Archives For Politics

Right off the bat, I’ll own that this title is pretentious. But I just had this realization, and I think it’s profoundly true. I’ll need to improve my titling skills, because while this post should be broadly relatable, I’m sure the title scared most people away. But not you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me a chance here.

The 19th Century Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard is one of the most influential thinkers in history. If that statement surprises you, it’s because his thinking comes to most of us indirectly through many currently-influential voices. He’s the philosopher equivalent of the bands who influenced the Beatles, who in turn influenced every musician you’ve ever enjoyed.

But he doesn’t do much direct influencing of modern readers because it takes a lot of work to dig into. (Follow me on this—I promise it will pay off.) For one thing, he wrote a ton of books, and those books tend to have many hundreds of pages. But to make matters exceedingly irritating, many of Kierkegaard’s books were written under numerous pseudonyms (Victor Eremita, John Climacus, Anti-Climacus, Hilarius Bookbinder, etc. etc. etc.). And some of these works claim to be compilations of writings from still others. Some of these pseudonyms seem to represent more nearly than others what Kierkegaard himself believed, but it’s impossible to be sure.

Kierkegaard would play games with these pseudonyms. He would release two books by two different pseudonyms on the same day, or within a couple of weeks of each other. While he was producing these works, he would be sure to be seen in public frequently so that no one would suspect him of being the author of these works (a bit of theatre that worked for a time, but not for long). These books would offer different points of view on Christianity, philosophy, ethics, and society. Kierkegaard also published several books under his own name, but it still takes a lot of brainpower to untangle the relationship between this Kierkegaard and the pseudonymous authors of Kierkegaard’s other books.

Because of these bizarre methods, there’s no consensus on what Kierkegaard himself actually believed, no universally agreed upon “theology of Soren Kierkegaard.” I’m tempted to think of that as a frustrating loss. But I’m realizing that it’s not. It’s actually a gift.

How can I possibly claim that this quirky, controversial, confusing philosopher could save our world? Because the kind of reading that his books require would make us all better citizens and dismantle our biggest hurdle to mutual understanding.

When I first started reading Kierkegaard’s works, I read them as I read any book. I was in search of “Kierkegaard’s theology.” I wanted to know his views on things. When I do this with any author, I get a feel for their positions, and then I decide whether or not I agree with Calvin or Keller or Wright or Lewis. When I think about it, it’s extremely binary. But this is actually unhealthy. Because I actually agree with and disagree with all of these authors.

What is this pull I feel to identify with some authors over others, as though I need to check [favorite author]’s views before I know what I believe? Wouldn’t it be healthier to learn from each author and pull the most helpful parts from each? Isn’t it most important to walk away with deeper understanding and inwardly transformed as a result of wrestling with an author’s arguments? How does it help me to be able to claim to “agree with John Piper” or whomever, as though it’s all or nothing? Are we not perpetuating the problem by relying on a few individuals to do our thinking for us? Really, it just makes us all that much more divided. Encamped. Partisan.

But Kierkegaard’s bizarre style won’t let us get away with this. You have to think for yourself. When you read Kierkegaard, you have to engage with his actual arguments, because you never really know what it means to “agree with Kierkegaard.” You have to decide, to “judge for yourself,” to use a Kierkegaardian phrase. With each pseudonym; each book; each paragraph, sentence, and argument, you must weigh and decide what you think.

It’s infuriating. And exhausting. And healthy.

Kierkegaard was extremely controversial in his day, and cartoons like this were often printed in newspapers, where he was mocked for his pants and curved spine. People tend to be uncomfortable with those who challenge the norms.

Our political climate is so polarized. You’re republican or you’re democrat. You’re pro or anti whomever. You’re pro this or anti that. We deal in sound bites, in memes. And your response has to be instant. You have to be outraged or impressed within seconds, and if you don’t make a social media statement right now then you’re siding for or against someone or something bad or good. IT’S US OR THEM! RIGHT NOW! Our figure head has made this or that statement, so fall in line!

Don’t you hate it? Isn’t it ugly? Don’t you feel in your bones that we need something better, something more sustainable?

What we need, I submit, is a Kierkegaardian way of reading things. Take your time. You’ll have to decide, but don’t simply follow the party line. Do your homework. Weigh each comment, each argument, each moment on its own merits. It’s not about blind adherence, it’s about the journey.

Judge for yourself.

