March 22 2018
What would faithful Christian political engagement look like?
I think that the first step to that is for Christians to have a sense of belonging that is not political in this worldly sense That’s the primary problem of the age, that there is a sense in which politics becomes not a means for achieving civic justice as much as it is a means for finding my place in a tribal herd of any sort that one can find. I think there is a sense of finding one’s identity in a global body of Christ first.
And then a sense of being able to differentiate between issues to which the Scripture speaks clearly, issues that are left to individual conscience, issues where there are principles that are biblically revealed that may be prudentially applied in different ways. Sometimes those differentiations are going to be easy to make, often they’re going to be hard, but the same is true for personal moral ethics.
What do you think about the Nashville Statement and what it means for the church going forward regarding the LGBTQ community?
I signed the Nashville Statement because the Nashville Statement is basically a recapitulation of essentially consensus Christian views on sexual ethics that would be held by every wing of the church. So most of the things addressed in the Nashville Statement are views that would be held by Pope Francis as well as by many other people. There really wasn’t anything in the Nashville Statement that is all that controversial in terms of the 2000 year history of the church …
But of course there is great controversy on issues of gender ideology and sexual ethics in the current cultural context. I think we have to speak as Christians in both in terms of grace and truth and so we must speak where the Scripture has spoken … We, at the same time, are people who must offer reconciliation and mercy in the blood of Christ. And so sometimes we, depending on our personalities, or depending on our church personalities, [have] a tendency to not to abandon one for the other, but to emphasize one and to mute the other. And so I think we have to hold both.
In light of the Masterpiece case that’s currently at the Supreme Court, how do you think Christians can engage culture in a way that is compassionate and truth telling?
I think that Christians … are misunderstanding what the case is about. So I’ll often find Christians getting into an argument over whether or not the bakery should have baked the cake for a same sex wedding … That’s not the point. The point is whether or not the government should compel you by force to articulate speech that you believe to be immoral, and that would apply across the board.
There has to be honesty and integrity … [T]he outside secular world will not respect a Christianity that doesn’t honestly articulate what the church believes, so I think we should do that without fear and do that with confidence. We should also do that with consistency, so we’re applying Christian principles consistently to a whole variety of issues. [A]nd then we should recognize that there are many people who disagree with us that we should speak to in order to persuade them rather than simply to scream at one another over slogans that we bat back and forth, and I think that’s really missing in almost every sector of American life right now.
Many Christians who would otherwise identify as evangelical have decided not to identify that way because of the “political baggage” now associated with that word. What are your thoughts on why people distance themselves from the term evangelical?
I understand the tendency because, for instance, I was at a university where the evangelical campus ministry there would find that when they started to talk with unbelievers on their campus they had to spend inordinate amounts of time deconstructing what the word evangelical means. I understand that. Evangelical is rooted in a biblical word, but it’s not a biblical word. Evangelical is shorthand, it enables us to say this is the kind of Christian I am without listing an entire set of distinctives about the gospel.
The shorthand often doesn’t work though. When the shorthand has to be explained, it’s no longer effective shorthand. But I don’t see a good alternative to it, nor do I see the confusion as being necessarily long lasting. So what I do right now is to, if someone asks “are you an evangelical Christian” I usually will ask what that person means by evangelical Christian, and then I will define what I mean by evangelical Christian. This is the sort of evangelical that I am. I just don’t think that we should give up on the word just yet; I think we should work to reclaim it.
How do you think the media has played into those changing perspectives of the word evangelical?
I think that the media have played into this because through no fault of media culture itself there is an obsession with politics, not only as civics but also as theater in American life right now in really, really heightened ways. You also have in some sectors of media secularizing to the degree that some in those sectors of media may not know very many people who are actually evangelical Christians or orthodox Christians of any kind, so often I will find when I’m talking with friends who are journalists who aren’t Christians, many of them tend to think of evangelicals almost as cicadas who go into dormancy between Iowa Caucuses and reemerge because the only time they pay attention to evangelicals is in terms of politics, because of course they’re not thinking about every day, when you’re trying to meet deadline. . .What are people doing in terms of evangelizing and discipling and carrying out disaster relief and all the things evangelicals are doing every single day. So I understand that. I get that, and we have to just live with that, but you take the opportunity to bear witness to what it is that really is at the core of who we are, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And I’ve found … there are many evangelicals that have a much darker view of media than I do. I have found that most journalists that i have worked with, almost all of them, even if they completely disagree with me are reasonable, smart hardworking people who are trying to get at the truth, even when the don’t. I’ve usually found it’s not out of malice but out of a lack of information or awareness of something.
