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October 31, 2016

Today is Reformation Day, October 31, 2016 — the 499th anniversary of Luther writing out his Ninety-Five Theses and sending them to the Archbishop. And that means, of course, next year marks the 500th anniversary of the letter that ignited the Protestant Reformation, and there will be a lot of celebrating. And there will be a lot of debate about what exactly we’re celebrating: is it justification by faith alone, is it the Bible made freely available in the language of the people, is it the end of indulgences, the rejection of papal authority, or rejecting the priest class, etc. When you think of celebrating the enduring legacy of the Reformation, Pastor John, what are you celebrating primarily?

Let me fudge on the word primarily. I would like to replace it with five other words, but I couldn’t think of five other words. But I did think of five other questions. I just couldn’t think of words to go with them. I thought of two, but I gave up on five words. So, I am going to replace your question with five, but I will at the end, I think, answer exactly what you are asking. Here we go.1) What am I celebrating ultimately? That is, what is at the top as the goal of all things when I celebrate the Reformation? And the answer is, the glory of Jesus Christ. In Calvin’s response to the Roman Catholic Sadolet, he said, “You . . . touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us. . . . Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished.” I think the same point could be made on issue after issue in the disputes of the Reformation. So ultimately we celebrate the exaltation of the glory of Christ.

2) What am I celebrating most foundationally? The first one was ultimately and the second is most foundationally. That is, what is at the bottom as the ground of all things when I celebrate the Reformation? And the answer is, the free and sovereign grace of God. When Martin Luther came to the end of his life, he regarded his book The Bondage of the Will as his most important work.The reason is that he regarded the issue of human autonomy versus sovereign grace as the key underlying issue of the Reformation. He said, “I condemn and reject as nothing but error all doctrines which exalt our ‘free will’ as being directly opposed to this mediation and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. For since, apart from Christ, sin and death are our masters and the devil is our god and prince, there can be no strength of power, no wit or wisdom, by which we can fit or fashion ourselves for righteousness and life.” Which means that, as long as someone insists on ultimate human self-determination, they fail to grasp the depth of our need, and they obscure the greatness of the free and sovereign grace of God, which alone can give life and faith. So, I am going to celebrate that as bottom. That is the bottom.

3) Between the glory of Christ at the top and the free and sovereign grace of God at the bottom, what am I celebrating in between as the greatest achievement of God flowing from grace, leading to glory? And the answer is, the decisive achievement of the cross of Christ in providing peace with God for guilty sinners. Four times in the book of Hebrews the author underlines and emphasizes the work of Christ in the forgiveness of sins as “once for all.” I love this phrase and the way he uses it (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). “He [Christ] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).So, I will be celebrating that the finished and complete work of Christ in providing imputed punishment for our sins and imputed perfection for our righteousness was once for all and cannot be reenacted in the Roman Catholic Mass so as to become a necessary point of transfer of that decisive grace purchased once for all for us and given to us through faith in Christ alone.

4) Between the glory of Christ at the top and the free and sovereign grace of God at the bottom, what am I celebrating in between as the decisive means of my enjoyment of peace with God that Christ achieved? Answer, the inspired word of God in Scripture read and known by every Christian. The church of the Middle Ages cut people off from the word of God. They had done so intentionally. It was a capital crime in the 1400s in Britain to translate the Scriptures into English so that people could read it. They burned people alive for reading fragments of the English Bible, even children. They believed that God did not offer his fellowship to be enjoyed through a personal encounter with him in his word, but rather through the ministry of priests and sacraments. This was evil.The chasm created between Scripture and the people of God has not been closed to this very day. I have mentioned before in this podcast just last summer’s experience in Europe where a nun was converted at eighty years old and had never read the Gospel of John. So, a Roman Catholic professional religious woman never had read the Gospel of John. That is symptomatic of a deep evil in cutting people off historically and, today, doing things that subtly discourage the personal encounter with God through Christ in his word. So, I will be celebrating the personal preciousness and access to the word of God from my daily means of enjoying personal fellowship with my Father in heaven.

5) Lastly, what great Reformation truth will I be celebrating concerning how I experience the living Christ through his word? Answer, I will be celebrating the truth that faith acted directly on Christ through his word — not mediated by priestly sacraments — is the decisive, primary way I enjoy what Christ purchased and what the word makes possible.Here is what I read this morning, Tony, in my devotions that made my heart sing. I was reading in Ephesians 3 and that unspeakably great prayer where Paul says, “[I pray] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16–17). That is amazing. Christ dwells.