Kierkegaard also rails against indecision, so you do have to make up your mind. Deciding is important, but you’re not allowed to decide by default, by blindly following your tribe’s voting guide or statement of faith. If we could all retrain our habits of engagement in light of Kierkegaard’s infuriatingly inefficient approach, perhaps we’d learn to understand each other better, to renounce the “hot take.” We would then develop wise, patiently-formed, true-to-the-depths-of-our-soul convictions, and we could hold hands and walk away from the echo chambers we’ve been told to pledge allegiance to.

[If you want to give Kierkegaard a try, I recommend starting with this fantastic biography, or this brief but helpful guide to his thought.]

I wanted to give one more teaser from my book. But before I do, let me give one qualification and one advertisement.

First, the views represented in my book don’t necessarily represent the views of Eternity Bible College. We have a broad range of perspectives on Christians and violence; mine is only one. So if you come to Eternity, or if you send your son or daughter to Eternity, you’ll/they’ll be forced to think biblically through the issue. They won’t be spoon-fed nonviolence.

Second, if you wanted to court my book before you buy it, you can download the first chapter for free on your iPad or iPhone here.

Okay, so back to our topic. One question that often comes up whenever I talk about nonviolence is: do you think America should have a military?

Whatever answer we give to this question must be transferable to other believers living in other nations. In other words, if we as believers in America say “yes, America should have a women_military_-_from_veterans_todaymilitary” then I think that believers in Argentina, Canada, North Korea, or Iran should say the same thing. That is, unless we think that God has a special place for America and not for other nations, which has no biblical support.

So, should the nations, all nations, have militaries? The answer the New Testament gives is…(chirp, chirp). Nothing. Because the New Testament is not meant to tell secular governments how to operate. (Jesus never seemed to care about Rome’s military, apart from reaching out to those in the military.) After all, people are unable to conform to God’s will unless they are in Christ and have the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 8:5–16). Outside of Christ, they are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13), which is why Paul has no interest in judging those outside the body (1 Cor. 5:12). The nations will act like the nations.

Neither does the New Testament show much interest in the politics of the day. We are to submit to the governing bodies, pray for them, and pay our taxes. But the kingdom of God is not commanded to make the kingdom of Rome more moral. Interestingly, whenever Jesus was lured into political debates, He always “transformed these kingdom-of-the-world questions into kingdom-of-God questions and turned them back on His audience (Matt. 22:15–22; Luke 12:13–15)” (Greg Boyd). That’s because our mission is not to solve all the world’s problems but to embody and proclaim the kingdom of God as the place where those problems are solved.

So do I think America should have a military? It all depends on what we mean by “should.” If we mean “can,” then sure. They can have a military. Or they can choose not to have a military. For citizens of God’s kingdom, the question is a moot one, because militaries don’t advance the kingdom of God—and neither can they stop it. Jesus’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church didn’t have any footnotes.

The New Testament doesn’t say that Rome should or shouldn’t have a military. That’s because the New Testament isn’t concerned with advancing Rome’s kingdom. Rather, it tells us how to advance God’s kingdom. God doesn’t command America to have a military, nor does He command them to get rid of their military.

I therefore disagree with Wayne Grudem, who thinks that “military weapons for governments are God-ordained” or that “because of the great military power of the United States, we also korean militarycarry a great deal of responsibility for maintaining world peace,” or even that “superior military weaponry in the hands of a nation that protects freedom … is a good thing for the world.” Such statements are wrongheaded, if not bizarre. World peace comes through Jesus—the one who doesn’t need a military to rule the world.

Should governments turn the other cheek? Sure, that’d be great. If all governments turned the other cheek, there’d be a whole lot less violence in the world. But that’s not the solution to evil in the world. Jesus is the solution to evil in the world. And trying to follow Jesus’s teaching without following Jesus is ultimately bankrupt. The command to turn the other cheek is directly connected to the person and work of Christ, who turned the other cheek when attacked by sinners.

Our hope does not lie in enforcing our ethic upon secular governments. We can’t legislate the kingdom of God into existence. We could end all wars, yet Satan would simply find another way to destroy us. He could use the thin veneer of world peace to make us think we don’t need Jesus. Our hope and victory lie in the crucified Lamb. Jesus is the solution to war and violence.

I’ll leave you with the trailer for my book. If anything, it’s evidence that I made a good choice by not becoming an actor.  🙂

 

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence – Preston Sprinkle from Skyline Videography on Vimeo.

 

 

BallotElection day. The past few months have been leading up to this moment, so much so that our Facebook newsfeeds carry all the same headlines as the major news outlets. So much passion, so many hopes, so much skepticism, so much disagreement, so much slander—all coming to a head today.

