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With the approaching election the voices telling Christians how to vote are loud and numerous. In reality there’s no single Christian political perspective. That’s not surprising given that, with few exceptions, the Bible doesn’t directly address how Christians should engage in government. Perhaps the most well-known of those exceptions are Jesus’ words commonly translated “ Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. This phrase comes from an encounter described in Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26.
Those words have been used to support virtually every competing vision for how Christians ought to relate to government, from politically active to politically abstinent, from submissive to authority to subversive toward it, from promoting government sponsored religion to opposing government’s existence. A godly perspective toward government and politics requires understanding of God’s word on the subject. Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus’ words about paying taxes to Caesar and try to clear up some of the confusion.
Jesus’ radical message made him enemies on both ends of the social/political spectrum. Eventually the Pharisees (populist religious conservatives) and the Herodians (pro-Roman political elites) came together to conspire against their common enemy, Jesus. They set a trap for him by asking him to take a position on the “third-rail” issue of their day, Jews paying taxes to Rome. [Read more…]
This is the second part in a series of blog posts borrowing from C.S. Lewis‘ remarkable work The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to read part one, first. I’d also encourage you to read Lewis’ masterpiece to get a feel for where I’m coming from with these posts.
Next week I will publish a traditional post. This series will resume with part three on October 28th.
My Dear Lipweed,
You are quite right that the practice of inoculation is declining. Overt hostility toward the enemy is becoming an increasingly viable (and more entertaining) option but inoculation remains the best strategy for your patient. Any attempt to make him an atheist or a pagan would require him to consider questions of truth and morality. Once such questions are asked we cannot guarantee a favorable outcome. If, for example, you suggest that all those stories in the Enemy’s book couldn’t possibly be true you run the risk of him thinking about those stories and perhaps considering what it would mean if they were true. Such a perilous scenario is easily avoided by simply keeping him from thinking anything about the stories one way or another.
Inoculation isn’t being phased due to lack of effectiveness. On the contrary, it has been, if anything, too effective. Through inoculation we’ve maintained the façade of a Christian society while eroding (among most of the population) any real imitation of the Enemy. A smattering of true devotion has remained beyond our reach but we’ve limited it’s impact by surrounding it with faux Christianity. Thus the line of distinction between the Enemy’s camp and the broader culture became all but invisible. We covered greed, pride, racism, cruelty and our other diabolical values in a veneer of Christianity which prevented those truly committed to the Enemy from seeing our handy work and allowed us to slip more and more of these values into the very heart of the Enemy’s camp.
We allowed the church to think itself great because of its superficial presence in society. All the while we were hollowing it out from within. As we conformed the church to the world we convinced the church that the world was being conformed to itself. The worldliness we raised up in it was unrecognizable because she believed that the world itself was Christian. Gradually we stripped away virtually every trace of the Enemy from this “Christian” society to the delight of our Father Below. As enjoyable as this was we knew it could not continue indefinitely. A blustering claim to represent the enemy without any aid from him or any of his virtues was not sustainable. The façade we’d created must eventually collapse without its foundation. We are now witnessing that collapse.
It is delightful to behold and presents many opportunities but we must not lose our heads. I gather some of your classmates have boasted that once we turn the broader culture against the Enemy the complete destruction of his church will be accomplished within a few generations. I trust that you are not so naïve.
Many thought the same in the century that followed the Enemy’s disgusting transformation and subsequent humiliation at our Father’s hands. Using the power of the Roman State, which we had well in hand thanks to years of careful work, we all but snuffed out the band that formed as a result of the unfortunate aftermath of our Father’s great triumph. We brought such force and hostility against the human animals devoted to the Enemy that their movement would have surely crumbled if He had not so treacherously and frequently intervened. Indeed, his stubborn little stable of humans was given so much undeserved aid that they eventually seized control of the state. Some fools among us mark that as a dark day but it opened up inroads into that miserable little community that we’ve been exploiting with great success ever since.
Do not be too eager to celebrate the fall of the faux Christianity which we’ve used to such advantage. The pleasure we will take in directly assaulting the Enemy’s causes must be tempered by the real risks that come with working so openly. It would be a mistake for us to spur on the collapse too rapidly lest we send the church running to the Enemy for that abominable and most unfair aid which he always offers just as our triumph seems certain. It is imperative, therefore, that we keep the genuine Christians distracted. This is why the culture war is such an important part of our current strategy. Your patient is not yet ready to serve on either side in this conflict but we will find a home for him in time. I will expound upon the topic in my next letter so that you may begin to prepare him.
