Gnostic Evangelicalism

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I feel in response to the agnostic Marxism that BLM represents, some people in American evangelicalism are pushing towards the other extreme, functionally Gnostic Christianity where faith is untouched by political debates.

But I find this position very untenable and inconsistent in so far as people in evangelicalism are also pushing to defund Planned Parenthood.

So the fact of the matter is, whether we are religious or secular, we almost inevitably engage in arguments and debate. The least we can do is be honest about this engagement and be honest about the convictions that we come from.

We are to pray for our leaders. This is true. Yet, from where I stand, whether you come from the right or the left, people can and will look to our political leaders to save our country, or change the course of history.

We have the great privilege of becoming educated in what our current laws codify, and participating in the decision-making process concerning them. If Americans never participated in the lawmaking process as some professing Christians seem to advocate, we may have never gotten rid of slavery as an institution, outlaw child labor, institute the FDA, fought in World War II, or institute seatbelt laws.

While political activism is not spoken of in the Bible, this relative silence should not mean Christianity is against political activism. Paul was a tentmaker, a Roman citizen, and a former Pharisee. Peter and John were fishermen. Their area of focus was to address the concerns of the local churches as they transitioned from Judaism to a Gentile-friendly Christianity. Paul’s letters helped establish rules for the churches to follow with regards to baptism, the Lord’s Supper, ordaining elders and deacons, etc. In some ways, the apostles’ battle against Judaizers, false apostles, false prophets, and false disciples looks similar to political activism.

“Sola Scriptura” is a good conservative Reformed principle to follow. But the norms that we find in Scripture should not mean avoiding everything that Scripture does not explicitly or implicitly mention. It just means we need to appeal to biblically informed wisdom on things that Scripture seems silent about.

After all, Scripture does not mention stem cell research, vaccination, marijuana, or domestic abuse, but that does not mean we ourselves should have no opinion at all on these important topics. It just means we need to exercise humility and wisdom in how we approach topics that are outside the purview of Scripture.

I strongly dislike professing believers who cast the debate as a “either-or” dichotomy. Those who say “Either we tell people the Gospel or we fight and debate them.” No.

We can do both.

Now granted, the two positions have different priorities. The soul needs to be saved from the wrath of God in Christ alone by the Spirit of God through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel being that God the Son became the Spirit-conceived, virgin born, perfectly obedient, crucified, risen, ascended, and glorified Lord and Savior of all mankind. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to all those who come to Him by faith alone. The Spirit gives a new heart with new desires so that they learn to see the world through different lens.

Yet even sinners who are dead in their sins can come to some true conclusions by the common grace of God. Sinners and saints can look to common principles and seek reform, revolutions, and government to make life better for everyone. Even though these measures leave people in spiritual death without the Gospel, that does not mean we should avoid making use of them since we should do what we can to take care of the body as well.

The body and the soul are different entities. Biblically, the soul takes priority, but not so much that we end up treating the body as nothing or even immoral as the Gnostics of old did.

Making use of our privilege as American citizens to participate in the workings of government is not “putting more hope in man than God,” it’s putting checks on evil and reining in bad leaders when needed.

Everyone has sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Everyone needs to be reined in.

The President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Senators, House Reps, Supreme Court Justices, State governors, State judges, Public health officials, City Mayors, major news outlets, Twitter, Facebook, Google, public teacher unions, police officer unions, employers, employees, the general public, Republicans, and Democrats can all use their authority or autonomy in ways that violate the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

All of us are capable of calling evil good and good evil. No matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on, we are all guilty of inconsistencies, name calling, straw man arguments, guilt by association, red herrings, and slippery slope arguments. Special interest groups distort American politics. Republicans generally protect gun industries and cops. Democrats generally protect teachers and minorities. Sometimes this protection goes so far that they excuse the bad and immoral behavior of bad cops or bad teachers by resisting reforms that would better promote transparency and accountability.

Ideally, everyone would repent and believe in Jesus and then bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We are naturally selfish and we naturally protect people who enrich us, whether they be the voters who keep us in office or whatnot. We can all benefit from seeking reforms and we need to seek these reforms through the proper channels and if we find this task difficult, it would be because we need the grace of God in Christ Jesus to overcome the indwelling resistance to die to our selves, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Living with neighbors

I recently read a New York Times opinion article by Dr. Russell Moore: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/opinion/supreme-court-religious-freedom.html?fbclid=IwAR28o6dLh13KCBimIvQBbiN-YO_yKc_P1-FEsalInoF46jduHigMG-WzJ28

The Supreme Court recently decided that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Outcome-wise, our neighbors are free to seek federal protections from being fired from a job for identifying as lesbian, gay, or transgender. But means-wise, I do wish our Supreme Court justices kept to originalism per their jobs as guardian and interpreters of the Constitution.