And depending on when you’re reading this, all of the critical decisions of Election Day 2012 will either be done soon or are already settled. So how should a Christian respond to a finished election? Here are a few thoughts.

Be ready for disappointment. Keep in mind that I’m writing this before the election, so I don’t have a clue about who will be the next president or which ballot issues won the day. But I’m insightful enough to know that all of us are going to be disappointed in some way. Maybe your guy will lose the presidential election. Maybe the ballot initiatives you feel strongest about will go the wrong way.

But even if the election goes your way in every respect, you should still be ready for disappointment. Your choice for president will let you down. Our best ballot measures will always stop short of solving society’s problems.

Elections offer us a unique opportunity to share in the direction and development of our nation. In many ways, we are never more powerful than we are on an election day. When else does the government ask you what they ought to do? Voting gives us an opportunity to give input into matters that are typically far above our pay grade.

But then again, we are also relatively powerless on an election day. Think about it. How much will your solitary vote accomplish? Sure, the government asks for your input on this one day, but are they really hearing you over all of the shouting voices?

So we follow our conscience on Election Day and say what needs to be said. But once that is over, we have to decide how to respond.

Will Jesus remain on his throne? Count on it. Is he still sovereign over human governments and social issues? Of course. Are we still called to pray for our leaders, whether we like them or not? 1 Timothy 2:1–4 says that we must.

So on November 7, no matter what has been decided or which candidate has to figure out if he can actually keep any of the promises he made to the American people, we continue to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1–7), we continue to pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–4), and we continue to labor to see God’s will done on earth (Matt. 6:10).

Voting is one way to work towards seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, but in reality, we are far more effective in this regard in our everyday lives than we are in a voting booth. Sure, our vote goes toward something much broader than we typically take on, but in our smaller spheres of influence we have much more power to actually make changes.

I am one impersonal voice among millions when I vote on the abortion issue, but I carry a lot of relational weight when I comfort a young woman who is wrestling with how to handle her unplanned pregnancy. I can fill in a ballot in an attempt to influence healthcare, but I am far more powerful on a smaller scale when I join with my church in caring for the needy in our community.

The point is, regardless of what happens with this election, we must still feel a sense of calling and confidence in working to see God’s will done in the smaller spheres of influence which he has entrusted to us. Let the election be what it will be, we still have work to do for the kingdom.

 

If religion was opium for the masses: perhaps politics has become “Meth” for America. The reaction from Christians to a tweet that I sent out today suggests that many believers are as addicted to the GOP as my students are to the hit-show, Breaking Bad. The tweet:

How many believers will rationalize Mormonism as ‘basically Christianity’ because they want to vote for a Republican—or against Obama?

I promise I meant neither to mar Mitt nor to back Obama with 140 characters or less. Rather, my concern was more theological—that some might conflate Christianity with Mormonism for the sake of  Nationalism.[1]

 In Breaking Bad, there is a climatic conversation between the teacher-cum-methmaker and his wife. She trembles out the question: “Are you in danger?” To which he growls back: “I AM THE DANGER.” As I listen to various opinions on politics, I fear that the American Church is not in danger, but that We Are The Danger. That is to say, our greatest threat is not in (passively) being conformed to the pattern of this world but in us (actively) conforming ourselves to it.  Below are three dangerous questions that have resulted from my recent conversations.

A few qualifications. Firstly, I am neither anti-Romney nor pro-Obama. Frankly, I do not plan to vote for either of them. Nevertheless, I am committed to praying for both candidates and not bashing either—although Mormonism is fair game. Secondly, I am not a political scientist; I do not understand all of the complexities of the process. My expertise is in New Testament Backgrounds, so I admit to knowing more about Herod’s administration than Barack’s and to having spent more time in Plato’s Republic than in the U.S. Constitution. Finally, I am spewing forth ideas here that I have not fully digested. Don’t let the sarcasm fool you: this is my way of “reasoning together.”

 

Christianity and Nationalism: “Who is Lord?”

Christians may not go so far as to ignore orthodoxy and excuse the cult, but many of them have already confused the Kingdom of God with the American Empire. They have exalted the national agenda above the Great Commission.[2]  Mike Huckabee demonstrated such a priority when he confessed: “I care far less where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do where he is going to take this country!” My translation: “I am more concerned with the immediate destination of America than I am the eternal destination of my friend and his wife as well as his children and grandchildren.” (Caesar is Lord.) But even if Christians don’t scoff at Mike Huckabee’s pronouncement, they should shudder at Paul Ryan’s:

“United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty this world has ever known!”  (Caesar is Lord.)

