Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Year Losers

Tomorrow is election day. Unless the polls are badly wrong (they could be somewhat wrong, but I doubt that they will be wrong enough to make a difference across the board), the Republicans will take a drubbing at every level -- federal, state, local, executive, legislative.

However, American evangelicalism has arguably taken an even greater drubbing, and it has arguably been even more deserved. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be despised, but evangelical church and parachurch leaders have allowed the name of Christ to be co-opted by political ideology, with the result that they are hated for all the wrong reasons. Michael Horton 15 years ago in an essay entitled "Beyond Culture Wars" wrote words that sadly remain true today:

We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel--we don't preach sin and grace anymore--and have taken it over for ourselves. We're offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. P eople with whom we may not agree will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don't like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, "He who is forgiven much loves much." The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.

It is often stated that the Republican Party will need to rediscover its identity. That is true. Conservative churches in the United States face a similar crisis. How do most Americans define evangelical Christianity? Is it the politics of James Dobson? Is it the smarmy stylings of Joel Osteen? Is it adherence to a set of rules like the legalistic churches of yesteryear? Is it a worship style on caffeine and steroids?

Actually, it is centered in Christ and the Cross -- God reaching out and rescuing the utterly helpless, saving people from Himself for Himself. It is not what Christians are nowadays known for. It is a central focus that deserves rediscovery.


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