A Dysfunctional Social Order (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)
CrossWay Community Church
November 17th, 2019
Preface: I’ve recently inherited and am now assigned to lead a small group at my church assembled around the topic, “Christ in Culture.” The nature of this group, among other things, involves coming together to discuss and think through hot button social issues to ask, “How should we as Christians engage these things? What can / should we do?”
I plan on beginning this year’s small group by taking time to have us evaluate our “grids” — the assumptions and paradigms we use when considering these topics. Towards that end, I’ve quickly composed a list of questions that I believe get us to those “foundations.”
I thought I’d share here as well. (Feel free to comment with any suggestions, additional ideas, etc.)
Revelation – What “sources” do we use to think about these things (e.g., scripture, but also — experience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, political science, etc.)? And what are the interplay among these things? In other words, theologians often distinguish between special or supernatural revelation (e.g., Bible) and general or natural revelation (i.e., other sources of truth). What sources should we use? And how do they relate? What happens if they seem to conflict? Do we give precedence to any? Do we ignore everything but scripture? If we use sources outside of the Bible, does this imply a rejection of our belief in the sufficiency of scripture? What does it mean for Scripture to be “sufficient”? When using scripture in these discussions, how do we move from scripture to these contemporary issues? In other words, how are we to “apply” scripture to these issues?
Mission – What is the mission of the church? Is it our responsibility to engage in these things, or are these simply “worldly” affairs? Are they distractions from evangelism? When these issues get political, how does the church intersect with government and/or participate in politics? Are these things we should address as a whole church, or just on an individual level — as persons who make up the church?
Gospel – What is the relationship of the gospel to these things? (1) Often times people speak of these things as “gospel issues.” But what does that mean? Are they implications? Entailments? Or the essence (“heart and center”) of the gospel? (2) What is the role of conversion and regeneration in seeing “social justice” come to fruition? Does/can true justice happen outside of people being converted/saved? And if not, what can we accomplish in society among those who are not saved, and is it still worth pursuing?
Cultural mandate – Genesis 1:28 gives us what has been called “the cultural mandate” (“Be fruitful… multiply… have dominion”). (1) How does this mandate impact our responsibility to engage culture? (2) How does this affect our view of culture? Is it all good? All bad? Somewhere in between? How so?
Image of God (Imago Dei) – The doctrine that we are all made in God’s image would seem to have a significant impact on how we should approach these things. (1) That humanity is the image of God grants each person irrevocable dignity. How does that affect our social engagement, particularly with regards to how humans are to be treated? (2) Creation in the image of God would also seem to imply that humans, whether they believe in God or not, have an inescapable sense of God — we were made to know him — and therefore retain “glimpses” of truth and righteousness in their affairs. How does this affect the way we partner with them in these areas? Our expectations for them?
Sin; depravity (hamartiology) – At the same time, the Bible teaches us that outside of Christ, humanity is wretchedly sinful. (1) Theologians have historically spoken of the “noetic” effects of sin — sin affects our ability to think and believe rightly about God and his world. For example, in Romans 1, Paul says that sinners “suppress the truth.” How might this reality affect our expectations about engaging and partnering with non-believers? (2) How does the doctrine of sin impact of expectations about culture (e.g., it’s goodness/badness)? (3) How might the doctrine of sin affect our pessimism regarding human nature, and the need for certain regulations (“checks and balances”) — whether in government or business (market)?
End times (eschatology) – How does our view of the end times affect our social engagement? Are we generally optimistic or pessimistic about what change we can bring? Can we bring about God’s kingdom here on this earth? And, if so, how, or in what sense?
Compassion & justice – Often times debates among Christians clash on the juxtaposition and tension between principles of justice and compassion. How do we promote policies that are both just and compassionate? And what do we do when the two appear to be in tension? Do we prioritize one over the other?
Government – (1) From a Christian perspective, what is the role of government (see Romans 13)? In other words, what is government supposed to do? (2) Should we engage in politics, or withdraw? (3) If we engage, should we attempt to legislate our morality? If not, then how do we determine what to legislate? If there is no such thing as moral-less, value-less, legislation, then what values do (should) we use? In other words, if we desire “righteous” (socially just) legislation in our government, from where are we getting our standard of justice, if not the Bible?
Now that some of the tense political posts have subsided a little, allow me to make a sincere appeal to my lesser-of-two-evils, evangelical Christian, Trump-supporter friends:
(1) If Mr. Trump was in fact, as you believed, the lesser of two evils, than I can understand your pleasure that one perceived evil was avoided; but do not rejoice that another — even a perceived lesser — was elected.
(2) Notwithstanding the question of whether it was legitimate in the first place, any appeal to a lesser-of-two-evils argument is now assuredly moot. In other words, one can no longer attempt to justify Mr. Trump by means of an appeal to a perceived worse alternative, because now there is no alternative.
As such, join us as the church in our testimony to truth, compassion, and justice in respectfully calling out this administration if/when it violates our Lord’s ethic to love neighbor. My fear is that in a self-righteous attempt to justify one’s past vote for Trump, many evangelicals will feel it necessary to defend him while in office, and, as Jesus might say, “The latter state will become worse than the former.”
Let’s be advocates of religious liberty… but not just our own.
Promoting and defending religious liberty is not a matter of doing what best makes us secure and comfortable. That’s not something we’ve been called to as Christians. Religious liberty is about doing what’s right. That means pursuing the religious liberty of others just as much, if not more, than our own.
So, when it comes to religious liberty, let’s be honest, neither Hillary nor Trump (cf. his remarks on Muslims) receive a good grade here. Evangelicals, please stop acting like the latter will be the of bastion of religious liberty. You only reveal your own self-interested definition thereof.
Throughout Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes a handful of comments on Christians and social engagement, with particular reference to political matters at times. In this post, I’d like to draw attention to a few of these.
First, without condoning any sort of complacency with regards to political involvement, Lewis admonishes us to keep things in perspective. Is politics the answer to the dilemma which humanity faces?
I do not mean for a moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realise that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual.
Second–and I rather enjoyed this section—Lewis talks about the role of “the Church” in political activism.
People say, “The Church ought to give us a lead.” That is true if they mean … that some Christians–those who happen to have the right talents- should be economists and statesmen … and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action. If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political programme. That is silly. The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained…. [W]e are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained. The job is really on us, on the laymen.