Not all interpretations are created equal, and interpreting the word ‘sex’ to mean things outside the original scope of the legislation creates a useful but dangerous basis for legislation. If Supreme Court justices feel free to use their judicial authority to stretch the meaning of a word to satisfy the prevailing cultural opinion, this freedom carries the danger of rendering existing law almost meaningless. For the sake of rule of law, originalism is the best, conservative option for Supreme Court justices to adopt. Otherwise they act as teachers who suit the passions of people who do not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears (2 Tim 4:3).

Through a textualist lens, Supreme Court justices act as pseudo-legislators, passing a law through an unauthorized back-door instead of the established Constitutional means of passing a bill through both houses of Congress and having the POTUS sign the bill into law. It is through this latter authorized means that I wish our neighbors would have sought federal protections.

The court did not rule on religious institutions and their First Amendment freedoms. But I do hope the distinction can stay. The United States is a country of both sinners and saints. The books and letters of the New Testament establishes the church and the world as two distinct spheres of influence although they occupy the same space both temporally and spatially. Christian colleges and universities, faith-based nonprofits and other religious organizations seeking to serve their communities should be able to do so in accordance with their beliefs. They should be able to establish who gets to serve on their leadership teams and how they should best serve their communities in accordance with scriptural norms.

In similar manner, the world is free to serve their interests as they see fit. But they should learn to draw the line when it comes to using the force and power of government from federal to local to require religious institutions to abandon their views from wedding cakes to requirements for nuns to provide contraception.

On one hand, there is nothing new under the sun. In the city of Ephesus in the 1st century Roman Empire, there was a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, who brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” (Acts 19:24-27)

In our 21st century context, the rainbow flag and pride parades are meant to convince society that there is nothing wrong with being gay, nothing to be ashamed of. The issue is now so deeply tied to identity that it can feel like we are rejecting our friends and neighbors when we hold to our traditional biblical views.

Yet, with respect to marriage and sexuality, the government should stay out either way. We are not the Byzantine empire and we are not Oceania. We do not compel outsiders to come to the faith, and neither should outsiders compel believers to abandon their faith because they conflict with the fluctuating norms of secular sexual orthodoxy. Given that the issues involved are not as severe temporally as the issue of abortion is, the government should generally stay out. Instead of using the raw power of whoever has more votes at the moment, we need to engage in arguments and conversation with one another.

As Moore stated, “We need to argue about such matters in the arena of persuasion, not state coercion. Yes, sometimes those debates will spill into legislatures and court rooms. But it would be tragic if secularists believed that they can somehow “win” through blunt political force untethered from the American principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience.”

On other related issues such as transgender bathrooms and participation in athletics, we should seek healthy nuanced dialogue with one another, instead of resorting to the power of law to bulldoze over one another’s convictions.

More than that, people need to hear and understand the gospel. All of us can be guilty of idolizing our sexuality, wrapping our hopes and identities up in our sexual freedom and we all need to repent of this sin. We have to find our identity in Jesus. All the approval, fame, and recognition of this world is nothing, less than nothing, compared to knowing Christ. The gain is this relationship with God through Christ. Eternal life.

A Man of Unclean Lips

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

(Isaiah 6:5)

The United States and many other Western societies has become a permissive, skeptical society very quickly since the 1960s. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech have been used to promote sexual immorality in the guise of protecting sexual and gender equality.

Some of my peers seem to have no filter when openly talking about sexual topics. They may be quick to denounce any attempts to restrain them for the sake of propriety as “puritanical,” but there is a thing as dangerous sexual freedom. Such looseness in speech is especially unbecoming of those who profess to be part of God’s kingdom, but are especially apt for those who still belong to the domain of darkness.

They generally subscribe to critical theory in which the narratives of power and conflict are rewritten such that the most oppressed groups should be given power over the oppressors. The oppressors being “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” and “cis-genderism.”

These ideologies are commonly taught in California university systems such as the University of California colleges and the California State University.

But I am thankful that at least people are being honest with themselves and just showing the darkness and indifference of an unregenerate human heart. Peter says false prophets promise their audience freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Biblical sexual ethics is often ridiculed, as people begin to exercise their wills in ways that openly defy the LORD and espouse a new sexual ethics of their own.

Planned Parenthood, abortion on demand, same sex marriage, and transgender participation in sports are but a few examples of the way sexual sins have entrenched themselves in the culture, especially in New York and California. Hollywood stars and left-leaning media and politicians also add their voices to the chorus.