Now, this is a prayer for Christians. This is not a prayer for conversion. We think, “Oh, that means Christ knocks on the door and comes in.” That is not the case. He is in. We are Christians. He is praying for saints in Ephesus “that Christ may dwell” — that is, consciously alive, present, at home, experienced, how? — “through faith.” “So that Christ may dwell in yours heart through faith.” He is praying for Christians who already have Christ. This is a prayer for a real, authentic experience of the living Christ.

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“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Recasting the Movie: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Edition

Today, we’ll look at how a dead German theologian came into a resurgence of popularity–only to play an unexpected role in the Christian Right’s ongoing love affair with its own ego.

Westminster Abbey's 20th Century Martyrs. (By photographer- T.Taylor - Public sculpture, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.)

Westminster Abbey’s 20th-century martyrs.

The Hero They Wanted.

In case you’ve never even heard of the guy, please permit me to whisk through his bio. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 and became a pastor and theologian in Germany. He vocally opposed the Nazis and even was involved in a major plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He got caught, imprisoned in various concentration camps, and finally executed in 1945 by the Nazis, and he is now all but a venerated martyr in several Christian denominations. His ideas influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (among many other folks and movements). And to many Christians, he remains a very charismatic and enigmatic figure.

He had some very firm ideas about the importance of living one’s faith in the real world as well as about pacifism, and also some piquant observations to make regarding what he called the “complete failure of the German Protestant church” to stop or even impede the rise of the Nazi regime. At one point he escaped to America and then returned to Germany at the last second to help with the fight against the Nazis. During the last part of his life, he was hassled constantly by the German government, forced to report to the police, and even forbidden to speak in public. Eventually he joined the underground resistance, fulfilling the spirit of a sermon he’d preached long before about how martyrs’ blood was being “demanded” by the events of his time. His death was apparently very brave–though also apparently slightly embellished in the way that many of these sorts of iconic martyrdom accounts often are.

You can probably already see why the Christian Right would adore the guy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer plays directly into their fascination with recasting themselves as the beleaguered, pure-hearted heroes fighting an unthinkably evil regime for ultimate global stakes–with martyrdom not only possible but inevitable.

Eric Metaxas, an evangelical-leaning Christian who is clearly frantic to break out of his limited circle of influence as a Veggie Tales scriptwriter and right-wing radio host, has been on a Bonhoeffer kick of late. He wrote a biography of the man a few years ago that his fundagelical tribe went wild for but which actual historians roundly criticized; one of these scholars proclaimed his version of the man a “counterfeit,” while another claimed he’d “hijacked Bonhoeffer.” The irony is that Mr. Metaxas himself appears to think that liberals have actually done the hijacking–and that now he’s taking back his hero for the conservatives.

Thanks to his biography, terms like “cheap grace” are in vogue in fundagelicalism now in a way I sure never heard when I myself stood among them; Christianity Today, in reviewing the book, gushes about Mr. Bonhoeffer’s plaintive plea asking “Who stands fast?” and his demand that Christians make their entire lives “an answer to the call of God.” This sold out/on fire/uncompromising* quality combines seamlessly with Mr. Bonhoeffer’s heroism during World War II and his very early death at the direct command of Adolf Hitler himself.

You might well wonder what prepared Eric Metaxas to write such a book. I certainly do.

His personal biography page doesn’t list any educational credentials for the man at all beyond graduation from Yale. We don’t even know what he studied there, but we do learn that he upstaged Dick Cavett at his commencement. Obviously his background in Christian entertainment makes him the perfect person to write a popular biography of one of the most influential and complex figures in modern Christianity even though he can’t even read or speak the language that his idol used in his work–which is one of the primary and most basic requirements we should expect to see out of someone trying to be an academic. Another is that the would-be academic should be extremely familiar with the basic scholarly work already done on whatever his or her topic is. And still another is that his work should at least be free of obvious mistakes.

Just like apologist David Marshall before him, Mr. Metaxas lacks these basic qualifications. He is a person claiming expertise who apparently has very little in actuality. He’s smart, that much is clear–and clever. He’s just not anywhere near as prepared to write a book of this nature as he pretends to be. But the inexpert expert is, itself, a trope that feeds into fundagelical delusions of grandeur. Ah kin do jus’ as good as them book-larned edumacated expurts! you can all but hear them muttering.

