From 2007: It's now an Open Letter

The contents of this post is actually from March 2007, but given the bru-ha-ha over Anne Rice's recent exeunt from the label "Christian", I'm reprinting it here are my personal open letter to her. Consider my response here to Pastor Matt Lauterbauch's old post a larger exhortation about Christ, culture, and what it means to keep Him in the center of your life as an object of worship. Enjoy.

Dear Anne Rice ...

I have a sort of backlog on the blog here which I think needs to be cleared up, and in part it revolves around a link provided by reader “scott” to Matt Lauterbach’s blog about what missional means. I give it here for a context, and I have two reactions to it.

The first is this: his exegesis of 1 Cor 6:9-11 is sloppy. Paul’s point in saying what he says in 1 Cor 6 is not, “boy, it’s a sloppy mess when you convert the sinful”. His point is that the Corinthians, who are supposed to be “called to be saints” and “enriched in speech and in knowledge”, don’t have the ability to settle their own disputes: they take their alleged problems to secular courts for judgment. In that, Paul says they disgrace themselves when they have to have the ungodly settle their alleged wrongs against each other. And the admonition that none of these kinds of sinners will inherit the Kingdom of God is made to make the point clear: you are not like this anymore, so don’t give these people authority over you.

And this is a transition from the fact that the ungodly should not judge those in Christ to the fact that those in Christ ought to treat each other as if they were in Christ. That is: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Paul is not talking about missiology here in the sense Pastor Lauterbach is. Paul is saying that our witness to the world ought to be that we have power (cf. 1 Cor 4), and that we are different than what we used to be. That is a missiological statement, but it is couched in ecclesiology and frankly Christian ethics – not in talking about how messy it is to be a person being reformed by the Holy Spirit.

But that said, here’s the real question: what is the mission of the church to those people Pastor Lauterbach has listed by example in his post here? Do we have one – or can we write off the partnered homosexuals who find methods for getting children, the single moms who adopt, the tattooed, the pierced, the surrogate mom, all the people who not only don’t look like “us” but also probably cannot ever “look” like “us”?

I think it’s a great and important question. But there’s a really big problem in the way Pastor Lauterbach frames it: he has implied that somehow “Republican” values are inherently “Christian” values. You know what? That’s a root-cause problem in this discussion.

Yes: I vote Republican – over one issue only, and that’s right-to-life. But I’d vote for a Mormon for public office if he was going to dedicate his political career to the end of abortion. But I have no inherent love for the Republican party. They do not represent me on the matter of the institution of marriage (I’m for the Genesis 2 model – how many laws are based on Genesis 2?). They do not represent me on the matter of public prayer (I’m for the Acts 2-3-4 model of public prayer). They do not represent me on the matter of freedom of religious expression (I’m for the Rom 1:16-17 model of freedom of religious expression). They do not represent me on the matter of race relations (I’m for the Eph 2 model).

So the idea that somehow the Republican party is a template of Christ-in-culture bothers me.

Which brings us, thankfully, back to the matter of Gospel being the solution to culture. The solution to culture is to refute all the errors of culture with the truth of Jesus Christ. And since Pastor Lauterbach brought it up, 1 Cor is a great example of how Christ leads the way for us to be in a culture and at the same time be contra mundum.

For example, Paul says this:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."[1 Cor 5:9-12]
Listen to Paul. In this passage, he is saying, on the one hand, the church has an obligation to deal with men and women who do not repent of sin but instead abide by their own sinfulness if they want to be called part of the family of God. But equally necessary here is what Paul is saying about those outside the church: you cannot be cut off from these people who have not been saved. You cannot come out of the world.

That is missiology, my friends. If that is not missiology, then there is no such thing, or else it is the shabby thing I have been on about in my last few posts to iMonk. The church must be something which is radically set apart from the world and at the same time in the very presence of the world for the sake of showing them the truth.

Paul says more about that here:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. [1 Cor 4:9-13]
Paul doesn’t say, “Gosh, we have a good footing in the political arena and now we can go do God’s work.” And he doesn’t say, “I’m glad I have, at last, become my own reality TV show so that I can influence the culture.” He says, (I paraphrase) “God has made me suffer greatly in all things so that I can be theatron for angels and men and everything in the world.”

Theatron. Listen – that’s got to slap you in the face no matter who you are. Paul says he is made sport of for the public amusement for the sake of Christ; he’s the object of scorn. It doesn’t mean he’s in people’s face with some kind of insult: it means, as he says clearly here, that he makes a fool of himself for the sake of Christ.

He is not seeking anyone’s respect. And why is that? Does he say why? I think he does – it’s the premise of what he is telling the Corinthians here:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Paul says that his mission was itself not to gain anyone’s trust or to gain anyone’s approval but to in fact to deliver a message which, by any other standard except God’s standard, is a folly -- so that God will be glorified.

Now, please hear me clearly: I’m still the guy who thinks that the message of Jonah has a lot to do with what our missiology ought to be. I’m still the guy who thinks that Stephen delivered the Gospel to the council of the High Priest. I’m still the guy that believes strongly that God is just as glorified by His love as He is by His justice and holiness. But my point here is that we are not sent here to get anyone’s approval but God’s.

You must speak to people in an idiom they grasp, and you must use the aspects of the Gospel which will have the most impact on culture. You know: in a nearly-monolithic American Republican culture, the truth that Jesus Christ demolishes the demands of the Law is devastating. And in a nearly-monolithic American Democrat culture, the truth that Jesus Christ fulfills the Law and demands repentance from sin is equally devastating. And in a popular counterculture where nihilism and radical autonomy is exalted, the fact of Jesus as Lord and Christ sweeps the ants off the anthill without and regard for their outrage.

