Category Archives: Trends in Culture

Schaeffer on Evangelical Political Alliances

In Shaeffer’s The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, he lays out three broken options to the fractured politics of his day. He articulates them as hedonism, the dictatorship of the 51 percent, and establishment elitism/true dictatorship (WFS 4:27–28). Another way of framing these three tensions is that of anarchy, demagoguery, and oligarchy. Shaeffer argues that people are pulled to one of these three extremes as confidence in objective truth erodes in the center (perhaps giving deeper meaning to Robert Kennedy’s use of Yeat’s “the centre cannot hold”).

Shaeffer goes on to explain how groups are pulled into these positions and makes the observation that evangelicals are particularly susceptible toward the third option:

The danger is that the evangelical, being so committed to middle-class norms [affluence and personal peace at any price] and often elevating these norms to an equal place with God’s absolutes, will slide without thought into accepting some form of establishment elite. (WFS 4:29)

In other words, as evangelicals grab for functional idols in wealth and security, they must necessarily let go of the functional authority of Scripture. As this happens, they become far more susceptible to strong and influential personalities who seem to uphold their values (i.e., wealth, security, and a veneer of God-talk).

My personal observation here is that the the past 50 years since Shaeffer wrote these words has borne out this reality all the more. I would suggest that Shaeffer’s three tensions are evident in American culture: radical left and right pulling toward anarchy, the left generally pulling toward the tyranny of the 51%, and the right generally opting for hope in a populist wealthy elite.

Evangelicals, following the course of rightward, middle-class norms, fall into the trap of seeing influential elites as allies in a binary quest for their idolatrous personal absolutes. Here Schaeffer states the tension well:

My observation of many young pastors and others is this: suddenly they are confronted by some two camps and they are told: “Choose, choose, choose.” By God’s grace they must say, “I will not choose between these two. I stand alone with God, the God who has spoken in the Scripture, the God who is the infinite-personal God, and neither of your two sides is standing there. So if I seem to be saying the same thing at some one point, understand that I am a cobelligerent at this particular place, but I am not an ally.”

The danger is that the older evangelical with his middle-class orientation will forget this distinction and become an ally of an establishment elite, and at the same time his son or daughter will forget the distinction and become an ally of some “leftish” elite. We must say what the Bible says when it causes us to seem to be saying what others are saying, such as “Justice!” or “Stop the meaningless bombings!” But what we must never forget that this is only a passing cobelligerency and not an alliance. (WFS 4:31)

And therein lies the evangelical problem. We have formed political alliances on the basis of values formed in the idol workshop of consumerism and materialism. We have forgotten that our allegiance does not lie with our party but with our God.

So what will be the result of the evangelical alliances with the elite who offer preservation of middle-class norms? Shaeffer closes with this observation:

If this revolution comes from either side, our culture will be changed still further. The last remnants of Christian memory in culture will be eliminated, and freedoms gone. If the revolution comes from the establishment, it will be much more gradual, much less painful for the Christian––for a while. But eventually it will be as total. We must not opt for one as against the other just because it seems to give a little peace for a little time. That is an enormous mistake, because both are equally non-Christian and eventually both will be equal in smashing out the freedoms which we have had. (WFS 35)

Perhaps the political alliances of the majority of evangelicals are fostering this sort of gradualism. Although the smashing of freedoms is a concern, for sure, my greater concern is the smashing of true Christianity along the way. If evangelicals sell their souls to the populist elite, what of true Christianity remains? What if the legacy of Christianity at the beginning of the twenty-first century is, as Yeats described it?

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Francis Schaeffer on Christian Social Action

In addressing the problem of evil and the nature of man using the foil of Albert Camus’ The Plague, Francis Schaeffer closes with the following insights:

A Christian can fight what is wrong in the world with compassion and know that as he hates these things, God hates them too. God hates them on the high price of the death of Christ.

But if I live in a world of nonabsolutes and would fight social injustice on the mood of the moment, how can I establish what social justice is? What criterion do I have to distinguish between right and wrong so that I can know what I should be fighting? Is it not possible that I could in fact acquiesce in evil and stamp out good? The word “love” cannot tell me how to discern, for within the humanistic framework love can have no defined meaning. But once I comprehend that the Christ who came to die to end “the plague” both wept and was angry at the plague’s effects, I have a reason for fighting that does not rest merely on my momentary disposition, or the shifting consensus of men. (CWFS, The God Who Is There, 117–18)

Now comes the convicting part, where Schaeffer presses his Christian readers to do more than accept the moral high ground:

But the Christian also needs to be challenged at this point. The fact that he alone has a sufficient standard by which to fight evil does not mean that he will so fight. The Christian is the real radical of our generation, for he stands against the monolithic, modern concept of truth as relative. But too often, instead of being the radical, standing against the shifting sands of relativism, he subsides into merely maintaining the status quo. If it is true that evil is evil, that God hates it to the point of the cross, and that there is a moral law fixed in what God is in Himself, then Christians should be the first into the field against what is wrong––including man’s inhumanity to man. (CWFS, The God Who Is There, 118)

In this way, Schaeffer calls on believers to not just adopt a Christian worldview but to practice the Christian worldview––not just preach a gospel of justification but a gospel of sanctification too. In our day, as many attempt to create a dichotomy between Christianity and social actions and issues, Schaeffer’s call to reject the dichotomy rings true and insightfully prescient.

