Good morning, and welcome to your weekend reading! It’s a beautiful Fall day, and I have a few articles, videos, blogs and books that you might enjoy.
Let’s get started…
Since I last wrote in this space, we’ve seen some extraordinary changes to the Presidential race. I don’t like to devote a lot of time in my writing to the stories that you’ve already seen though. So let me do some bullet points of items that you may not have seen since the Trump sex scandal, and the Clinton WikiLeaks revelations…
Details of a past speech from Clinton surfaced in which she said those with religious beliefs that ran contrary to her conviction that reproductive rights (read “ability to kill babies whenever its convenient”) needed to have their beliefs “changed” to fit her contemporary vision. The speech video here. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this video and the worldview from which these sentiments sprang. These were carefully chosen and thoughtfully delivered words. They aren’t words from the ancient past, but rather very recent sentiments from a speech given before she launched her Presidential bid.
Make no mistake about it, if you are a Christian, if (when?) Hillary Clinton is elected you will not have a friend of religious liberty in the White House.
Because I want to address another matter in length, here is a quick summary of a few articles/videos you might enjoy:
Federal Courts actually doing their job for once: The Unconstitutional Mr. Cordray
A few good points here: The Cheapest Way to Score E-Books and More
Challies this week: You, Me, and the ESV
James K.A. Smith says we need to think more clearly about all this “revolutionism” going on in America. He asks the question, “…what if unbelief is precisely the problem? What if it is precisely the secularization and naturalization of our political life that ends up absolutizing it, engendering an intolerance and reign of terror for any who violate its orthodoxy?” There’s a lot of stuff in here, but I think he has some thoughtful points we ought to consider – even if he does hide them amongst some pretty thick intellectualism! (h/t Nick N. who urged me to check these guys out).
This was awesome: 4 Reasons Spurgeon Died Poor.
Stephen Nichols: Does Even the Smallest Sin Deserve Eternal Damnation?
Just…Odd: Charlie Rose interviews…a robot?
In case you missed it: GARY JOHNSON SAYS HIS FAVORITE FOREIGN LEADER IS OBI-WAN KENOBI
Also – FYI – Wayne Grudem rescinded his endorsement of Trump.
Now, I want to depart from the news links for a moment and conclude with some thoughts about what has been occurring at Liberty University, and how this might inform the way we think and talk about the difficult choices we face in November.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., an ardent Trump supporter and defender, was dealing with dissenting students at the university this week who were tired of having their institution associated with Falwell’s personal (though very public) endorsement and now DEFENSE of Donald Trump. Let’s discuss this by examining a few excerpts from the article. First, what the students are saying:
“Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him,” the statement said. “… He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”
Further, the students explain their reasoning for why they’re speaking out:
“Because our president has led the world to believe that Liberty University supports Donald Trump, we students must take it upon ourselves to make clear that Donald Trump is absolutely opposed to what we believe, and does not have our support,” the Liberty students wrote. “We are not proclaiming our opposition to Donald Trump out of bitterness, but out of a desire to regain the integrity of our school.”
I am struck by the humility and clarity of purpose from their statement. But I am not mainly concerned about the students here, but of the University’s leader.
Now, here is Falwell’s (condescending) response:
“I am proud of these few students for speaking their minds but I’m afraid the statement is incoherent and false,” Falwell said in a statement. “I am not ‘touring the country’ or associating Liberty University with any candidate. I am only fulfilling my obligation as a citizen to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ by expressing my personal opinion about who I believe is best suited to lead our nation in a time of crisis. This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.”
I want to set aside the man it issue, Donald Trump, and focus on Falwell for a moment – and for good reason. After all, this is one of the largest (if not the largest) institutions of higher learning in the country – certainly if enrollment is any guide. It’s leader is a powerful figure in Christian circles, in political circles, and in academic circles. That makes this worth examining closely. After all, many people have thought of Liberty University as a special and safe place to ensure their children get a quality education, and my belief is that’s quite still possible. That being said, it is worth considering that any school who has for its head such an ignoramus, might be lacking the moral courage and intellectual firepower to execute its high calling successfully.
Falwell’s response tells us two things about himself. First it shows his arrogance, and second it shows he is not a great biblical scholar (or perhaps worse, someone willing to twist Scripture to fits his own means). Unfortunately arrogance and ignorance usually go together, and produce a odious stench that is off-putting to those curious about the truth claims of Christianity, not to mention it dulls the ears and pains the hearts of The Faithful.
Falwell’s arrogance is seen in the statement “This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.” He makes it seem as though the student who wrote the statement was a single voice crying in the wilderness, when that is obviously not the case. Second, he hasn’t listened to the humility in which the students’ (note where that apostrophe is located) presented their case or the reason for their concern. Instead he chalks it up to their immaturity – “they are young and still learning.” There is nothing in the student’s statement that hints at immaturity, and I’m reminded of what Paul said to Timothy in the midst of his urges that Timothy focus on holding fast to the gospel and good doctrine:
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:11-12 ESV)
Next, Falwell shows himself either a poor interpreter of Scripture, or someone willing to twist Scripture to fit his own means. I’ll let you be the judge. He seems to be sticking with an earlier line of reasoning, which was posted in an editorial for WaPo earlier in the year:
Jesus said “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners.