These are all expressions of the Gospel – all cross-centered, Christ-exalting, God-filled visions of what the world is and they do not contradict each other. But they do create a culture which contradicts what the world demands of us.

This is missiology: being something in the world which is an affront to the world and a stumbling block to its ideas of wisdom and status. The mission of the church is not to try to make Republicans out of disenfranchised bar hoppers, gender role breakers and all manner of prostitutes: it is to make sinners grateful to God for grace, and to make them repentant that they have tried to reinvent His law, and to make them humble in love and service to men. It might obviously cause them to vote against abortion and those who protect it, but that doesn’t mean it’ll make the world into a suburban Tennessee cul de sac.

When the finger starts wagging about “missiology”, let’s not forget that the purpose here is not to become as much like the culture as we can before we fall into just being the culture: the purpose is frankly to devastate the idols of culture and all their sacraments in order that Christ may be lifted up.

Facts about Lightning

Before I get to the reason I'm posting today (meager as it is), let me confess that my blogging output is in the stink-bucket. Sorry about that to all the fans and peeps. The only way to resolve that is to win the PowerBall, so if you folks want to buy me lottery tickets, I promises here in public and in writing to split the winning ticket with the person who bought it for me 60-40, where you get 60 and I get 40.

Not that I'm encouraging gambling or violating any of my deeply-held principles about the stupidity tax: I'm just saying that the only way to improve my blogging output is to become independently wealthy -- becuase I have a great job which really consumes all my mental and creative energy.

OK -- Thanks for that.

Did you know that more people are killed annually by lightning strikes than by tornadoes and hurricanes? That's what's reported here (Thanks Google Documents!), along with other fun facts about how not to be one of those people.

Tom Ascol: take note.

Ethel Merman-esque

pa·tri·ot·ism  /ˈpeɪtriəˌtɪzəm or, especially Brit., ˈpæ-/ [pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, especially Brit., pa-]
devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty.

pa·tri·ot   /ˈpeɪtriət, -ˌɒt or, especially Brit., ˈpætriət/ [pey-tree-uht, -ot or, especially Brit., pa-tree-uht]
1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.
2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, esp. of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.
3. ( initial capital letter ) Military . a U.S. Army antiaircraft missile with a range of 37 mi. (60 km) and a 200-lb. (90 kg) warhead, launched from a tracked vehicle with radar and computer guidance and fire control.

I bring it up because closet-anarchist pastor Bob Hyatt wants to do for the 4th of July what Santa haters have done for Christmas -- which is, marginalize Christians by portraying us as people with a tone-deaf understanding of what we actually do well who are overzealous to use the prophetic voice and underzealous to really find common ground with unbelievers in order to speak to them as human beings rather than idjits.

Bob's view, as you may have witnessed on Twitter, is that anyone who thinks patriotism is a good idea is somehow not an alien and a sojourner in the Heb 11 sense who is desiring a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Bob has frankly equated patriotism with idolatry because there are no verses in the Bible which say, "God Bless America! My Home! Sweet! Home!" in Ethel Merman-esque bravado.

Well, let's at least admit a couple of things:

ITEM: There are some people who think America is the primary end of the Christian faith. Those people have never read their Bibles.

ITEM: There are some people who think you can't be Christian unless you're a [political party, left or right] here. Those people are a different version of the first item -- just a more nuanced version.

ITEM: Some people use faith to gain political ends, but have no faith -- not even in the politics they use for their own gain. These people aren't patriots, but they say they are.

ITEM: There are no human governments on-par with God.

So if Bob is talking about any of these things, then good on him. But he is in fact talking about celebrating the 4th of July -- the declaration of independence of our nation, and the celebration of our (spotty) national history. Is that really "idolatry"?

Let's see: is it idolatry if I celebrate my wife's birthday? I would say, "no." I don't have a Bible verse for that, but the most important day in the history of the world after the resurrection of Christ as far as I am concerned in the birth of my wife, followed by the day she married me.

How about this: is it idolatry to celebrate our anniversary? I would say, "no," -- again, sans scriptural prooftext. Celebrating the fact that so far we have been, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, joined together by God and faithful does not supplant God, or take something away from him. It's a way to enjoy what he has done -- through human agency.

OK -- how about this one: what if I celebrate my grandparents' anniversary? That has nothing to do with me and mine directly -- and to lift up other people for doing what's right seems a little shady, yes? Maybe it's the way we sneak in and replace something about God with things on greeting cards? No? See: we can celebrate the faithfulness of others and not be Athenians worshipping an unknown god -- even if they are not perfect people.

And these are all commemorations of human accomplishment in God-ordained institutions.

So when we turn to another God-ordained institution -- i.e., government, a la Romans 13 for starters -- is it actually wrong and a form of Roman idolatry to roast some meat on the fire (especially hot dogs and italian sausage, pork products that they are), drink something cold with friends, maybe hit a soft ball or throw a frisbee, and end the night with a bang-on fireworks show because in the last 234 years we haven't yet actually given up on the hope, politically, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prolly not, even if I would want to pick a nit over the part I underlined there. It seems to me that being glad that we have what Paul wanted for Timothy (1 Tim 2), and grateful that we have what Paul desired in Rom 13 in our imperfect political way if not a wholly-spiritual way. We can celebrate that these things right now belong to us even if they are in some way on a decline.

Even if I can't give Bob a verse which says, "dood: I like the ones which sparkle at the end and crackle like rice crispies."

Enjoy the holiday weekend, but don't confuse what ought to happen on Sunday morning with what you're going to do on Sunday evening. Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people for worship, and have a party with your neighbors Sunday night so you can tell them about the only one who can save us from our accomplishments as well as our sins.