Conventional wisdom tells us that neither political side has a corner on the Christian faith. Christians should not pledge allegiance to any political party, but evaluate issues individually and vote on candidates individually. Some Christians will naturally fall toward more conservative positions, and some toward more liberal positions. But at the end of the day, politics must not divide us because our opinions on political matters are less important and less clear from Scripture than what we share in common as believers in Christ.
It seems that we could generate much more light, instead of mere heat, if we would take the time to define the terms of our controversies. In the past few years, a social media divide has emerged among Christians who argue, on the one hand, that we must address racism by preaching the gospel, and those who argue, on the other hand, that while the gospel must remain central to the church, wider forms of social activism are also necessary as legitimate implications of the gospel. This common method of framing the debate is actually too crude to be helpful. What we need is a nuanced look at what, exactly, is being argued on each side.
In a 2013 essay, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote regarding same-sex marriage, “Turns out that being civil about indecency actually hurts the traditional cause.” His point was that polite discourse about abominable behavior plays a role in normalizing such behavior. It is not difficult to see why that would be the case. Polite discourse minimizes and, over time, neutralizes the instinct of moral revulsion. While moral revulsion alone is not enough to sustain ethical practice over time, it is an important community-shaping element. Healthy communities express moral revulsion at that which is truly abominable, and the healthy effect of such revulsion is a natural deterrent toward said behavior within the community. People who are socialized into being appalled at what is appalling to God have the blessing of a moral compass shaped according to truth. Anyabwile’s “gag reflex” argument highlights an important component of the effects of our discourse about sin. It is entirely possible to speak of sin in a way that is technically correct, while still lacking entirely in true moral fiber, leading to the further erosion of social norms and the withering away of a protective moral revulsion.
[See Part 1 of this series.]
Although the salvation accomplished by the cross work of Jesus Christ entails multiple dimensions of deliverance—from the power of Satan, from the dominion of sin, from this present evil age, etc.—there is no greater deliverance accomplished by Christ than that which is from the looming judgment of God over humanity. Having surveyed this theme in the Old Testament, my purpose in this installment is to show that the preaching of the gospel by the apostles in the book of Acts demonstrates the same truth.
It is common knowledge that the word “gospel” means “good news,” but the nature of that news and what, exactly, makes it good are not always a matter of agreement. Is the good news the hope that we might go to Heaven when we die? Is it that we will be raised from the dead with Christ? Is it that God is creating a new world? Is it that, through Jesus Christ, God has triumphed over the devil? Is it that God has formed a new society of reconciled humanity through the cross work of his Son? Is it the forgiveness of sins? Is it liberty to the oppressed? Is it victory over evil?
In fact, the gospel is about all of the above and more. God’s redemptive work is both individual and global, microcosmic and macrocosmic, eternally salvific and socially transformational. However, the recognition of Scripture’s rich diversity of perspectives on God’s salvation through Christ does not eliminate the need for careful understanding of the order and logic of the gospel. It is entirely possible to proclaim gospel truths in a manner that distorts the biblical shape of the good news and, consequently, tends to lead people astray from the true gospel of Christ. And so, if we are going to proclaim the gospel rightly, we must ask the question: what is the primary orientation of the good news of Christ’s redeeming work?
I love the word “community,” but I hate to see it bastardized into such phrases as “the ________ community” (fill in the blank: white, black, gay, female, non-binary, Christian, minority, etc.). Whenever you put a modifier in front of “community” to define it as a demographic, you have actually changed the meaning of the term. A true community is a local establishment of households who share physical spaces and community traditions. They are invested in local history and institutions. They have flesh-and-blood interactions with one another. They eat together, do business together, send their children to school together, go to town hall meetings together, worship together, attend local public library events together, and thousands of other activities that are entailed in living one’s life locally. A city or town is itself a large community that is further subdivided into communities that exist at smaller levels: districts, neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc.
My point here is simply this: there is no such thing as a “community” of people who are grouped together on the basis of a demographic indicator (skin color, sexual orientation, sexual identity, etc.). The moment we speak of “the gay community,” for example, as a way of linking together gay people across 3.8 million square miles between our national borders, we are speaking of people who do not share common spaces and institutions, who do not (and cannot) have interactions with one another, and who therefore cannot in any meaningful sense constitute a community.
The conservative resurgence (CR) of the Southern Baptist Convention was a movement to reclaim institutions for a conservative theology and mission. Preeminent among those institutions marked for reclamation were our six seminaries, which had, to varying degrees, come under the influence of a left-leaning theology in the decades preceding the CR, which began in 1979. As a result of the CR, the seminaries have now been under the leadership of conservatives for a few decades, but state Baptist colleges and universities continue to represent a much wider theological spectrum that includes left, right, and middle. The reason for this discrepancy between seminaries and colleges is, of course, because the CR operated at the level of the national convention, to which only the seminaries are directly accountable. The CR was not an organized movement at the level of state conventions, to which state Baptist colleges and universities are directly accountable.
How many tweets have followed something like this formula?
Pastor, if you don’t address _____________ [latest social media justice conversation] on Sunday, you have compromised the gospel.
I get the motivation. We want to make sure our ministry connects to real world issues. We confess that Christ’s lordship is universal, that he will ultimately redeem not only individuals but a new humanity, who will inherit with him a new creation where justice reigns forever. And so we pray and fight for justice in this present world as we seek to obey Jesus’ command to be salt and light, influences of righteousness in this world (Matthew 5:13-16).
When it comes to biblical authority, slavery is the progressive’s favorite wedge issue. It’s not hard to imagine a conversation with a non-Christian or with a progressive Christian going something like this:
PROGRESSIVE: You hold to the traditional view of marriage?
CONSERVATIVE: Yes. Scripture is clear on that.
PROGRESSIVE: And you also hold to ordination of men only?
CONSERVATIVE: Yes. Scripture is also clear on that issue.
PROGRESSIVE: Well, why don’t you follow the Bible’s teaching on slavery then? It’s special pleading to ignore all of that material and claim that you are “biblical.” In reality, you are only selectively “biblical.”
A conservative who is unprepared for that argument and who holds to a surface level apprehension of the issues at stake might find himself taken in by the logic, ultimately leading to a shaking of his confidence in Scripture’s authority. With the image of African slaves being kidnapped, sold, and abused hovering in the background, the conservative may find himself at a loss to defend the authority of Scripture under the assumption that it clearly endorses such moral atrocities. And from there, the whole fabric of biblical authority might begin to unravel.
Mary Kassian wrote a fine essay recently in which she poses the question, “Where can women teach?” She lays out eight principles to guide our answers to that question in various situations. The principles flow from her central conviction with regard to the question, which she states in the beginning of her essay as follows:
As a complementarian, I believe that God wants us to honor his design for men and women by following the principle of male headship in our homes and church families. The church is God’s family and household (1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6; Galatians 6:10). The family part is key. The Bible teaches that in the nuclear family unit, as well as in our corporate church families, the father — or multiple fathers in the case of the church — has the responsibility to lovingly lead and humbly govern the family unit.
Kassian’s argument here goes deeper than exegetical observations on a handful of Pauline commands (as important as those are). By tying her conception of gender roles in the ministry of the church to the concept of fatherhood, Kassian advocates for a broad, rather than a narrow, complementarianism. Or, in my preferred terminology, a “thick,” rather than a “thin,” complementarianism.