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The Unpersecuted Church

behind_bars_xsmallA few weeks ago I was in Northern India with pastors who have been physically beaten because they converted to Christianity. Many of them have been permanently ostracized from their families and friends because they now follow Jesus.

Before meeting these men I had heard a lot about persecution–usually while reading an article on my MacBook Air or talking with friends about Christianity around the world over a latte. I have had hardships in my life–trials, difficulties–and in some cases thought it may be something akin to persecution. But in the faces of these men, I saw the weighty cost of discipleship. I saw persecution.

And of course, these stories can be multiplied tens of thousands of times over. Just spend an hour or so perusing the website for The Voice of the Martyrs. You’ll read about massacres in Christian churches in Nigeria, imprisonments in Iran, and systematic persecution in Syria. The nature and scope of persecution of Christians around the world is staggering.

But let’s be clear: a multi-millionaire being suspended from his show because of comments he made while being interviewed by GQ is not persecution. Christians losing a favorite reality TV show about ducks is not persecution.

Perhaps the only thing more staggering than the persecution of Christians around the world is how un-persecuted American Christians are. We enjoy more freedom, wealth, privilege, and status than any other Christians, at any other time, in any other place in world history.

Now we certainly have hardships–trials or difficulties that cause us collective concern. What happened with Phil Robertson and with others who have articulated the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is a good example.

But brothers and sisters, let’s get some perspective. Yes, our society is increasingly secular and our enormous freedom, wealth, privilege, and status is being chipped away at a bit. But crying persecution? Comparing ourselves to the Jews in Nazi Germany? It’s embarrassing.

Let’s broaden our perspective and remember what Christians throughout history (and today!) have faced for confessing the name of Christ. The list of persecutions will be sobering, but I guarantee you the suspension of a reality TV show about ducks will not be anywhere near the top.

 

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Should Christians Defend Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty?

phil-robertsonYes and no. Two thoughts:

(1) This is a prime example of the intolerance of the new tolerance. The new tolerance asserts that all viewpoints are equally valid and thus any viewpoint that asserts itself right over and against another viewpoint, is deemed “intolerant” and unfortunately, is frequently silenced.

This is the opposite of true dialogue, cultural progression, and respectful tolerance. Russell Moore has said it well:

If the reports are true that the reality TV star’s suspension was due to his stated views on homosexuality then I hardly think silencing him can be called open-minded. In fact, it’s the sort of censorious cultural fundamentalism that is neither “progressive” nor “pluralistic.”

Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.

2. Does any Christian really want to defend Phil Robertson’s specific comments? Even if you agree with his understanding of what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality (I do!), surely you must recognize that his comments were crude, wrong-headed and insensitive. There was nothing of the spirit of Christ about them.

I wonder if part of the problem is that many have actually not read some of his comments. I’ll copy them below, but warning: graphic language. 

On homosexuality:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

On race and Civil Rights:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

We’re a long way from “let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). As Christians who believe in the authority of God’s Word in all of life (including sexuality and marriage), this is the kind of speech we want to distance ourselves from, not defend. 

So should Phil Robertson have been fired? I don’t think so. It goes down as another example of the small-mindedness of the new tolerance–doling out censure in the name of openness, silencing in the name of conversation.

But should Christians defend Phil Robertson? Well, yes and no. Defend his right to express his viewpoint and certainly defend the Biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. But let’s make it clear that we find this kind of attitude and speech reprehensible as well.

It not only matters what we say, it matters how we say it.

 

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17)

Why I’m Using The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible

gospeltransformationbibleI’ve started reading through the Bible using the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. Why buy yet another study Bible? Here’s the reason I started using it: because the notes intentionally identify the saving grace of the Gospel throughout the whole of Scripture.

Here’s why this is important (from the Introduction):

Since God’s love for us is the soil in which love for God grows, identifying his grace in all the Scriptures is not simply an interpretive scheme. It is supremely practical. For regular exaltation of the gospel is what ignites love for God in the hearts of believers. We identify the grace pervading Scripture in order to fan into flame our zeal for the Savior. Our goal is not merely good interpretation but stimulation of a profound love for God that bears holy fruit, as pleasing the One we love above all brings our most profound and compelling joy.

Here’s an introductory video:

And here is an interview with the editors:

A Christian Response To A Hostile Culture: Not Anger, Not Fear, But Compassion

In a recent 9Marks interview, Russell Moore, newly appointed head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was asked by Mark Dever if he saw any signs of hope for the Gospel at work in our culture. His answer was fantastic and sets forth a model for how Christians should respond to a hostile secular culture–not in anger or in fear, but with compassion. What follows is a lightly edited transcript. 

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“I see great signs of hope because I take a long-term view. I often say I think where the culture is going can be summed up in a Grateful Dead song (“Touch of Grey”), “It’s even worse than it appears, but it’s all right.” Christians typically have this tendency to wring our hands, “Oh the culture is just going to pieces, everything is falling apart.” We want to romanticize some previous era.

From Eden onward it has always been dark in the culture around us–in various degrees of obviousness, but it has always been there. And we ultimately have a church that is going to triumph. Jesus says, the gates of hell will not prevail against my church. So we ought to be the sorts of people who… know we are not losers.

That’s where I think a lot of the Christian meanness and outrage comes from. It’s people who are really afraid that they’re the losers in history. That the arc of history is moving and they’re on the losing side so they rail against the other side. That’s not who we are! We are the soon-to-be-resurrected kings and queens, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. So we shouldn’t cower in the face of the Supreme Court or Hollywood or anyone else. We ought to have a sense of compassion for those who are moving in the same direction we would be moving in apart from the Holy Spirit.”

The Hope of Glory: A Sermon Recommendation

Jason Meyer preached this sermon last Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist Church. It was soul-stirring. When going through affliction and trial, how can we keep the true, spiritual reality before our eyes?

1. Be honest about the signs of death you see and feel.

2. Don’t minimize the signs of life you see and feel.

3. Don’t forget that God sees more than you see.

This is an excellent sermon. It’s well-worth listening to this week.

Six Lessons From A Dismal Old Testament Book

In his new book Judges For You (the 2nd in a new series of expository guides to the Bible), Tim Keller traces six key themes running throughout the book of Judges.

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  1. God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it, seek it, or even appreciate it after they’ve been saved by it.
  2. God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just some.
  3. There is a tension between grace and law, between conditionality and unconditionality.
  4. There is a need for continual spiritual renewal in our lives here on earth, and a way to make that a reality.
  5. We need a true Savior, to which all human saviors point, through their flaws and strengths.
  6. God is in charge, no matter what it looks like.

 

 

Related (from Keller’s Galatians For You):

“Law and Grace: Four Types of People”

“Freedom In Prayer”

“What Happens When You Raise Your Traditions To The Place of Non-Negotiables?”

Passion In Preaching

pastor-pulpitPassion is an essential ingredient for effective preaching. In his classic book on preaching, G. Campbell Morgan illustrates this by telling the story of a conversation between a well-known preacher and a great English actor.

The preacher asked, “What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”

The actor’s answer was this: “This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.

G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching, p. 33.