BEYOND CLINTON AND TRUMP

Thirty-six years ago tonight I met with half a dozen college friends, as I had for weeks, to pray that God would make Jimmy Carter a one-term president and give us Ronald Reagan for two. I have been thinking theologically about and actively involved in the political process ever since and I have never been so disgusted with its results. Yet three-plus decades do provide perspective.

It is no sin to advocate for any policy in American life derived from the biblical worldview. But it is a sin to make an idol of political parties or individual politicians, be they liberal or conservative. If Christians are guilty of that then God has been very gracious to disillusion us with the two golden calves now running for president. The catalog of each candidate’s crimes is too long and oft repeated to list. Their policy positions and governing philosophies are just as problematic, if not downright terrifying. Neither is fit to hold the office, but barring a miracle one of them will.

What to make of it then, and how best to move forward with hope? I offer the following.

First, maybe it’s good that the masks have come off. Feckless evil used to hide behind press-filtered layers of sophistication in our political process. Now we are seeing the porn culture that began in the 1950’s, and the death culture born in 1973, and all of their progeny in the open at the top. Now we are seeing the shear lust for power without the polite veils. Perhaps we will grow sick enough of them to consider real change.

Second, maybe we will finally come to understand that politics is downstream of and politicians draw their power from culture. When the spring is filthy the river is foul.

Government is at best a blunt instrument enforcing the values already approved by the many. We will not reduce the rot at the top of our country until we change the hearts of our countrymen. That will take much more than a change at the White House. It means changing the culture from the bottom up. It means creating culture that is better, more attractive, and life giving than the sick stuff now being sucked up by the masses.

Third, pray for politicians, but put no hope in them. God’s specific instruction for us is to pray for all who are in leadership so that we can live godly lives in peace and quiet. But our hope is in Christ and Christ alone, in the gospel that alone can change the hearts of men and women.

Finally, take the long view. Understand, as Robert E. Lee did near the end of his life, that, “The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

THE BIBLE, THE KORAN, AND CULTURE

“Did Rick Warren say that Christians and Muslims worship the same god?”

My friend’s question over breakfast last week caught me off guard. “I doubt it,” I said, “but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that someone had misinterpreted something Rick said.”

I was right and you can read more about that at ChristianExaminer.com / did-Rick-Warren-convert-to-islam-no-no-and-no, by Gregory Tomlin. But the question reminded me how often people conflate the two religions.

This came home to me forcefully one day as I was explaining the differences between Christianity and Islam to two friends when one said, “Hey, one religion is as good as another. The Bible and the Koran are essentially the same kind of book.”

The truth is very different. Christianity and Islam are entirely different religions and the Bible and the Koran are completely different books. But imagine that you are sitting with a friend and the topic comes up. Would you be able to offer, in simple language, what distinguishes these two books and the two religions they represent?

No? Let me help you.

The Authorship is Different

The Koran was dictated by an illiterate man over the course of twenty-three years who claimed that he was hearing the voice of an angel.

The Bible was written by dozens of men over more than a thousand years who claimed to be moved by the Spirit of God to write. Some were scholars, some poets, some kings, some shepherds, some were priests, and some were prophets. Yet all had a uniform message: That God would save his people from their sins.

The Bible is thus connected to thousands of years of human history. The Koran is connected to three decades in the 7th Century. Muhammad believed that he was reciting a book that already existed in heaven. It is like an assortment of instructions and advice not specifically tied to any historical event. The Bible, through all of its authors, tells one story of God’s work over time through actual historical events, most of which have been validated by research.

But most importantly for us, the impact of the two books is different.

The Impact is Different

In 2006 England arrested 24 suspects in a plot to blow up ten U.S.-bound passenger jets with liquid explosives. In 2007 German authorities broke up a “massive” bombing plot against American interests in Germany. And of course, no one will forget the Fort Hood murderer, the would-be Times Square bomber, the Boston bombers, Charlie Hebdo, Paris, San Bernadino, or Orlando. All of these actions were perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam.

Not everyone who reads the Koran ends up being a terrorist. But that’s not the issue. Why would anyone – why do so many who read it – end up believing that Allah authorizes terrorism and murder?