In the meantime, keep up the distractions. Your use of pornography in this capacity is excellent. The benefits of pornography are too numerous to mention here. The subtle shame it generates can also be used as a buffer between your patient and the roommate. Do be careful here, though. As wonderful a tool as it is, even pornography can be leaned on too heavily. You will need to develop some other vices, preferably more subtle ones. If you push too hard for too long in this particular area your patient may begin to consider his pornography use a problem which would be a major setback.
Please include a list of other potential areas to exploit in your next report. Use a light touch with pornography and don’t neglect the use of the more benign distraction techniques which I mentioned in my previous letter. These may not be as enjoyable but they can be just as effective at clouding his mind and are less risky. Our aim is to return him to his faux Christianity and even in his ignorance our most delightful enticements would likely prevent this. I eagerly await your report.
Your Affectionate Uncle,
If you’re like me you’re currently being inundated with unsolicited advice about how to vote on November 8th. There’s no shortage of voices telling us which candidate is more trustworthy or qualified or why one set of political positions will lead to prosperity and the other to certain doom. Unfortunately, there isn’t much consensus. Even Christians can’t seem to agree on which political views best represent our faith.
A lack of clarity
Voting Christians generally agree about what matters to God. We want to promote compassion, integrity, justice, morality and other Kingdom values. Even so, we often disagree about how to vote. Shouldn’t people who read the same Bible and serve the same God agree on important political questions?
As much as we would like clarity, contemporary political issues are almost never directly addressed in scripture. We try to extrapolate from Biblical principles as we form our political views but that doesn’t mean other Christians will reach the same conclusions we do. Most political issues deal with complex matters and have a wide variety of implications. So, it’s not surprising when well-meaning Christians disagree about how to honor God through political action.
The goal of this blog is to look at God’s timeless truth from a fresh perspective. I can think of no written work that achieves this goal better than C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters. Lewis offers remarkable insight into the Christian life by presenting it from the perspective of an experienced demon named Screwtape. The work features a series of letters written by Screwtape advising his nephew on how to effectively tempt a new Christian.
If you have not read The Screwtape Letters I encourage you to do so. Few books have helped me grown so much in my understanding of what it means to live for Jesus in a fallen world. Our Sunday School class recently completed a study of this insightful work. Lewis wrote Screwtape more than 75 years ago. Our teacher challenged us to consider writing our own letter from Screwtape’s perspective examining the very different world we live in today.
What follows is my attempt to do just that. Below is the first in series of posts that will appear on this blog every other week for the next few months. More traditional posts will appear on the alternating weeks. Others have paid homage to Lewis’ with follow ups to Screwtape but given the impact the book has had on me personally and how well this format fits with the theme of this blog I thought it worthwhile to offer my own contribution in that tradition. I hope you agree.
Part One: Inoculation
My Dear Lipweed,
You are among the youngest demons ever called upon to relieve a sub-par tempter before his failures become irreversible. Our new policy is a result of the numerous blunders of inexperienced devils (including your unfortunate cousin Wormwood). Our senior relief tempters could not handle the demand and only the most egregious failures were being attended to. Lower command was unwilling to pull experienced tempters from their high value patients (however secure their positions appeared) and so these positions have been offered to promising recent graduates like yourself. I won’t pretend to fully support this decision. You are, frankly, not ready for such delicate work but the decision is made so I will do my part to guide you. With any luck you’ll muddle through. [Read more…]
I struggle with personal evangelism. Inviting an individual to make a specific commitment to follow Jesus makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to do it. When I have done it I often feel like I didn’t do a good job. So I tend to avoid it. Maybe you can relate. One of the reasons so many of us struggle with this critical spiritual discipline is that we believe (on some level) myths about personal evangelism that hold us back. Below are five evangelism myths that have hindered my witness and may be hindering yours.
Words aren’t required
“Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words”. Christians who struggle with evangelism love this quote, usually (falsely) attributing it to St. Francis of Assisi. We like to think we can lead people to Jesus simply through Christ-like actions. This allows us to rationalize a lack of witness with the idea that we’re “preaching the gospel with our lives”.
