Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Trading the Gospel for Political Power


Okay, I don't hide the fact that I am conservative politically. I believe the federal government is too big and that it taxes people too much. I believe abortion is a moral crime and a national shame and am committed to never voting for anyone who is pro-choice. But I continue to be concerned that some of my fellow conservatives seem to be undiscerning when it comes to the relationship between politics and the Christian faith. Too often it seems that some of my conservative brethren are willing to ignore distortions to the Gospel in order to enjoy the cheap pottage of political power. The political left has done this for generations. Why have we followed suit?

Certainly there were many good and decent people attending the "Restoring Honor" rally this weekend. But brothers and sisters we must clear: Glenn Beck is not a Christian. He is a Mormon. Mormons deny every fundamental doctrine of biblical faith. My fellow conservatives, recall how we fume and fuss when the Christian left partners with universalists, Buddhists, Nation of Islam and other Christ-deniers in order to further political ends? Why are we doing the same thing?

Russell Moore (no liberal!) of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has written a fine article on the subject. I ask you to consider it carefully.

A Mormon television star stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial and calls American Christians to revival. He assembles some evangelical celebrities to give testimonies, and then preaches a God and country revivalism that leaves the evangelicals cheering that they’ve heard the gospel, right there in the nation’s capital.

The news media pronounces him the new leader of America’s Christian conservative movement, and a flock of America’s Christian conservatives have no problem with that.

If you’d told me that ten years ago, I would have assumed it was from the pages of an evangelical apocalyptic novel about the end-times. But it’s not. It’s from this week’s headlines. And it is a scandal.

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, of course, is that Mormon at the center of all this. Beck isn’t the problem. He’s an entrepreneur, he’s brilliant, and, hats off to him, he knows his market. Latter-day Saints have every right to speak, with full religious liberty, in the public square. I’m quite willing to work with Mormons on various issues, as citizens working for the common good. What concerns me here is not what this says about Beck or the “Tea Party” or any other entertainment or political figure. What concerns me is about what this says about the Christian churches in the United States.

It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah...

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

Read the entire article HERE.

12 comments:

Jerry F said...

I am a life long conservative. The reason I have made that choice is because I feel they history teaches us that limited government produces a more just and free society. Not a perfect one, just a better one from an earthly perspective.

I think our history is more complicated than Glenn Beck suggests. And we, as Christians, regardless of our political point of view, need to understand that both parties try to use our faith for their benefit, while not necessarily willing to take a moral stand on our behalf.

Jerry F said...

I am a life long conservative. The reason I have made that choice is because I feel they history teaches us that limited government produces a more just and free society. Not a perfect one, just a better one from an earthly perspective.

I think our history is more complicated than Glenn Beck suggests. And we, as Christians, regardless of our political point of view, need to understand that both parties try to use our faith for their benefit, while not necessarily willing to take a moral stand on our behalf.

Jerry F said...

Todd sorry I posted mine twice-and con't remove it.

David Yamarick, Facilitator said...

We are not hiring Glenn for the pastorate. Nor do we agree with the tenets of the Mormom faith. As protestants, we disagree with the Vatican that faith plus works yeilds salvation. Yet there are born-again believers attending Catholic churches. My point is, we don't know Beck's spiritual identity. I have not heard his position on the diety of Christ but that would be interesting. And if he is not a believer, we will still join with others like him to save America from the perils of Tyranny. This is not a theocracy...yet. Beck is right about the need to return to God. In the same way soldiers in the trenches join with others to defend the country regardless of faith, we join with patriots regardless of party or faith to save the country from the dangers of losing our liberty in this pluralistic society. Beck is doing what the evengelical community should be doing. We fly the flag outside like window dressing and neglect speaking to the goodness of America and its spiritual underpinnings from the pulpit. Beck on television recently gave a clearer gospel message, so much clearer than Richard Stearns in the terribly flawed book "The Hole in Our Gospel". Stearns, a born-again believer muddied up the gospel and severly misinformed on the causes and remedies of poverty. Where is the evangelical outrage over this corruption?

Todd Pruitt said...

David,

I agree with you on the flaws of Stearns book. He does indeed muddy the Gospel. And, ironically, I have heard Beck say some things about Jesus coming for the salvation of individuals rather than to establish some earthly utopia as the Christian left frequently asserts.

That said, Beck is an unapologetic Mormon. He has stated that Mormons believe that salvation is a cooperative effort involving God's grace and man's good works. What is more, Mormonism denies or twists every doctrine of biblical Christianity.

SO, my concern is that evangelicals are partnering with a mormon in a quasi-religious/patriotic event that seems to muddy the gospel waters.

I have no problem with decent citizens gathering in our nations capitol to celebrate what is great about America. That's a good thing. It is certainly better than the kind of dreary and divisive rhetoric coming from the likes of Al Sharpton.

What evangelicals must NOT do however is join with unbelievers in a kind of quasi-religious service. Glenn Beck prays to another god and believes another gospel. This matters even more than political liberty.

Mike said...

These are good points Todd. The 1st question I asked after hearing Glenn Beck's call to "turn back to God" is "whose God?" Is this a more inclusive God which would include Mormons (obviously from Beck's POV that is true), is it a more restrictive idea of God from the judeo-christian perspective only?

Who does it include? who does it exclude? What about Muslims? where to they fit?

Unfortuntely statements like Beck's raise more questions for me rather than provide clarity about the mission.