Falwell is quoting from the Sermon on the Mount, the beginning of the 7th chapter of Matthew where Jesus is coming to the final stretch of his teaching. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great English preacher of the 60’s has long been thought of as one of the most insightful preachers of the 20th century – especially when as it regards the Sermon on the Mount. In his day he was speaking to a culture not unlike our own – a culture that says “the truly Christian man should never express an opinion about others.” Further, “This is not a time for these particular judgments , they say; what is needed today is unity and fellowship. We must all be one together.”
But as Llyod-Jones points out, this is a misinterpretation of the text. You can’t even make sense of verses which come shortly after with this mindset – as in verse 6, how can you not “cast your pearls before swine” without making a judgment as to who the “swine” are?! And how can you beware of false prophets (vs. 15) without exercising judgment? You can’t; its impossible. The reason is that Falwell misunderstands the way in which Jesus is using the word “judgment.”
Lloyd-Jones even says, “We must go further and put it like this: the Scripture itself teaches us that judgment has to be exercised in connection with the affairs of the State. It is Scripture which teaches us that judges and magistrates are appointed of God and that a magistrate is called upon to deliver and pronounce judgment, that it is his duty to do so.” He goes on to say judgment must also be used in the church and also in matters of doctrine.
Llyod-Jones concludes with several pages of explanation which could be summed up this way: Jesus is not saying not to use judgment in the selection of our leaders, but to avoid a spirit of condemnation, of delivering in our hearts and subsequently by our mouths, a “final” sentence of condemnation. This final sentence is one we arrogate to ourselves, but which in fact only belongs to God. Put more succinctly, when we say “go to hell!”, we are doing what Jesus told us not to do. Those three words sum up the heart attitude Jesus was preaching against.
Let’s also take a moment to note that the second part of Falwell’s statement, sandwiched in between the statements on judging, is that we shouldn’t try and choose political leaders who are “godly.” This is a logical absurdity. We all know that we aren’t voting for a priest or a pastor. However, this statement betrays a lack of intellect and/or thoughtfulness. We all have a worldview, and the Christian worldview is shaped by the idea that there are ultimate moral rights and wrongs. These ideas find their basis in the character or person of God Himself. They are revealed in the Word of God, the Scriptures. From this Word we can see the moral shape of God’s character, and His desire for man to be holy as he is holy. We are called “image-bearers”, after all. Therefore, we don’t need to give up realism about the nature and general character of political leaders in order to be informed by how we measure their character. We measure all men by the yardstick of Christ, so to speak. And though we all fall woefully short, that doesn’t mean we chuck the yardstick, and therefore dispense with all forms of rational and coherent thought!
Unfortunately, the student’s seemed to have come to the scriptures with a much clearer head. Their logic is hard to deny, and the Post concludes its’ story by including the end of the student statement:
The students at Liberty University ended their statement by noting that “while everyone is a sinner and everyone can be forgiven, a man who constantly and proudly speaks evil does not deserve our support for the nation’s highest office.”
In summary, Christians are called to look at the character of a man, and how he measures up and what he says with his mouth, and make decisions (judgments) based on what we see. But we are not to condemn any man as if we were the final arbiters of that man’s soul. Falwell jumps to this second use of the word “judgment”, misapplying our Lord’s words in order to condescendingly dismisses the critical thinking of his students, and those working to make an informed decision.
Why did I spend so much time discussing this? Because I want to show that we have to be thoughtful about the choices we have to make in November. There is a solid, and fair case to be made that voting for Donald Trump is a vote to protect religious liberty (as seen above). But an equally fair argument is that Donald Trump is a pervert and sexual miscreant who has said he doesn’t need forgiveness, and seems to have been drunk on power more than once in his life – is that the kind of leader we want making decisions for the country? The choice isn’t easy – and it isn’t as though Americans aren’t (for the most part) aware of 1. what’s at stake and 2. the lackluster nature of our choices. That is why I want us to examine what religious leaders like Falwell say very closely. It is during such times as we’re living in, that the minds of leaders are revealed to us, and we can discern better who they are and what they are about.
That’s all I have for this week, I know that a longer-form discussion on this seems off the beaten path for me, and I appreciate your patience. These are big issues of our day and they take discernment and prayer and discussion within community. I certainly have my own opinions – I’m not trying to be unbiased. But I also hope you understand my heart, and that I don’t want to steer anyone in the wrong direction. Rather it is my goal to illuminate issues of concern and provoke thoughtfulness and discussion.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!