The Idol of Power

The story of the Exodus of the people of God from Egypt is a big and beautiful story. It is a story of God’s rescue and redemption. It is a story of God’s declaration of superiority over the gods of the land of Egypt. But it is also a deeply personal story. The story involves real people like Moses and his family and Pharaoh. Although I know that there are bigger purposes for this passage, I couldn’t help but notice that in the story of the Exodus, God demolishes one man’s idol of power.

The ruler of Egypt gives us an insightful look into the heart of a man captivated by power and control. In contrast to Moses’ humble awkwardness at the divine call in the desert, Pharaoh is the self-confident guy who has manipulated circumstances in order to come out on top. And God ultimately used this man’s craving and lust for authority to bring redemption to the Israelites. Here are ways to know that you’re similarly obsessed with power just like Pharaoh:

  • You are intimidated by people who aren’t like you (1:9-10) and you compensate by mistreating (1:11-14) or sidelining (1:15-22) them.
  • You punish unwanted expression through brute force and unreasonable expectations (5:10-14)
  • You cannot allow for freedom of expression that you’re not in the middle of or creativity that you didn’t invent yourself (8:25, 28).
  • You are willing to lose everything else except power (10:7).
  • You have an inordinate desire to be the “Big Brother” (10:8).
  • You assume evil intentions on the part of those whose plans differ from yours (10:10).
  • You move to manipulate people using their families (10:11) and possessions (10:24) when they don’t fall in line.
  • You view people only as means to an end and value people only for what they can do for you (14:5).

The hope for freedom from the power-junkie mindset only comes in the Gospel. In the Gospel, Jesus gives up power and does in our place what we could never do ourselves.

  • Jesus loves and wants people who are nothing like him.
  • Jesus’ yoke is light. He enjoys rewarding people with rest.
  • Jesus gives us freedom. He didn’t come to give more Law, but to fulfill it.
  • Jesus wants to give up everything in order to come to us.
  • Jesus died to make us part of his family. He doesn’t pretend to be family just to take advantage of us.
  • Jesus knows the worst about our intentions, but he loves us anyways. He doesn’t hold our past faults in front of us when we come before him.
  • Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into doing what he wants. He patiently guides us like a shepherd.
  • Jesus saw the value of humanity as equivalent to his own life and death. The value of the human soul was worth the incarnation and death of our Savior.

Christians and Conspiracy Theories

I know that this post will probably frustrate some of my friends and may drag things deeper into issues that may be counter-productive in the end.  But I thought it worthwhile to at least attempt a discussion of the issue of conspiracy theories in the local church.  Let me begin by saying that I have many friends who would be considered by some to be hardcore conspiracy theorists.  As I write this, I mean them no harm; however, I think that we all ought to take some time to consider a little about conspiracy theories and how they affect the church.  I also suppose that this post may frustrate some of the more general population who may object to how I categorize the issue.  I also will wax a little preachy in this post.  I apologize also for this in advance.  This issue has been on my mind for some time and has been brought up again recently, so I want to forcefully and directly address the issue.  I will beg everyone’s forgiveness in advance in hopes that through this dialogue, we all may become more effective as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Definition and Sources of Conspiracy Theories

As I mentioned, I have many friends who could be considered “Conspiracy Theorists.”  Perhaps some may even lump me in with them.  Really, in some small way, we all are conspiracy theorists.  We all have unique beliefs that we believe to be outside the mainstream.  Somewhere in all of us there is an individuality to what we believe.  We all have a desire to hold truth exclusively.  And as long as that desire prevails upon humanity, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists will persist.  Everyone has bought into a conspiracy.  Whether it is the conspiracy of the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian, or the statist, we’ve all chosen our political perspectives.  We’ve all picked our poison.  Moving forward, I will be defining the idea of a conspiracy theory as a political viewpoint which lays claim to special insight into current or past events in which covert plots are being carried out.

Categories of Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes.  These theories are as extreme as the political positions that birthed them.  The liberal sees the agenda of the conservative as fringe and extremist.  To them the conservative is in cahoots with big business and is linked with all sorts of corporate corruption and as a plot to destroy the poor of the nation.  To the conservative, the liberal is linked with big government, communism, and a plot to invent global warming and destroy Christianity.  The libertarian sees anyone else as federalist (usually liked with big business) and accuses many with media cover-ups of the US governments’ involvement in 9/11, the need for gold investments, and vote-fixing in national elections.  On the other hand, federalists see everyone else as anarchists who are desperately plotting to destroy the government.  My point is that all of these views are odd.  The way every position sees the other has some quirks and curiosities.  They all believe that they have an edge on the truth.