Some people advocate outlawing these things, but for myself, these organizations and policies are but symptoms of a deeper problem: a heart that is in open defiant rebellion against God. It does not always seem best to outlaw idols when it is the heart that manufactures these idols in the first place. The heart is so sick that though it knows God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

They know the truth, but it does not register as truth to them because they deceive themselves and their peers. They call abortion “healthcare”, they call same sex marriage “marriage equality,” and they call transgenderism “my truth.” They have a moral compass, but they call evil good and good evil. They cloak their evils in moral language and these evils become the new norm, and so they do not cause moral outrage as they should.

Still, out of love, God graciously sends messengers who tell people to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn to Him in Christ by the Spirit and be healed.

He would redeem us, but we speak lies against Him. More than that, we often twist His words to justify our evil against Him as we carry out the desires of our stubborn rebellious hearts.

He calls us to repent. We must sow for ourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up our fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon us.

Sexual sinners have given bitter provocation, so the Lord will leave their bloodguilt on them and will repay them for their disgraceful deeds.

But in the midst of this sentence of death, God will heal the apostasy of some and love them freely. He will be like the dew to them, and those who repent and return to Him in Christ will blossom like the lily and take root like the trees of Lebanon.

Jesus is the Spirit-conceived, virgin-born, perfectly obedient, crucified, risen, and ascended Lord who lived the life we failed to live, died the death and suffered the wrath we deserved, and who conquered the grave to show his victory over sin and death.

All those who come to Him as their crucified and risen Lord and Savior shall have rest for their souls. The Spirit changes the heart of stone into a heart of flesh with new desires to grow in the grace and knowledge of Lord Jesus.

The Father sends the Spirit to dwell within His new covenant people so that they can continue to enjoy the presence of God within them as they live to kill indwelling sin, and become more like Christ along with all those who are also called to live like Him.

They gather together as local congregations under the authority of deacons and pastors as they encourage one another, pray for one another, and minister to one another as they also anticipate the day when Jesus will return to judge all evil and fully usher in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.

YHWH longs to love us but we must give up our acts of treason and be reconciled to Him in Christ by the Spirit as our Lord and Savior.

“O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
from me comes your fruit.”

(Hosea 14:8)

A Response to Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah gave this speech on his talk show.

After the recent outbreaks of gun violence in Dayton and El Paso, our lawmakers in Congress thought of a few policy ideas.  Republicans passed new red flag laws which would enable courts and police officers to take guns from people who show signs of threatening behavior.  Democrats advocate for universal background checks, renewing the assault weapons ban, and getting high-capacity magazines banned.

2nd Amendment

Noah notes that in Dayton, Ohio, the gun the assailant used could fire a hundred bullets.  He is disappointed in people who say that they need guns to hunt, because he feels no hunter needs a 100 bullets to hunt a deer. 

There is some truth to this statement, but guns are also used for self-defense.  The founders of this country originally provided the 2nd amendment so citizens could have some measure of protection for themselves against a government that did not have their best interests at heart.  The 2nd amendment also provides protection for women, both young and old, who wish to better protect themselves against any assailants.

Religion

Noah characterizes the Republican platform as, “Shootings have nothing to do with guns,” and that we need not fewer guns, but more God.

He provides an excerpt from someone saying that the common denominator to mass shootings is “not the weapon, but the hate inside the heart, the loss of morality, and disconnection from God who values all people.”

Noah summarizes the position as the problem in America is not access to guns, but a lack of access to God. In other words, if people were more religious, then they wouldn’t do bad things.

I would not frame the phrase in the way Trevor Noah does.
The position is better stated as “When people obey Yahweh, bad things would not happen.”

Noah notes that everyone seems to have a different idea of what God is saying. I agree with this observation, which is exactly what Old Testament prophets, Lord Jesus, and the apostles kept rebutting several times in their respective ministries.

He puts forward the premise that God and evil never mix, and so if you have God in your heart, you’re a good person.

He then goes on to list examples of history in which people have a zeal for God which led to destructive ends.
-In the Middle Ages, Crusaders said God told them to kill people in the Middle East
-In 1960s America, white evangelicals said that God told them black and white people shouldn’t mix.

Noah rightly observes that people pick and choose when and how to use God. To this I would say, yes this event does indeed occur, which is why bad theology is so dangerous and that is what the Old Testament prophets, Lord Jesus, and the apostles were fighting against for most of their time with their contemporaries.  Some theological positions are better supported by the Bible than others and lead to better outcomes than others.

Trevor Noah then jokes, “God’s just so far away, He’s hard to hear.
Love thy neighbor and people are like, “What? Black people should be slaves?”