I know how it is; I was there myself once. More importantly, I figured out exactly why I was there, too.

The Movie in Their Heads.

Unmoored from simple considerations like how their ideas tie into reality, toxic Christians are free to conceptualize their lives as epic movies. They cast themselves as heroes, everyone opposing them as villains, and their cause as divinely-blessed–even divinely-mandated.

For many years now, Christians inhabiting the right-wing fringe of the religion have been styling themselves as the brave crusaders fighting for the soul of America in Earth’s final wretched days. Even back in my day, we saw ourselves that way. We fetishized the Rapture and Tribulation,** waiting eagerly as every predicted date came and went without even remembering all the past disappointments. We correlated world events in our various checklists of what had to happen before Jesus finally kick-started the end of the world. We created and devoured diagrams about Bible verses and how they matched up with this or that natural disaster or war. If Israel’s leaders burped, we gasped and raced back to our Bibles to figure out what it meant in terms of the predictions we thought had been given to us. It always meant something, too–usually “oh my god, we’re another step closer to the Endtimes.”

We thought we lived in “the last days.” Spiritual battles were erupting all around us–angels and demons vying for the souls of every person alive. Prayer was their ammunition; fasting charged their weapons’ power cells. So Christians were vitally necessary in this battle, because without our efforts demons would win countless souls for their gruesome master. (No, we didn’t realize how weak and useless we made our god look by acting this way.)

In such an environment, any Christian, no matter how lowly or uneducated or mocked, could become a Big Damn Hero–a Prayer Warrior who could save other people’s lives, fight evil princes and principalities, and gain the ultimate of all rewards: eternal life and an exalted place in the heavenly kingdom. But this warrior would only receive that reward if he or she stood perfectly steadfast and did not waver in faithfulness. The forces arrayed against such a warrior could be incredible, and the hardships endured both many and excruciating. In the end, though, only one outcome was possible for a truly faithful servant.

For the rest of the article…

In two of the last three Chicago Cubs games, Ben Zobrist has hit a late double to spark a rally. The first—against the San Francisco Giants in the ninth inning—helped the Cubs win the National League Division Series. The second—against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth—led off an inning that would end with a game-clinching grand slam and a 1–0 lead in the National League Championship.

Zobrist is a key player on a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. The young team won 103 regular season games, its most wins in 106 years and more than any other team in the Major Leagues. Most of the players are on multi-year contracts like Zobrist ($56 million over four years), igniting hopes among Cubs fans that they’ll be even better next year.

But for Zobrist, the utility player hired fresh off his World Series victory last year with the Kansas City Royals, it isn’t all about the win. It isn’t even all about the game.

Real Deal

“Ben gets it,” says his pastor of 10 years, Byron Yawn. He leads Community Bible Church in Nashville.

“He understands redemption and has a great grasp on what’s important in life. His greatest joys are at home with his family or in the church in the purposes of God. He finds great satisfaction in what he does, but when he leaves baseball, he’s going to endeavor to use whatever celebrity that remains to place himself on a different mission field with the same agenda. It’s hard to overstate or make it clear—he really is the real deal.”

Zobrist’s dad is a pastor, and he’s been a believer since childhood. When he points to the sky while crossing the plate, there’s no doubt “he means it,” Yawn says. “There’s a lot of sincerity there.”

Indeed, Zobrist hasn’t hidden his convictions. There’s no shortage of stories detailing how his faith affects his life.

Real Weakness 

While Ben’s star has risen about as far as it can, Yawn still maintains he’s “a normal human being with frustrations, anxiety, and weakness. . . . He doesn’t handle everything perfectly.”

It’s no wonder, because professional baseball is, according to Yawn, “a very guilt-ridden, self-conscious industry, where working harder for success can contradict the realities of the gospel itself.”

Professional athletes are expected to “work their tail off” to improve their mechanics, exercise their bodies, and stay healthy.

While this works well for Zobrist on the diamond, there was a temptation to allow his tireless work ethic to become the basis of his faith, believing that working hard at prayer or Bible study gained God’s approval.

“When Ben first came into the league, he struggled significantly with this,” Yawn says. Things hit a crisis point early in Zobrist’s career during a prolonged slump that adversely affected his faith. “I had a chance to fly out to spend some time with him and this immense emotional weight and the stress of living under this legal spirit.”

