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Virtue and Vice on Display

Even with all of our modern devotion to moral relativism, people still know virtue—and vice—when they see it.

Chuck Colson liked to quote Karl Barth’s observation that Christians should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Now I’m not sure what Chuck would have thought of podcasts, but Barth’s quote came to mind while listening to a recent episode of the Tony Kornheiser Show.

In the final segment, Kornheiser and his guests talked about two stories in the news. The first was an article in the Washington Post about Tim Tebow playing in baseball’s Single-A minor league after his stint in sports limelight.

Tebow was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida. And while his NFL career wasn’t nearly as successful, he still had great moments.

But what has long set Tebow apart, of course, is his Christian faith. It’s drawn millions of people to love him. It’s also why he has been the object of what George Weigel called “irrational hatred,” despite his many charitable efforts and the fact that he doesn’t force his faith on anyone.

Recently, the Post’s Barry Svrluga spent a day in Hagerstown, Maryland, watching Tebow in action. And he admitted that his initial skepticism (maybe even cynicism) quickly changed when he saw Tebow interact with fans, some of whom had driven hundreds of miles to see him. He talked about Tebow’s “prom experience for kids with special needs” called “Night to Shine.”

Svrluga had this to say to those who are cynical or dismissive about Tebow’s decision to now play minor league baseball and to question his motives: Before you form your opinion about Tim Tebow, “Talk to the people who made the pilgrimage here,” he said, “and look at the smiles in right field in the early evening.”

Everyone on the show agreed. Kornheiser, who’s Jewish, even joked that if he had spent a few more minutes with Tebow he might have ended up converting. He and his guests could not say enough good things about Tim Tebow.

Then the conversation turned to a very different subject: Harvard’s rescinding of at least ten offers of admission to members of its incoming freshman class. Harvard took this highly unusual step because of a Facebook group created by members of that class.

Their posts contained “offensive jokes about school shootings, the Holocaust, [sexual perversion] and the death of children and minorities.” And these are just the ones we can mention on this commentary.

All the guests on the Kornheiser show agreed—and so do I: Harvard did the right thing.

But it’s the juxtaposition of the Harvard story with Tebow that brought to mind what C.S. Lewis said in “The Abolition of Man”: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

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I suppose you’ve noticed all the gallows humor going on regarding the presidential election. And for good reason.

John Stonestreet

So, have you heard this one? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat. Who survives? Ha! America does!

Ok, now that I’ve offended everyone: What a bizarre election year this has been. As my BreakPoint this Week co-host Ed Stetzer has said quite a few times, “When political historians look back on the early 21st century, the phrase we’ll hear the most is, ‘except for 2016’.”

Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president. The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.

Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”

Talk about prophetic!

Folks, I might as well just say it: I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.

Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly. (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book “God’s Judgments,” it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.

And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country. Why? As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”

The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior. This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture. In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve. Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter:  “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people  . . . to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”daily_commentary_08_09_16

Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not–perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations. Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.

First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.

Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones. The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.

Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church. Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.

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