While deeds can add credibility to our witness the notion that they aren’t necessary for evangelism isn’t biblical. It’s also incredibly arrogant. It’s absurd to think Billy Graham, George Whitfield and the Apostle Paul needed to preach but my lifestyle is so Christ-like people will trust Jesus because of that alone. Even Jesus used words to communicate the gospel. They’re certainly going to be necessary for us.
A year ago this week Fresh Eyes on Truth. Since then I’ve posted something nearly every week in an effort to bring fresh perspective to the application of timeless biblical truth. I’ve covered a wide variety of topics from family, to Bible study, to current events. To mark the on year anniversary of this blog I’ve decided that this week I’ll share a link and summary for each of my most popular posts. Below are the top ten posts from the blog’s first year based on unique page views.
The post that started it all. I share how noticing one tiny detail 2 Kings chapter 2 caused me to see the entire story in a whole new light. As it turns out the protagonist of that story, Elisha, needed a similar paradigm shift in his understanding of how to live out God’s truth.
It’s been two and a half weeks since my family arrived at our new home in Nebraska and we’ve been busy. In addition to unpacking we’ve been settling our kids in school, exploring our community, and handling lots of personal business. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve been working on making friends.
A Warm Welcome
The people we’ve met here have been extremely friendly but that doesn’t make them our friends. We’ve been welcomed cordially by our neighbors and virtually everyone we’ve encountered here. I’ve met a number of people that I’m sure will become my friends. Some of the people I’m getting to know I already like better than some of the people I consider to be friends.
Our church family has embraced us in a special way. Dozens of people from our new church showed up to unload our moving truck and help put together furniture on the day we arrived. People we hardly know stocked our fridge and pantry for us before we arrived. We’ve received gifts and offers of help. No group of friends could care for us better than we’re being cared for now. We’re loved, cared for, and supported. We’re not lonely but we’re lacking friends.
Most of us are looking forward to a day off this Monday. I’ve always thought it ironic that we celebrate labor by taking the day off work. I used to think the whole idea of celebrating work was strange. I thought of work as necessary evil that we had to get through in order enjoy the good parts of life. As I’ve grown in my understanding of the Bible and the nature of work I’ve come to see that work really is worth celebrating. Here are five reasons to celebrate work.
Work was part of God’s original plan for us
God created human beings with the idea that we would work. Adam and Eve were given a job to do before the Fall. That means that work isn’t a necessary evil it’s a positive good. Work was a major part of the creation order that God called “very good“. The Fall made it so that work is often frustrating and burdensome. That can sap the joy from our work but work isn’t the problem, sin is. Work, itself, is still important. The Gospel seeks to redeem those things which sin has corrupted and by God’s grace our work can be one of those things. One step toward redeeming it is to celebrate work as a gift from God.
One of the great encouragements we have as followers of Jesus is the promise of strength through Christ. The Bible is full of verses that encourage us to find strength in our relationship with God, especially when we are struggling or feeling weak.
Perhaps the most popular of these verses is Philippians 4:13. It’s easy to see why a verse most commonly quoted as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” would be popular. It offers hope for victory and triumph in every situation. It suggests that people who really trust Jesus can accomplishing anything they set their mind to.
Reading it Wrong
Many read Philippians 4:13 as a virtual guarantee of success in all of life’s endeavors for those who seek strength through Christ. That’s not what Paul was trying to communicate when he wrote these words. Like most of the Bible’s most misunderstood verses the biggest problem comes from taking these words out of context. That combined with some ambiguity in the Greek has made this one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. [Read more…]
Ten weeks ago I completed a two-day journey of 1400 miles. I was heading home to California after a visit to the Nebraska church whose staff I’ll be joining next month. This week I’ll be making the same drive in the opposite direction and once again I’ll be heading home.
Home is Where the Heart Is
I grew up in California. I’ve spent nearly all my life there. My deepest connections are to people who live there. My most profound memories occurred there. Now I’m moving to a place I didn’t even know existed a year ago. I don’t know much about it and am only beginning to build relationships there. Despite this, Nebraska has become my home.
They say “home is where the heart is”. Nebraska is my home now because it’s where I’ve directed my heart. A piece of my heart and of my sense of home will remain in California. California has shaped who I am and while I’m no longer a Californian I will always be from California.
It’s possible to have a divided sense of home. If you went away to college or have had an extended but temporary stay in another city you know what this feels like. You have a home that is immediate and familiar but you know it’s temporary. Your “real” home is further off but more permanent. [Read more…]