Yawn’s plan was “to talk and pray and throw away all of his crappy Christian books.” He remembers telling Ben, “I would be here for you whether you were a professional baseball player or not. The things you’re suffering are normal, they’re just made exponentially greater.”

Everybody wants to draw a direct correlation between how hard they work and God’s benevolence, Yawn says.

“It’s in our DNA.”

Failure, Forgiveness, Progress  

This temptation is especially strong for Christian athletes. They might connect their current slump to their recent lack of diligent spirituality. Yawn called this mindset a type of “hyperspiritualized transactionalism.” Yet it’s also easy for fans to think this way. Half of Americans—and 60 percent of white evangelicals—believe “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.”

“There was a time when Ben would beat himself up or overspiritualize [a slump], thinking it was a result of him not being faithful as a believer,” Yawn recounts. “Teaching Ben that his identity is in Christ and not in his batting average has been the greatest liberation in his life.”

Baseball is a game full of failures. If a player get a hit one out three times, he’s probably in the Hall of Fame. But it’s also a game of forgiveness.

“You can fail 7 out of 10 times and be great,” says Zobrist’s first pastor, Tom, who is also his dad.

Tom likened the game to the Christian life, as each underscores the necessity of maintaining perspective through the process.

“You can’t measure by results,” he said, “but by whether you’re faithful.”

He’s right. Throughout the whole of October, Zobrist can do everything right at the plate and watch his screaming line drives caught for an out; similarly, a missionary can evangelize his or her whole life and never see any conversions.

Knowing this, Tom prays for Ben, but not that he’ll win games, he says.

“I pray for his faithfulness—that he’ll be faithful to work hard, faithful to the process of baseball, faithful to his testimony.”

This mindset has been a source of peace for Ben, who told his dad, “If I’m faithful to do what I’m supposed to do, then I can accept the results in the end.”

Tom has gone through a process himself, morphing from a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan to a fan of the rival Cubs.

“It’s evidence of God’s gracious sense of humor,” he said. “The worst thing in the world isn’t your son playing for the Cubs.”

Baseball and Jesus 

Ben was 3 years old when his dad headed to Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary—now Calvary University. After seminary, the Zobrists settled into Eureka, Illinois, a town of about 5,000 two hours south of Chicago. Tom became the pastor at Liberty Bible Church, a nondenominational congregation where he still serves today

The rest of Tom’s family lives close by, and they’re split in their loyalties between the Cubs and the Cardinals. Tom always cheered for St. Louis, so Ben grew up a stout Cards fan.

For the rest of the post…

87 reasons to celebrate Arnie’s life

The King was born 87 years ago. There’s no record what Arnold Palmer weighed at birth, but there is no doubt he became one of America’s true heavyweight sports figures.

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, Palmer truly walked (and golfed) with Presidents and Kings but didn’t lose the common touch. Here are 87 reasons to celebrate Arnie’s life:

