleece he had laid out. He would pray that God would send him a student he could mentor. He further prayed that whomever this student was would take the initiative by asking him for a block of time. Card did just that in 1975, kicking off a deep relationship that would last 24 years. The two would take daily walks together, even when classes were cancelled due to snow. They shared the intimate details of their lives. In Michael’s words, one of Lane’s goals was to, “wake us up to what is really going on around us, to encourage us to take our eyes off ourselves and see that our world is not the only world.” There was something far more important going on when a young student entered the office of his professor with an academic question. There was a divine encounter for a greater purpose.

The illustration of this concept alone was well worth the read for me. Living in what seems often like a mechanistic world, it is good to be reminded that there is something outside the box. The most relatable chapter for me in the whole book focused on this point. In, “Let the excellence of your work be your protest,” Card describes his frustrations with being a musician in the Christian music industry. He writes: “A bitterness in my heart and soul, caused by focusing on what I believed were the ‘evils’ of the Christian music industry, had almost incapacitated me.” This is a statement I immediately connected with. It seems like almost anywhere I go nowadays I can be in danger of carrying a similar sentiment. Not only do I share Card’s frustration with the Christian music industry, but I see similar problems in “Christian” education, denominational politics, national politics, the direction of culture, etc. I’ve joked with my wife on more than a one occasion that I hope they don’t ruin barbecue too (my favorite food)! Sometimes it feels like I’m scraping the bottom for something that is not going in the wrong direction, something that is still good and has not been tampered with. And while I do believe righteous indignation and discerning critique are necessary, there should be no room for bitterness. Thus Bill Lane’s advise to Michael Card, as he experienced emotions similar to my own, may be the most memorable piece of advise from the book. “If you are going to protest the state of the industry, do so by making your work the best it can be.” Card describes his impression of Lane’s statement:
Yet this is, of course, a naive notion—to combat shallowness and shoddiness with excellence in a world that rewards the former with fame. But this is the kind of child-like naivete that made Bill a man of God. He believe that this world is not all there is, that there is One who will reward us based on a radically different value system. (96-97)
One of my first thoughts after reading this statement was, “This is such an obvious Christian truth, yet I am always forgetting it.” I know I’ve recently been struggling about the idea of publishing material that is out of step with mainstream academia. While I am confident that I am forwarding the truth, the consequences of doing so frighten me. Will I be blacklisted by any organization? Will doors that are open now to me be shut? Will I decrease my chances of having a greater impact in the future? These, and questions like them seem to melt away when I consider the fact that I am not primarily publishing information for people, but rather for God. My reward will not be book sales or positive reviews. It will be hearing “Well done good and faithful servant” on judgement day. Bill Lane understood this, and seemed to consistently live his life with eternity in mind. I can channel my frustration into bitterly complaining or I can make a finer product for my Master.

One chapter of the book that I really appreciated was entitled, “Called to Conflict.” I suspect to many Christians such a title would seem puzzling. Praying together, crying together, studying God’s Word together, making good decisions together, experiencing rest and stress together, learning to truly listen to the voice of God together, and sacrificing for one another are all aspects of a discipleship relationship. They seem acceptable. But conflict? Card asks his readers this question, “Who rejected Jesus?” The answer? “His own family, biblical scholars, [and] those from His own hometown.” Being a disciple of Jesus will mean making enemies. It will mean being misunderstood. But it will also mean being with an all-loving and all-powerful friend forever. Michael Card does not sugar coat the high cost of being a disciple. It requires work and sacrifice, but the rewards are unimaginable. Entering into a human discipleship relationship may include “loving confrontation on one end, ready forgiveness on the other, and vast amounts of patience in between.” But it’s all worth it.

“The Walk” ends like a tear-jerker. Bill Lane is diagnosed with cancer, and eventually passes from this life to the next; but before this happens he gives Michael Card what Card described as the “greatest compliment of [his] life.” He moves across the country to be with Michael to show him how a Christian man faces death. As the book draws to a conclusion Card reflects on the reality of eternity and the way in which he himself changed as a person through knowing Bill Lane during this difficult time. He remarks that he became “more tender-hearted,” and that “tears seem to stay closer to the surface.” Perhaps this is not only part of becoming more like Jesus, but also becoming more human. It is certainly an area I want the Lord to change me in. To take my often times rough and calloused heart, and make it tender before Him. One goal I have now that I have finished this book is to be an older Christian’s Michael Card and a younger Christian’s Bill Lane. May God grant this request to every Christian!
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