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Reviews

Review: The End of White Christian America

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones is a difficult book to summarize briefly. It’s essentially a history book and it has a ton of research data.

I’m not much for formal reviews anymore. I did that during seminary, and I’m glad those days are over. But here are a few thoughts.

This book is from 2016, and it was released before President Trump was elected. It’s a book about, well, white Christians in America. What is “White Christian America”? The author uses the term to describe the domain (think realm or even kingdom) of white Protestants in America, anchored by mainline Protestants in the Northeast, and evangelical Protestants (particularly Southern Baptists as the book unfolds) in the Midwest and South. The author argues that WCA is dying—it doesn’t quite have the cultural or political clout it used to.

It seems that the the author equates white Christians with extreme right-wing Republican politics. (I realize that for statistical and historical analysis, a book about moderate Christians who aren’t quotable and stay out of partisan politics is pretty boring.) I could sum up the book by saying it’s about the death of that group of people who believe their “Christian” faith and (ultra-conservative) politics are so closely bound together that you nearly can’t tell a difference between them.

The book points out that WCA is out of touch with the changing cultural landscape (hence why it is dying). It shows the disheartening reality that Christians, particularly evangelicals, have hurt race relations in our country more than helped. It shows that Christians have often been tone deaf, and even more worried about being right and having power, than being servants. For these and other reasons, WCA is dying. (Keep in mind, of course, that Trump was elected shortly after this book was released, which seems to contradict the entire premise of the book.)

Now, to be honest, there were times when reading, that I said to myself, “I really don’t want to be associated with ‘evangelicals’” (as far as that word is understood in this country). There were moments I cringed reading about what’s been said or done by “evangelical Christians.” And it made me want to be anything but evangelical. (Full disclosure: I don’t use that label for myself because of the political connotations).

On the other hand, the author seems to assume that to move forward positively in this country, Christians (particularly white ones and particularly Southern Baptists) must embrace political views that Christians across time and culture have never embraced. I’m being intentionally vague on the details, but I’m sure you could take a good guess at some of the things the author refers to.

At the end of the day, reading this kind of book makes me long for a new generation of disciples of Jesus—the whole Jesus. It makes me long for Jesus-people who are neither Red nor Blue; do not cave into cultural values, norms, or fads; have a robust understanding of the gospel; are passionate about true justice for the non/underprivileged; have a vision and simple, reproducible methods for disciple-making; and walk by the Spirit of Jesus so that their light so shines before others that people ask them, “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

Master Jesus, you can do it. Please, do it.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).

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Theology

A (Brief) Political Manifesto

I recently attended a political event which was distinctively Christian. It was designed to inform Christians on the current political trends and issues related to family in New York State. I had mixed emotions during the event and as I’ve reflected back on it, not much has changed. But it got me thinking about how faith, the church, and politics intersect. I’ve thought about this before, of course, but this time I had a tangible experience that helped solidify some of my thoughts a bit more. After the event, I had a chance to write a reflection that is a sort of political “manifesto.” I pray it’s helpful to you.

We have been given an unbelievable privilege to live in a democratic republic. I believe Christians should participate in the democratic process. I believe individual Christians should participate and infiltrate the political arena and shine the light of the gospel there as we should in education, business, entertainment, the arts, law, etc.

I believe we should pray for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I believe we should submit to the authorities and honor them.

I believe that nearly everything Christians, in general, and pastors, in particular, say and do has political connotations and repercussions because our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or any political party. We serve a different King; we are citizens of another country. We give to Caesar what is his, but ultimately, we give to God what is his, namely us. This is profoundly political in a general sense.

I do not believe pastors should tell their congregations who to vote for. I do not believe churches should run or fund political campaigns or endorse any particular candidate. Rather, church leaders should so teach and lead and equip the congregation so that they understand the Christian worldview and how the gospel changes everything. This will help people make informed, just, and godly political decisions.

I do not believe the kingdom comes through legislation, political power, coercion, or propaganda. We are salt and light. Salt used to preserve is unseen. It only takes a small match to light up a dark room. Our influence is subtle yet constant. Our movement is marginal yet powerful. The church is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That is, we are the picture of an alternate city in all our earthly cities. We want justice and shalom for our cities in this world, and sometimes legislation and political action can help. William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England is a prime example. But we realize legislation cannot change hearts, and we realize the perfect society will finally come when Jesus returns. So we live together as a picture of that city to come and call others to join us. We desire and look for a new country, and I believe we were made for that country, that city—a city whose gates will never be breached and whose King never needs re-election.

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Theology

This I Believe: Creation

Creation
I believe that God created all things visible and invisible, which he declared “good.” The pinnacle of God’s creative work was man, which he declared it “very good.” I believe God created man male and female, and that they were created equally in the image of God and without sin. Adam and Eve were joined in a one-flesh union designed by God as the pattern for gender, marriage, and sexuality. Adam and Eve were appointed by God to care for, manage, and govern creation, while enjoying friendship with God.