1. He made hitching up your pants cool.
2. He brought big-time golf to Orlando, turning the sleepy Florida Citrus Open into the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
3. He signed a zillion autographs – all of them legibly.
4. He beat prostate cancer.
5. He served three years in the U.S. Coast Guard.
6. The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children is ranked among “Best Children’s Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.
7. JFK sent him film of his golf swing to critique.
8. In 49 years, he made $1,784,497 on the PGA Tour.
9. In 2014, he made $42 million in endorsements and other income, according to Forbes.
10. He went to the same high school as Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
11. He rallied from seven shots behind on the final day to win the 1960 U.S. Open.
12. He designed the first golf course built in China.
13. You can order an “Arnold Palmer” and restaurants worldwide will pour you a half-iced tea, half-lemonade.
14. He’s still a member of the Latrobe (Pa.) Elks club.
15. He broke100 for a round of golf when he was 7.
16. When Palmer turned 37, Dwight D. Eisenhower flew to Latrobe to deliver a surprise birthday greeting.
17. He met his first wife, Winnie, on a Tuesday and asked her to marry him four days later.
18. They were married 45 years until her death in 1999.
19. He played in 50 Masters.
20. He became a pilot to help overcome his fear of flying.
21. He rode into a 2013 Wake Forest football game on the back of a motorcycle.
22. He was the last golfer to look debonair with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
23. He has a Congressional Gold Medal.
24. He has a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
25. He’s the only sports figure to have both.
26. His grandkids called him “Dumpy.”
27. He has 62 PGA Tour wins.
28. When arch villain Goldfinger was cheating while playing golf against James Bond in the 1964 film, Sean Connery’s caddie said, “If that’s his original ball, I’m Arnold Palmer.”
29. He gave Kate Upton her first golf lesson.
30. He personally taught hundreds of pro golfers how to properly comport themselves.
31. His father was a lowly club pro, so Arnie wasn’t allowed to swim in the club pool.
32. He swam in the creek that supplied the pool water and joked that he urinated in it.
33. He hung out with Frank Sinatra.
34. He really did drive that tractor seen in the Pennzoil commercials.
35. He helped start the Golf Channel.
36. He was honorary national chairman of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation for 20 years.
37. He made eye contact with fans.
38. The Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies delivered 13,800 newborns in 2014.
39. Richard Nixon asked his advice on how to end the Vietnam War.
40. He was Associated Press Athlete of the Decade for 1960s.
41. He won seven majors.
42. Kirk Douglas was asked of all his famous acquaintances, who had the most personal magnetism? His answer: Arnie.
43. He loves bologna.
44. He worked as a paint salesman after getting out of the Coast Guard.
45. He has 13 streets named after him.
46. He doesn’t expect people to call him “Mr. Palmer.”
47. He addressed Congress in 1990 on the 100th anniversary of Eisenhower’s birth.
48. He shot 71 in his first high-school golf match.
49. He has his own winery.
50. He has refused any marketing overtures to make an Arnold Palmer wine comprised of half-Chardonnay and half-Cabernet Sauvignon.
51. It took him 13 years to become the first golfer to win $1 million in career earnings.
52. Matt Every, winner of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, got a first-place check for $1,134,000.
53. In 1976, he set a round-the-world speed record in a Learjet that still stands – 57 hours, 25 minutes, 42 seconds.
54. Only two rooms in the Pennsylvania house he grew up in had heat.
55. He had a hole-in-one five years ago.
56. He was confident enough to wear pink before it was fashionable.
57. The Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History is home to the world’s leading collection of golf artifacts.
58. He quit the Champions Tour when he felt he was playing like a golf artifact.
59. He expects men to take off their hats when they go indoors.
60. He helped found a nature preserve named after his first wife.
61. Gerald Ford’s first act after leaving the presidency was playing a round of golf with Palmer.
62. The Latrobe airport is named after him.
63. He bought the golf course that wouldn’t allow him to go swimming as a kid.
64. He came up with his simple yet iconic multicolored umbrella logo.
65. He often cries during the national anthem.
66. After a lifetime of signing autographs for free, he finally charged for his signature during the 1994 Bay Hill tournament when his grandchildren told him business was slow at their lemonade stand. Palmer agreed to sign for anyone who’d buy a $1.50 glass. The kids made a quick $50 before running out of lemonade.
67. The Arnold Palmer Medical Center is the largest facility in the U.S. dedicated to children and women.
68. When he was 17, he had a photo taken with Hollywood starlet Esther Williams.
69. His around-the-world record flight would have finished sooner, but he stopped to refuel in Sri Lanka and rode an elephant.
70. For years, the trophy at his Orlando tournament was a sword.
71. His would-be father-in-law boycotted the wedding because he doubted Palmer could make enough to support a family.
72. He designed more than 300 golf courses around the world.
73. He came up with the concept of modern Grand Slam in 1960.
74. He flew a Boeing 747 before they were in commercial service.
75. The golfing great Arnold Palmer appeared in the animated “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show” in 1971.
76. He’s an honorary starter at the Masters.
77. There’s an Arnold Palmer statue at Wake Forest.
78. Nike’s “LeBronold Palmer” sneakers are named for him and LeBron James.
79. He led the campaign to prevent golf courses from being built in Florida’s state parks.
80. After first seeing Palmer’s jerky swing, Gene Sarazen said Palmer wouldn’t amount to much of a golfer.
81. He can still be spotted walking his dog at Bay Hill.
82. His dog’s name is Mulligan.
83. His review of Bill Clinton’s golf game: “He can hit a long way, he just doesn’t have a ZIP code.”
84. In 2010, Esquire named him one of “The 75 Best Dressed Men of All Time.”
85. He smoked his last cigarette on Dec. 23, 1973.