Lord Jesus in 1st century Rome quoted Isaiah, the prophet who lived in 7th century BC Israel, saying, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lip, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

The apostle Paul would put it this way: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:3-4)

Humans have been mischaracterizing Yahweh since our beginning. Satan led Eve astray by making her question what God actually said to her in the Garden of Eden, and humans have been following suit in similar ways ever since.

Noah notes that people who are close to God still do really bad things. King David literally walked with God all the time. That did not stop David from killing a guy just so that he could sleep with his wife.

To this Richard Baxter would say, “If you are so foolish or malignant, as to pick quarrels with God and godliness for men’s faults, (Which nothing but God and godliness can reform,) you may set up your standard of defiance against heaven, and see what you will get by it in the end.  For God will not remove all occasion of your scandal. There ever have been and will be hypocrites in the church on earth. […] The falls of good men are cited in Scripture, to admonish you to take heed. […] If you will make all such the occasion of your malignity, you turn your medicine into your poison, and choose hell because some others choose it, or because some stumbled in the way to heaven.”

Trevor Noah concludes religion is not going to solve America’s mass shootings, but again I would say, with Baxter, nothing but God and godliness can reform men’s faults.

Family

He then moves on to the possibility that more parents will solve the problem.

He agrees that it helps young men to have a stable family life, but it would be hard to have a stable family life if your dad is getting gunned down at a Walmart.

He agrees that it would be nice if every young man in America had a perfect upbringing that helps get rid of their rage. He naturally asks, “How you’re gonna achieve that?”

You can write laws that will regulate guns, but we can’t write laws forcing people to have a good family life.  This statement of Noah’s reveals the biases in an American liberal worldview.  Almost every social problem needs to be solved with more government intervention and laws in their mind.  They give very little attention to creating a culture around a stable nucleus family and personal responsibility. 

Strategic placement of guns

Noah moves on to the next possible solution that it’s “Not too many guns, but not enough guns.” Some policymakers are suggesting the following:
-Secure the perimeter of schools with retired police and military
-Equip every school and every mall with metal detectors
-Create an instant response opportunity

To this position, Noah responds that guns are everywhere in America.
-Parkland had an armed guard but he was afraid to go in.
-Country music festival in Vegas had armed guards, but the guy was shooting from the window of a hotel.

As for the instant response opportunity:
-Police in Dayton, Ohio responded to mass shooting in 30 seconds, but still 9 people were killed.

For these examples, I believe Noah is guilty of the nirvana fallacy, where a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented. It’s an example of black and white thinking, in which “a person fails to see the complex interplay between multiple component elements of a situation or problem, and, as a result, reduces complex problems to a pair of binary extremes.”  In addition, even though guns do not always protect people, we still have them in place.  The POTUS still has a Secret Service, and the Hollywood Academy Awards have paid armed security.

Basically Noah’s argument is “More guns are not going to work. People are still going to die no matter what.” The rebuttal to this argument would be “Complete eradication of deaths due to gun violence is not the expected outcome. The goal is reduction.”

He pleads with the audience to think about the issue the right way.
He says, “Mass shootings can happen anywhere.” I agree with this statement.

If we need armed guards in every Walmart, every movie theater, every synagogue, every mosque, every church, every office building, every bar, every nightclub, every concert, and every garlic festival, we’d all have to become police. There is some truth to this.  The 2nd amendment provides a legal enablement for private citizens to assume some of the responsibilities and privileges that police officers hold in the sense of having guns available for the defense of themselves and others. Our government could remove gun-free zones and encourage conceal carry weapon laws so private citizens are legally allowed to protect their neighbors should the occasion arise.

Noah states, “I don’t want to be a policeman. I don’t.”  This is perfectly fine. But it does not follow that you have to force the rest of our neighbors in America to follow suit.  It seems quite likely that we do have a few private citizens who are willing to undergo training to help protect their neighbors from unwarranted violence, but Hollywood, the mainstream media, and some Democrats do not give the appropriate attention to these things.

He goes on to say that if we are protecting American freedoms, how can that be if everyone in America is forced to live in a world of perimeter fences, metal detectors, and armed guards in every hall?  Would it not start to feel like society’s living in a prison, and the only thing that’s free is the gun?  This is an interesting picture that Noah paints for America. 

But we live in a post 9/11 world.  I still remember the days when my cousins could still see my family and me off at the airport up to the departure lounge before 9/11 happened.  Ever since that day, we had the introduction of the TSA and security clearance gates, so now we have to say our goodbyes at the baggage check-in area instead.  Evil exists in this world.  It comes from anyone and at any time, and we have to make the necessary adjustments to the reality of it.