My concern in this post is not to debate who has the best conspiracy theory or the merits of each position.  We all have our views, but, as a Christian, I see that God’s view is all that matters (Prov. 21:2).  What I wish to discuss, then, is to what extent the Christian should approach conspiracy theories differently.

The Christian and Conspiracy Theories

Given that we all accept some conspiracy theory or another (whether or not we are honest with ourselves to admit this), I think we can safely say that it is not wrong to be a conspiracy theorist.  From the very inception of Christianity, conspiracies existed.  The early church was aware of plots to discredit the resurrection and the celebration of the Eucharist.  I suppose that for the first few hundred years of the church’s existence, most Christians would have been considered hardcore conspiracy theorists.  All this said, I think there are two important virtues for Christians to develop in regard to their politics:

  • Be guarded.  Some conspiracy theories are overtly sexist, racist, or anti-Christian.  These positions are not fitting for a child of God.
  • Be wise.  Let your view be critiqued by everyone (Prov. 11:14).  Become aware of the inconsistencies of your position and the foibles of those who hold it.  Don’t turn off your critical thinking (1 Thess. 5:21)!

There are also a number of issues to avoid:

  • Don’t let it steal your joy.  When your favorite political team is winning and your cause is moving forward, don’t let it be the source of your joy, because as quickly as you derive joy from its success, you will also be driven to despair when you see it fail.  The more “outside the mainstream” you begin to see yourself, the more alienated you will feel.  As you proceed down this path of loneliness and sadness, there is little fruit that resembles the Gospel.  Do a quick reality check.  Ask yourself honestly about how you respond to the success or failure of your political worldview.
  • Don’t let it steal your focus.  What consumes the better part of your internet research, Youtube views, Facebook posts, or conversations?  Is it your political views or is it Christ (Matt. 6:33)?  We claim that Jesus is the Lord and the Master of our lives and all we can think about is politics.  We say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but for some reason we fear the petty political leaders that come and go as surely as night turns to day (cf. Psalm 2). If Jesus is King of all, then why do we allow ourselves to be consumed or even worry with the state of politics.  Politics is a sad substitution for the Savior.  Idols come in many shapes and sizes, and, unfortunately this is one of them.  Spend some time considering what is really important in this life and the life to come (Luke 12:4-5).
  • Don’t let it motivate your spirituality.  You and I should be witnessing and sharing Christ whether the end of times is at hand or not.  Don’t let your concerns about anti-Christian legislation, unifying world governments, or decline in government care for the poor fuel your spirituality.  Let the Holy Spirit be the source of your motivation and strength.  Here’s a quick reality check: if all the banks, or liberals, or conservatives disappeared tonight, would you still be as motivated to live for and share Christ as you are today?
  • Don’t let it give you a superiority complex.  Read Colossians 2.  These were people who thought they had the corner on the market of truth.   Be careful not to go down this same road.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have access to special insights that the rest of humanity and other Christians have missed out on.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have special insights have allowed you to see faults in others that they themselves do not see.  Be careful when you start doubting the authenticity of others’ beliefs on the basis of their politics.  As soon as we start thinking that we’ve figured out the deep secrets of our opponents, we become the Illuminati that we feared from the beginning!
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the culture.  We are commanded to be making disciples of Christ, not our politics.  If your talking points with your co-workers include controversial political statements, consider whether you are opening the door of the Gospel to them or shutting it down (and bolting it shut???).  We ought to be circumspect in what we say, so that all of it may point to Christ (Col. 4:2).  May it never be said that our political views kept someone from coming to Christ.
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the church.  The church is the place where we are to minister to each other and to glorify God.  Don’t get caught up in empty discussions (1 Tim. 6:20-21).  This is not profitable for your brothers and sisters.  Never assume that they all believe like you do.  Never try to use the church as a platform for your opinions on world events.  Always ask for prayer for your government, but never target particular politicians or parties in your speech.  This is divisive and destructive.
  • Don’t let it destroy your family.  Almost every person I know who holds strong political views and can’t avoid talking about them with others who don’t hold them ends up driving people away.  Some of these people have told me that they don’t really mind.  The truth hurts and some people may not want to be their friends.  I could question whether this is a biblical position, but I digress.  I’d rather pose this question.  Does your love for your flavor of politics demonstrate love for your spouse?  In other words, have you stopped to consider the effect your clamor for your political views has had on your wife and whether people avoid her in order to avoid your obnoxious political rants?

In conclusion, I would hesitate to tell anyone to abandon their conspiracies, but I would encourage all Christians to hold them lightly.  We should all pursue politics to the glory of God and vote our conscience.  I would encourage everyone (no matter what political system you subscribe to) to consider your politics through the grid above and see what you need to change.  I know I’ve got some work to do.

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isa. 8:12-13)