For the other two…

Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red states and blue states—the political divides in our country tend to fall into binary structures. The ones we are most familiar with tend to be firmly established, and we often know, through intuition or experience, what side we align with.

But over the past few months there has been a new political divide, an intramural division within American social conservatism. And this discord has been felt most prominently within the evangelical wing of this movement.

Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity, and there have always been differences and disagreements on politics. Still, within the social conservative faction (which accounts for around 60 percent to 75 percent of evangelicalism) there has been a general sense of unity. At least there was before this election season. The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused a split within this group that has grown increasingly rancorous as we inch closer to the election.Even by the standard of partisan politics, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure. Before this year few could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.

Witness vs. Justice

In an attempt to bridge this chasm I want to explain the reasoning of both sides (at least as I have observed the debates), examine their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a way forward. While the two sides may not agree on much before November 8, we can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.

There are differences and disagreements within each group and just as many areas of overlap between the two sides. By painting their outlines with a broad brush we will miss many important aspects and nuances. Still, doing so will help us focus our eyes on a few of the most essential elements.

To give a label to each side, we can identify the division as between those focused on Witness and those foregrounding Justice. Let’s start with by explaining the Justice side.

Justice Side

The concern of this group can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court. Many of the issues they care about most are matters of justice that will likely be decided by the court—abortion, marriage, transgenderism, religious liberty, and so on. They’re legitimately worried that if the liberal party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is allowed to choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia it will set us back decades, and even push us to a point from which our country may never recover.

Although Trump might not have been their first choice of candidates, they see him as the lesser of two evils. They don’t necessarily know what he would do in office, but they are quite certain how Hillary will govern. For this reason they are willing to take a chance on Trump. To reverse an old saying, “Better the devil you don’t know than the one you do.”

The strength of this position is its clarity and simplicity. This group reasons that even if Clinton and Trump were to govern in the exact same way on every issue and differ only on Supreme Court nominations, we would be no worse off and would, in many ways, be much better off since the Court would be returned to its former status quo.

This is form of minimax strategy, which is often used in two-player, zero-sum games (like presidential elections). Minimax is a strategy of always minimizing the maximum possible loss that can result from a choice a player makes. The Justice side believes by supporting and voting for Trump they are minimizing the maximum possible loss of justice that would result from a Clinton presidency.

For the Justice side, the timeline we should be thinking on is decades, rather than the next four to eight years. My TGC colleague Bethany Jenkins summed up this rationale when she said, “As a lawyer who has read hundreds of cases, I’ve found one thing certain: Presidents come and go, but a SCOTUS Justice lasts a lifetime.” (NB: Bethany is not a Trump supporter, though she is sympathetic to the concerns of the Justice side.)

That is the main strength of the Justice position. The drawback is the trade-offs they have to make to endorse Trump, specifically sacrificing the “character issue” not only from this current presidential election but also from every election in the future.

A prime example of a champion on the Justice side is Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. After hearing Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, Jeffress said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.” But he said he’d still support Trump for President. “I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday school teacher,” he said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

The implication is that there is not even a minimal biblical standard of character for a man or woman seeking a leadership role in America’s government. While integrity and a reputable character might be preferred, it’s a luxury good, not a prerequisite to receive the political support of evangelicals.

The result of this decision to disregard character is likely to live longer than even the most robust Supreme Court Justice. No longer can we credibly claim a lack of character is a disqualifier from public office. If Hugh Hefner decides to run for president and chooses Larry Flynt as his running mate, they could credibly claim to be the candidates for evangelical “Values Voters,” so long as they promised to appoint conservative judges.

Witness Side

Now let’s examine the Witness side. This group is also concerned about the long-term threat that will result from allowing Clinton to choose Supreme Court justices. In fact, on this matter they share all of the same concerns as the Justice side. Where they differ is in fervently believing the damage done to our gospel witness in choosing Trump outweighs the potential devastation caused by a liberal Court.

This side rejects the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as being unbiblical since Scripture calls us to reject all evil. They believe the character of both candidates has made them unfit for the highest office in the land, and that voting for either to be President would violate their conscience. Additionally, they believe Trump has made comments that reveal him to be racist, sexist, and/or anti-life—all while claiming to be a Christian. For this group, turning a blind eye to Trump’s character for the sake of political expediency betrays our calling as Christians.