I’m gonna throw a softball. What’s your favorite Bible verse and why?
My favorite Bible verse sort of changes from time depending on what I’m focusing on at the time but I would have to say it would probably be the bible verse that I’ve asked to be on my gravestone when I die, which is Luke 23:42: and he said Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom, so the thief on the cross crying out for mercy because you have both such a clear articulation of the gospel looking to Christ and Christ alone for redemption and you also have the kingdom of God encapsulated there.
What other past Christian leaders and social reformers have you admired and looked to for inspiration?
Oh there are a lot of them. I love Iraneus of Leon when it comes to articulating a theological vision of Christianity. There’s a Baptist leader most people don’t know from the 18th century, Andrew Fuller, that almost everything that I’ve read from him seems shockingly contemporary to me. C.S. Lewis, I mentioned him today, I really don’t know what would have happened to me without Lewis, and Lewis is one of those people I continue to read and benefit from. I will fight you over the right ordering of the “Chronicles of Narnia.” I have very strong opinions on that. I benefit a lot from the writings of Walker Percy, especially his collection of essays signposts in a strange land. John Perkins, his ministry has been deeply transformative for me. And Carl FH Henry, the uneasy conscience of modern fundamentalism is one of those books that God used to pivot my life in many ways and I think henry saw rightly some of the things we were just talking about earlier really clearly in 1947, so that’s important to me. Wendell Berry is someone that i read and appreciate. …sometimes when people ask that question I feel like the answer should be “I don’t know” because I think there are ways that books and conversations shape us and form us at a subterranean level that we don’t even know and see … Actually Wendell Berry is the one who, I was out at his farm one day and I was telling him how much his books have meant and he said “Isn’t it something how you read just the right book at just the right time, and you meet just the right person at just the right time, and you have just the right conversation at just the right time,” and [it was] probably just an offhand comment that he may never have thought about again, but i thought about it quite a bit because that’s certainly been true in my life, so I wouldn’t even know some ways I’ve been shaped and influenced by most things.
How do you think that the millennial generation is shaping the future of evangelicalism?
I think the millennial generation is shaping the future of evangelicalism in unbelievably good ways. … And I think that’s not necessarily because millennial Christians are better people than other generations or smarter people than other generations or what have you. I think it’s instead because the cultural context around millennial Christianity has sifted out nominal Christianity to a great degree. So a millennial Christian who confesses faith in Christ in most parts of the country right now, in most parts of the world right now, is not thereby achieving a status as normal in the culture. … millennial Christians have to articulate from the very beginning what it means to be a follower of Christian ways i think causes evangelicalism to look more like 1st century New testament Christianity.
But what i find is that principle critique of millennials is not only untrue but the exact opposite of what i’ve experienced. So sometimes older generations will say to me “millennials only want, don’t want to learn from anyone older than they, and they identify only with their own peer group because they’re selfish and entitled and whatever, which strikes me as odd when the number one question I get from millennials, and it’s a question that I answer at least one time a day and sometimes a hundred times a day is, “how do i find a mentor?” Both of those things can’t be true, and so I’m very optimistic about the millennial generation.
Are there any areas that you feel that today’s evangelical movement has failed and the millennial generation of evangelicals can step in?
Well I don’t really think that there is an evangelical movement in the sense of one unified stream. I think there are several evangelical movements and subcultures within evangelicalism that sometimes interact with one another and sometimes don’t. I’m not worried that millennials will repeat some of the errors of the generations before them as much as i am that millennials will overreact to the last bad thing and so sometimes I will have younger evangelicals who are exhausted by the caricature of Christians as angry culture warriors but the way the answer that is by becoming very muted on issues such as abortion and becoming almost embarrassed about Christian ideas that are not going to be received well in any outside culture such as the exclusivity of Christ. … there’s a certain freedom that comes with the understanding that the church not only will triumph, the church is triumphant, Jesus is alive, and he’s seated at the right hand of the father. … We’re not victims under siege, we’re resurrected in Christ, and so i think that ought to change the way we view the outside world.
If you could give any piece of advice to Wheaton students right now, what would you say?
Well, the primary advice would be to stay close to Jesus and be rooted in the scriptures and in the church, give yourselves in service to the church. The second would be what i wish that someone had, if i could speak to my college age self, i would warn him about all the time that can be wasted with anxiety about the future and so that there’s’ a sense in which one can spend just endless hours worrying about future events or grieving over past events in ways that seeking first the kingdom of God, Jesus says, frees us from. So i need to remind myself that multiple times a day and i would like to find a time machine to remind my younger self of that as well.
March 22 2018