Gen. 1; 2:7, 21-22, 24-25; Matt. 19:4-6

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Theology

This I Believe: The Triune God

Over the next couple weeks,  I will post a series of snippets from a personal confessional statement I wrote a while back for a seminary class. Each day, I will post one article from my personal statement. There’s nothing spectacular or earth shattering about my beliefs. If you are an evangelical, there’s not one thing I will say that will make your jaw drop. Indeed, this confessional statement is remarkable because it is, to be sure, quite unremarkable. It is simple a retelling of the old gospel and the historic doctrines of our faith. If anything, I hope your jaw drops out of delight in our glorious God.

Those who know me or read this blog know that I align myself with the historic Christian faith as articulated first in Scripture, and then in the historic Creeds (Apostles’NiceneChalcedon, and Athanasian) and various evangelical confessions of faith. On matters of doctrine, I embrace the maxim, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” In other words, while I believe that all doctrine is important, I do not believe that unity on all points of doctrine is not necessary for salvation. I hope you will notice that this conviction is ingrained into my statement.

Of course, no confessional statement should be divorced from God’s people, for we are God’s house, a diverse unity. God is creating a people for himself, not a bunch of lone ranger Christians. Therefore, “we believe” is more essential than “I believe.” In light of this, doctrinal statements should always be vitally connected to the universal and local church. At the same time, I think it is wise for individual Christians to be able to winsomely articulate, “This is what I believe,” while consciously remembering that simply having a personal statement of faith does not constitute an individual as a church!

The following modern statements have highly influenced me (and in some cases, I have simply adopted or slightly modified their wording): the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the Baptist General Conference Affirmation of Faith, the Evangelical Free Church of America Statement of Faith, and The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement.


The Triune God
I believe that there is one living and true God, eternally existing in three persons who dwell together in perfecting loving unity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I believe these are equal in every divine perfection, and that they execute distinct but harmonious offices in the work of creation, providence and redemption. God is spirit, immortal, invisible, holy, loving, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, everywhere-present, unchangeable, and sovereign. God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for himself and to make all things new for his own glory.

Gen. 1:1,26; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1, 3; 4:24; Rom. 1:19, 20; Eph. 4:5, 6

Categories
Theology

Why Is That Preacher So Skeptical?!

Many of us have read Ecclesiastes and have been blown away at how negative it is. Incredibly negative. Unbelievably negative. Depressingly negative.While the author of Ecclesiastes is skeptical, however, it’s clear from the book itself that “the Preacher” (Eccl. 1:1) is not on par with modern atheistic nihilists. A nihilist argues that nothing has meaning. The Preacher appears to argue that (cf. 1:2), but throughout the book, the Preacher actually believes life has meaning, for God is real, true, and trustworthy. He even states that the whole point of life is to fear God and obey him, for God is the final judge of everyone (12:13-14). That implies, beyond a doubt, there is meaning and purpose to reality.

Graeme Goldsworthy has provided a view of Ecclesiastes that I have found helpful. He does not think that the Preacher is writing a polemic against secularism or fleshly indulgence. Rather, “[The Preacher’s] main attack is directed at a form of Israelite wisdom that found a few simple answers to the question of our existence in the world. The friends of Job gave one expression of this dogmatic wisdom, which operated on a perceptible rule of retribution.”[1] Other scholars agree: “[The Preacher] protested against the easy generalizations with which his fellow teachers taught their pupils to be successful.”[2] The Preacher rebukes those who use proverbial wisdom as timeless rules. In other words, wisdom has its limits, but God is unsearchable and sovereign over the entire universe (cf. 3:1-8). Therefore, in the face of life’s uncertainties, the point is that the sovereign God is the one worthy of trust, not “wisdom.”

With this in mind, Ecclesiastes’ tone is not negative about God or even life in general, but rather, it’s skeptical of a trite use of wisdom which turns life into a composition of simplistic formulas: do this and you’ll get that; avoid this and enjoy the benefits; invest here and relish the returns. The truth is that life is complex, and it does not always work out the way we imagine, whether we are righteous or unrighteous. The author (whoever it is) makes it clear that he doesn’t want any part of that kind of wisdom.

As a Christian message, Ecclesiastes provides a silver lining. The Preacher hammers home the point that life is hard and death is certain (e.g. 2:16; 3:19; 6:12). The same ends waits for everyone. But there is hope in Jesus, the righteous sufferer par excellence. Only in light of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion does Ecclesiastes begin to make sense. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), and in him are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Though his suffering and death is foolishness to the world, it is the way of redemption for those who believe, and these believers willingly suffer with him in hope of greater inheritance than this world and its pithy wisdom can offer.

With his own unique touch, the Preacher challenged the overconfidence of the prevailing wisdom of his day and paved the way for one “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).[3]


[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom, in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001), 455.
[2] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 500.
[3] Ibid., 509.