The strength of the Witness position is its integrity and faithfulness. They contend that by supporting Trump (or Clinton) evangelicals are sending the message that we’re willing to sacrifice our witness as ambassadors of Christ, and that we’re willing to choose evil on the chance it will lead to a good outcome.

For the rest of the post…

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

We can never collude when idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.”

The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things.

The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.

On the one hand, we pray for all rulers—and judging from the example of Old Testament exiles like Daniel and New Testament prisoners like Paul, we can even wholeheartedly pray for rulers who directly oppose our welfare. On the other hand, we recognize that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God.

No human being, including even the best rulers, is free of this temptation. But some rulers and regimes are especially outrageous in their God-substitution. After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became more and more elaborate in their claims of divinity with each generation—and more and more ineffective in their governance. Communism aimed not just to replace faith in anything that transcended the state, but to crush it. Such systems do not just dishonor God, they dishonor his image in persons, and in doing so they set themselves up for dramatic destruction. We can never collude when such idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance. Christians in every place and time must pray for the courage to stay standing when the alleged “voice of a god, not a man” commands us to kneel.

This year’s presidential election in the United States presents Christian voters with an especially difficult choice.

The Democratic nominee has pursued unaccountable power through secrecy—most evidently in the form of an email server designed to shield her communications while in public service, but also in lavishly compensated speeches, whose transcripts she refuses to release, to some of the most powerful representatives of the world system. She exemplifies the path to power preferred by the global technocratic elite—rooted in a rigorous control of one’s image and calculated disregard for norms that restrain less powerful actors. Such concentration of power, which is meant to shield the powerful from the vulnerability of accountability, actually creates far greater vulnerabilities, putting both the leader and the community in greater danger.

For the rest of the post…

By Andrew Camp

6 Reflections on Community Inspired by Bonhoeffer

“I don’t know about you, but I am constantly tempted to get so caught up in my vision, planning and execution of community.”

My church has recently launched a series on community called Better Together. In conjunction with the sermon series, I, in collaboration with my senior pastor, wrote a small group curriculum to complement the series. I love community, which is why I love small groups. Like many of you, I work hard on our small group system at my church to equip leaders and to help many in my church experience the fullness of community—the good, the bad and the ugly.

However, as I continue to reflect on community and work toward helping others experience community, I constantly find myself drawn back to and challenged by the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his classic work, Life Together. In it, he writes:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness and His promise. (pp. 27-28).

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly tempted to get so caught up in my vision, planning and execution of community, that I rarely stop to seek God’s heart for the community which He has called me to shepherd.

Please do not misunderstand me: I do not believe God wants you or me to be laissez faire when it comes to community either. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Structure and guidelines are good as it relates to community; they can help foster an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable.

So how do we draw the balance. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

1. Pray for your specific community. Thank God for placing you in that specific community. Don’t repress your frustrations about your community, but in the midst of frustrations, be thankful as much as you are able.

2. Listen to God. Don’t spend so much time in prayer for your community that you miss God’s voice to you regarding your community. Remember that God has already laid the foundation.

3. Spend time listening to your people—not just your leaders, but others as well. Know where they are at and what they need to continue to grow spiritually.

For the rest of the post…

Here’s The Simple Biblical Explanation.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

In the question of who’s the worst sinner, between Donald and Hillary… the answer is simple and straightforward… it’s you and me.. or whoever judges Donald and Hillary.

Jesus said it even better than Dietrich, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” – Matthew 7 (The Message)

I’m attracted to the invitation of Jesus to focus on our issues (however big or small they are) as oppose to glorifying someone else’s (as big or small as their sins are).

It’s the “plank in our eye” approach, which really helps with living a happy sonship.

Christ came to save us from our sin, but also to save us from the idea that we could be saviors of ourselves, or anyone else.

He made it clear to the Pharisees (who loved to compare levels of sin) that lust was just as bad as adultery, and hatred was just as bad as murder.

So yeah, we are all as bad as Donald/Hillary.

And we need Jesus as much as they do.

I know, that you know, that both Donald and Hillary have clear and distinctive things that they need to repent for.

But so do you.

For the rest of the post…

 

The first presidential debate on September 26 attracted a record 84 million viewers. I was one of them.