I’m a conservative, evangelical Bible teacher. That means I believe the Bible is God’s word and that it is my authority for faith and practice. It also means that I’m very careful about interpreting it. I use the historical, grammatical, critical method of interpretation. I’m looking for historical context – who was the author? When did he write? To whom was he writing? What did he actually say (vocabulary, grammar, structure)? What did it mean to the original readers? How does that meaning apply in our cultural context?

Because of what the Bible teaches people from our church and many others participate in: Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan’s Purse, The Good Samaritan, disaster recovery, crisis pregnancy centers, GriefShare, and countless other acts of love and service.

That’s the impact of the Bible, properly interpreted and taught, in our culture. Why does the Koran not have the same affect? I’ll let my friend Samer, a former Sunni radical and now a Christian missionary to the Islamic world, conclude.

“As Christians we must be very emphatic that Christians have and continue to do many shameful things in the name of Christ, but the issue is this: Christians who use violence in the name of God to destroy their enemies have no justification for their actions from Jesus Christ, his life and teachings as found in the New Testament. Whereas, Muslims who are engaged in violence and destruction of anyone who opposes Islam, have ample justification for their actions from the Qur’an (using the Historical /Grammatical /Critical approach to interpretation) and the life and sayings of prophet Muhammad (the Hadith).”

“It is beyond doubt that the prophet of Islam did encourage the killing and intimidation of his enemies, not just in self defense as it is commonly reported by Muslims, but in the promotion of the cause of Allah and the spread of Islam.”

“Needless to say, the actions of the prophet were in direct contradiction to the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ and his disciples. So the point is not that Christians have never resorted to violence and other horrible atrocities. They have indeed committed many horrible acts, but when they have done this, they have betrayed the very person that they claim to follow. But when Muslims commit such acts, they can in fact claim that they are following the example of their prophet and thus fulfilling the will of God and promoting His cause. That, certainly, is a big difference!”

WELCOME TO THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY

Andrée Seu Peterson, commenting in the April 30 edition of World Magazine on the Strange Sympathies of voters who supported Donald Trump over Ted Cruz because Cruz was “pompous,” wrote, “If Cruz is rejected and Trump accepted on the grounds of pompousness, then we are truly living at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Well, welcome to the Mad Hatter’s. Cruz is out, Trump is in, and there is no one left to keep him from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

No one predicted this, and no one can predict the outcome of the November elections, but some veteran reporters are beginning to believe that Trump can, in spite of polls to the contrary, beat Clinton in a national referendum. Ben Carson believes that 2016 is, “the year of the outsider,” and if the anger in the electorate over healthcare, immigration, the economy, homeland security, and the political status quo is what I think it is he, and they, are right.

I’ve been carefully watching, and actively participating in our nation’s politics for thirty-six years, and I’ve never been so disappointed with our options. But they tell us more about ourselves than anything else. We have repeatedly chosen style over substance, corruption over character, provocation over peacemaking, and the tyranny of the few over the freedom of the many. We have become a nation so obsessed with sexual license that we rip up religious freedom with spiritual fervor, and snooze through sales of aborted baby parts. We are such committed materialists that we care not about national bankruptcy as long as cheap dollars keep coming.

We used to be a Christian culture. We are a Casino culture now.

How are Christ’s followers to respond? I’m not about to suggest who you should vote for, but I will remind you of one thing: all politics is downstream of culture. If we want to improve our political leadership we have to improve ourselves. No earthly king can achieve through policy or force what Christ can accomplish in the hearts of men and women if his people will obey him. He is our King and his agenda has always been the same: “Love your neighbor as yourself and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

American culture has been in an historic slide ever since I was born. We were never perfect. There will never be a perfect culture outside of Eden. But if we measure ourselves by the stability of two-parent families, by educational achievement, by economic opportunity, by crime rates and imprisonment, by drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, by the number of children born to unwed mothers, and by many other metrics, we are a culture in decline.

Some of us have been politically opposing that slide for 30-40 years. It hasn’t helped. But we’ve learned something. Oppose the dominant culture, criticize and critique it, and you may be crushed. You certainly won’t fix anything. Build a better culture and, “the world will beat a path to your door.”

It is time for the followers of Christ to stop complaining and start building. We need to concentrate on being the Church, the pillar and support of the truth, in the world, and on creating good culture.