 

Christianity and Mormonism: Does Religion Matter?

One of the most common responses I’ve heard is that it doesn’t really matter what religion the candidate is.[3] But doesn’t such a statement collide with the claim by many believers that this is a Christian nation? I heard one “theologically conservative” Christian say he would vote for a Muslim or a Hindu if that candidate could fix our country. Although I demur at calling our nation a Christian country, I find it odd that patriotic Christians would put their trust in the hands of someone who believes the sort of things that other religions and cults believe. Comedian Daniel Tosh had a skit where he played a Scientology-recruiter who had a wall poster that read: “Scientology: Making Mormons look sane since 1952.”[4] The religion of Mitt really matters to Mormons. If Scientology can make them look sane, perhaps a Mormon president can make them look legit.

Mormons see having a Mormon president as a further help in legitimizing them. It’ll be hard for ordinary Americans to think of Mormonism as a cult or a crazy religion when (if) their president is Mormon.[5]

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from voting for Mitt, but I am trying to dissuade every Christian from ever saying—with respect to anything—that religion doesn’t really matter.

 

Christianity and ‘Mammonism’: “Whom do we really serve?”

“A person cannot have two masters…you cannot serve both God and Money.” Color me cynical, but when it comes down to it, I suspect most politicians follow Mammon more than they do Jesus, Joseph Smith or even Reverend Wright. And it’s likely that most Christians do too. In truth, American Christians are far less worried where our President takes his family to church than with the amount of money he puts into our “offering plates.” As Dr. Kevin Motl puts it:  “The preponderance of American voters privilege religious identity only once questions of economic self-interest are satisfied.” In other words: we got our mind on our money and money on our mind. Because the American Church doesn’t want to be broke, I fear we are breaking bad.



[3] This week CT presented “three views” on whether it’s wrong to vote for a Mormon. Wanting a rhetorical cage-match, I was disappointed to discover that they all agreed that it’s okay to vote for a Mormon. Even Fuller President Mouw said he’d vote for a Mormon just not a Jehovah’s Witness or a Scientologist; I find this argument inconsistent at best. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/september/is-it-wrong-to-vote-for-mormon-president.html

Yesterday I said that everything in this world is important because of the kingdom of God. If God’s righteous reign is to spread into every aspect of this world, then we need to take everything seriously. This is God’s world, and we should love every inch of it and long to see it redeemed (Rom. 8:19–25).

One of the major reasons we have trouble thinking highly of this world is the reality of sin. Our world is soaked in sin. Sin is responsible for everything from thistles to headaches to rude customers to cancer to death itself. So when we look at the world, we see sin. It’s unavoidable.

So let’s burn the place to the ground! Right? When the milk in my fridge gets corrupted, I plug my nose and pour it down the drain. There’s nothing lovely about spoiled milk.

But our world is different. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew use a helpful analogy here. They explain that sin is like a stain. It’s messy, it taints what it touches, but it’s different than the fabric itself. There is still good fabric underneath the stain. If I love my favorite shirt enough, I don’t throw it out with my every coffee spill.

Here’s where I’ll carry the analogy a bit too far and into some cheesy territory. I do everything I can to clean my shirt. Very often, I can get the stain out. If that doesn’t work, I can always take it to the cleaners. And lucky for us (brace yourself for the cheesiness), we know the ultimate Cleaner who at the end of all things will bring us back our once-stained world, sparkling clean, renewed, reinvigorated, and—because our Cleaner is also the Master Tailor—made even better than before.

Cheesiness aside, I hope the point is coming across. This exercise would be so helpful for all of us: read Genesis 1 and 2, then skip ahead to Revelation 21 and 22. These are the bookends of Scripture and the parallels are stunning.

So what do we do? We engage every aspect of our world with Christian fury. We look to politics, economics, education, childcare, and entertainment with a passion to see God’s will done in each of these spheres. Rather than turning away in disgust because these activities are too corrupt, we ask ourselves what it would mean for each of these spheres to come under the lordship of Christ and be transformed by his grace.

Of course, this task is difficult. Impossible even. But if God’s plan of redemption is indeed as wide as creation itself, then we will have to represent him across the board. We can’t be defeatist and give up simply because we can’t do the whole job by ourselves. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing even if we’re bound to fail. We labor to see God’s will done in and around us, and we trust him for the results.

Our world is stained by sin, but it’s worth fighting for. Let’s attack the stain but rescue the fabric.