Another sizable audience is predicted to watch the second presidential debate tonight. I will not be one of them — nor will my wife or my kids.

The lewdness factor of the election reached new heights this weekend, and it has been suggested that tonight’s debate should be rated R and prefaced with a parental advisory warning. Mud will be slung (and there’s never been more mud to sling). Ratings will be high again.

We are troubled by the personalities and we are troubled by their policies — and when you add those two features together, many Christians are simply withdrawing themselves from both major candidates and both major parties.

If it feels odd to withdraw support like this from such a major American institution, you’re not alone. Writer and hip-hop artist Sho Baraka recently opened a powerful op-ed piece by writing, “As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.”

The 2016 election is giving a lot of us a taste of displacedness. Perhaps like never before in this country, for black and white evangelicals alike, there’s a new feeling of un-belonging. But it’s not a shrugging cynicism. Under the political disillusionment, we are all finding ways of voicing concerns for the welfare of our nation. We are displaced, yes, but we are not separatists.

Believers in Babylon

About 2,600 years ago, under the shadow of a pagan superpower, another believer felt this same pinch: Daniel, a godly man living in exile in the Babylonian empire, a nation which traced its origin back to the rebel egotropolis, Babel. Yet in spite of his disagreement with Babylon’s policies, Daniel gave his life to serve the nation.

The book of Daniel is thoroughly political, revealing the power of God’s sovereign undertow beneath the tides of world politics, and all for the sake of his chosen people. Even as his people endured exile in Babylon, God sovereignly governed the world’s political leaders — raising, dropping, and reordering political powers for millennia (Daniel 2:21).

Into this pagan society, Daniel fought to balance his loyal service to Babylon with his ultimate obedience to God. And what he needed was a transhistorical vision of God’s rule over the nations. He got it in the form of a dream from the restless sleep of Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar.

In Daniel 2:36–45, we read about a giant statue of a man that towered perhaps one-hundred feet in the air and glistened brilliantly in the noonday sun.

The dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar. The interpretive key was given to Daniel.

The statue was a stack of nations, said Daniel. The metal man was capped with Babylon (represented in the gold head), placed atop Medo-Persia (the silver torso and arms), placed atop Greece (the bronze belly and thighs), and placed atop Rome at the bottom (the legs of iron and feet of clay). This layered statue represented a succession of the world’s four great superpowers from Daniel’s day into the future, all stacked vertically and cemented together (Hamilton, 330).

Then it toppled.

The statue was targeted by a stone, which flew into the dream like a comet, smashed into the statue’s feet, and, on impact, shattered the entire statue like safety glass. With one blow, the statue exploded into a pile of rubble, pulverized into a heap of human superpower dust, barely hitting the ground before the wind blew it all away into oblivion.

The small meteoric stone, now on the ground, began to grow and expand into a mountain that covered the entire earth — the image of a new and unshakable kingdom now spread out over every continent, displacing all the world’s superpowers in history.

The fall of this giant man-statue is meant to remind us of David’s sling-whirling, Goliath-defeating precedent. In both cases, the world’s powers must fall before the reign of a Davidic king.

Return of the King

This theatrical dream triggers a future history: a new king will establish God’s global reign over creation (the mountain). Later in the book, God gave Daniel a dream of his own, ushering him into a divine throne room of stunning imagery to see “the Ancient of Days” presiding over a glorious coronation anointing, over “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:9–13).

This king, this “son of man,” entered in to receive his Cosmic Commission: to reign over all the peoples and nations and languages of the earth, to be globally adored in glory, and to be obeyed by all peoples.

The Davidic symbolism of chapter two, and now the introduction of this “son of man” in Daniel 7, combine to reveal the connection to Christ. Jesus would use this “son of man” phrase about eighty times in the Gospels: to reference his own authority, to reference his own need to suffer and die, and most importantly, to communicate his future glorified majesty and authority (NDBT, 236).

Christ found ample opportunities to tie all the major features of his Messianic purposes back to the throne room scene in Daniel 7. His words remind us that God’s agenda reigns on debate night — and every night.

The Politics of Jesus

The throne-room coronation scene in Daniel 7:13–14 is striking for helping us understand Christ’s self-revelation, and for understanding our mission as Christians, in a world of confusion. To make the connections, we need to set the “Cosmic Commission” of Christ in Daniel 7:13–14 alongside the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28:18–20.

For the rest of the post…

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