Todd Pruitt said...

Mike,

This is an example of where we agree, at least in the questions you are asking. When we start saying that America needs to turn back to God I want to know which God we're talking about.

If I were to attend an event like the one mentioned and make a detailed presentation on the God who reveals himself in Scripture then even a lot of typical evangelicals would blush. The god of political movement both left and right is usually quite different from the God who truly is. And I cannot bless a gathering or a movement which honors an undefined god.

Harley A. said...

Jerry, I think you are spot on. BOTH parties are generally pretty Machiavellian when it comes to "faith" issues.

Also, I can't think of any example where God has grown the Church substantially by bringing about material prosperity - I just don't get it from scripture. I think He has blessed America and I'm thankful for it. But, typically, when he determines to refine His own, he uses a crucible. That's certainly not something I desire to happen, but we have to be careful we are seeking the right goals. Perhaps He is a bit tired of how focused we indeed are on material prosperity? And how His name gets casually thrown around to that end. I'm not trying to be preachy because I enjoy the prosperity - but it carries an enormous responsibility that I'm not so sure American Christians fully grasp - me included...

Jerry F said...

Harley-

I agree-there are a lot of issues that seem to be tied together here. There is an "Americanized" version of a prosperity giving, health providing, comfortable life kind of God. I don't want to speak for Glen but is that the God he wants us to "turn back to?" That God is not sufficient for my brothers serving underground in China, or suffering in Haiti. That God may never show up there.

For some reason God alowed me to live here. I figure that makes me responsible for my possessions, and that I should be a good steward. (Which I'm not-not consistently anyway.)

God transcends everything. All of creation, it just seems that we limit Him by reducing Him to a political figure. (I know I think I read about that before in the gospels in the person of His Son-Jesus) Reductionism seems to be the philosophy of the day.

Jase and Melissa said...

Todd,

I appreciate your concern over doctrinal purity. In regard to partnering with other faiths, I’m interested to know what you’re suggesting. If there is a public march oppossing abortion, etc., must Christians avoid the march because those of other faiths are involved, avoid contact in the event with non-Christians, or only march with Christians of shared doctrinal views? Perhaps I am not fully understanding your concern, but I don’t see how standing with Beck, an athiest or a Hindu, hand in hand, marching against abortion is trading the Gospel for political power. Isn’t it fair to just see these events for their clearly stated purpose & platform, and that’s it.

I think Moore’ article is problematic. Moore claims: Beck “preaches a God and country revivalism that leaves the evangelicals cheering that they’ve heard the gospel.” This grossly misconstrues those who listen to or attend Beck’s show/rally, as they’re obviously dialing in for a political message. Beck's political message doesn't go near issues of the Gospel message of redemption from sin through faith/grace?!

Moore decries generic theisitic civil religion. Isn’t there a proper place for civil religion? America’s founding documents are full of “theistic civil religion”, acknowledging that God is the creator, source of rights, etc. Moore’s complaint with civic religion plays into the liberal trap of stripping even broadly ecumeical, Christian references or positions on a host of issues from culture, politics, government, education, etc. while the liberals base their positions based on a relgion (secular humanism) all the while claiming this fake notion of religous separation and neutrality. And doesn’t it falsely suggest that our political views are not or should not be informed by our faith?

I know that issues of living in but not of the world can be tricky. But shouldn't it be tricky, a battle south of heaven. I don't want to cede the Gospel or other aspects of Christian teaching to the world.

Jason

Todd Pruitt said...

Jason,

You raise some excellent questions. I have no problem standing shoulder to shoulder with someone of another faith in opposition to abortion. However if this hypothetical Muslim or Mormon would then suggest that we partner to "call America back to God" I would have to back away for primarily 2 reasons:
1) We do not share the same God.
2) I don't know what it means for America to "return to God."

It is precisely that kind of ambiguous message that Moore is cautioning against. And I share his concern. I have no problem calling America to repent. It is an historical role of the prophet/preacher to name national sins. But that is radically different from a quasi-relgious civic rally in which I would partner with those who have a false gospel. The church must be VERY cautious of "civil religion" because it seems inevitably to distort the gospel and the nature of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture.

Certainly our faith is to not only inform but define our politics. That is one reason why I will never vote for any candidate who is pro-choice or who believes that the federal government should enable destructive behavior in its citizens. And it is precisely because my theology defines my politics that I am very wary of civil religion. It is because my theology defines my politics that I cannot partner with unbelievers in calling America to return to God.

The religious left has a long history of using religious rhetoric to advance political ends. For most of the 20th century conservative Christians rightly confronted the left for its tendency to compromise the gospel in the name of social change. I fear that conservatives (of whom I am one) are now doing the very same thing.

That said, I agree with you that some of the applications of this can be really tricky and I have not worked them all out in my mind. I hold forth possibility that I could be wrong (it certainly would not be the first time!).

Jerry F said...

Should we be politically involved? Yes, of course. Will we partner with those of other faiths in the public square where we have consensus? Yes again. Shall we agree to disagree on issues of basic importance to our faith?-Obviously. GLen Beck's view of God is different than mine, His view of history, which seeems to be very precise when he speaks about our Founding Fathers, is less so when looking at the history of the Morman church. If we are going to engage ourselves in activities such as the rally on Saturday, we need to make sure we clarify that the God Glenn Beck believes in isn't the God found in orthodox Christianity. Then the question becomes "who are we turning back to?"